Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Engaging the Consumer...but who is / will be the consumer?


I spent the early part of this week at the Parks Smart Energy Summit in San Antonio.  The theme of the event was "Engaging the Consumer," and while no diamond rings were exchanged, a lot of useful ideas were.

The last speaker I got to hear before scurrying to the Airport was Doug Houseman. (I'm writing this in BWI, waiting for my flight to Raleigh, NC where I'm on a panel tomorrow at SmartGrid Update's "Smart Grid Distribution Automation 2013.")

Doug is a lot of things: an avid gamer, an architect, a pretty serious computer geek, opinionated, direct to an extreme, and a good friend.  He also has one, sometimes annoying, habit:

He's right a lot.

He's not always right (nobody is) but he's right enough, often enough, that while you may disagree with him, you ignore what he has to say at your peril.

Doug held forth this morning on the topic of "Grid 2050" or what will the grid of the future look and operate like.  Based on his research (which he indicated will be published in a forthcoming paper) the grid of 2050 will be very different from the grid we have now.  Some of his key points to chew over:

The Grid will operate under a new paradigm.  Rather than "Generation / Transmission / Distribution / Load" people will think in terms of 3 things you do with electricity.
  • Make it
  • Move it
  • Use it
Because every level of the grid will be doing different parts of that trifecta at different times, it will operate as nested layers of Make, Move, Use.

In addition, service provider and customer will be come fungible enough that it will become a matter of "Requester" and "Responder"

Individual buildings / locations will operate in a mixed AC and DC environment.  If you have rooftop solar, why lose 25% of the energy you make converting it to AC, only to lose another 20% when you convert it back again?

For those who provide services, marketing will require greater customer segmentation.  As an example, Doug pointed out that FP&L has 56 different DR and EE programs.

In regard to utility specified / managed residential appliances, Doug reminded his audience that in most jurisdictions, it is illegal for the Utility to recommend, sell, or require an appliance.

On top of that, different customer segments / subsegments / groups will choose to use different energy management systems. So, will it be a gateway, a cloud, a 3rd party service, or something else?

The answer, according to Doug, is Yes.

If you think about it for a few minutes, I think you'll see that Doug is saying that the energy to power the "internet of things" will operate a lot more like the internet we have now.  You are reading a blog entry that I wrote, using a combination of BWI's free Wi-Fi and a tethered Smartphone and a laptop running a customized Linux, that is posted on a Google-owned service which is financially supported by the advertising revenue we all bring in.

Which one of us is the consumer?  Who is the service provider?  Does the distinction matter?

For those of you who think this kind of grid isn't possible in 400 years, let alone 40, let me point out that I finished this blog entry at a cruising speed of around 300 MPH, using Wi-Fi on an airliner.  40 years ago, 2400 Baud dialup was a big deal.

I happen to think Doug's very right, so I invite you to engage in the discussion.  Some very bright people (who I get to work with) are imagining a very different energy future.

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