Evaluating the Potential of Ubiquitous Flexible Energy Loads to Provide Grid-Scale Balancing in Resource Constrained Environments: A Case Study in Nicaragua
Ponce de Leon Barido, Diego
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Future growth in urbanization will mainly occur in cities of the rising south. UN Habitat reports that in the past decade, the urban population in emerging economies grew on average 1.2 million people per week. By 2050, it is expected that seven out of ten people will be living in cities. An accompanying technology to urbanization, the use of cellphones and smartphones has seen unprecedented growth in recent decades. Currently there are more active mobile connections (7.8 billion SIM connections and 4.8 billion unique mobile subscribers) than people in the world (7.4 billion), with penetration rates being large even in low-income economies (89 subscriptions per 100 people). Similarly, the Internet of Things – an agglomeration of sensors and actuators connected by networks to computing systems – has been rapidly growing with a maximum potential market of $US 11 trillion by 2025. With most energy demand, urbanization and connectivity growth in the coming decades occurring in low and lower-middle income countries, it is crucial to understand how technology will work in these diverse contexts, how it will blend with behavior, culture and context, understand its challenges, and highlight opportunities, to users and urban services. Using a field deployment pilot in Nicaragua as a case study, the Link Foundation fellowship allowed me to explore opportunities for information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the internet of things (IOT) in resource constrained environments. I used ICTs and IOT to implement the first paired behavioral energy efficiency and flexible demand pilot in Latin America. The work involved the design, implementation, and exploratory data analysis of a sensor gateway (the FlexBox) for enabling behavioral energy efficiency and demand side flexibility, a Bayesian estimation analysis evaluating energy reduction, participation in demand side flexibility, impacts on welfare, and behavioral economics insights, and a Bayesian updating framework to better understand the efficiency gap in this environment. I present several novel findings related to technology implementation, development of new efficiency parameters, and behavioral insights (e.g., incentive types, pre-existing behaviors, motivations) describing the opportunities and barriers to behavioral energy efficiency and demand side flexibility, and a first estimate of the value of information for users in resource constrained environments. I demonstrate that ICTs and IOT are mature technology that can be used by low, low-middle income households and small businesses in cities like Managua to enable them as important actors in city-wide resource conservation. With regards to demand-side flexibility, I found evidence to challenge traditional theoretical assumptions about the behavior of thermostatically controlled loads (e.g. coefficient of performance, duty cycle, temperature set points and dead band width), finding that user behavior and the efficiency of TCLs significantly affects resource availability and the large-scale potential for demand response (DR) – features that are largely ignored in the literature. The evidence suggests that there should be two efficiency parameters that should be considered in DR – the coefficient of performance, and the efficiency performance index. Concepts in behavioral economics (e.g., the psychology of scarcity, prospect theory and the endowment effect) are used to explain some of the challenges encountered in the field, and how these could potentially hinder the growth and success of future energy efficiency and flexible demand pilots. To my knowledge, this is the first paired behavioral energy efficiency and flexible demand implementation in Latin America, and the first to explain the observed field results related to behavioral energy efficiency using concepts from the psychology of scarcity. The FlexBox, the approach and system used to engage field participants and flexible ubiquitous loads, and the findings from our willingness to pay study, can be used to inform future ICT/IOT deployments and the development of new and inclusive systems for participatory low- carbon urban environments.