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Don't Choke: How to Transform Technology

Infrastructure investment has been on a starvation diet. Here’s how to feed the need.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2006

technological building blocks include power electronic controls, miniaturized sensors, distributed generation and storage, direct current circuitry, advanced building systems using smartly efficient end-use devices, integrated communications, and ultrafast simulation computational capabilities.

Get Smart

In broad strokes, the architectural framework we are building envisions a self-healing, electronically controlled, smart electricity supply system of extreme resiliency and responsiveness—one that is fully capable of responding in real-time to the billions of decisions made by consumers and their increasingly sophisticated microprocessor agents. This system architecture can be applied at any scale, from individual buildings to entire distribution systems. The micropower generators, renewable resources, and energy storage capacity that these technically transformed systems incorporate also provide immediate ways to simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency, and ease the strain on the stressed bulk power grid. Supplemental power is available when needed through easy-to-use demand-response measures at the consumer interface.

The combination of enabling technology and dynamic pricing changes the value proposition to the consumer from “I flip the switch and hope the lights come on,” to one of instantaneously engaging a diverse array of value-added services.

The elements we propose in our architectural framework are not unique to our project. The Gridwise Alliance, Intelligrid, the Modern Grid Initiative, and others have been doing excellent work in creating and advocating for the technologies and changes that we seek. However, by focusing on the consumer interface, we believe our initiative can most rapidly transform retail electricity service reliability and quality at the lowest cost while sustainably using the nearly $1 trillion existing bulk electricity infrastructure to the best advantage.

What is unique about this initiative is that this system, when constructed, will be no less than perfectly reliable. It never will fail, under all conditions, consumers’ expectations for electricity confidence, convenience, choice, and value.

The Galvin Initiative also moves far beyond the theoretical. We currently are collaborating with existing commercial enterprises, utilities, and entrepreneurs to create “Perfect Power” prototype installations that help raise the public consciousness concerning the opportunities for superior electricity service. The fundamental value proposition is demonstrating consumer value measurable in dollars-per-kilowatt-hour, compared with the cents-per-kilowatt-hour that consumers pay for electricity.

Numerous Reasons

The reason for pushing ahead to local, consumer-focused prototypes is manifold. First, the most confident and sustainable engine for quality improvement is enabling innovative, self-organizing entrepreneurs to commercially engage in the electricity enterprise. Second, the quickest path to challenging the performance status quo and demonstrating quality transformation is to target the transformative innovations on the consumer interface with the bulk power system. Third, this approach initially circumvents the relatively intractable, rigidly regulated monopoly bulk electricity infrastructure while using it to best advantage as the primary energy source for the microgrids.

Radical as this all may sound today, it is in fact rooted deeply in history. This vision is reminiscent of Edison’s original vision for the electric power industry. Edison did not envision an industry that sold only electricity as a commodity, but rather created a network of innovative technologies and services that provided illumination and other services. In this time of rapidly rising