One challenge with green energy, such as solar and wind power, is that they tend to fluctuate over time due to the weather or other factors. Fossil fuel sources can be held steady.
So far, people have looked at supply-end solutions, following the millennia-old habit of modifying the environment to suit human needs. These include trying to catch more power, distribute it over a wide area, and store it for use during lulls.
I propose that we consider a demand-end solution. We have Twitter, websites, and a host of other tools that can give real-time information. We also have assorted gadgets that tell you how much electricity a given device, or your whole household, is using. So, track the power availability. When it surges above average demand, announce that to users and lower the price slightly. This is a good time to do optional tasks such as laundry. When the power drops below average demand, announce that to users and raise the price slightly. People can then choose to use less electricity during that time, just the minimum for household necessities. This would be preferable to the negative versions we have now: blackouts, brownouts, and power companies that shut off power against consumer will. And it's more flexible than the remote-shutoff devices where the power company gives you a discount if you let it turn off certain things during peak demand hours -- because you won't necessarily know when that is until you go to use the hot water and there isn't any, or whatever.
Ideally, I'd like to see both supply-end and demand-end solutions combined, for best results. I don't think we need to flatline the production rate, just buffer the supply and demand enough to avoid crazy spikes. If people paid more attention to their use of electricity, that would help reduce waste and create more demand for energy-efficient appliances, so we'd need less in the long run.
Tags: energy, sustainable building
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