There is an exponential change occurring in our culture regarding energy. This is due to the acceptance of the dire long-term environmental impact of producing energy for consumption in a traditional manner and has opened the door for a realistic Distributed Generation model. This movement is compelling Utilities to reevaluate not just their fuel mix, but the entire business model of the vertically integrated Utility. The traditional model, developed in the early 20th century is not designed for the demands of today’s Utility and certainly not prepared to accommodate this rapidly increasing demand. This model was created amidst a belief that energy resources would be nearly unlimited. We know that is not the case, therefore the model is inherently flawed. These flaws include: how a Utility is managed, how the customer and Utility interact, and how the regulator interacts with both. We’ll take a high-level look into each area in a series of blogs which will help frame the big picture, and provide both an opportunity for discussion and for solution. First we’ll take a look at the interaction with the customer and renaissance of distributed generation.
The utility’s challenge will be servicing a customer who is generating electricity on their own or their consumer products which produce electricity. The challenge for both Utility and customer will be economic of course, but also storage as well. From the customer perspective, by now most have heard of the Tesla Powerwall,(http://www.teslamotors.com/powerwall). It is currently being marketed as an outage backup as well as storage for solar generating homes. Solar generation is not a constant producer of energy and past battery technology has been out-of-reach for consumers. Detractors point to the battery’s longevity and mention that it is just a marketing ploy. I would argue that the marketing aspect of the Powerwall is actually more important than the product itself, by creating an image of possibility to be off-grid and environmentally conscious. Most customers take the utility for granted and view their interaction with the utility through the bill they are charged each month. We’ll explore that in our next installment. But if the Tesla Powerwall brings the consumer one step closer to not relying on the utility for their energy for what they perceive as something they are paying for each month while ruining the environment, then the consumer is being marketed the possibility that by disconnecting from a utility, they can and will help save the planet, not just save money. So we can see the challenge of the utility, but also we can see the possibility of clean, uninterruptible, cheap energy.
The battery will get better, it will get more efficient. Technology follows this arc, and the Tesla Powerwall will get better, cheaper, multiple vendors and competition will drive this storage evolution. What is left is the ability to generate power other than solar for an individual home or a community of homes. Enter the rooftop wind turbine (http://offgridquest.com/energy/wind-power/silent-rooftop-wind-turbines-could-gener), an alternative or addition to solar for the home. Nearly uninterruptible power generation is possible when combined with solar and increasingly efficient storage options. Neither solar nor wind turbines are a new technology. This is what makes these options realistic, specifically the wind turbine. These technologies have been and are evolving into durable, efficient strategies to generate power. This is a comfort for consumers choosing wind, in that they understand the basic principle of how power is generated from the equipment.
But research has even yielded more ways in which to tackle neutral generation. From a consumer product perspective, new research has yielded positive results for devices. (http://www.offgridquest.com/tech/this-device-grab-power-right) The amount of RF and other waves flying through the air could lead to self-charging devices. Harnessing waves in the air is similar to using a dehumidifier and producing water from the air. Although this is at the micro-level, if we think of the exponential impact of consumers choosing these avenues of distributed generation, one can see the affect it will have on the Utility business model and how the Utility relates to its customers. It seems that each week there is a new story showing the innovation which is occurring in our economy and our world… and its focus is Energy.