Alabama Power - 2019 Star of Dynamic Efficiency | Alliance to Save Energy

2019 Star of Dynamic Efficiency

Alabama Power

Smart Neighborhood™ by Alabama Power is a state-of-the-art community of 62 homes featuring emerging energy-efficient technologies, materials and appliances, all connected to the Southeast’s first community-scale microgrid. The project showcases a unique intersection of emerging utility services, innovative building construction and consumer-focused technologies at a community scale.

Working with partners – Signature Homes, Southern Company, the U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, PowerSecure and various technology companies – Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood™ is a research and demonstration project. For two years, performance data and energy usage will be gathered from each home’s innovative systems.

These technologies will allow customers increased comfort and more control over their home’s systems, while providing greater understanding of energy management. Alabama Power will use data to provide insights into how homes can be built and function more efficiently and to determine new programs and services to offer its customers, resulting in more customer value.

The project demonstrates distributed energy resources (DER) use cases optimizing cost, reliability and environmental impact with a community microgrid. Through the planned neighborhood of 62 homes with energy efficient construction and connected home devices, Alabama Power is providing an improved customer experience. The community also demonstrates the company’s commitment to building grid integration with real-time utility-to-customer interactions.

RESEARCH OBJECTIVES

  • Advanced Building Materials and End-Use Systems
    • Demonstrate advanced building systems in the Southeastern U.S. where the climate is hot and humid (climate zone 3A)
    • Determine the impact of progressive building practices on the utility business model (impact to annual energy usage and revenue)
  • Energy Management
    • Explore technical feasibility and challenges of next generation demand management systems
    • Evaluate value, potential and costs for resource aggregated utilization and further scaled deployment
  • Customer Experience
    • Identify opportunities to improve customer lives by eliminating pain points
    • Determine flexibility and openness to energy management for cost reduction
  • Microgrid
    • Demonstrate multiple modes and functions to evaluate technical use cases, commercial use cases and challenges and quantify reliability, economic and energy impacts
    • Determine whether infrastructure changes will be needed to handle high performance homes and/or distributed generation assets

Smart Neighborhood features high-performance homes built to achieve a Home Energy Rating System score between 40 and 50. These homes are 39% more efficient than standard Alabama homes built today and provide insights into what residential construction may look like in 20 years.

Components include:

  • Enhanced energy-efficient building features and materials.
    • Materials include: Carrier Greenspeed Infinity Heat Pump, Rheem hybrid heat pump water heater, triple pane low-E windows, R-49 blown-in insulation, zip wall system, 2x6 walls, radiant barrier roof decking.
  • Microgrid and electric grid support:
    • The Southeast’s first community-scale microgrid includes solar panels, battery storage and backup generation. It has the capacity to generate more than 600,000 kilowatt hours of energy annually, enough to power the neighborhood and support the existing electric grid.
    • Major parts of the microgrid include a 330 kWh AC solar array, 600 kWh of battery storage and 400 kWh of natural gas backup generation, serving as another source for reliability and grid support.
    • The neighborhood’s use of both the electric grid and microgrid will help Alabama Power understand how to serve its customers most efficiently in the future, in terms of grid services, reliability and economic optimization.
  • Home automation:
    • Technology includes: Vivint Smart Home technologies which enable control over lights, outlets, door locks and garage doors via voice commands through the Amazon Echo Dot, Amazon Echo Show or app. The home also features Samsung high efficiency smart electric appliances and a Google Mesh Network.

The homes in the Smart Neighborhood use 39% less energy than a sample of comparable, new construction homes in the Birmingham metro area which is better than the building models originally predicted.

Forecasts indicate that when the optimization software is implemented, it will result in additional monthly savings of approximately $5 per customer without impacting customer comfort.

Home data, water heater and heat pump data passes through a Wi-Fi router, then pass from a cloud to Volttron™. Data then is then combined with utility data, anonymized, processed and provided to Smart Neighborhood partners.

Preliminary findings include:

  • Winter Peak Demand Reduction – because of the implementation of low-temperature, inverter driven, electric heat pumps in the community, the peak load on the coldest day of the year was 70% less than a traditional, all-electric community would have been. Alabama Power has been a winter peaking utility in recent years.
  • Battery storage system – the use of delta-wye transformer is required with many battery inverter systems to enable grid forming.
  • The power factor in this residential community has varied from 0.1 to 0.95 due to the introduction of large numbers of variable speed drives in applications that have traditionally been constant speed drives.
  • Heat pump water heaters provide approximately one tenth of the demand response potential of a similarly sized electric water heater.

Customer response to the Smart Neighborhood project was extremely positive, leading to record home sales for the builder Signature Homes.

  • The project began construction in July 2017, with home sales beginning in June.
  • The first homeowners moved into their homes in November 2017.
  • All 62 homes have sold. The neighborhood was the developer’s fastest-selling neighborhood in the greater Birmingham area throughout 2017, averaging 10 sales per month over six months.
  • Construction was completed in Summer 2018.