"Press 1 if you wish to dim your building's lights 50 percent.
Press 2 to raise the temperature of your air conditioning system." In power-strained California, traditional blackout alerts are being supplemented with Power-Pact, a new opt-in notification system that tells companies when the power grid is reaching its limits, asks them to take action to lower the demand and will even flip the switch to engage these options.
California power alerts commonly make national broadcast news and appear almost instantly on wire services and Web sites. But Power-Pact co-sponsor Infotility, an energy services firm, turned to interactive CRM vendor PAR3 Communications to power the alerts, which can be delivered instantly through the end user's preferred communication channel. The automated phone alerts are particularly powerful, offering not only information, but also the ability to forward the alert with an annotation to a supervisor or take immediate interactive action with touch-tone response or a live advisor. "What PAR3 is bringing to the table is that it's not just an alert. You can respond and ask and forward," says Sheryl Kingstone, program manager for analyst firm Yankee Group. "It's more interactive and user-defined so [users] can decide how they want to be reached--e-mail, pager or phone."
Every Little Bit Helps
In February, Joe Desmond, president and CEO of Infotility, convinced the California Energy Commission to contract with Infotility and its partners to fund Power-Pact. In return, the program promises to provide repeatable proven power usage cuts when they are needed most. "A very small reduction in demand can translate into a significant reduction of the wholesale price of energy," he says. "What we're hoping to achieve is the cumulative impact of many small actions having a great impact on the reliability of the power grid, and to reduce the cost the state has to pay for power."
At the same time, the PAR3-enabled notification and response system helps businesses understand the up-to-the-minute power situation in the state, and puts them in a position to cash in on the many incentive programs that reward companies for cutting power during a crisis. "Virtually all of the utilities offer incentives to customers that can reduce [usage], and our objective is to assist them with being able to participate in that on an ongoing basis," Desmond says.
The Power-Pact program launched in mid-May with a performance drill designed to test not only the capabilities of the notification system, but the readiness of California business to respond to an interactive alert. Desmond says one participant, a cement manufacturing plant, was able to cut three megawatts of consumption during the power drill.
L.A. County Drill
Los Angeles County is among the growing list of institutions signed up for Power-Pact alerts. Nora Hernandez, section manager for energy retrofits in the Los Angeles County Internal Services Department, says that the program is part of the county's mandated effort to reduce power consumption by between 7 and 10 percent by the end of the year. While the county administration had already set up an internal notification program that sent messages about stage 2 power alerts, Power-Pact sends notices to every single county employee and delivered all of the required notifications during the drill. "If we can get people aware of what they can do if a curtailment message is sent out, we believe we can help California avoid blackouts," she says.
During the power reduction drill, county employees received e-mail alerts, and it was left up to the administration of each county facility, including hospitals, county courts and sheriff's offices to implement power-reduction methods that would make an impact without materially affecting service or normal business routines. "The notification gave examples of what could be done, such as turning off coffee pots, task lights and office lights near a window, but we left it up to each department to decide what they wanted to do," Hernandez says.
When CRM magazine interviewed Hernandez, she and her staff were in the midst of analyzing the statistics on actual power usage reduction achieved during the drill, which would guide how live power usage reduction calls would be handled. At the same time, county employees were surveyed to see if they wanted to receive power alerts through a different channel than e-mail.
More Participation, Bigger Benefits
The results will also influence where the county, in conjunction with consulting services from Infotility, will install automated power management equipment that responds to directives from the PAR3-issued interactive alerts. This second phase will give facilities managers the ability to cut demand on the power grid from a touch-tone phone or e-mail terminal.
As part of the Power-Pact program (and not coincidentally, where the firm stands to make more money than the initial state grant provides), Infotility is providing consulting services to some Power-Pact participants, including L.A. County, to identify where and how these remote virtual switches can be installed.
Despite the promise of the flexible alert program, not everyone in the California power equation is jumping on the Power-Pact bandwagon. Although Power-Pact relays power alerts based on information from the state's power grid authority and is, in effect, offering power users ways to ensure they can reap the rewards being offered for voluntary energy cutbacks, California ISO (International standards Organization) spokesperson Lorie O'Donley said that the agency had no plans to directly participate in the alert system. "Our main purpose is maintaining the [power] grid," she says. "When it comes to notifications to end users, it has to happen at the utilities--they are the only ones that have the information [customers] are interested in."
If Infotility and PAR3 can deliver timely alerts that generate proven benefits to the health of the power grid, however, participation could blossom. "It's just going to be a matter of time, because utilities would want to use this," Kingstone says. "They can avoid outages by letting people know when they're about to hit the extreme and scale back. But there can't just be one or two companies [involved.]"