How can we behave less like consumers in an energy market and more like organisms in an ecosystem?

Sensemaking / How can we behave less like consumers in an energy market and more like organisms in an ecosystem?

Join the final discussion in our three-week explorer, 'Living grid: energy inspired by life'

By Futures Centre / 11 May 2017

So far in the Living Grid explorer, we’ve asked what human systems can learn from the rest of life on Earth, and how nature would redesign our energy system. In our third and final week, we’re asking:

In future energy systems, how can we behave less like consumers in a market and more like organisms in an ecosystem?

In nature, all organisms have a role to play: there are no passive actors. The role of organisms can change, depending on the environment around them and their interaction with other organisms. In contrast, in our human energy system many players are passive, which results in linear flows of energy that lead to waste. What difference would it make to our energy system if we behaved more like organisms? Share your thoughts by 17 May.

This is the final topic for discussion in a three-week online conversation to find out what we can learn from living systems to design an energy system that continuously renews itself, sponsored by SmartestEnergy. Share your thoughts by 17 May.


What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

In healthy ecosystems, it's how the different organisms relate to each other that counts - more than their individual characteristics. I wonder what's out there that can help us figure out how we all could be contributing to a living energy system. Are there apps to help you spot other energy producers near you, or find the people who'd be up for getting a microgrid off the ground?
2 users have voted.
Suggest having a look at how Co-op Power are creating a network of community energy coops in the Northeast US (and sharing out a model for adoption anywhere): A renewable energy cooperative "rewriting the rules on community ownership of the energy supply" quite openly and effectively, it appears!
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Hello Benjamin,  Great spot!  Thanks.  I like the quote on their website, "The tools of democracy are not just here to defend. They're here to use!"

Have you seen Pia Mancini's TED talk: posted yesterday here: 

We don't tend to talk about governance in the energy system much - probably because it's been taken care of by large institutions.  I agree with Pia that decision-making and participation needs a shake-up and the need for that is especially stark in energy and I guess we're seeing the strongest beginnings of that in places like India and Kenya.   If you have any other thoughts on where are how more self-organising/ locally-based approaches to energy are emerging and opportunities for them to grow and evolve,  we'd love to hear them.
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Be an active part and integrate yourself into the system: Do your part by getting solar power, and electric vehicle, efficient appliances, intelligent operation, and enjoy being part of the solution.

It works now, and you do not have to be rich to do it. Being an eco-freak, I wanted to be clean, so we put in a solar PV system, and bought an electric car (VW e-Golf), by getting one as the new models came out. With the price cut and the tax credits it cost us $30,000 for BOTH car and PV system. The solar system was sized to provide 90% of our house power, but it covers all the house and car, too.

We saved $3k the first year, and this year may save more since gasoline and electricity have gone up here.

It now pays off.

Originally posted by George Kamburoff on Quora -
1 user has voted.
Those concepts do not seem appropriate to me. The role that any organism plays is an arbitrary categorization made by observers. The organisms do not have a script to read, even if they could read one. It is also a characteristic of populations rather than individuals.

The concept of waste in the context of an ecosystem is rather difficult to apply. Is it a waste of energy by an oak tree to produce so many acorns when only one in many thousands will grow to be another oak tree?

The evolution of living things is a recursive trial and error process. It is complex and not very predictable. Who or what is to say that some particular use of energy is a waste?

Originally posted by Virgil Fenn on Quora -
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Absolutely! Living systems are far more complex than the language we use currently for our linear systems can describe. What interests me is less whether or not we label something as waste, and more whether active populations are able to access and reuse resources.

To draw on your analogy, if an oak tree were merely an individual it might consider the majority of its acorns waste - but as you say, in the context of living systems this is absurd. Likewise, an energy company that sells energy in only one direction produces waste when there is an over-supply; if it were to operate in a network of multi-direction transactions (a living grid) there would be no question of waste: rather of redistribution or repurposing.
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