An Airbnb or Uber for the Electricity Grid?
How DERs prepare the power sector to evolve into a sharing economy platform
As Thomas Friedman reported in the New York Times, the shared economy is booming, with companies like Uber and Airbnb continuing to disrupt the incumbent taxi service and hotel sectors. The Ubers and Airbnbs of the world tap the huge value of underutilized assets and create millions of dollars of value for users in the process. Shared economy companies unbundle existing assets and enable value exchange out of those assets, with close to zero marginal capital cost since the users themselves own the actual physical assets, whether a car or a home. Could the electricity grid be next to go the way of a sharing economy?
For more than a century, the electric grid has relied almost exclusively on centralized infrastructure, such as large power plants and long-distance transmissions lines. But distributed energy resources (DERs)—and the customers buying, installing, and using them—are changing the economic landscape for the power sector. Energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation such as rooftop solar, distributed storage such as batteries, smart thermostats, and more are poised to become the front lines of a sharing economy revolution for the grid. Shared economy solutions will help to increase asset utilization rates and improve consumer and overall system economics, just as they have for other sectors.