You hear a lot of talk about the smart grid these days, and now here comes the California utility PG&E with a new twist of its own: the Grid of Things. As PG&E sees it, smart grid technology is only a partial step toward the grid of the future. The true grid of the future will ditch the utilitys role as the power supplier to passive customers. Instead, each electricity customer can interact with the utility and its grid, by strategically deploying rooftop solar arrays, electric vehicles and other major electrical appliances.
The Grid of Things has enormous implications for business. In addition to providing unique new opportunities for bottom-line savings and energy security, the kind of interaction that PG&E envisions can also provide companies with new opportunities for customer service and brand enhancement.
Why utilities need a Grid of Things
The advent of sustainable energy technology means that utility companies can no longer measure their growth in terms of kilowatt hours. To retain and attract customers, they need to sell new services.
The smart grid, combined with the new Green Button Web-based information platform, has accelerated opportunities for selling energy management services. However, as more companies adopt on-site energy generation and storage, utilities still face the challenge of retaining and attracting customers for grid-supplied electricity.
PG&Es solution is to convince energy consumers that by hooking up to an interactive grid the Grid of Things they can squeeze more value out of their investment in electrical appliances.
The Grid of Things
Last week, PG&E President Chris Johns described the Grid of Things during a panel discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Positioning the concept as a democratization of the grid, he dismissed the idea that grid connectivity will eventually disappear.
The advantage of connectivity
If the Grid of Things still sounds fairly abstract, the picture becomes more clear when you get down to boots on the ground.
Obviously, the many commercial properties that simply cant support an adequate solar array and energy storage of their own need connectivity to survive. But even those that could might choose not to for solid bottom-line reasons.
For starters, connectivity enables a business to keep its real estate resources focused on its primary activity. Take the case of a restaurant with a farm-to-table menu. All else being equal, a good use of spare real estate for such an establishment would be a garden for fresh produce, not a solar array and as much as we love them, solar panels are not particularly attractive in all settings.
Connectivity can also enable a business to extend additional services to its customers. While-you-wait electrical vehicle charging is an attractive service, for example, and connectivity enables you to offer it regardless of whether or not you have the opportunity for adequate on-site renewable energy. A new smart grid-enabled partnership between PG&E, Honda and IBM for electric vehicle charging also hints at how the Grid of Things concept can extend to public charging stations.
For businesses that do invest in on-site solar with energy storage, connectivity gives you get the best of both worlds. Your on-site micro-system could be called into island mode in case of a general grid disruption, but in the normal course of business you can take advantage of a seamless supply of electricity. The difference will be that instead of emanating from a few central power plants, this electricity pot will consist of contributions from individual contributors like yourself, as well as large-scale power plants.
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