Green

GreenBeat: Save energy (and money!) — leave consumers out of it, energy management companies say

The most obvious answer to how to get consumers to embrace the Smart Grid is “money,” said the startup and demand response company leaders on GreenBeat 2009′s Consumers and Efficiency panel. The invisible hand of economics hath built the empire of Wal-Mart, could it not also raise up smarter utilities?

According to Gary Fromer, CEO of demand response firm CPower, the key is to give incentives. Claiming that big box stores like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s have done more to propagate efficiency items than any other group, he suggests that adding incentives to energy efficient products at the point of sale could be the key to rapid adoption amongst consumers.

Of course, sloth is also a powerful motivator. Scott Hublou of EcoFactor contends that simple information reporting isn’t enough because most people don’t have a desperate need to reduce costs — so they probably won’t reduce energy usage if left to their own devices. To make the power savings happen (instead of providing information on where/when they aren’t happening) his company’s smart thermostat software can take charge and deliver 20-30 percent HVAC power savings, hands free. Considering that HVAC is 50 percent of a home’s power consumption, this tech could go a long way.

Adrian Tuck of home energy management system maker Tendril quips, “The question is being posed the wrong way.  If you pose the question ‘Do you want the utility company to control your AC?’ they’ll say ‘no.’ If you ask them if they want utilities to control their AC, build a new power plant or have rolling blackouts, they’ll let you control their AC.”

So much for residential: some want to wait for market forces to speed adoption, others want to goof-proof the process and automate the savings. During the residential section of the panel, nobody gave the home consumer a lot of credit for wanting to do the right thing no matter the cost. Which is just as well, since we’ve all made a mess of it so far.

During the open Q&A, the speakers thought more big picture. A man who self identified as the “Father of the Plug-In Hybrid” noted that plug-in hybrids, with 100 percent adoption, could hold two weeks of reserve power for the U.S. With that in mind, he asked, what were intelligent utility companies doing to promote plug-in hybrids?

In short, the answer was “We aren’t, exactly, because we don’t know what EVs are going to do to the grid.”

It was also noted that EVs are likely to add load at night but might be able to help with peak demand shaving during high load times. Studies in the U.K. have shown that there are three peaks in the day, at 7 A.M., 5:45 P.M., and sometimes at 8:30 P.M. Incidentally, these are tea times when people use an electric kettle. Hypothetically, power generated during the night and stored in car batteries could be siphoned off to heat the kettles, without affecting people’s lives — until they start paying less for power every month.

Overall there is still a lot of uncertainty as to what the confluence of EVs, more intelligent power distribution and renewable power is going to look like. The technologies are here or arriving soon; the business and practical sides are TBA.

[Photo Credit: Alexa Lee]

VentureBeat is hosting GreenBeat, the seminal executive conference on the Smart Grid, today and tomorrow, Nov. 18-19, featuring keynotes from Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and Kleiner Perkins’ John Doerr. Register for your ticket today at GreenBeat2009.com.