Fifty five years ago the then head of the US Atomic Energy Commission foretold of a time in the future when as he put it “our children would enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter”.
We are the children he foresaw, however that world has yet to eventuate. His prediction interestingly was not of future of nuclear power, despite that being the flavour of the day, his prediction was of hydrogen fusion, something that is only now emerging.
Although we are not clearly approaching a time when “power will be too cheap to meter” we are approaching a time when we will be able to closely monitor not only how we use power but more and more how we produce power. The smart grid is emerging as a real future for houses across the world which will provide us with an analysis of our usage by time and type of consumption allowing for decision making which could tie into a greater range of peak and off peak charging by power generators.
Individual solar panels on house roofs which are currently dropping in price (almost in line with the classic “Moore’s Law” which accurately predicted that silicon chip technology would see a doubling of transistors every 18 months matched to a halving of cost) could reshape the balance between generation and consumption aided by wireless accessed smart meters providing online account details.
This scenario is well presented in a recent Business Week article and podcast which examines this phenomena. As the article states it could have an empowering influence for the consumer to better be able to manage power usage in the future, allowing us to make better decisions as to what type of devises to buy and use and also when to use them – aided with enhancements in battery technology which would allow us to even collect and re-sell power at optimal time when demand is high and thereby take advantage of spot pricing.
Not surprising in all of this technological development is the appearance of Google. Google happens to be one of the major power users of our modern time, with an unconfirmed; but much estimated inventory of web servers and database servers running in the millions of units. The fact is that in our online world power usage at data centres is often far in excess of the cost of the hardware.
Google has long held the principle of organising the world’s collective knowledge and making it available – power usage, consumption and generation is just such information and therefore it is not then surprising that Google this month announced a partnership with a smart meter company. In addition Google already invests in solar farms and is generating most of its own energy at it’s Mountain View campus in California. These are the early signs of where Google could be looking to extend its offering from the web (the utilities of the future – which might just be “too cheap to meter”) to another of today’s utilities.