5 Questions with Dave Oberholzer, Resideo’s General Manager of Energy Management
The Company’s Energy Guru Discusses a Generation’s Greatest Opportunity and Challenge
EDITOR’S NOTE: this is a second in a series of articles about energy management in the home
By: Sarah Reckard, Resideo communications
During the course of his career, Dave Oberholzer served in the Navy, worked at Verizon Wireless during the height of mobile adoption and grew the energy analytics business at WeatherBug. Resideo recently acquired the Whisker Labs technology that Oberholzer and Dr. Michael Siemann helped patent and deploy. It's a technology that helps optimize what he calls the largest and most complex machine ever created.
I sat down with him to learn about his engineering career, how he has found a calling in the energy sector and how his own children, and future generations, inspire him to find the answer to his generation’s biggest opportunity.
- You’ve worked at organizations that are constantly innovating on behalf of the customer; and now you’re at Resideo doing the same thing. What drives you to constantly strive for more?
I believe that energy is the key opportunity and challenge of our generation, and I want to be a part of that solution. The main opportunity that needs to be solved is how to de-carbonize our sources of energy. This challenge will ultimately impact everyone’s relationship with energy – and the energy grid. At Resideo, we’re able to help both homeowners and utility companies meet this challenge by implementing new technology.
My kids are convinced that the electric grid is the most boring thing in the world. But it is the largest and most complex machine ever created by man, and it needs to adapt to meet every-changing consumer preferences. For example, in the 1950s and 60s, the rise of consumer appliances and air conditioning was possible due to the introduction of interconnected power grids and later, nuclear power. As the number of air conditioning units continued to increase, electric utilities had to build out their infrastructure to handle the load. Resideo’s heritage parent company, Honeywell, was a big player during that transformation. I am excited to be part of an organization that has the scale and market presence to make a big impact on the future.
Why is energy the key opportunity, and why do you want to focus on it now?
Electricity is social good: it’s what makes communities work…it keeps the streetlights on and the stoplights working. In fact, modern homes and communities quickly shut down if power is lost.
Cheap, reliable energy drives economic growth.But that progress also comes at a cost. Burning coal, oil or natural gas emits CO2 into the air and contributes to global warming. The increase in greenhouse gases is driving both the demand for cleaner energy and the need for more efficient use of it. I am compelled to help fix this for my kids, but also know there is a tremendous opportunity for innovative solutions in this space.
- As homeowners, what can we do to take demand off the energy grid?
In the United States, roughly half of a home’s energy bill comes from heating and cooling costs. If you want to make the largest impact on residential energy demands, homeowners can be more efficient with their heating and cooling – especially during peak periods. The three most important things:
- Get your heating and cooling systems tuned up and replace filters regularly so systems are running as efficiently as possible.
- Join demand response programs that can automatically curb energy needs when weather is extreme. Peak load is very costly both environmentally (utilities are forced to use their least efficient and dirtiest power plants during the peak) and economically (high temps cause diminishing output from power plants, and less transmission capacity in power lines).
- Install a programmable or connected smart thermostat that delivers comfort when people are home and energy savings when they are away.
- Since weather is so varied across the country, how does energy demand differ state to state? Has that fragmentation slowed down and progress towards finding alternative, cleaner fuel sources?
Utility companies are governed and managed locally – at the state or city level – partly because weather impacts how those companies manage the energy grid, but also because the source of power varies regionally. Utilities bring on the cheapest and most reliable energy they can: there is hydro in the Pacific Northwest United States; solar in the Southwest; nuclear in the South; and, coal in the Midwest. This variance plays a factor in how regulators and utilities make policy and view renewables, demand response and energy efficiency.
Energy is local, and Resideo can help manage the grid’s transition at the local level. For example, Texas is unique because it’s an energy island and is dependent on its own generation. It doesn’t have the capacity to import much energy from the North American grid. West Texas has the largest wind generation capabilities in the nation, and wind power is inexpensive to generate. But when the air is calm, Texas has limited back up options because there are fewer, traditional power plants in operation because wind is so cost effective, in most cases. Texas has no choice but to curtail load or risk a blackout.
This is where Resideo’s technology can help shift that load around so utilities avoid blackouts and homeowners avoid high prices. In July 2019, the hottest month ever recorded, we supported 393 U.S. utility events and shifted more than 320 megawatt hours of load off the grid, which is about the amount of power needed to power a small city for an hour.
This is just one example of how the decarbonization of our energy supply is hitting real, physical challenges. In order to make the full transition to renewables, we need to able to shift around enough energy to power a large city.
- What’s the future of energy management, and how do you see Resideo being part of that journey?
I’m very motivated by our patented technology that can automatically optimize how the house uses energy based on the weather, and I can’t wait to offer it to even more homeowners. Not only will consumers be able to save money on their energy bills, we’ll be able to offer utilities even more value by shifting significant amounts of load.
To help solve this challenge, look to the future. Kids get it. They care about climate change and they are asking the right questions: where does my electricity come from? Is it dirty? What can I do to help? I see this even in my own kids, who participated in the climate change strikes in September. Most American teens are frightened by climate change, and one fourth of high school-aged kids are taking action to do something about it. Now is the time to get started.