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Grid-Interactive Buildings Part 2 – Funny How?

By August 31, 2021September 9th, 2021Energy Rant

Last week in the Opening Salvo, we studied the desired results of grid-interactive efficient buildings, aka GEBs. The desired outcomes include shaving, shifting, shaping, and shimmying electric loads to better match the supply provided by intermittent renewable supplies. This week, we’re going to examine barriers and difficulties on the way to these desired results, with solutions to come, of course.

A single paragraph from the Executive Summary of DOE’s National Roadmap for Grid-interactive Efficient Buildings provides plenty of fuel for this fire:

Consumer adoption of this technology[1] will require overcoming a lack of consumer awareness of participation incentives, mitigating perceived risks (e.g., complexity), and addressing insufficient participation incentive levels. Similarly, the utilities and other entities responsible for operationalizing the technology benefits – to reduce system costs and emissions – currently lack regulatory models necessary to fully consider GEBs as an alternative to other resource investments. Additionally, policymakers and regulators often lack the information or awareness of opportunities they need in order to facilitate GEB advancements, or otherwise the desire to do so.

Summarize this post’s topics from that paragraph:

  • Consumer awareness
  • Complexity
  • Utility interests
  • Regulatory models
  • Policymaker ignorance


I crossed you up and started with the second issue because it is the biggest issue with multiple facets. I’m expanding this to beyond customer complexity to include market and policy complexity – but there are solutions.


Most people don’t like complexity unless they like to tinker, nerd out, get more control, or maybe even squeeze a few pennies. I tinker at nothing. The name of the game is to get as much done as fast and as efficiently as possible.

For instance, although I’d like to stick it to the cable company and many of the networks I pay for, I don’t care. As examples, I pay so I can watch the football game of choice or watch the Tour de France. I probably spend more per hour of cable TV viewing than the starting wage at McDonald’s. It’s ridiculous, but I don’t care. Others love not to pay the cable company and instead find deals on streaming video, music, and other things. It’s fun and gratifying, to them.

Complexity is a problem for GEB development. I described before how people don’t want to plan their lives around their electric bill, just as they don’t want to plan their lives around their telephone bill. Remember Sprint 10 cents-a-minute weekends? People want flat rates, and all they can eat data, minutes, and more.

Distributed Resources, Including GEBs

On the other side of the equation, the supply, how are grid resources valued? Almost not at all right now. There is demand response, demand rates, and time-of-use tariffs. For this post, they are as follows:

  • Demand response is paying customers not to use energy at select, limited, peak use periods during the year. This can benefit an electricity retailer, so they aren’t buying sky-high prices and selling at some lower contracted amount, or even a monopoly provider to help keep average prices lower (which indirectly helps the utility). Customers get paid twice – first for not paying for energy consumption they curtail, and second, for not using energy when asked. It’s like getting paid to take up space in a restaurant to make sure the mob doesn’t run out of steak and lobster. You don’t want Tommy “Funny how?” DeVito on your case. Know what I’m sayin’?
  • Demand rates alone help reduce peaks, usually, but the tariffs are dumb from a GEB perspective because the peak demand period might be 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM. This is not a good GEB (hour or three) value proposition for customers.
  • Time-of-use is about the same as the previous bullet. It provides customers with micro benefits to use energy off-peak – 10 cents-a-minute weekends.

GoodFellas Tommy DivitoA lot of the jabber I hear on conference calls is not unlike carbon-free by 2050 – I.e., it seems people believe buildings are like big batteries just sitting there to be taken and monetized! I’m thinking, wait a minute. This is a hell of a lot more complex than anyone seems to be thinking.


Nearly all GEB pilots and experiments today are in the residential sector. The pilots include behind-the-meter batteries, smart thermostats (demand response), and the rates discussed in the previous section. I haven’t seen polling on it, but I believe people are more tolerant of temperature swings and living their lives around their electric tariff at home than they are at work. I am.

To achieve persistence with retro-commissioning measures, in addition to describing to customers how systems work, how they were wasting energy, and what we did to fix it, we apply the credo of do no harm. That is, do nothing the occupants will notice unless it improves their environment – improve temperature and humidity control, eliminate dumping cold air on heads, decrease flow noise, etc. We avoid curtailment that changes space conditions, especially around peak times or during business opening hours. That would result in things being undone.

Operational or retro-commissioning measures that don’t impact productivity or comfort should be done anyway. That is energy efficiency per that first curve in last week’s post. These are not interactive GEB measures. It’s not interactive. Maybe this is why the “I” for “interactive” is not in GEB? Interactive measures will require some type of storage (electric, thermal, or other), an alternative energy supply like fuel switching or an on-site generator, or some level of persuasion to employees and customers that the noticeable GEB measure is worth it to THEM. Good luck.

Measuring GEBs

The last complexity topic of the day is measuring GEB impacts. Again, another reason the GEB experiments have started in residential is that they can be deployed without compensation to customers. In some cases, GEBs can be monetized for residential customers. There are easy ways to do that.

For commercial and industrial customers, you’re dealing with nasty counterfactuals to determine the customer’s contribution to the grid as a GEB resource. This may be a reasonable undertaking for a few large customers once or twice a year, but GEBs, at least in my mind, require much more frequent deployment – a few kW today in the morning, a hundred tomorrow at 17:30, etc. How does anyone measure all that? I have a solution.


Yay! Today we covered one of the five categories of GEB challenges from the DOE GEB Roadmap. We’ll see how far we get next week. In the end, rest assured, I’ll have solutions for every challenge, cuz that’s what I do.

[1] Poorly written because GEBs are not a “technology.” There are limitless GEB technologies and approaches.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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