Insights

We can’t kick the fossil fuel habit without a Smart Grid

Tom Rand, a leading scientist, computer engineer and philosopher in Toronto, is convinced that The Energy Internet (aka the Internet of Things or Smart Grid) could reduce total energy demand by 50% in Europe and North America, which would make global fossil-fuel-use reduction targets significantly more achievable. “We can’t kick the fossil fuel habit without it,” observes Rand.

Rand, who was the keynote speaker at a Genus Fossil Free seminar in Toronto, believes that existing technology and highly efficient high voltage, direct current (HVDC) transmission lines are going to overhaul the way we procure energy. Our existing energy utilities were born of an age when energy was cheap, radio was still high tech, and no one worried about the environment. Clearly our situation has changed – and yet our production, distribution and consumption of energy have not.

The secret to this shift is multi-way real-time communication between the utilities and the devices they power. Just as the world wide web has irrevocably changed the way information is made, shared and stored, so the Energy Internet has the potential to create a web of smart homes, appliances, cars and power plants.

Imagine large-scale “grid balancing,” where tidal power on the west coast powers up when east coast wind power slackens; biogas plants in New York trade off with solar plants in Nevada as needed. Your appliances communicate with your utility company and adjust—in real-time—their draw on the system according to when power is cleanest and cheapest.

Enabling this multi-way conversation is estimated to reduce energy demand up to 50%. While advances in technology have made the Energy Internet completely possible, it will still be expensive—each mile of HVDC transmission starts at about $1M. It could take an investment of $1 trillion for a smart grid to cover Europe and America.

Genus Fossil Free Impact Equity is investing in companies with long-term growth strategies for a fossil-free future, like the companies delivering the technology for the next generation of the utility industry.

With material from Tom Rand, Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit: 10 Clean Technologies to Save Our World, Eco Ten Publishing Inc., 2010

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