Empowering Downtown Evansville's Renaissance With Smart Energy Technologies

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Downtown Evansville is undergoing a dramatic evolution, thanks in part to the state's Regional Cities Initiative, and a key contributor is the Post House - a $40 million mixed-use development that will include housing, retail and office space. However, the Post House has broader implications beyond supporting the downtown area's overall development landscape. It will serve as a "living laboratory" for smart energy research that can inform not only utilities' services but has the potential to affect the broader energy industry as a whole by accelerating the use of smart energy technologies and adapting the technology to consumers' needs.

Post House, with an anticipated groundbreaking date in August 2018, is being developed by Scannell Properties and Vectren Corp. (NYSE: VVC) is serving as the utility partner. The 150-unit development will consist of two primary buildings with a combined 160 kilowatts of solar on the rooftops, in addition to a combined total of 350 kWh of energy storage capacity, both residential and commercial scale. Five electric vehicle chargers will be on site for public and private use, and a variety of internet-connected devices - controlled by smartphone apps in many cases - for appliances, thermostats, refrigeration, lighting, and others. By including a load panel monitor, both Vectren Corp. and residents can observe the overall energy loads by apartment unit and determine the impacts of the energy efficiency features.

While the combination of technologies can certainly be valuable in driving down energy consumption within the development, the potential for Post House to provide insight for utility and service providers, technology providers, and research institutions is likely to have a greater overall impact on the energy industry and how consumers interact with these emerging technologies.

Vectren, as the utility evaluating the smart energy technologies, is always looking to the future of what our customers need from their energy provider. We will have a unique diversity of data from Post House on a variety of fuels, systems, mechanicals and connected devices to provide a "big picture" view of the energy systems and how to ultimately reduce costs, provide sustainable energy solutions, and address consumer needs.

But beyond our own exploration of energy consumption and efficiency, technology providers themselves can glean important information about how consumers interact with their devices. By understanding when and how customers use the smart devices to make behavioral changes in how they consume energy, technology providers can make adjustments to their tools to better serve customers and anticipate how they will be more likely to engage with them on a daily basis. Piloting their technologies at Post House provides a real-world environment to evaluate their tools.

Third party researchers are also involved in the Post House living laboratory to provide an unbiased assessment of the effectiveness of the technologies, such as whether there were actual cost savings achieved and determining what type of environment is needed to encourage optimal consumer interaction with the tools, therefore saving energy and reducing costs. By publishing the outcomes of their studies, the broader energy industry will be able to benefit from our learnings, which could lead to additional partnerships with other research firms, government institutions, and technology providers.

Of the greatest potential is Post House’s efforts to educate the residents themselves on how to reduce energy consumption and live in a more efficient home. Post House will have a unique demonstration space on the main floor of one of the buildings with a mock apartment and battery storage units to demonstrate how the different technologies can be used, how to use the different smart controls and to view their real-time energy consumption. By empowering residents with these tools, not only can they be smarter about their personal load on the grid, but they can be more mindful of their resources - both energy and cost-related.

Living learning laboratories are not only for individual companies or developers. While Vectren is keen on understanding how the future of the energy world is evolving, in order to have an effective impact on people and industry together, it's imperative to engage each of those parties in the research and education. Utilities, technology providers, researchers, and consumers themselves are all critical in establishing a best-in-class smart energy research hub that provides real value to the energy industry. And Evansville can put Indiana on the map of this leading-edge research.

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