How can we make energy more understandable?

We put a value on everything from coffee to cars – but electricity is just ‘magic in the walls’. Do you know the price of a kWh or even what that actually gives you? We need to make electricity more ‘real’ – and here LO3 Energy CEO Lawrence Orsini explains how we can…

To many, electricity is just ‘magic in the walls’.

You can’t taste it; you can’t see it; you can’t put it in your pocket. So, people have a hard time relating to it. And because of that, many of us have a hard time assigning any realistic value to it.

It’s one of the big problems with consumers’ relationship with energy.

Environmental awareness is starting to increase the understanding of how important electricity is, and people are starting to realize that using less of it, or using it more efficiently, is crucial for the planet as a whole.

Thanks to smart meters, many of us are now starting to be able to visualize the amount of energy we are using day to day and how different items we use impact that amount. Yet it’s still hard to put a REAL value on it.

The solution lies in energy data.

We need to make energy data a more interactive experience; we need to make it more tangible.

Smart meters read in kilowatt hours (kWh) but what does that mean?

What is a kWh in terms of energy consumption? How many hours of television is that? How many hot baths? How many degrees higher or lower on a thermostat for how many hours?

What does it tell us about emissions? How much CO2 was produced to create that kWh? Where was that CO2 emitted? And what, even, does that mean? How, precisely, does that affect the environment?

And finally, what about its production? Who got paid for generating that kWh? You paid your supplier, but where did your money actually go? Was the energy produced locally? Was it even produced in your own country?

The answer is, the information we have now tells us very little.

We might know whether it was renewable or not – depending on our supplier – but that’s where it ends.

Using data to tie to real world outcomes we actually value is the only way we can start to put a real value on energy.

Tying it to the amount of carbon emissions produced as a result of making it; tying it to new metrics popping up around sustainability and climate change – to sea rises, temperature rises, and so on; even tying it where it was produced and whether the local economy benefited from the income.

But to do that, we need to capture more detailed information.

WHY ALL ENERGY IS THE SAME, BUT NOT

When you pay for a kilowatt hour of renewable electricity, you are not getting specific electrons produced by a specific renewable resource. In fact, you might not even be getting renewable energy at all.

Your supplier will buy energy from multiple different sources and you get whatever electrons are nearest you, from whatever source.

But actually whether what you get is from a renewable resource or not doesn’t matter – electrons are the same however they are produced. What matters is that you are paying for your supplier to buy one less kilowatt hour from a non-renewable, more pollutant resource.

And right now, the only way to guarantee that is by using things called RECs: Renewable Energy Certificates.

The problem is, a REC defines a global energy benefit but has very limited information assigned to it.

If a kilowatt hour of electricity comes with a REC, then that is confirmation that the supplier has paid for one kilowatt hour of renewable electricity, with zero carbon emissions, to be produced.

But that’s all you get.

You don’t know where that renewable resource was, who runs it, how far away it is. You don’t even know when the energy was produced.

KEEPING IT LOCAL

When you think about it, knowing exactly what renewable energy resource you are paying for can have some very important implications.

With RECs, you could be paying for a resource in another state or even another country.

Wouldn’t it be better to buy from somewhere closer to you?

The closer the energy resource is to your community, the more chance that your money is staying and being re-spent in the local area. And potentially, by buying from local renewable resources, you’re making the area you live in less polluted too.

When you buy a product, you buy from the shops or brands you like, the people you trust. Your choices are based on price but also product preference.

If you could define every detail of the energy you are getting, buying energy could be just like going shopping.

You can choose not just the supplier you prefer, but the actual resource you want to support.

Buy energy produced by your neighbor’s solar panel and your neighbor may then spend that income locally. They might even use it to buy you a drink at the local bar if they fancy joining you there one evening.

I doubt your existing energy supplier could do that!

But it’s not just community spirit that this is all about – it’s about energy efficiency too. And for that, it’s not only production data that’s useful to log, store and make ‘real’. It’s consumption data too.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND

Your home is full of information on how you use your electricity, if only you could log it all.

You know when you boil the kettle, when you watch TV, when you cook. You know when you run hot water for a bath, how often you leave the light on, and how you charge your phone.

Now, both for the sake of the environment and the sake of your pocket, managing the amount of energy you use is pretty important.

Use less and not only do you pay less, but if you are using non-renewables you cause less emissions and if you ARE buying renewable energy your usage reduction means there is more available for other people to use.

Reducing our total peak demands as a collective reduces the amount of infrastructure needed to support moments of high energy usage.

And do you know what we need to work out those peak demands? Yep. Data.

TOKENISING DATA

So, if we can log detailed data on supply and demand and share it, we can manage our energy better.

We can use that data as the basis for community microgrids and local energy markets, where we can buy and sell electricity from local resources and choose to alter our consumption in return for incentives.

We can provide that data to grid management companies, so they can use our energy resources or incentivise our energy use to balance supply and demand. We can even combine renewable resources to create ‘virtual’ powerplants to make that process easier.

We can offer up our electric vehicles for use as battery storage, connecting them with renewables so we can store electricity when it is in rich supply for times when it is more scares.

And on top of all that, there are companies who highly value our data for other business models, everything from diagnostics to product development.

Right now, though, we don’t have the means to manage all this data.

But there is a solution, and it is called ‘tokenisation’

By installing a device that can capture this information, we can feed the data to a secure digital network – and by using blockchain’s digital ledger technology, we can determine how, when and by who it is accessed.

That sounds complicated, but it’s as simple as a lock and a key.

Every device that wants to feed data to the digital network must have a blockchain ‘token’ to do so.

That token is like a key to the meter; a digital password.

Any device owner can choose to use that token to make their data available to anyone who also has a blockchain token and wants to access it.

And by doing that, we can share full details of exactly where energy in the network comes from and how, where and when that energy is being used.

It makes consumption and demand tie in to real world impacts; real things we all value.

It’s still magic. But now it’s tangible, understandable, valuable magic.