Thought of the day #6: Becoming active energy system participants

Sensemaking / Thought of the day #6: Becoming active energy system participants

How many living systems can you think of where one participant sits at the end of the system demanding services without giving anything back?

By Dr Jeff Hardy / 19 May 2017

That’s exactly what you and I do as consumers within our energy system. Our energy system, the thing that keeps us warm, fed, entertained, mobile and productive, provides these services whenever we want them, without asking anything in return, other than your hard-earned cash.

In the future, I don’t think we’ll get away with being such passive consumers. Why? Because the energy system is transforming – it’s becoming cleaner and smarter. In the last three months of 2016 half our electricity came from low-carbon sources, such as wind, solar and nuclear power. Electric vehicles are becoming a norm rather than a curiosity. Smart devices are permeating all aspects of our lives - the other day I saw an advert for an internet connected hairbrush!

The National Infrastructure Commission thinks a smart power system could save consumers up to £8 billion a year by 2030. Why such a big number? The main reason is that an energy system is most efficient when those who use energy do so when it is available, like when the sun is shining or the wind blowing. A smart energy system helps us do this by telling us, often via price, when it’s a good time to use energy.

And this is the crux – the cheapest future clean energy system we can build is one in which we, as consumers, are doing our bit to make it as smart and efficient as possible. This means being flexible in how and when we use energy. This doesn’t mean living in fear every time you turn on the kettle – in fact it could be rather fun, maybe even exciting to be part of this.

In my research, at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, I examine how new businesses could transform our relationship with energy, turning us from passive to engaged consumers. In a paper for Smart Energy GB, I outlined three different business models:

Peer-to-peer energy – where you as the consumer buy, sell and exchange energy with other consumers – you are directly in control.

Energy Service Company – where you enter a long-term relationship with a company who guarantees you lower bills by improving the efficiency and smartness of your house.

Third party control – where a company acts on your behalf in the energy, telecoms, entertainment markets, switching energy supplier to save you money and flexing your demand automatically in response to energy system needs.

 

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‘Thought for the Day’ is a Living Grid Explorer series where we've asked members of our community to contribute their first-hand experience or discovery related to the Living Grid. 

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