Why (and How) the Grid of the Future Will Change
“We live in a global world … and the fact is, if everybody on the planet lived like we do in America, we’d need 10 planet Earths. This is a sad fact, but, unfortunately, we’re all going to have to make do with a lot less in the future.”
~Scott Gordon, SVP of Sales, HelioPower
Let’s think about that for a moment. Smart metering is one way for the utilities to monitor and regulate electric usage. As more electric providers introduce smart meters, more people will look to solar power as a way to regain control of their own electricity use.
But a mindset shift will occur, where we begin to think of affordable electricity-on-demand — with the simple flip of a switch or push of a button — as a privilege rather than a right. (And if you don’t believe that, take a look at the recap of our 3/14/12 #SolarChat, during which we discussed charitable initiatives to bring solar energy to impoverished areas of the world.)
In the same conversation that he shared the above words, Gordon mentioned that by 2015, we may begin to see programmable appliances, equipped with smart chips, that enable users to program them to turn on only when electric rates are at their lowest. “When electricity rates are between X and Y, your appliances are allowed to run. At other times, you’ll get an error message when you go to run your dishwasher,” Gordon explains.
All of this sounds exciting and high-tech but, as Gordon points out, “Ninety-nine percent of the world is not technical. They just want to plug something in and have it work.”
People who are not technically savvy, and who can’t afford to pay someone else to program their appliances for them, will subsidize electricity production for everyone else. Sadly, these are the people who can least afford to pay even more for electricity — people on fixed incomes, the unemployed, the elderly, and people with young children.
What’s the answer? You call a solar installer, and within a week to 120 days (depending on installation schedules and how long it takes to acquire permits), you can turn on the lights, TV and appliances in your home during the day and enjoy free, clean, renewable energy. Produce enough energy, and you feed it back into the grid to use as energy credits when you need to use electricity at night or on rainy days.
How Will Your Solar Installation Affect Your Electric Company?
The electric companies want to see people using solar, just as they want to see people conserving energy. It’s good for the environment and reduces the risk of brown-outs, helping to ensure the electric providers have enough power to supply their region.
But only to a point. Gordon says, “Every time we sign on a customer, the electric company loses part of a customer, maybe 50 or 75 or 80 percent. That’s what they’re worried about.”
Since the electric companies still need to make money, the grid will change. Instead of being a provider of energy, utilities will become distributors.
Gordon uses the analogy of a cable company. “Your local cable company or satellite dish provider doesn’t produce a lot of content — less than 1 percent. But they distribute massive amounts of content. When we move into the distributed grid of the future, you’ll see utilities charging to use their pipes — as a distributor of electricity rather than content.”
Net metering, according to Gordon, is just the first step. Ultimately, we’ll see a model where electricity comes from a variety of sources, including renewable sources like wind and solar farms owned by individuals or communities, and the utility company is simply charging people to use the grid for distribution.
If this makes you think it might be time to start creating your own power now… you’d be right.