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Demystifying GEBs: Building Demand Flexibility

With the potential to save up to $18 billion in power system costs and 80 million tons of carbon emissions annually, grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) are critical to achieving a modern, carbon-free energy system.

What are GEBs?
Grid-interactive efficient buildings are energy-efficient buildings that use smart technologies and on-site distributed energy resources (DERs) to provide demand flexibility while co-optimizing for energy cost, grid services, and occupant needs and preferences in a continuous and integrated way.

Source: DOE’s GEBs Technical Report Series: Overview of Research Challenges and Gaps

Holy Cross Energy’s Basalt Vista project is a good representation of GEB components in the field, as an affordable housing community of 27 homes in rural Colorado, featuring energy efficiency measures (via a high-performance building envelope), smart appliances, and rooftop solar PV systems.

State of the Market
With a heightened industry focus on utility carbon-reduction targets and strategies, the SEPA 2020 Utility Transformation Challenge survey found that 80% of utility respondents were exploring GEB opportunities, with nearly half assessing the potential of demand flexibility for residential and commercial buildings.

Federal support for GEBs is also growing. The U.S. Department of Energy has a goal to triple the energy efficiency (EE) and demand flexibility (DF) of residential and commercial buildings by 2030 relative to 2022 levels. In addition, their recent Connected Communities pilot projects are investing $61 million into 10 pilot projects that will deploy new technology to transform thousands of homes and workplaces across the country into state-of-the-art, energy-efficient buildings.

Barriers to a GEBs Future
Unlocking a successful GEBs future requires that the industry overcome barriers that limit the ability to develop and deploy coordinated utility programs. By identifying current practitioner challenges paired with on-the-ground solution strategies, a new SEPA study, Accelerating Coordinated Utility Programs for GEBs: Practitioner’s Perspectives (supported by the U.S. DOE and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), examines how traditional energy efficiency, demand flexibility, and demand response programs are transitioning to integrate energy conservation and active management of electricity in buildings for the direct or indirect provision of grid services.

The report and associated case studies examine the barriers and potential solutions to this building energy program transition by gathering insights from utilities, program administrators, technology solution providers, and regulators.

Key study findings include:

  • Utility organizational and regulatory procedural silos are limiting the ability to develop and deploy programs and maximize DF and grid services.
  • Supportive regulatory innovation and collaboration frameworks, such as a more flexible regulatory framework for pilot programs or strategies to enhance collaborative work across multiple entities, can enable program development and flexibility.
  • Alternative regulatory models can encourage program development, planning, and deployment, though cost-effectiveness and evolving metrics for program design and evaluation remain challenging.
  • Customer recruitment and retention is often more challenging and complex than for traditional programs, and ensuring equitable participation requires additional considerations.
  • Broader system-level barriers such as inadequate standards and protocols, and cybersecurity concerns, are also limiting program development.

What the Experts are Saying
A recent RE+ conference panel featuring speakers from the California Energy Commission, Southern California Edison, Holy Cross Energy, and Uplight explored key utility, solution provider, regulatory, and policymaker insights into unlocking a GEBs future:

With the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the opportunity to unlock a GEBs future is growing.

Download SEPA’s Accelerating Coordinated Utility Programs for Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings: Practitioners’ Perspectives report and case studies to learn more about the barriers to and potential solution strategies for this building energy program transition.