Thermostatically controlled loads, e.g., air conditioners and heaters, are by far the most widespread consumers of electricity. Normally the devices are calibrated to provide the so-called bang-bang control - changing from on to off, and vice versa, depending on temperature. We considered aggregation of a large group of similar devices into a statistical ensemble, where the devices operate following the same dynamics, subject to stochastic perturbations and randomized, Poisson on/off switching policy. Using theoretical and computational tools of statistical physics, we analyzed how the ensemble relaxes to a stationary distribution and established a relationship between the relaxation and the statistics of the probability flux associated with devices' cycling in the mixed (discrete, switch on/off, and continuous temperature) phase space. This allowed us to derive the spectrum of the non-equilibrium (detailed balance broken) statistical system and uncover how switching policy affects oscillatory trends and the speed of the relaxation. Relaxation of the ensemble is of practical interest because it describes how the ensemble recovers from significant perturbations, e.g., forced temporary switching off aimed at utilizing the flexibility of the ensemble to provide "demand response" services to change consumption temporarily to balance a larger power grid. We discuss how the statistical analysis can guide further development of the emerging demand response technology.
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