Time to ‘like’ the energy internet

Elisa WoodBy Elisa Wood
October 19, 2011

We hear a lot about the upcoming democratization of energy.  But with the average consumer thinking about energy only six minutes per year, it’s fair to wonder if anyone will show up to ‘vote.’

But this week an alliance that includes the intriguing combination of Opower and Facebook offers promise that this futuristic concept may not be so far off into the future.

The democratization of energy gives consumers the ability to take charge of their electricity production and use via new technologies, much the way they’ve gained control over information flow via the Internet. Think rooftop solar panels and plug-in electric vehicles, which together give you the ability to not only make your own energy, but also store it and sell it. Combine these technologies with smart meters, dynamic pricing, virtual net metering, solar gardens, home energy displays and Internet-enabled appliances and you have an electricity system that looks far different than today’s. Large energy producers and operators now control the electric grid, but a democratized grid distributes this control to the rest of us. You and I, in essence, become the power plant.

The democratization of energy, also called the energy internet, holds a lot of appeal in a world where we feel like victims of larger forces that control our economic fate. When oil prices spike, we helplessly take another financial hit.

The energy internet promises to help us be more energy efficient, save money, in some cases make money, and enjoy more comfort and automation in our homes.

However, so far, consumers haven’t shown much interest in taking charge of their energy use, even in fundamental ways. Perhaps this is because the concept of energy democratization seems remote and speculative – to those who think about it at all.  I’m reminded of the nascent days of the Internet, when futurists made lofty claims that it would change banking, shopping and the workplace, and even revolutionize politics worldwide through an inexorable flow of information. At the time, most of us still saw the computer as little more than a difficult-to-use word processing machine.

Apple Computer changed that by making the computer more user-friendly.  Opower (and similar companies) is the Apple of the energy internet, in that it’s figuring out ways to give energy efficiency technologies consumer appeal. Opower does this by tapping into our social instincts and playing on our sense of community, camaraderie and even competition to incite us to pursue energy efficiency in our homes.

But the work is being done community by community, so it’s slow going.  So far Opower has sent its home energy report – a key ingredient of its method – to 3 million households. How to speed it up? That’s where Facebook comes into play, with its 800 million worldwide users all meeting and socializing in one big virtual spot.

Opower intends to use Facebook to set up friendly competitions among households. If yours is one of the 60 US utilities that already partners with Opower, you’ll be able to download your home’s actual energy use from Facebook, compare it against similar households and chart your progress with regular updates from your utility. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the third leg of the partnership, will provide environmental information.

Opower envisions social networking groups and communities forming around their new energy knowledge. These groups could have a significant impact on the success or defeat of energy efficiency products and businesses. Think about how fast video gets passed around Facebook of cats doing cute things. That could instead be word of a hot, new energy product. Or conversely news could go viral of the light bulb that burns out too quickly or the appliance that fails to live up to its promise. Energy efficiency companies will need to be on their toes.

The partnership plans to launch the new venture early next year in the Chicago area through Commonwealth Edison.  It’s fair to assume that many will ‘like’ it.

Elisa Wood’s Facebook page is Energy Efficiency Insights. Please ‘like’ it.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Trackbacks

  1. […] and new technologies show us how to reuse it. We’ll hear more about them this year. 2. The “democratization of energy” movement is going to accelerate, albeit slowly, as home energy displays and other energy […]

  2. […] This transformation will require action on both ends of the equation. We have already seen changes at the utility level. This will be further aided by federal governments getting involved (as they have so effectively in Europe, especially in Germany). At the consumer end, people need to take control of their own power generation, but first they have to want to. This requires awareness, which is being aided by emerging new efforts like Opower, which recently announced a partnership with Facebook and NRDC to provide just such awareness of energy consumption and of the opportunities afforded by the “energy internet.” […]

  3. […] to provide just such awareness of energy consumption and of the opportunities afforded by the “energy internet.”As we witness this new transformation unfolding around us, it’s good to remember what Lovins […]

  4. […] A new paper by Joseph Stanislaw, independent senior energy advisor at Deloitte, eloquently gets to the real meaning of smart grid. Moving beyond the gadget talk, he describes the bigger picture, how new energy efficiency and smart technologies will democratize energy. […]

  5. […] A new paper by Joseph Stanislaw, independent senior energy advisor at Deloitte, eloquently gets to the real meaning of smart grid. Moving beyond the gadget talk, he describes the bigger picture, how new energy efficiency and smart technologies will democratize energy. […]

  6. […] Industry movement seems to point in that direction with the rise of the smart grid, time-of-day pricing, distributed solar, and the electric vehicle. Together these technologies offer a vision of a less centralized energy system, one where communities and households ‘vote in’ or shape the electric grid by how they decide to consume energy, a phenomenon also called the Energy Internet. […]

  7. […] Industry movement seems to point in that direction with the rise of the smart grid, time-of-day pricing, distributed solar, and the electric vehicle. Together these technologies offer a vision of a less centralized energy system, one where communities and households ‘vote in’ or shape the electric grid by how they decide to consume energy, a phenomenon also called the Energy Internet. […]

  8. […] Industry movement seems to point in that direction with the rise of the smart grid, time-of-day pricing, distributed solar, and the electric vehicle. Together these technologies offer a vision of a less centralized energy system, one where communities and households ‘vote in’ or shape the electric grid by how they decide to consume energy, a phenomenon also called the Energy Internet. […]

  9. […] The development of smart grids, distributed solar energy, time-of-day pricing, and functional electric vehicles offer a vision of a less centralized energy system tied to the one-fuel dictatorship of fossil fuels. One day, individual households and communities, operating their own power sources, may shape the electric grid by how they decide to consume energy. Some call this culmination of integrated technology, energy, and consumer participation The Energy Internet. […]

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