California ISO turns to blockchain to enhance flexibility alerting

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The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has implemented Energy Web’s blockchain technology in its Flex Alerts programme.

Flex Alerts, a voluntary public programme to reduce electricity use during specific critical hours, has proven an important tool in managing California’s grid – but without the key insight on the visibility of participation, except in post-event estimated assessment.

Drawing on blockchain technology, the new version is designed to improve participation and add direct customer feedback, with the prospect of the number of subscribers growing to millions in the years ahead.

Specific features introduced include digital identities to protect data and ensure that personal data cannot be connected to a response history, and the option to receive SMS alerts in addition to or instead of the traditional email alerts.

Open and response rates are known to be much higher for SMS messages than for emails and subscribers are thus more likely to see a Flex Alert in time to conserve.

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Other benefits that should accrue include responses from non-subscribers, e.g. people who see a Flex Alert message on social media, and the option for participants to view response rates for their area and compare to those for other areas.

From CAISO’s side it will be possible to view aggregated data on responses by areas and for example, view how much demand flexibility may result from non-subscribers.

Looking further ahead, possible future options include assigning digital identities to IoT devices for tailored demand flexibility programmes and enabling participation by other power sector stakeholders such as regulators or local utilities.

The platform also could facilitate the compensation of participants for the flexibility provided.

“Flex Alerts have been an important tool for engaging the public and triggering voluntary conservation to help relieve strained grid conditions for more than 20 years,” said Mark Rothleder, chief operating officer for the ISO.

“This year, our work with Energy Web has made the programme smarter, more effective and more measurable. With this innovative Flex Alert improvement, we’re looking forward even more to partnering with Californians to help us keep electricity flowing at critical times.”

The Flex Alerts programme was introduced in the wake of the energy crisis in California at the turn of the millennium. The Alerts are typically issued in the summer when extremely hot weather pushes up energy demand as it reaches available capacity, usually in the evening hours when solar generation is going offline and consumers are returning home and switching on air conditioners, lights and appliances.

With an alert, consumers are called to voluntarily conserve electricity by for example adjusting thermostats, avoiding the use of major appliances, switching off unnecessary lights or unplugging unused items.

As the technology is open source, it could be implemented by other grid operators both within the US and elsewhere, with or without Energy Web’s engagement.