One of the more frustrating aspects of the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas this week was the lack of opportunity for interaction with the speakers.
At most conferences I go to, any presentation includes about 15 minutes of Q & A time, even for high-level speakers such as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In fact, most speakers welcome the opportunity; they don’t only want to hear themselves talk.
But in Las Vegas, speakers were brought on and off stage with no opportunity for extra questions from the audience or the press. We were there to listen, not to participate or raise other points of view.
Which was unfortunate since some of the speakers and panels had important things to say, which in turn might have prompted good questions and comments from the audience.
A panel on providing better energy choices for consumers turned into a relatively high-level conversation of what modernization of the electrical grid could mean for consumers in terms of their daily use and conservation of electricity – certainly a timely topic as we face a weekend of high temperatures, utility alerts urging us to conserve and potential power outages due to overheated utility equipment.
Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, spoke of smart grid innovations as eventually allowing consumers access to wholesale energy markets and the ability to change their energy use – when and how much to use certain appliances — based on wholesale prices.
Audrey Zibelman, founder of CEO of Viridity Energy, an energy management consulting firm, took that idea a step further, speaking of how access to wholesale markets would change consumers’ fundamental understanding of energy.
“Because storage is not readily available, the price of electricity is the price for the demand we have at that moment,” she said. “We can manage demand by exposing them to the impact they’re having on price. People don’t understand how much money they’re leaving on the table. Imagine what we could do if people (understood), ‘I can remove myself from the grid if I knew what the price is.’”
Zibelman also sees energy management and the smart grid as emerging technologies where American innovation can create jobs at home and a valuable export market.
Instead of an energy system built around meeting minute-to-minute or peak demand, storage will allow the grid to operate on average demand, he said, which in turn will allow much greater use of intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar.
It’s not a matter of if, but when. Giudice is thinking about two more years before workable, cost-effective storage options are available.
Once again, Zibelman took it a step further, envisioning the ultimate incentive for energy conservation for U.S. consumers, a cash payback for the energy they save or feed back into the grid.
“You have a home energy system; you might have solar, might have a battery. You signed up for a system that reduces energy cost, but you also get a check in the mail,” she said. “Consumers are easily becoming active members (in the grid). They know they are doing well because they’re getting a check in the mail.”
I would have loved to hear more about that, if only we’d had the opportunity to ask.