Residential Demand Response in Peterborough, Ontario

Residential Demand Response in Peterborough, Ontario

Peterborough Distribution Inc., a local distribution company in the province of Ontario, Canada, is part of the Peterborough Utilities Group (, which has been providing electricity and water services for residents and businesses in the City of Peterborough for nearly 90 years.  When the Ontario government opened the electricity market to competition in 2000, the utility was able to add electricity generation, energy equipment rental, and commercial metering services in Peterborough and the surrounding area.

In 2006, the Minister of Energy directed the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to implement a residential energy conservation and demand-side management (CDM) program.  The directive was part of the Ministry’s Conservation Partnerships program, and was intended to achieve 150 MegaWatts (MW) of savings from residential demand-side management and/or demand response initiatives.  The Minister of Energy has statutory control over the OPA, which is responsible for ensuring a reliable, sustainable supply of electricity for the province.

In April 2007, the OPA launched the peaksaver residential demand response program, describing it as follows:  “This program assists qualified Ontarians, and their local electricity utility, to install a device in their home that allows the utility to briefly control their central air conditioning system during ‘critical’ peak times—typically weekday afternoons during the hottest days of the summer.”  According to Paul Shervill, OPA’s Vice President of Conservation and Sector Development, “peaksaver is part of a portfolio of conservation programs funded by the OPA to enable Ontario to better manage its demand for electricity during the summer and all year round.  We expect peaksaver to contribute significantly to our demand management efforts.”

Peterborough Distribution (PDI) has operated a successful direct load control program since the 1970’s.  The loads under direct control consist primarily of electric water heaters, and nearly a third of PDI’s 30,000 residential customers participate in this program.  But PDI was not satisfied with the technology initially selected for its central air conditioning residential demand response program.  The smart thermostat being used lacked certain capabilities, particularly the two-way communications needed to confirm and quantify the reduction in peak demand.

To remedy the situation, David Whitehouse, PDI’s Chief Conservation Officer responsible for the CDM programs, decided to join the OPA’s Residential Demand Response Working Group in 2008.  The Working Group had been chartered to evaluate and select the home energy management system (HEMS) and other technology that would be used in an enhanced peaksaver PLUS™ program.  The Working Group considered HEMS technology from 21 separate vendors from around the world.  After evaluating each solution against a comprehensive set of criteria, four were selected for trials in pilot programs.  Whitehouse agreed to pilot two of the solutions in Peterborough.

“The pilot with the Energate smart thermostat proved to be remarkably successful, so we selected it as the home energy management system we would use in the peaksaver PLUS program,” recalls Whitehouse.  “Energate’s Consumer Connected Demand Response solution was the only one that fully met all of our needs, and the residents participating in the pilot really liked how easy it was to use the Pioneer Smart Thermostat.  These two factors combined to give us real confidence in Energate’s ability to meet both our needs, and those of our residential customers.”

In March 2012, following the successful pilot that enabled participants to reduce their utility bills by up to 30 percent, PDI became the first local distribution company in Ontario to announce a partnership with Energate for a full-scale rollout of the OPA’s peaksaver PLUS residential demand response program.  John Stephenson, PDI’s President and CEO, commented on the benefits of the program:  “The net result of peaksaver programs like Peterborough’s is a more efficient use of the existing electricity grid and local distribution systems, increased consumer awareness and dollar savings for everyone.  Easing the strain on these systems during the summer months makes all Ontarians less dependent on fossil-fueled peaking plants and opens the door to more sustainable sources of generation.”

The savings achieved during the pilot, where participants were selected at random, are expected to be even higher for the opt-in production deployment of the peaksaver PLUS program.  The savings result from the Time-of-Use (TOU) rate structure established by the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).  The TOU rates are in effect for a six-month period from April through November, and are set to match the true cost of energy over the past six-month period.

PDI promotes its peaksaver PLUS program in a variety of ways, including statement stuffers, social media, public relations and advertising.  Residents are directed to a special Website at where they can get detailed information, find answers to frequently asked questions, and enroll in the program.  Users can also download an “Energate Thermostat Quickstart Guide” that shows how to use the Pioneer Smart Thermostat, and create an account on the residential energy management portal, which provides a wealth of useful information and lets users manage their thermostats from outside the home wherever Internet access is available.

