Moving Towards Consumable Energy: From Power Plants to Solar Panels

by Sharon Ha

In a Greentech Media article, Bennett Cohen predicts a revolutionary shift towards the consumerization of energy, in which the customer will purchase a variety of energy options as opposed to buying from a centralized power plant. Cohen, the chair and co-founder of clean energy financing organization Empower Generation, has also worked for Royal Dutch Shell, Rocky Mountain Institute, and CPower. He states four trends that support his claim: 1. the popularization of distributed energy, 2. the push from government and corporations for lower-carbon energy, 3. the internet of things, and 4. the leap-frogging of developing countries.

Cohen asserts that new energy solutions are being found through “micropower”, in which consumers pick and choose among a variety of modular, highly scalable energy options. These technologies can include solar power, wind energy, and combined-heat-and-power systems that are mostly fueled with natural gas. Thus, the future brings a more democratized process of energy consumption and a move away from large coal or nuclear power plants. Additionally, since a large part of the Paris climate agreement is embracing a lower-carbon energy system, governments will probably encourage the use of these alternative energy technologies, such as rooftop solar and home batteries.

Then, Cohen writes that “the internet of energy” is shifting from an emphasis on marketing and confusing messages to scale and impact. Sensors and controls will make energy systems more sophisticated—more technologies and types of power can be added to create an intricate network of energy resources to cover all consumer needs. This will also create new business models that support the energy market and drive up value.

Lastly, in developing counties, especially Asia and Africa, people are “leap-frogging” the centralized power system that was so prevalent in countries like the US. Instead, they are starting directly with consumer energy. Centralized power systems take too long to reach rural areas and construction usually takes many years. So, consumers are turning to smaller-scale power options such as solar panels and batteries because they are more convenient, affordable, and available. These technologies are small but powerful—they use much of the same technologies used by Tesla’s Powerwall, and provide coverage equivalent to centralized power options.

 

 

Cohen, Bennett. “The Consumerization of Energy Is Just Beginning,” February 5, 2016. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/The-Consumerization-of-Energy-is-Just-Beginning.

“Bennett Cohen, Chair & Co-Founder.” Empower Generation. Empower Generation, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. (http://www.empowergeneration.org/detail/bennett-cohen/)

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