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Pecan Street Project Goes Live

Pecan Street Project Inc. has completed systems installation and has gone live with the first phase of its smart grid demonstration project in Austin's Mueller community.

Deployed by Austin-based Incenergy LLC, the home smart grid systems capture minute-to-minute energy usage for the whole home and six major appliances or systems. The project achieved an installed cost per home of $341 ($241 for equipment plus $100 for installation).

The systems are deployed in 100 homes at Mueller, all of which are green built and 11 of which have rooftop solar PV systems. This spring, Pecan Street Project will deploy Incenergy systems in a second group of 100 homes outside Mueller that are at least 10 years old. All participants in both groups are volunteers.

During the 12-month first phase, project researchers will learn about how homeowners use electricity, gas and specific appliances during the course of the day. This will mark only the second publicly-reported research on the daily energy profiles of Sunbelt homes (the other is a 1999 University of Central Florida study) and the first to incorporate data on output from rooftop solar panels and on the homes’ energy efficiency attributes.

“The customer will have final say about whether the smart grid is a smart idea,” said Pecan Street Project Inc. executive director Brewster McCracken. “The truth is that we – those working on and advocating for the smart grid – need to learn a lot more from customers than they need to learn from us.  Before anyone starts prescribing solutions, we must develop a much better understanding of what customers value and how they’re using energy now.”

Together with selected companies, project researchers will use the information gathered from these homes to structure next generation home smart grid systems. These systems, which selected companies will deploy in the project’s second phase (beginning March 2012), will provide customers with the ability to manage – even over mobile phones – individual appliances and systems as well as electric vehicle charging and rooftop PV systems.

The installation and testing of these next generation technologies will take place in a larger group of up to 1,000 residential and 75 commercial customers. As with the first phase, all participants will be volunteers.  Pecan Street Project will issue a Request for Information on February 15, 2011 for companies to deploy home energy management systems and to supply electric vehicles, in-home charging and rooftop PV systems.

In the current first phase, data captured from participating homes is wirelessly reported to and securely maintained at the University of Texas’s Texas Advanced Computing Center. Project team members from Pecan Street Project, The University of Texas, Incenergy, Austin Energy, Texas Gas Service and Environmental Defense Fund have been conducting field trials of the systems since September 2010. Two residents of the Mueller community serve on the project’s executive committee and have participated in the field trial planning and assessment.

“There is strong support for this smart grid project in the Mueller community,” said Kathy Sokolic, one of the two Mueller residents that serve on the project’s executive committee. “Having residents on the project team has played a big role in creating a sense of ownership in Pecan Street Project’s work.”

“People choose to live at Mueller so that they can make a difference,” added Garreth Wilcock, the other Mueller resident serving on the project’s executive committee, “and participating in this project allows us to contribute to something greater than our immediate environment."

Incenergy’s system integrates the company’s sophisticated energy measurement software with voltage measurement and wireless networking hardware. The system monitors energy usage within a resident’s circuit panel (breaker box), sends the information to a gateway system within the residence and transmits the data via the customer’s Internet connection to the project’s data center. Incenergy was selected in September after a global search.

“For smart grid to succeed, customers must embrace it,” said Barry McConachie, CEO and founder of Incenergy.  “That will only happen if companies like ours offer smart grid systems that create good value for customers and solve real problems they currently confront.”

The company has developed a mobile app that allows researchers to monitor the data collection on their iPhones and iPads. This has already helped researchers evaluate performance data in real time in the field.

“This mobile monitoring capability is already providing a huge benefit to our project’s research team,” said Pecan Street Project Inc. technology director Bert Haskell.  “Our next project phase will integrate customer-centric technology solutions like this -- ones that are exciting and easy to use.”

All participating homes in the project’s first phase will receive enhanced home energy audits by auditors licensed under Austin’s Energy Conservation and Disclosure Ordinance. A Request for Qualifications for energy auditors recently closed, and Pecan Street Project will announce the firms it has selected later this month.

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