5 Questions for Grid Integration Group’s Sila Kiliccote

5 Questions for Grid Integration Group’s Sila Kiliccote

December 09, 2013

Standardizing Grid Signals for integrated demand side management

Sila Kiliccote is Acting Leader of the Grid Integration Group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). She has been a part of the automated demand response team developing an automated communication infrastructure, integrating it with building control systems and working with stakeholders to standardize the information model. Her areas of interest include characterization of buildings and demand reduction, demand responsive lighting systems, building systems integration and feedback for demand-side management. She has an MS in Building Science from Carnegie Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering from University of New Hampshire.

Her research area is smart grid/buildings to grid/automated demand response. She is also Deputy of the California Energy Commission-funded Demand Response Research Center, located at Berkeley Lab.

Q: How would you describe what you do?

A: People want to operate their buildings at the lowest energy costs they can. What we've done is to develop a standard communication format for delivering electricity price signals to buildings to facilitate automated energy decision making.

Our research facilitates the delivery of price signals and reliability signals to buildings so that the building control systems can make decisions about their operations based on cost of electricity. Our research also provides information on how building systems can respond to these signals. Providing price information and related controls options can save building owners and operators a considerable amount of money.

I always say, "no loads left behind." We want to make sure that any load that has a little flexibility can participate in grid transactions. For example, take pumps in an industrial setting like a wastewater facility. During a time when the price of electricity is really high, we want to operate the pumps at lower speed and slow our production to ride through the high-price period. Or, for a cooling system, we can use a signal to tell the building energy management system to adjust the zone temperatures a little higher in the summer when prices are at a peak, and then adjust it back when prices go down.

Q: How did you become interested in building systems integration?

A: In the 1990s I worked on the integration of building systems as a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University. There were certain barriers that were difficult to overcome in building systems at that time. For example, before we could really think about integration, efficiency of building equipment and operations needed to be increased. In the 1990s, "efficiency" meant efficient technologies, not necessarily efficient operations.

In 2004, I came to Berkeley Lab. With more complex systems being developed by then, like building energy storage and generation, as well as an increased complexity and availability of energy data, I knew that it was unrealistic for us to think about operating building interactions manually. This led to my interest in energy-efficient operations.

I believe there is a huge new opportunity to re-evaluate energy-efficient operations of buildings now with increased use of behind-the-meter generation and storage systems. Building automation systems can reposition these systems as an integration platform and become true energy management and control systems.

Q: What part of your work is the most fun?

A: We have a vision of continuous automated energy management behind the meter with continuous price and reliability signals from the electricity grid. We can't realize that vision unless we push the boundaries in markets and technologies.

It's fun to think about the technologies that can help us realize this vision—to develop, test, and demonstrate what's needed. For example, I'm involved in a project where we're pushing boundaries in telemetry (automating communications to gather measurements and other data) by optimizing a device that collects energy measurements and communicates the data all in the same device. In 2010, the cost of this technology per site was $70,000. In 2011, we lowered the cost to $100 per site. Now we are at $85.

There are other applications of the same concept into other areas: for example, we're working with the U.S. Department of Defense on electric car fleet management, using prices and setpoint information from the California Independent System Operator to charge and discharge 40+ electric vehicle batteries.

Q: What changes have you seen in your field during the years you've been doing your work?

A: I started working at Berkeley Lab in 2004. While there was a lot of interest in demand response in California at the time, real changes came to the field when the Smart Grid concept was popularized and stimulus money started to flow into projects. People started thinking about the technologies that were needed to support the Smart Grid concept. That's when price of electricity became an issue.

The Smart Grid stimulus has been a great way for people to understand the relationship between loads and prices and the infrastructure needed for communications and controls. This time period also accelerated the development and adoption of standards including Open Automated Demand Response, an information exchange model, developed at Berkeley Lab and used for grid transactions. There are many companies with innovative products and services that build on technologies and analytics used in other fields but that are new in the energy arena. Ten years ago, Google was a search engine company, but now they have a keen interest in energy and resources to potentially change the technology landscape. Compared to almost 10 years ago, there is also a better understanding of rates by customers. Most large customers understand their rates and control their peak demand to lower their risk of increasing demand charge costs.

Q: What's ahead for your work?

A: The way I see it, there will be a lot of attention to optimization of systems behind the meter as well as beyond the meter at the distribution system level. Our distribution system is not well instrumented, so we don't understand how energy moves around on it. We're not sure what the effects of climate issues, and more severe weather, might be on maintaining and using these services. There is a lot of integrated optimization work, along with technology development, and analysis, markets, and policy work to support adoption at scale.

I'm excited; we're already working toward that with technologies like distributed energy resources, distributed controls, and communication. The challenge is to consider the system as a whole and develop an holistic approach to research for affordable, reliable, resilient clean energy systems adoption.

Q: If you could get one message across, what would it be?

A: To create impactful research, simply developing the technology and proving that it works is not enough. To have real impact, we need to be engaged with all stakeholders in the innovation chain and to form partnerships that can be leveraged to create impact. Berkeley Lab's proximity to Silicon Valley as well as to world-renowned institutions is a unique opportunity to get innovators involved with our science.

Kyra Epstein