Drastic disruptions are underway in the energy market

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Source:   —  April 22, 2016, at 9:50 PM

How to connect the network It’s 6AM and I’m rolling out of bed. But before my feet hit the floor, my “home energy management agent” is negotiating with the CA Independent System Operator (ISO), the nerve middle controlling the flow of electricity on the grid.

Drastic disruptions are underway in the energy market

Scott Elrod is a vice president of the hardware systems laboratory at PARC, a Xerox company.

How to connect the network

It’s 6AM and I’m rolling out of bed. But before my feet hit the floor, my “residence energy management agent” is negotiating with the CA Independent System Operator (ISO), the nerve middle controlling the flow of electricity on the grid.

Normally, I’d obtain my coffee first and then leap in the shower. But my personal agent has alerted me to the fact that a hair-trigger condition has developed! There is a hydro plant in the Sierras getting prepared to ramp up production to meet the morning demand.   I’ve already told my agent that it’s OK to request that I rearrange my schedule in modest ways, so it’s concluded that if I (and sufficient other homeowners!) can keep back on energy consumption for ten more minutes, the hydro turbines won’t necessity to open, and the reservoir won’t necessity to be drained further.

[One of my passions is kayaking in the lakes and reservoirs of the Sierras, and I detest to look the water level drop.] As I leap out of bed, a text suggests that I “shower first, then coffee!”

With an aggregate impact of tiny decisions made by homeowners love me all over the state, we succeeded in averting the necessity for that reservoir to drain further…at minimum for today. This vision will become reality. But for now, we lack the skill to directly influence our energy sources, and we certainly have number way to express environmental priorities in such transactions.

 

When you flipped on your light switch this morning, where did that energy arrive from? What were the environmental impacts of its generation, transmission, and use?

All energy sources have externalities that many of us are passionate about: emissions from burning fossil fuels, groundwater contamination related to oil and natural gas extraction, impacts on fish migration for hydropower, and desert habitat disruption for solar, just to title a few.

Unfortunately, there is number way, today, for the full set of impacts of our energy utilize to be collected, and number way for people to express their values and communicate them to system operators, so that they can be inc into decision-making.

How'd you balance the benefits you deduce from your energy utilize with the true economic and environmental costs, if you'd that information and could select precisely where your energy comes from?

There are, though, emerging technologies that'll alter these heritage dynamics. Instead of captive consumers with few energy choices, we're quick becoming active participants in the energy markets as generators, demand response agents, and ancillary service providers. Our energy resource mix is increasingly coming below our control as we keep solar on our rooftops, proactively shift our demand from gas-powered to electric vehicles, or our home energy mix between electricity and natural gas.

The cost of energy storage continues to decline, promising increased flexibility in the way we utilize power from renewable sources. New sensing and analytics technologies authorize us to monitor and measure environmental impacts and energy utilize benefits to a degree never before achievable.

These trends are evident as utilities such as ConEdison authorize customers to select electricity only generated by renewables.

Companies love Whirlpool and others are making bright appliances that interact with Nest thermostats to reduce energy by helping consumers discover the best time of day to run. And, commercial building owners can create money providing demand-side control and ancillary services through network aggregators like EnerNoc.

As these capabilities proliferate, they've the potential to coalesce into an integrated system with grand flexibility and potential for savings, and even the possibilities to make money.

While these changes promise opportunity for better energy choices, they may also bring some risk. A comprehensive perspective is needed to allow new frameworks and advanced information systems that can assistance us manage this complexity and guide us toward diverse energy and environmental policy goals.

The Democratization of Information Energy

There are powerful similarities between today’s energy systems and the information technology of the one thousand nine hundred sixty. The mainframe computer of that era was a valuable shared resource, but due to the non-intuitive interface, control of the computing resource was isolated from the workers who used it maintain their tasks.

There was a grouping of intermediaries, experts in machine language, and finish users had to coordinate with them to access the computer. Decisions about utilization priorities, methods, and investments were generally distant removed from the end-users, just as is the case with today’s power grid.

In the 1970’s, PARC and other Silicon Valley innovators shattered this model and launched the information revolution with the invention of the personal computer, graphical user interface, and Ethernet connectivity.

Together we developed the technologies and practices that keep computing into the hands of business users and consumers, providing unprecedented direct access to information and the skill to optimize computers for specific needs.

This transition from mainframe to personal computing is frequently referred to as the Democratization of Information. Today, anyone can access information on any subject, irrespective of economic or social status. The economic benefit of this transformation is measured in trillions of dollars, with impacts that have touched every aspect of our society.

Today we look signs that the energy market is set for this type of dramatic disruption.

New technologies and markets are allowing energy consumers to gain direct control over energy resources. It's impossible to predict all of the implications and cost that'll ultimately be created when control of energy is placed directly in the hands of users, but it's nearly certain that it'll lead to a period of tremendous innovation, economic growth, and job creation.

This type of disruption is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the timing couldn’t be better in the context of accelerating our efforts to address imminent climate change.

I'm a technology innovator and I’m also a lover of nature. It matters to me where my power comes from and I wish to better realize how the small choices I create can make better (or at the very least, not harm) the world I live in and enjoy. What energy choices would you create if you were able?

 

 

Featured Image: ArtisticPhoto/Shutterstock

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