Big industry is wising up to “Smart Grid” energy technologies, to help cut costs and energy waste. But can those same technologies be useful to home owners around the world?
Money to burn
Some businesses can waste more energy in a year than some countries use in a month. That’s a sobering thought. And our homes are by no means guilt-free from this energy gluttony. Houses make streets and enough streets make towns and even cities. Take the energy wasted by each home and multiply by a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, or perhaps even a million, and you have a much greater problem than any industry. So why is the emphasis of so-called “Smart Grid” technologies currently focused on the needs of business?
Well, it’s a question of cost. A useful example would be Formula 1 racing; automotive technologies pioneered for and tested on the race track often find their way into the domestic cars that you & I own. In the same way, businesses (or at least, the very big businesses that are able to spread the costs) are able to take fuller advantage of the economies of scale — roll an expensive technology out across a large enough business infrastructure and you save more than you spend. That’s the theory, anyway.
The new energy economy
So for companies like Google — who’re nascent players in the energy management industry — and Cisco, their knowledge, expertise and vast infrastructures and resources make them ideal first choices to install and manage Smart Grid technologies.
Initially, these technologies will no doubt be exorbitantly expensive, but as time marches on and production methods and materials are improved and made more efficient, costs will fall. Another useful recent example would be the LCD and plasma display industry; just compare the cost of a 20 inch screen of five years ago to today. In this instance, we’re taking into account another principle of sound business enteprise — volume sales. As you push into a bigger market, you can afford to cut prices because there’s an increased chance you’ll be selling more units, which will more than cover the cost of the reduction you made on a per-unit basis. That’s the theory, anyway.
The domestic market is vast. Certainly much bigger than the businesses Google and Cisco will be serving initially. But for them, the profit margins will be much higher, which also covers the relative complexity of their services. And since actual expertise in the field will be a premium, those experts won’t be working all hours. In time, their technologies will become simpler and the energy infrastructures we have supplying our homes will be more able to accommodate them.
The ideal home for Smart Grid technologies
I would also add that the demand from the domestic market for Smart Grid technologies will increase in the next two to three years. Why? Partly out of a “do good by the environment” desire of people like thee & me, but mostly because energy costs are on the rise and we all want to cut costs where possible. Greater energy efficiency is as good a place to start as any.
Looking at the causes of increased energy prices, they’re easy to identify — the security of our respective nations’ energy portfolio’s are being challenged by dwindling / restricted oil supplies in the Middle East and rising gas prices from the Russians.
Britain is already considering opening its coal mines once more, now that carbon sequestering technologies appear to be a more viable option, mitigating the emissions of coal fired power stations. What remains of our energy portfolios will mostly be biofuels for automotive applications and renewable energy sources (such as wave, wind, solar et cetera) for business and domestic purposes. That’s the theory, anyway.
Incidentally, I came up with my own theory for a cheap coal fire carbon capture contraption for people in developing nations, which appears to have potential.
Google, Cisco to help avoid an IT electrical storm?
The IT industry specifically is a major problem, in so far as energy consumption. Early estimates regarding the energy requirements of “Cloud Computing” are worrying, to say the least. And this is where Google is leading the way. Of all the IT-based businesses on Earth, Google have a huge computing platform, consisting of many hundreds of thousands of computers all across the world. And it would appear Google have a series of renewable energy initiatives primed specifically to deal with their energy needs, and those of the world at large. That’s the theory, anyway. Right now, Cisco’s EnergyWise technology can manage a variety of energy technologies and scenarios across a large corporation.
Smart Grids and even smarter homes
So what’s the big deal with so-called Smart Grid technologies anyway, and how can they help the home owner? Imagine your home “knowing” you’re not at home, and cycling certain devices down (brown, white and black consumer electrics, for example) so they’re either in low power mode, or off all together.
Now imagine your renewable energy devices, such as your roof-mounted solar panels, being fully maximized, based on weather conditions.
Imagine your home reporting where and when in the house excess energy is being used, such as a kettle in the kitchen being used for too many cups of tea, or a big plasma TV being left on at night by the kids.
Imagine you live on a housing estate made up of smart homes, all making their own energy and then sharing any excess with their neighbours. As the Sun passes over the sky, those that move into the path of the Sun make the most of the light and share any excess across the local smart grid, at a small fee.
This is no longer theory — we have the technologies to make these things happen. What we need is the political will to force these technologies through as key initiatives, backed by businesses, major housing developers and consumer groups and help democratize the future of energy production…