The energy ecosystem is changing rapidly. It’s not just one or two things, but several. We’ve got the shift from fossil fuels (which we’ve been burning for heat and light for millenia) to clean renewable electricity sources, most notably solar energy and wind energy. We’ve got the switch from gasoline-powered and diesel-powered cars and trucks to electric cars and trucks. Energy storage is becoming bigger and bigger, and more and more distributed, or “democratized.” We’ve got fast-evolving energy management hardware and software for integrating all of these things together for maximum efficiency. The integration is possibly the most fascinating portion of this story now, especially since we are at such an early stage in terms of integration.
Talking with Ido Ginodi, VP Global Product at SolarEdge Technologies, I recently dove into this topic in a variety of ways. Discussing the main catalysts driving smart energy management, Ido highlighted not just growing rooftop solar and electric vehicle (EV) adoption, but also the increased adoption of heat pumps, rising electricity prices and variable utility rates that make it more financially sensible to shift energy use around in order to avoid high electricity costs and, in some cases, to also send electricity back to the grid when you can get the most money for it. By intelligently managing when energy is stored, when it is released for self-consumption or for export to the grid, when your EV charges, when heavier load appliances should be running and so on, you can maximize return on investment and make the most of 21st century algorithm-based software.
“For me, energy management is solving an optimization problem. At SolarEdge, we started our journey with the invention of the Power Optimizers, which allowed system owners to squeeze every drop of juice out of their panels. An energy management system is, in a sense, the evolved version of this. It’s not module-level optimization, it’s site-level optimization of all the available energy sources and energy consumers,” Ginodi stated.
“You have so many different sorts of decisions you need to take in order to optimize your home’s energy. And let’s dwell on that for a second. What does it mean ‘optimize energy?’ So, first and foremost, most homeowners want to optimize for profit to maximize energy bill savings while reducing carbon emissions. But then there are other goals that could create trade-offs with financial savings, such as convenience and comfort. These factors often require light modifications of the energy dispatching decisions. So, we’re trying to solve for this complex energy optimization problem.”
To do that, energy management systems ingest dozens, if not hundreds, of signals — fusing them into data models or “working assumptions” on expected consumption, production, and price — and then tweak the available resources (such as batteries and controllable loads) in an optimal way. The most advanced ones, like the SolarEdge ONE energy optimization system, seamlessly integrate with virtual power plant systems, offering homeowners more ways to participate in the incentivized energy marketplace.
How Energy Management Can Prepare for Extreme Weather
Aside from maximizing energy efficiency and savings, another impetus for smarter energy management has been extreme weather and resulting grid disruptions. Whether responding to a massive hurricane in Florida, where I live, or out West, in response to grid disruptions from wildfires, more and more homeowners need energy backup solutions and smart software that deploys it seamlessly. A good energy storage and management solution lets the owner indicate and prioritize essential and non-essential loads for backup, as well as ongoing production and storage through various means (rooftop solar, portable solar technology, vehicle-to-home, vehicle-to-grid, etc.). The smarter systems can even keep an eye on weather forecasting and respond accordingly.
“Think of a homeowner investing so much into a solar-plus-storage system, and then working out of the hope that, ‘in crunch time, during a power outage, I’ll have the battery to back me up for as long as I need.’
“The way we approach managing energy backup is by segmenting the loads into three buckets. Let’s start with the ‘must’ loads — also called the essential load. I’m not going to pull my Internet out of the essential load, since I need to maintain communications. Essential lighting as well. Maybe heating in very cold countries falls into this category. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you have the ‘redundant’ loads — like the pool pump (it’s safe to assume I don’t want my pool pump to run during an outage). In the middle, there are what we call the ‘maybe,’ or the ‘sometimes’ loads. These are loads that you want to run unless the battery is running out of juice and apparently the outage is going to be longer than expected. So, you want an energy optimization system, like SolarEdge ONE, that can maintain these three virtual load panels, and seamlessly transition these loads between the different panels, orchestrating the entire thing through a grid outage.”
Pulling It All Together
Taking into account daily or weekly energy consumption patterns, dynamic utility electricity pricing, smart appliances, and extreme weather events, a 24-hour home energy program personalized for each household can now make hundreds of algorithm-driven decisions a day. We are far beyond what we had or even imagined in the ‘90s.
As more and more people adopt electric cars and rooftop solar power, smart energy management will get increasingly powerful, popular, and impactful. It is the superglue that will hold the grid, EVs, decentralized energy generation and storage, and our super tech-based lifestyles together in the coming decades. Like superglue, it’s nearly invisible but it’s absolutely critical.
This article is sponsored by SolarEdge.
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