Image courtesy of Shifted Energy

Shifted Energy Uses Energy Control Strategies To Stabilize The Grid In Hawaii

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An electric water heater is a pretty dumb device. It has a sensor that determines the temperature of the water inside. When the temperature gets too low, it turns on. When the temperature gets too high, it turns off. Shifted Energy in Hawaii has developed a secondary way to control hot water heaters. According to its website, it has created grid-edge power plants through analyzing and dispatching thousands of assets. Its digital control mechanisms provide value through energy savings, proactive maintenance reporting, and affordable, sustainable energy solutions. The company serves utilities, aggregators, and real estate companies with scalable solutions that include demand response and time of use programs.

In Hawaii, almost all domestic hot water comes from electric water heaters that turn on whenever their primary control devices tell them too. They have no way of knowing if now is not a good time for the local utility company. It might be hot outside, leading to higher than normal demand for electricity to run air conditioning equipment. Or it might be right in the middle of a decrease in grid capacity because renewable energy sources like wind or solar are creating less electricity because the sun has set or the winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean have decreased.

Shifted Energy Tracks Energy Usage To The Second

In an ideal world, utility companies would know what every device powered by electricity was doing every second of the day. They would be able to pause EV charging when the demand for electricity rises, then turn those chargers back on later so drivers would still have the amount of battery charge they need the next morning. They would be able to tell air conditioners to work a little less hard when demand is high or instruct water heaters to wait a while before turning on.

By the end of 2022, Shifted Energy had equipped more than 3,000 households in multifamily condos and apartment buildings on the islands of Oahu and Maui with its internet connected water heater control modules. Its algorithms predict down to the kilowatt-hour just how much electricity each family needs to provide hot water at different hours of the day. That gives Hawaiian Electric a resource that is as reliable as a power plant in terms of flexibility and control. Shifted Energy can also remotely turn on those water heaters to absorb excess solar power.

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In all, those 3,000 water heaters fitted with Shifted Energy electronic controllers provide Hawaiian Electric with up to 2.5 megawatts of fast response grid support. Customers receive a credit of $3.00 a month for allowing their water heaters to be fitted with the Shifted Energy devices. Those same controllers can also be used to manage other electrical equipment such as residential storage batteries, solar inverters, thermostats, pool pumps, and EV chargers. Using energy more wisely and efficiently can cost far less than building new generating capacity.

New Funding Round Completed

On March 6, Shifted Energy announced the completion of a new $4.3 million funding round that will help it expand its offerings both in Hawaii and in other states. “We started Shifted Energy with the mission of an equitable transformation of utilities markets and we are excited for the positive impact that this new round of funding will unlock,” said Olin Lagon, co-founder and CTO of Shifted Energy. “Our proprietary solutions have been developed, tested, and perfected to help utilities throughout the world stabilize their grids while accelerating the integration of intermittent wind and solar power generation.” He says the company’s technology is readily scalable, cost effective, and able to connect to any cloud enabled smart device.

“Our platform was built as a way to engage with hard to reach communities who typically don’t have access to rooftop solar or EV charging by targeting renters and multi-family buildings,” said Forest Frizzell, co-founder and CEO of Shifted Energy. “These technological solutions create inclusivity in the transition to a clean and healthy energy future.”

Frizzell and Lagon have decades of experience working with technology innovation and community engagement, but they are not your typical tech billionaires. They both practice traditional Native Hawaiian farming on weekends and volunteer with the state’s largest technology education non-profit, Purple Maiʻa, which works in Native Hawaiian communities throughout Hawaii. Their goal is to bring the benefits of a connected, efficient grid to more low and middle income families. “We can’t move forward with scaling clean energy programs without being more inclusive,” Frizzell told Canary Media. ​“We have to work with these overlooked families.”

Smart Technology For Smart Grids

Electric water heaters have been remote controlled to turn off during times of peak grid demands for decades, but they haven’t been tapped for fine-tuned grid responsiveness in the past, Frizzell said. That’s largely because the software and hardware required to understand just how much power thousands of water heaters are using at any moment in time is technically challenging to design and expensive to implement — potentially more complex and costly than the grid services are worth.

Shifted Energy uses cellular network connected control units to maintain high speed communications with its water heaters. The units supply ​“the telemetry we needed to inform machine-learning algorithms to understand how families were using their devices,” Frizzell said. That machine learning is critical to determining just how much electricity is being used by each water heater, and how much electricity each one can go without before the water in the tank starts getting too cold, he said. ​“That means we don’t get cold-water calls — the customer is happy.”

The smarter the algorithms, the more information they can discern about the water heaters they’re analyzing, he added — including things that aren’t measured in kilowatts of power. For example, Shifted Energy doesn’t need to measure water temperatures inside the tank. Its algorithms can predict those temperatures down to a degree or two based on electricity-usage data. The technology can even detect water heater leaks. “We’ve had property managers telling us we’re wrong, and then they found the leaks behind the wall.”

Shifting Focus

The company is looking far beyond Hawai’i and wants to expand its offerings to include wind power as well. It is working with Nova Scotia Power, which gets much of its electricity from wind. Over the next two winters, Shifted Energy will equip thousands of water heaters in that maritime province to turn on and off in response to spikes and sags in wind power generation. Pilot projects with Arizona utilities Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power will test similar solar-soaking and load-shifting capabilities, as well as test Shifted Energy’s machine learning to forecast how load patterns change as more people switch from fossil fuels to electric heating.

Frizzell expects demand for Shifted Energy’s technology will grow as the tens of billions of dollars in federal tax credits and incentives for home electrification made available by the Inflation Reduction Act start to drive faster adoption of electric heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. He wants to ensure that residents of economically disadvantaged communities can tap into the grid value of this transformation. “It’s not just the right thing to do. It makes economic sense to get in front of these frontline communities that have been historically overlooked,” he said.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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