Jeremy Rifkind, Thinking Big About Distributed Energy Resources

Michael Giberson

I’m not generally a fan of Jeremy Rifkind’s work. But, as a commenter is quoted as saying at the end of this BBC News report on Rifkind’s latest ideas for energy policy, “The world has room for visionaries.”

At a Prague conference, Rifkind outlined a grand scheme for solving economic and energy problems by rapidly moving Europe to distributed renewable energy resources integrated with smart grid systems. If you strip out the seemingly-obligatory-in-public-pronouncements-these-days promise of millions of “green jobs,” it is a vision of what a smart grid system can do for distributed energy.  Sure, too ambitious by half, but that is part of what makes it a vision and not a program for immediate action.

Although, I’ll have to say, there is an odd bit of centralization in a distributed energy proposal in which at “any one time the system will know what every washing machine is doing in Europe” and in the case of “peak demand, [with] not enough supply, software can say to two million washing machines ‘forget the extra rinse’.” (Though Rifkind notes his system is entirely voluntary and participants would be paid for their contributions.)

In my visionary moments, I imagine a future, more distributed, smart grid system accomplishing much the same sort of interaction and response, but no central system needs to know what every washing machine is doing in Europe in order to achieve my vision.  Instead, my local smart grid agent is monitoring local prices (current prices, future prices over the next several hours) and then scheduling home appliance energy use to maximize value against some model of my demand for service from my home appliances (dishes washed, hot water available for bathing, home temperature within a comfortable range, and so forth).

If area demand for electricity is reaching a peak in which sufficient supply is not available, no doubt spot prices will be getting high and my smart grid agent can cycle off my hot water heater, or my air conditioners, or skip the rinse cycle on dishwasher, whichever option (or all three!) that makes sense given my demands for energy services and the current prices available. Maybe I have a rooftop solar array, and at current prices it makes sense for the house to dramatically cut power use and become a net supplier of power to the distribution system.

Sometimes it will be more important to me to have the hot water available and sometimes it will be more important to keep the air conditioners going full blast, but if I’m not home and not going to be home for a few hours, why not make a few bucks off that rooftop solar array? I’d rather the system the manages those tradeoffs be local, not centralized in a system also responsible for millions of other distributed energy resources.

Related, BBC News reports that the UK has unveiled a plan for every home to have a smart meter by 2020.

(HT to Big Gav at the Energy Collective for the link to the story on Rifkind.)

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