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Assessing Air-Conditioning Demand Response Resources for Australia

Assessing Air-Conditioning Demand Response Resources for Australia

From ASHRAE Journal Newsletter, November 24, 2020

Air-conditioning demand response (DR) takes advantage of a building’s inherent thermal storage to reduce electricity demand at peak times with no discernible impact on the indoor operating environment. Increasing demand for air conditioning and changing sources of generation is expanding the importance of demand response in future electricity markets.

In an article from Science and Technology for the Built Environment, researchers estimate the existing potential of commercial and residential air-conditioning systems to provide demand response across Australia, in order to better equip planning bodies and regulators in making decisions around future demand response initiatives.

Mark Goldsworthy, Ph.D., Research Scientist at Australia’s Energy, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, discusses the research.

1. What is the significance of this research?

There is a lot of interest in deploying HVAC demand response to provide electricity network services. However, there is still uncertainty around the potential of this resource: particularly the amount of demand response that could be harnessed and specifically when it’s required by the network.

Our research aims to quantify the ‘size of the prize’ so that planning bodies and regulators are better equipped to make decisions around future demand response initiatives.

2. Explain the steps of this research project. What did the process look like?

As with any research project, we started by looking at existing work in this area. Worldwide, most of the work in HVAC demand response is in the U.S. where several groups have undertaken detailed assessments of the DR resource. In Australia, there were no such studies.

Taking into account the available datasets we could use, and the time and resources we had available, we came up with an approach that combined elements from previous works with a few improvements appropriate to our case. Given the large amount of data, creating the online interactive visualization was important for making the results accessible.

3. Why is it important to explore this topic now?

The way electricity is produced, distributed and traded is undergoing a revolution—from a one-way flow of energy from large centralized synchronous generators to passive end-users in the past to a dynamic two-way marketplace characterized by increasing volatility from both generation sources and customer loads.

Demand response, and HVAC DR in particular, can provide cost-effective solutions that avoid unnecessary infrastructure investment, enable greater penetration of renewable generation sources, and give customers greater ability to manage their energy costs. 

4. What lessons, facts, and/or guidance can an engineer working in the field take away from this research?

HVAC demand in buildings is often strongly correlated with periods of high demand on the network. If a site has demand or capacity charges applied to the peak power demand from the grid, implementing simple demand response options—such as global set-point off-sets, pre-cooling, or allowing a building indoor temperature to “float” at the end of the work-day—can lead to substantial cost savings. These changes require minimal upfront cost and are also entirely reversible.

5. How can this research further the industry's knowledge on this topic?

Taking a high-level view of the potential of HVAC DR allows regulators and planners to better understand the resource and, for example, to make comparisons with other technologies such as battery storage.

Once rules and/or mechanisms are in place to allow end-users to participate, industry is well placed to rapidly deploy HVAC demand response, drawing on the knowledge gained from trials and demonstrations reported in the open literature.

6. Were there any surprises or unforeseen challenges for you when preparing this research?

It was a surprise how few researchers have considered this problem previously. Outside of the U.S., we only identified a few studies in the open literature that have sort to characterize the HVAC demand response resource of a region. Many developed countries in the world face similar issues related to increasing use of renewable generation, network constraints and increasing peak electricity demand driven by air conditioning. HVAC demand response is arguably one of the most promising solutions because it takes advantage of an existing resource.