Electricity customers today have never had more opportunities to influence the ways they consume power and interact with the electric grid, in turn helping to lower costs, improve the service they receive, and make the grid cleaner.

For example, Internet-connected smart appliances, such as thermostats that can monitor electric rates automatically and operate when power costs are lowest, are growing rapidly in both sophistication and adoption by the public. And increasingly powerful battery systems like those used in electric vehicles provide customers both backup power during service interruptions and the ability to sell excess stored power back to the grid when it isn’t needed.

These technologies help make a customer’s electricity demand flexible and responsive to price signals. And over time, as more customers adopt these technologies – and utilities and grid operators recognise their value and their impact on the system’s infrastructure – I believe investments in grid operations will be targeted to make the overall electric generation, transmission, and distribution system cleaner and more efficient in the ways it produces and delivers electricity. That leads to real savings... As smart appliances like grid-interactive air conditioners and water heaters grow in popularity, we at Rocky Mountain Institute believe demand flexibility in the residential sector can cut grid costs by 10 to 15 per cent and customers can reduce their electric bills by as much as 40 per cent.

Batteries, although in many cases more expensive than using the flexibility from smart devices, provide the largest number of services to the electric grid overall. Utilities and grid operators can integrate more renewable energy like wind and solar power when it is paired with batteries to support its output, for example. In addition to providing backup power and driving the integration of more renewable energy onto the grid, batteries also support the stability and resilience of the grid by helping to relieve congestion on power lines and the need to build new transmission and distribution infrastructure. 

I think that, as the benefits of distributed energy resources become more apparent to both the electric industry and the investment community, and the economic opportunity of these technologies grows in tandem, we’ll begin to see an increasingly rapid acceleration of the integration of smart appliances, batteries, and other innovative approaches – and a rapid evolution of a grid that is increasingly responsive, flexible, cost-efficient, and clean. Stay tuned – and learn more about the future of the electricity grid in the video above. 

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