Around the globe, utility companies are investing in smart grid projects. According to the research firm Guidehouse Insights, utilities are anticipated to grow their smart grid capacity by nearly 20% per year over the next decade.
Despite shutdowns due to the coronavirus-related closures, smart grid projects are slowly moving forward in some regions. In India, the state-owned Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) will continue a program to install smart meters, with over 1.2 million meters installed so far. In the U.S. city of Dothan, Alabama, Dothan Utilities is moving forward with a project to replace home electric meters with smart meters. So far, it has replaced about two-thirds of meters in homes throughout the city for a total of about 22,000 homes.
In Africa, a company called Energicity is developing renewable energy smart grids for rural communities in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria that are off the grid. The company currently provides energy to 36 communities and 23,000 people, and it hopes to deliver energy to as many as 1 million people by 2025.
U.S. Startup Poses Supply and Demand Fix for Smart Grid
When millions of customers use their air conditioners on a hot day, they can quickly sap power from the grid. This can make it difficult for the grid to balance supply and demand. As a result, utilities often depend on power plants to supply additional power. However, power plants pollute the environment and are also costly.
A smart grid startup named OhmConnect is providing utilities with a greener alternative. With this service, a utility would pay OhmConnect to lower power consumption during select time periods in the future determined through predictive analytics. The startup calls on thousands of users to allow it to access web-connected smart electrical meters in their homes. During these times, which OhmConnect calls “OhmHours,” users volunteer to turn down their energy usage. Afterwards, the startup looks at the users’ smart meter data and compares their usage to a baseline. The organization then pays the users depending on the amount of energy they’ve saved.
There’s just one problem: this method requires cooperation from a large number of users. To encourage them, OhmConnect offers certain financial incentives through gamification. For example, users can earn points which they can exchange to be allowed to bypass OhmHours.
Still, relying on users to alter their behavior is not ideal overall, writes Thomas Smith in the digital publication One Zero.
“A much better approach would be to close the loop, mobilizing IoT tech to automatically dial back consumption during OhmHours, cutting people and their behaviors out of the loop. And that’s exactly what OhmConnect has begun to do,” he wrote.
Through a new subscription service, the company gives users the ability to connect large home appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners to the internet. Then users allow the company to automatically turn those appliances off during OhmHours in exchange for savings. The customers also receive bonuses in exchange for shortened periods of power reduction dubbed “AutoOhms.”
If services like OhmConnect work on a large scale and be secure against cyber security threats, they may provide a cost-saving, clean energy solution to the world’s power needs.
Learn About the Smart Grid
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Smith, Thomas. (1 July 2020). This Startup Will Pay You to Remote Control Your Fridge. OneZero.
(29 June 2020). Utilities to increase micro-grid capacity by nearly five times by 2029. ESI AFRICA.
Shieber, Jonathan. (19 June 2020). Could developing renewable energy micro grids make Energicity Africa’s utility of the future? TechCrunch.