Using Technology and Prices to Empower Electricity Consumers

Lynne Kiesling

I am currently in the Harrisburg Airport, awaiting my flight home after having spent the past day at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Dickinson College has an interesting history; Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, founded the college in 1783 as an educational institution to serve as a “bulwark of liberty” to provide a useful liberal arts education to the democratic citizenry of the new United States of America. The college is named after fellow Revolutionary Pennsylvanian John Dickinson, who was involved in the establishment of the college.

Dickinson has a really neat program called the Clarke Forum, which involves students in a year-long thematic, interdisciplinary examination of a particular issue. This year’s theme is energy. Last night I gave a talk titled The Interaction of Regulation, Markets, and Technology: Consumer Empowerment in the Electric Power Industry (warning: the pdf is 2MB, so download at your own risk). I had a great time, and the faculty and students asked great questions.

The punch line: the existing business models and regulatory institutions in the electric power industry must adapt to technological change, and by incorporating dynamic pricing and digital end-use technology innovations, will empower consumers to control and manage their own energy use while also better enabling us to address the environmental challenges that may arise from our use of electricity.

2 thoughts on “Using Technology and Prices to Empower Electricity Consumers

  1. I would certainly like to see this fleshed out and evangelized.

    Utility rates are the most politically volatile to elected officials. Property taxes are collected once or twice a year and on mortgaged properties from escrows. Adjustments are made, to be sure.

    Changes in electric rates cause immediate pain to customers, who relay that pain to their elected officials.

    The State Utility Commissions are well behind the power curve (no pun intended.) They are creatures of the legislature themselves. They do not keep their psoitions by making waves.

    At the same time, I think we must extend our thoughts to the future, outside the box, of additional electricity production in three areas: Generation, Transmission, Storage. This is R&D work at its most challenging.

    I foresee controlled fusion and the producation of electricity without the poissons and the fear of fission generation. There are dangers, of course. Fusion plants will have to be located some distance from centers of population.

    THat distance will cause transmission cost differentials — costs which can be ameliorated by superconducting lines. The latter minimize the line loss, which raises the cost to the system.

    The new area for research and development is in the storage area. We may, for instance have to develop methods to transform electric energy to storable heat energy and back again. That solution will complete the cycle.

    In the meantime, we have the opportunity to change the factors of production and transportation. The consequent decreasein petoleum use in these two areas is the desired outcome.

    We might envisage roads with vehicles obtaining energy a continuing underlayment of transmission lines. Trains themselves have been built using electricity as the motive power. Only aircraft, with overriding weight considerations will likely use heat based energy fuel.

  2. I lived in Carlisle nearly 25 years ago for my first job after graduating from U of Ill. (when Chief Illiniwek was still respected and supported!). Besides Dickinson College you also have the Army’s War College in Carlisle. The Dickinson campus was home for the Washington Redskin’s summer training camp, but I’m not sure if they still go there or not anymore.

    Carlisle is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so I did not stay too long (about a year) before I left for grad school. Not much to do for someone in their early 20’s.

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