Power generation isn’t the only activity at SRP’s Santan Generating Station.
Behind the gates, employees of the publicly-owned utility evaluate new technologies for use by customers. In this way, high-performing energy-saving products are generated.
At the Innovation Test Center, Val Vista Drive and Warner Road in Gilbert, the SRP Customer Program Innovation group tests traditional against smart home appliances; battery efficiencies; electric vehicle charging stations; and new home automation.
Tempe-based SRP is the Phoenix metropolitan area’s largest supplier of electricity and the state’s largest supplier of water.
“We have installed a testing lab, a manufactured home, and a garage so that we can research, test and install these technologies,” said Max Burger, senior analyst for SRP Customer Program Innovation.
“Our mission here is to help our customers potentially save money and energy,” Burger explained. “The Innovation Test Center exists for the benefit of our customers and the communities we serve.”
Michael Sanders, principal engineer for SRP Customer Program Innovation and a Mesa resident, explained that the work also helps SRP limit power plant emissions, lower costs, manage current demand and continue to plan for future growth.
The research and testing also facilitates progress toward the utility’s 2035 Sustainability Goals.
In September 2017, SRP selected the location for the Innovation Test Center at the Santan Generating Station, which supplements base-load plants during high-demand periods and opened in phases from October 1974 through March 2006.
Lab planning and building/area modifications started in February 2018 and the Innovation Test Center building was trailered to the site in August of that year.
Since then, SRP has continued to modify the lab building and exterior grounds with upgraded electrical capabilities for testing purposes, Burger said.
Pre-pandemic, seven authorized members of CPI worked at the Innovation Test Center.
Now, because of COVID-19 safety precautions, SRP has restricted access even further to just CPI’s three engineers on a need-to basis for testing purposes.
“In the test center, we try out many of the popular smart home automation products our customers use,” Sanders explained.
These include smart thermostats, automated lights and smart plugs, which connect to smartphones for controllability at home receptacles.
“We push these products to their limits to see how they perform in our harsh desert environment. This way, we can rule out options that aren’t a good fit and make the best product recommendations to customers,” he added.
The test center reflects the environment of a typical SRP customer’s home, Sanders explained.
“This allows us to test and fix common issues our customers may experience. Any problems that come up in a customer program can be recreated at the test center.”
For example, some homeowners report radio frequency range issues that disrupt their TVs or phones. Others say some appliances have timing delays, and others want to know what can be done regarding indoor temperature variations, for example, between one room in the house and another.
Testing and fixing these problems in the center allow SRP to respond to its customers faster regarding the latest energy-saving smart devices for homes, including thermostats, lighting and appliance controllers and irrigation controllers.
“With this info, we can better adapt our energy programs around these devices and design plans that help customers save the most money and resources,” Burger said.
The ITC is now working on a number of projects. These include EV charger testing, in particular, how to control/manage load demand so that the unit can work at the most efficient and economical level for SRP and the customer, Sanders explained.
“This is when the demand portion of the customer’s energy usage is set by a limit, therefore reducing potential energy spikes,” Sanders said.
Two others are the effect of residential hot water heaters on customer’s power bills and the interaction of various home automation devices and their ability to save energy.
The Innovation Test Center is only for SRP use and is not open to the public, but SRP customers can become involved by participating in the research and testing.
“We are always looking for customers to join smaller pilot programs and try these new technologies at their homes,” Sanders noted.
Homeowners can find these pilots at savewithsrp.com and other marketing publications.
“Not only do the customers get to try out the latest and greatest tech devices and services, it also can help the customer save money and energy,” he added.
Burger said: “The more energy that we can conserve together through these various programs means that SRP can use its power generation more efficiently for all our customers and delay or possibly eliminate the need for additional costly energy-generation resources.”