Al Gore didn't invent the internet, but he did support it in its early days. Al Gore isn't inventing the electranet either, but he is officially its first champion.
So what the heck is the electranet? Well...it's like the internet for electrons.
Once upon a time (can you even remember) there were only a few places to get information. The major TV stations, maybe a few local papers and national magazines. Gigantic corporations created that information, and we consumed it. Now, just a few years later, we all create and share information. There are millions of news outlets, anyone can contribute and anyone can consume. It's great for everyone...except the mega-news conglomerates.
The electranet would let anyone become a power producer as well as a power consumer.
If I install a power plant in my basement, I can reduce the amount of money I pay the electric company, but I can't make money. At the end of the month, if I've pumped more electricity onto the grid than I've used myself, the electric company isn't going to write me a check. And that's pretty lame, because all that power is out there, powering stuff.
This completely crushes any incentive consumers have to maximize their power production. But if households, individuals, and neighborhoods could sell electricity back to the grid, then that creates a huge incentive for adoption of new technologies. As solar, wind, and fuel cell power become more inexpensive consumers could, in theory, put power companies out of the business of creating power. Now this doesn't mean that power companies won't be useful, marking up the cost of energy they purchase in return for infrastructure improvements etc. But it could mean a heck of a lot fewer coal power plants.
Another awesome possible effect of the electranet would be incentives to store power. As utilities have become more technologically savvy, they've actually been able to charge more for power in times of high demand. The electranet would allow individuals to store power at night, when it's cheap, and sell it to their neighbors in the day, when it's expenisve. Power could be stored in a variety of ways, most interestingly, as hydrogen.
So folks could either convert the hydrogen to electricity in their homes, selling it to their neighbors, or pump it into their cars for their morning commute.
As the electranet becomes more advanced, appliances could be hooked to an information grid that constantly monitors the price and availability of electricity. Refrigerators would occasionally turn off, dryers would suggest you find a better time, and water heaters would opt to cool down instead of drawing high-priced electricity. If the home had a power storage or generating device, those devices could start pumping energy onto the grid when power demand was higher, in effect becoming an excellent source of income for families while stabilize the power grid and shaving the peaks off of daily consumption.
An Exciting Future
The electranet would create incentives for folks to invest in power generation and storage devices. It would make the gird more stable during disasters. It would eliminate wasted electricity production and it might just help usher in the hydrogen economy.
But the internet didn't happen without a fight and neither will the electranet. We need champions like Al Gore to fight against the coal conglomerates who see no gain from the creation of the electranet. In the end, those corporations can only slow the pace of this change. If it seems like science fiction now, talk to me about it in ten years. It won't be long untill we're all producers as well as consumers. And that will be a better world.
Photo Via Flickr Creative Commons?
written by Chris Wondra, April 19, 2007
written by Ivan Storck, May 04, 2007
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