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The Efficiency Mandate: Net-Zero Neighborhoods

Utilities explore the potential of zero-energy homes.

Fortnightly Magazine - April 2009

customers than any of our other programs do,” Duncan says. “We’re starting to use the term ‘prosumer,’ rather than customer.”

Prosumer is a term introduced by Alvin and Heidi Toffler in their book, Revolutionary Wealth , and refers to the idea that people are starting to produce more of what they consume.

“Toffler didn’t apply it to the energy sector, but if you put solar photovoltaics on your rooftops there are certain times of the day where you become the producer and the utility becomes the customer,” he says. Likewise, as metering systems become more intelligent, they’ll allow homeowners and utilities to engage in transactions that value energy services in more complex ways. “So the relationship changes from that of a utility and its customer to a more complex relationship of prosumers—of producers and consumers. We’ll be more dependent on each other to meet our needs, rather than us just selling a commodity to a customer.”

That’s revolutionary thinking in what can be a hidebound industry. But as environmental and cost factors drive growth in sustainable development, and metering systems become smarter and more flexible, utilities will pursue efficiency as a strategic priority. When that happens, such revolutionary thinking will become the rule rather than the exception.