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From Dumb to Smart: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

By 3p Contributor

By Gregory Craig

Think back 10 years. If someone said that you’d have a tiny supercomputer in your pocket that could summon a handyman, late-night guacamole or a virtual key to unlock your door, would you believe them? Probably not. Ten years from now, we’ll probably look back and think: How did I manage without my personal robot cooking breakfast and delivering it on a hoverboard to my bed?

Technology is rapidly facilitating a jump to a Jetsons-esque age of the “smart home.” Today, we have a few tricks at our disposal – from turning on your lights with your voice to syncing your alarm clock with your coffee pot. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Gartner Research predicts that by 2020, there will be approximately 25 billion “smart” (Internet-connected) devices, millions of which will be used to help consumers automate their homes.

The home of the future will offer not only unprecedented levels of convenience and productivity, but also change the way we use — and even generate — our energy. We’ve already made great progress in how we power our homes and businesses through clean energy generation and deploy smart devices that help us better monitor and control our energy usage and cost. And the future looks even brighter. Let’s take a quick look at the past, present and exciting future ahead for energy.

Energy’s evolution

For more than 100 years, we relied on big, centralized power plants that burned dirty fossil fuels like coal or gas to generate our electricity. This electricity was carried to us often over long distances by way of a grid of interconnected power lines running to your home. Ok, let’s give it some credit. While not perfect, this complex system is one of the most important and impressive engineering feats of the modern era.

But since the days of Tom Edison, our demand for electricity has exploded. Modern comforts like air conditioning, heating, dishwashers and refrigerators suck up a ton of power – and consequently, fossil fuels. It’s no wonder that electricity production has become the No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions.

And demand will just keep increasing. Take the electric vehicle for example. Plugging one in is, in some cases, the equivalent of adding an entire house to the grid. Your grandfather’s power grid was not ready for that. During demand peaks, balancing the grid’s energy supply with demand becomes an acute challenge.

But thanks to advancements in technology, we’re making serious progress toward a more efficient and sustainable energy system. Here are three examples of what’s changing the game of electricity:

The grid is getting smart

Smart grids bring technologies that work with the electrical grid to respond digitally to our quickly changing electric demand. They represent an evolution to 21st-century electricity delivery.

For example, utility companies historically sent workers out to physically gather the data necessary to provide electricity. These workers would read meters, look for broken equipment and measure voltage… then return to the utility, make adjustments, send you a paper bill… talk about inefficient!

A key feature of the smart grid is the smart meter. If you live in Texas, Florida, California, and a growing number of other states, you might already have one. These gadgets actively feed utility companies mounds of data on everything from usage to outages. Unlike traditional meters that only measure total consumption, smart meters can tell you when energy is consumed (during certain intervals), allowing you to see how much electricity you use, when you use it and its cost. This kind of information is golden when it comes to adjusting your own electrical use to save money—but only if you have access to it. More on that later.

Deregulation is bringing disruption

In recent years, a number of states like Texas have begun to break the long tradition of monopoly in the energy industry. By changing the regulations, these states have opened the doors beyond one single supplier to a free marketplace, allowing customers a choice in where they purchase power. This deregulation has conjured a range of energy suppliers offering different rates, experiences, and options for greener energy.

However, deregulation hasn’t exactly delivered on its promise of better service and lower cost. One intended benefit of a competitive marketplace was competitive rates. But the free market opened the floodgates for the dark horses of capitalism to run amok with hundreds of nearly indecipherable plans and rate structures. Many retail energy providers (REPs) came onto the scene, introducing hidden fees that amounted to costing consumers up to hundreds of dollars.

Still, there is hope! Deregulation can also allow for new, disruptive business models to be introduced. It’s only a matter of time until the next generation of consumer-friendly energy providers take the stage.

The energy we can feel good about

The days of dirty coal combustion are dwindling. Recently, the CEO of Michigan’s largest utility declared it will retire nearly all of its coal plants by 2030. And this dynamic is playing out all over the country. Instead, renewable energy is quickly becoming the economic choice for electricity. Clean energy sources, particularly solar and wind, are allowing us to capture ever abundant energy in ways that are increasingly cost-effective and in-demand.

As utilities abandon coal in favor of cleaner-burning natural gas and zero-emission renewables, greenhouse gas emissions from power plants are plummeting. Experts estimate that US power plants are now on track to emit 27 percent less carbon dioxide in 2016 than they did in 2005.

This is helping shift us to more sustainable energy generation. Thanks to advances in technology, we’re now able to reliably integrate large amounts of solar and wind energy into the grid and dramatically offset the need for fossil fuels. In Texas, for example, just months ago, wind supplied a record-breaking 41 percent of the state’s electricity on one day.

The bottom line

These three trends have set the table for energy’s transformation. And some of the newest advances in technology indicate momentum is only going to pick up. Watch this space for the second installment of this special two-part blog series that will focus on what’s in store for the future of energy. Exciting developments await!

Gregory L. Craig is a 25-year energy industry veteran and the founder and CEO of Griddy, a next-generation energy company that launched today. He is also the founder of PowerToConfuse.org.

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