Adapt Energy: The Path to Load Shedding
How a simple concept can change the future of energy.
The concept of load shedding came about as a protection for electric power systems. Simply put, it cuts power from parts of a system to prevent overloading the power source. This is typically in relation to largescale systems like the energy grid. But load shedding is now making its way into homes, partly out of necessity brought on by new innovations. But also, it is finding new purpose for home energy conservation.
We got involved in the energy space by a bit of chance. We have been programming custom software for Crestron home automation for over 15 years. A big part of home automation is getting the Crestron system to communicate with and control other manufacturers’ devices. That’s something that we excel at and developed a reputation for helping manufacturers get their stuff to work with Crestron.
So, as it was, we received a call one day from a company that made batteries. We were used to working with audio/video, climate, lighting, and shade manufacturers, but batteries were a new thing for us. When Troy took the call, the guy on the other end was Blake Richetta, CEO of sonnen, USA. Sonnen makes integrated battery systems for homes. Their batteries were used as backup power in a grid outage and to store solar energy, from solar panels, for use at later times. Solar production is highest during the day, when energy demand is low, so a lot of that energy is fed back into the grid. Which helps the homeowner but is not great for the grid. The grid doesn’t need that energy, during that time of day, because demand is low, and it costs money to make it useable for distribution on the grid. A battery, like Sonnen’s, stores the extra solar energy and lets you use it later, when grid strain is high, which is much better for the grid. Also, in many parts of the country, people pay more for power at different times of the day. So, having that solar energy, on demand, helps home owners use less power during those high tariff times.
Sonnen had taken the battery concept further by adding some intelligence. Intelligence that allowed people to configure how they used their stored energy. Without getting into the details here, they created a very smart and flexible system. Blake also had some unique insight for additional possibilities. As a former executive of Lutron and Tesla, he had a vision of bringing the energy space together with the custom electronics industry. The first step was getting his battery to work with Crestron, the biggest control system manufacturer in the world. So, the conversation, between us, started as simply creating some software to make that happen. But as we learned more about the energy space, we began to see an opportunity to do some unique and remarkable things.
As we worked with sonnen, we started hashing out this new concept that was dubbed ‘energy automation’. It involved a bunch of software driven features like a sleek user interface, monitoring and controlling the battery, and even sending messages to the home owner during a power outage. But as we discovered, there was a fundamental hardware problem that came along with putting batteries in homes. A battery, like any power source, can only handle so much draw. In most cases, one battery isn’t enough to power a whole home. You can add multiple batteries, but that quickly becomes impractical. So, the common way of dealing with it, at the time, was to separate the circuits in a home into multiple load centers, a.k.a. breaker panels. With this, you would have a Main Panel and a PLP, or Protected Loads Panel. The PLP was engineered to not exceed the output capacity of the battery. But it presented a lot of challenges, especially in existing homes where the electrical system needed to be rewired for an additional load center. The alternative was load shedding. Basically, connecting the battery to the Main panel, regardless of whether the battery could handle the draw, then somehow, control circuit breakers to shut off excess loads when the house switched to battery power. This would protect the battery from overloading. But in that was the rub. Nobody had a reliable way to control breakers inside of a standard breaker panel. There were some options out there, but they involved expensive ‘smart breakers’ that were slow to respond or required replacing the entire load center with a specialized breaker panel.
Well, we love tackling challenges. So, we got to work and eventually found a breaker that wasn’t ‘smart’, but it could be controlled. And as it turned out, it was very fast and very reliable. Better yet, this breaker fit in standard SquareD QO panels, one of the most common load centers on the market. We just needed a fast and reliable way to control it. Sonnen has an Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) that switches to battery power in 100 milliseconds. So, to protect the battery, we need to switch breakers faster and do it every time, without fail. And that, to cut to the chase, is how the Adapt Energy Panel was born. A piece of hardware that provides instantaneous breaker control and does it at an industrial-grade level of reliability.
But as we worked on developing the Adapt Energy software we began to realize more potential for load shedding. We thought of the many ways home owners waste energy. Not through bad intent, but just for lack of control. So, we took the tools we had developed and started applying them by giving homeowners control of their breakers, and thereby, control of their energy. We pushed the boundaries of control and created functionality that was unprecedented in the energy space. It’s what we’ve been doing on the home automation side for years.
Control and automation are different things, though. Control puts the responsibility on the user to get things done. Automation liberates the user by making the control automatic. We’ve learned the lesson of balancing those things in the right amounts and applied it to Adapt Energy. You can control breakers manually, we achieved that. But that has limited application on its own. By creating events, triggers, and profiles that can all run automatically, it provides both control and convenience. So, we added manual breaker control to our software. We added a scheduling system that could shut down loads when they’re not in use and power profiles that could be customized for both conservation and comfort. And we added energy monitoring so homeowners can see just how much they are saving.
So, load shedding is more than just a protective measure. It’s now a valuable tool to conserve energy and save money. It’s at the heart of Adapt Energy and, we believe, the path to a more energy independent future. And we are really at the beginning of it all. We have already incorporated more advanced forms of load shedding in Adapt Energy. We added thermostat control to manage HVAC loads more effectively. We have integrated with smart home systems, like Crestron and Control4, to achieve more nuanced control of lighting, shades, and more. We took load shedding as a basic concept and created Adapt Energy. Then we developed it into a robust, feature-rich home energy management system. And we will continue to push the limits of what can be done because this about more than convenience, it’s about the future of energy.
The video below is the first test of the Adapt Energy Panel showing the speed and reliability of the breaker control.