Under Peterborough’s peaksaver PLUS program, participants receive an Energate Pioneer Z100 Smart Thermostat and an optional ZEV50 In-Home Display (IHD).  Some residents may also receive an optional Energate LC301 Load Switch for controlling other loads, such as an electric water heater or pool pump.  Although PDI has deployed an advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and installed smart meters throughout its service area, the smart meters currently lack home area networking (HAN) capabilities for communicating with the Smart Thermostat or IHD.  For this reason, participants also receive a ZigBee-equipped Energate ZIP Connect Internet Gateway that provides the secure two-way broadband communications needed during demand response events, as well as a means for monitoring and controlling the Smart Thermostat remotely via an ordinary browser or smartphone application.

In addition to the systems installed in homes, PDI’s residential demand response program includes Energate’s CORE Middleware, Utility Load Management System and MyEnergate Consumer portal software as utility enterprise applications.  These applications are installed at and operated by Rodan Energy Systems, the provincial aggregator used by PDI.


The Peterborough peaksaver PLUS program includes these elements of Energate’s Consumer Connected Demand Response™ (CCDR) platform.

“The residents who get one of the Pioneer Smart Thermostats often become the envy of their neighborhoods,” Whitehouse has observed.  “They show off the device and demonstrate how it works to friends and neighbors, who then want to get one of their own, especially after learning there is no charge for either the thermostat or the gateway.  It has become a very effective way to promote the program, and we are exploring ways to leverage this word-of-mouth effect even more.”

Both the Smart Thermostat and IHD give residents up-to-date information about their energy consumption, while historical data is available on the MyEnergate Web portal.  The Smart Thermostat enables consumers to automatically adjust temperature settings in response to changes in the published TOU rate schedule, or to respond to pricing signals received via the gateway.  For those choosing to participate in the province’s Energy Conservation Events, the Energate Thermostat Quickstart Guide states:  “During periods of high electricity demand, a Blue LED will illuminate on your thermostat and your Setpoint name will be replaced with ‘Energy Event’.  This indicates that the Setpoint temperature has been adjusted to save energy and the new target temperature will be displayed below the words ‘Energy Event’.”

“Most of the results we are getting with the peaksaver PLUS program are right in line with our expectations, but the effect that little blue LED is having has really surprised us,” says Whitehouse.  “People have learned what that light means, and have reacted by reducing loads by another seven to 15 percent by turning off lights and appliances during these peak periods.  In some homes the effort even becomes a game or challenge to see just how low usage can go.  And some consumers are also making beneficial changes in their routines, such as not running the dishwasher or postponing doing laundry until the LED tells them it’s okay.”

Whitehouse is currently planning two enhancements to PDI’s peaksaver PLUS program.  The first is to upgrade the smart meters by equipping then with ZigBee HAN communications.  This will enable the AMI network to provide the two-way, near real-time communications needed to notify participants of an Energy Event and track the actual response.  While this will eliminate the need for a separate gateway for most participants, the higher broadband throughput afforded by the gateway may still be needed to support more sophisticated applications.

The second change is to add Energate’s next-generation Foundation Home Energy Gateway as an approved device in the program.  Foundation enhances Pioneer’s ease-of-use with step-by-step menus for common functions, and adds other advanced capabilities like a more informative graphical display capable of showing text messages, as well as more comprehensive programming options.  Foundation also has a user-accessible USNAP radio module slot, which would enable PDI to support other wireless communications protocols, such as Wi-Fi or cellular.

Whitehouse summed up PDI’s experience by concluding, “Everything has worked very well so far, and with Energate’s capable and comprehensive home energy management solution, the possibilities for our peaksaver PLUS program going forward are virtually unlimited.”

# # #

About the Author

Louis Szablya is VP of marketing and product management at Energate, Inc., where he is responsible for marketing, product management and partner programs.  Prior to joining Energate, Szablya was Director of Smart Grid Integration at SAIC, a Smart Grid and Utility Consultant, and VP of Sales and Delivery at GridPoint.


On Twitter