An anti-poverty program in Austin enables peer-to-peer energy sharing thanks to smart grid and Internet technologies.
In the U.S. there are approximately 40 million people that may be at risk of experiencing energy poverty. Energy poverty occurs when people cannot afford to pay for their energy needs. Peer-to-peer energy sharing, or crowdsourcing of energy, can be used as a new way to eliminate energy poverty by empowering individuals and corporations with the ability to share or donate energy to those in need.
That’s the idea behind the campaign to make Austin’s Community First! Village the world’s first community powered by crowdsourced energy and help improve the quality of life for village residents.
Scheduled to open in spring 2015, Community First! Village is a 27-acre master-planned community in Austin, Texas that will provide affordable, sustainable housing and a supportive community for approximately 240 disabled, chronically homeless people. The village is a project of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, a social outreach ministry that provides food and clothing and promotes dignity to homeless people in Central Texas.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Austin startup, Gridmates, are facilitating the energy sharing campaign benefitting Community First! Village. Gridmates is the world’s first Internet platform designed to eliminate energy poverty by enabling peer-to-peer energy sharing. Itron is among the sponsors of this initiative.
Internet technologies and the smart grid make peer-to-peer energy sharing, or transactive energy, possible while also providing an important services and capabilities to utilities and their customers. The distributed architecture of the smart grid and the active, dynamic role of energy producers and consumers, requires a flexible modeling of electricity – a digital and mobile form of energy. This is where the idea of sharing energy packets comes in.
An energy packet is a discrete form of energy or specific kWh amount that is sent by a utility customer or corporation and received by another utility customer who is in need. It is similar to an IP packet on the Internet. Instead of including information such as text as the payload of the packet, the energy packet holds information of the amount of energy in kWh or the monetary value in local currency.
All utility customers can produce energy packets. For example, a customer can use his or her credit card to buy or donate a specific kWh amount to another person. A customer also can save a specific amount of energy by following energy saving tips or demand-response events, or they can generate their own electricity with a solar panel. The utility customer is then able to select a destination user to transfer the energy packet to with a click of a button.
Energy sharing at a large scale uses an additional IT layer on top of the smart grid that is responsible for distributing energy packets between utility customers. The mechanism of implementing this new technology is simple and it can be regarded as a credit transfer of energy.
Gridmates is paving the way to a smarter energy future by helping power 240 micro-homes, RVs, canvas tents and public facilities with crowd-sourced energy. The energy that would have cost the Community First! Village an estimated $213,000, or about $895 per resident in its first year.
Looking ahead, Gridmates plans to expand its energy-sharing platform internationally, based on where users register and which countries rank highest in energy poverty. The organization hopes to facilitate trading of water and gas as well.
--Dr. George Koutitas is the CEO and Co-Founder of Gridmates Inc. Co-author Sharelynn Moore is vice president of corporate marketing and public affairs at Itron.