The Future Utility

Meet Samantha

  • Samantha lives in Chicago and owns an electric car. One of those fancy ones. We'll say she owns a Tesla.
  • Sam is considered as a 'node' on the future electricity grid (with a card and a mobile app to measure how much energy she uses or produces). 
  • Her energy consumption (from anywhere) is considered a - on the grid. 
  • When Sam puts power on the grid it's considered a + on the grid. 
  • Sam’s home is powered by a rooftop solar panel. 
  • She also owns a home battery manufactured by Tesla and financed through Solarcity.
  • 40 miles from Sam’s home is a nuclear power plant. Sometimes she 'gets' her power from the nuclear plant. Sometimes she just 'gets' the power from her home battery.
  • Sam’s local Walgreens also has solar panels on it’s roof and puts some power on the grid. Another energy conscious company, Whole Foods, is one block away They’ve also also commissioned some solar panels.
  • There also happens to be a wind farm 25 miles from Sam’s home 
  • And a coal plant 43 miles from Sam’s office.
  • Sam's electric car charge comes from plugging in at home/work/Walgreens and because of Power-over-ethernet functionality Sam's usage can be 'read' in the form of her 'energy IP address'.
  • All of Sam’s production and consumption from any one of these points is measured by a ‘minisculemeter’ (phrase coined by me for an energy measuring sensor the size of a coin), every minisculemeter in Sam's home or on Sam's appliances is ascribed to Sam's account/card
  • Even when Sam charges her laptop at the Starbucks, while she's working, her 'account' is adjusted accordingly (debited). 
  • Sam moves to Arizona to be with the love of her life and she maintains the same account, all she has to do is change her address...
  • And, just like her credit score, any move to a more energy efficient home or purchase of a home energy management device will register as a plus or minus on her 'score.
  • Sam also has a neighbor, Jo (with his own + or -), who doesn’t drive, doesn’t own a solar panel but trades stocks for a living, using a lot more electricity than Sam running his servers at home. Some days Jo (conceptually) ‘gets’ electricity from Sam's 'home battery' or the Walgreens or the nuclear plant or the wind farm depending on whether Jo 'wants' renewable energy. Because Jo is a node on the grid...

The entity in the middle of these transactions

  1. measuring how much is used or produced,
  2. ensuring that all the Sam’s and the Jo’s do not use more electricity than all the solar panels and generating plants can produce (all through software and these minisculemeters) and
  3. making sure the payments are made and collected correctly
  4. using a simple and very customer friendly interface 

is the utility of the future. Allowing Sam to do the things she needs to do to live a normal regular existence. That's all we really ask of our utility...

What's interesting about this is that this distributed, or more aptly termed local, structure is very similar to the first 'grid' when, in 1882, Edison flipped the switch on a few steam generators powering 1200 bulbs in Lower Manhattan. Very rapidly the grid grew to what we know it to be today; a very complex non-adaptive system. But with new technology and increasing customer expectations of what service looks like the grid is shifting to the example I gave above. It's the nature of complex systems to revert to their simplest form.

Welcome to the Future Utility. It's really just the 'first grid' with fancy devices on the end...