ARPA-E Project Takes an Innovative Approach to the Electrical Grid

What if consumers were empowered with real-time data on the cost and efficiency of their energy use? During times of peak demand -- such as on a hot summer afternoon when homes and businesses crank up their air conditioning -- utilities could let cost-conscious consumers know how much they’re spending on energy or ask environmentally minded consumers to voluntarily reduce their energy footprint. Utilities would then be better positioned to quickly and efficiently manage demand and supply fluctuations on the grid.  

This is the innovative vision of AutoGrid Systems, a data analytics and cloud computing company that developed software to monitor the flow of power through the electric grid. Well on its way to reaching that goal, the company recently announced that it can now accurately forecast the power consumption of more than 1 million homes and businesses (called “endpoints” by industry) every 10 minutes.

AutoGrid’s success dates back to 2012 when it received funding from the Energy Department’sAdvanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. Partnering with Berkeley National Lab and Columbia University, AutoGrid developed an automated control software known as Demand Response Optimization and Management System -- Real Time (DROMS-RT), which creates two-way communications between power suppliers and consumers to better meet real-time electricity demands. The software sends up-to-the-minute energy costs to millions of customers in extremely short timeframes by email, text message or phone call. By partnering with utility companies, AutoGrid’s DROMS-RT technology provides signals to consumers enabling them to alter their energy usage and save money on their electricity bills.

With real-time information, AutoGrid can assist utilities in fully using their power systems by monitoring at the flow of supply and demand. Looking at predictive analytics from voltage emissions, customer behavior and device performance, utilities can implement real-time actions, and reduce or increase energy levels. Over time, the forecasts become more accurate by learning from past behavior usage. Both utilities as well as homeowners and businesses can see their energy consumption and work to reduce it.

Additionally, AutoGrid’s technology provides accurate forecasts on the amount of load shed -- the deliberate shutdown of electric power -- available for a given demand-response event based on variables such as weather and price incentives. This in turn, prevents congestion on the electrical grid and creates a more stable and safer grid for everyone.

Currently, AutoGrid’s technology is in use throughout the Pacific Northwest, Oklahoma, California and Texas. The company hopes that with the use of its technology, the electrical grid will be more resilient to disruptions from power outages and burnouts, while also saving Americans more money on their utility bills.

As of 2016: For a detailed assessment of the AutoGrid team's project and impact, please click out their ARPA-E "Impact Sheet" page.