Optimizing Energy Savings from Direct-DC in U.S. Residential Buildings

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An increasing number of energy efficient appliances operate on direct current (DC) internally, offering the potential to use DC from renewable energy systems directly and avoiding the losses inherent in converting power to alternating current (AC) and back. This paper investigates that potential for net-metered residences with on-site photovoltaics (PV) by modeling the net power draw of the ‘direct-DC house' with respect to today's typical configuration, assuming identical DC-internal loads.

Power draws were modeled for houses in 14 U.S. cities, using hourly, simulated PV-system output and residential loads. The latter were adjusted to reflect a 33% load reduction, representative of the most efficient DC-internal technology, based on an analysis of 32 electricity end-uses. The model tested the effect of climate, electric vehicle (EV) loads, electricity storage, and load shifting on electricity savings; a sensitivity analysis was conducted to determine how future changes in the efficiencies of power system components might affect savings potential.

Based on this work, we estimate that net-metered PV residences could save 5% of their total electricity load for houses without storage and 14% for houses with storage. Based on residential PV penetration projections for year 2035 obtained from the National Energy Modeling System (2.7% for the reference case and 11.2% for the extended policy case), direct-DC could save the nation 10 trillion Btu (without storage) or 40 trillion Btu (with storage). Shifting the cooling load by two hours earlier in the day (pre-cooling) has negligible benefits for energy savings. Direct-DC provides no energy savings benefits for EV charging, to the extent that charging occurs at night. However, if charging occurred during the day, for example with employees charging while at work, the benefits would be large. Direct-DC energy savings are sensitive to power system and appliance conversion efficiencies but are not significantly influenced by climate.

While direct-DC for residential applications will most likely arise as a spin-off of developments in the commercial sector—because of lower barriers to market entry and larger energy benefits resulting from the higher coincidence between load and insolation—this paper demonstrates that there are substantial benefits in the residential sector as well. Among residential applications, space cooling derives the largest energy savings from being delivered by a direct-DC system. It is the largest load for the average residence on a national basis and is particularly so in high-load regions. It is also the load with highest solar coincidence.

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