Last summer, when peak temperatures -- and peak electricity load -- hit New York City, there was a call from Mayor Bloomberg for people to turn down their air conditioners to no lower than 79 degrees.

One of the many problems with his plea was that he announced it on his weekly radio broadcast, which is slotted to be aired around 11 a.m. when most people are far away from their home air conditioners (not to mention that New Yorkers don’t tune in in droves for the Mayor’s radio program).

For at least a fraction of New York City residents, 2012 will be different. To combat peak demand, Consolidated Edison has an expanded pilot this summer to tackle a small portion of the city’s unique energy hogs: window and wall air conditioning units.

ConEd will equip 10,000 window AC units in several large apartment buildings with ThinkEco’s modlet smart plug and a smartAC thermostat, which will essentially turn the room AC unit into something that can be controlled via the internet or smart phone. The utility will take applicants from across the city’s five boroughs, but will primarily focus on load pockets that are most strained during summer months.

New York City is unique in its penetration of window AC units. In many other areas of the country, the prevalence of these units is related to income. About a third of households below the poverty line have room AC, rather than central, compared to about 15 percent of those that have an income above $100,000, according to EIA. In New York City, however, there are about six million room AC units.

The voluntary residential demand response program, which will shed 5 megawatts during peak, is not the first for New York. The city already has 34 megawatts of DR from 25,000 central AC customers, about 80 percent of which are residential. ConEd has about 500 megawatts total enrolled in all of its demand response programs.

Residential DR is still in its infancy for most utilities. Many have pilots or old-school programs that cycle off hot water heaters or AC units with little to no control on the homeowner’s end. Oklahoma Gas & Electric, however, is moving into 150,000 homes in the coming years to cut peak demand to offset new generation. For utilities that need to offset upgrades, the cost of a little technology in select homes is far cheaper than new power plants or other significant grid investment.

For the pilot in New York, applicants will be taken both from individuals who pay their bill directly and people who live in buildings where the electricity bill is rolled into their mortgage or maintenance charges, according to Adrienne Ortizo, program manager for the program, CoolNYC. The cost of the modlets and smartAC thermostats is about $200 per installation.

In last year’s pilot, there was an average 26 percent savings across the 500 units during peak events. For the program, customers will get the modlet and thermostat for free, along with a $25 gift card in exchange for allowing the utility to cycle down their AC during peak events, which there will probably be just a few of during the summer.

ConEd was not specific about how high it would set the AC units, but last year’s pilot found that the AC could go to about 72 before people noticed a change in temperature. Each event will be based around the number of participants and average room temperature.

The modlet is a tool used not only to reach a large swath of residential units in older cities, such as New York, Philadelphia and Boston, also to help utilities access peak reduction in some lower-income neighborhoods that have a larger number of window AC units. The problem, however, is that for demand response programs, households must also have internet, which has a lower penetration in lower-income neighborhoods. Ortizo acknowledged that having a computer and internet requirement was somewhat limiting for enrollment in CoolNYC as it expands.

The program has had about 1,300 applicants so far, according to Ortizo, and the utility is reaching out to building tenants and managers in the target buildings to fill out the program by mid-June. The technology is key to the DR program, but the website will also provide tips and suggestions for people to get the most out of their AC settings.

The pilot is significantly larger than last year, but Ortizo said it was unclear how much it would scale in following years, although it will continue. Ideally, she said, it would be streamlined with the other central AC demand response program.

For now, the utility is still squarely in the pilot phase when it comes to residents and DR, although a successful run this year could earn ConEd a green light from the New York Public Service Commission down the road.

Tags: coned, consolidated edison, demand response, modlet, new yorkd, peak load, thinkeco