Consumer Participation in the Smart Grid

The Department of Energy lists active consumer participation as one of the most important characteristics of a Smart Grid.  This takes shape in two forms – electricity production and electricity consumption.  One of the many benefits of the Smart Grid is its ability to integrate renewable energy sources into large scale electricity production.  Another is the ability to communicate in real time on a broad scale to signal requests to modify electricity consumption.  Both of these benefits have profound, positive impacts for consumers.

I Want To Be A Prosumer

Alvin Toffler coined the term “prosumer” to describe a situation where a producer of electricity may also have a consumer relationship with a utility, aggregator, and other energy provider.

That’s exactly what is happening today.  Consumers can play the role of renewable electricity producers at individual or community levels.  For instance, in California, Community Choice Aggregation offers neighborhoods and municipalities opportunities to join forces to source renewable energy for their electricity needs.  This sensible policy encourages growth of local businesses to build and manage renewable energy production and stimulate local economies.  Unfortunately, Pacific Gas and Electric, the monopoly in Northern California, wants to undermine these policy goals and economic benefits to consumers through its Proposition 16 campaign (See my April 19 blog).

Future electricity production must also consider the “negation” of electricity use.  A negawatt is defined in the Smart Grid Dictionary as “A term that identifies watts of energy saved through a reduction in energy use or increase in energy efficiency.  It is the greenest form of energy.”  It is also called the “first fuel”, and it should be bought and sold like any other energy source.

There are growing numbers of solutions that enable homeowners to monitor and manage their electricity use, and create negawatts.  In other words, a consumer can actively participate in reduction of electricity consumption through new Smart Grid technologies.   Traditionally, utilities or third party aggregators enrolled customers into programs that usually delivered day-ahead notification of requests to reduce electricity consumption.  In the future, maintaining a stable grid with renewable resources will require real-time requests for electricity consumption adjustments (and energy storage too).  That implies low cost, high performance reliability in solutions that homeowners use to manage electricity consumption.  One of the most interesting technology platforms uses open source hardware and software – called OSHAN (Open Source for Home Area Networks).  Why is that important? 

Open source solutions (like Linux, MySQL, Apache –foundations of the Internet) have a solid reputation for top quality, reliability, security, and flexibility.  Open source solutions are created at fractions of the cost of traditional development cycles and eliminate risks of buying products that won’t work together. The OSHAN platform could play an important role in unleashing the creativity of software and hardware developers to create innovative products that manage and reduce energy use, creating negawatt value for consumers.   Just as the Smart Grid enables a broad base of participation in electricity production and consumption, technologies like OSHAN can propel the most cost-effective and easy-to-use energy management products into mainstream use.   I look forward to being a prosumer.