One form of going green has little to do with investing in new electricity generating technologies. Instead, there are groups of engineers at companies like Google who aim to help us use what we have more efficiently by building a smart grid. Engineers envision systems of smart meters that communicate between residences and utility companies to balance supply and demand. For example, consumers may program their clothes dryer to run but the grid determines exactly when the cycle begins based on the cost per kilowatt hour at each minute of the day.
The philanthropic arm of Google has designed PowerMeter which consumers use to track their energy use and keeps them mindful of the need to conserve. A more sophisticated program, SmartGridCity, is being used in Boulder, CO. In Boulder, the local utility, Xcel Energy, will have the capability to adjust when hot water heaters run in consumer homes.
These systems are a vast improvement on earlier load management attempts by utilities who asked consumers to sign up for Time-of-Day rate programs. In those cases, consumers sometimes paid a lower rate for electricity used during periods of low demand.
The stimulus package which President Obama recently signed contains funding for the development of additional smart grid systems. The funding will generate business opportunities in many arenas:
- Web developers will be needed to design new portals
- Appliance manufacturers may need to install new communications chips in their products
- Utility companies will need to communicate with consumers and businesses on an entirely new level
As the stimulus funding gets disbursed to the state and local levels, contact your local utility clients to express your interest in helping them market new smart grid programs.[Source: Wald and Helft. "Google Taking a Step Into Power Metering", New York Times, 2.9.09; Simon, Stephanie. "The More You Know.." Wall Street Journal, 2.9.09]