Some people's houses are becoming "virtual power plants" just by turning off some lights.
It used to be simple: We sent power companies lots of money, they turned on our electricity.
But it's getting to be more of a two-way street now.
Homes with solar panels and wind turbines are selling power back to the big companies. And we're not such passive consumers anymore. We're watching our iffy electric grid like a hawk for rolling blackouts and nasty electrical surprises. Thinking about power in new ways is leading to new ideas.
The power companies have a big problem.
They base their rates on what it costs them to produce power. They produce enough power to just meet demand, based on the last 45 days' usage. This works out almost OK.
But if more juice is needed, power companies have to turn on “peaker" plants.
Peaker plants are the power companies' backup power generators. When they can leave them switched off, they do. They're often older, and therefore extra-funky. These plants typically put out two to three times the amount of CO2 that normal plants do. Blech.
Power companies don't like peaker plants. For one thing, they make the cost of producing power jump from an average of $40 per megawatt hour all the way up to $1,000. This increase doesn't get passed along to us since it's so temporary. (Note: Rare win for us.) So the companies have to swallow the cost.
And they actually have to turn them on a lot.
They've built a business around the utilities' problem.
OhmConnect is advertised as a way to help people make money while reducing their carbon footprint. Its software "talks" with a home's smart electric meter. It shows the customer all sorts of useful info about how their home is using power.
It also shows users exactly where that power's coming from, moment by moment. In-teresting.
That red circle with the smokestack is a peaker plant that's turned on.
OhmConnect monitors the grid and asks users to shut off some stuff for a while if a peaker plant switches on. The idea is to reduce demand so the dirty little bugger (actually, they're big buggers) can be turned back off.
OhmConnect sells the reduction to the utilities.
After OhmConnect takes a cut, the proceeds are paid out to their customers. And, of course, each home saves a little by using less electricity.
But where this gets really cool — and where it can add up to $$ — is when users get together to support a cause, like a school or a charity.
Will we see more companies like this?
So far, OhmConnect works only with a few utility companies, and not every company has gotten around to installing smart meters in homes. But this is the kind of exciting idea that shows the sort of creative thinking that's possible when it comes to some of the basic things we always used to take for granted.
OhmConnect explains their system in this video.