Homes playing larger role in energy system

Our homes are taking on a new and very important role in terms of energy: They are becoming an integral and active part of the electric grid system.

The existing model of electrical generation, distribution and use, one that has basically changed little for more than 100 years, is about to take a major leap forward. The change will provide benefits in the form of lower energy costs, greater comfort and control, increased reliability and security, and environmental healing.

The premise is relatively simple: greater efficiency, real-time load management (down to the micro level), distributed generation and renewable energy. Homes will generate energy, share it with others when it makes the most sense, as well as use it much more wisely. The integration of these concepts will forever transform and improve the way we use energy while providing a major part of the solution to some of society’s most pressing issues. The details are complex and will take some time, but the seeds of change have already taken root and are sprouting. It’s a paradigm shift that will transform not only our homes, but our energy utility companies as well.

While some of the technological aspects of this transformation are beyond the scope of most homeowners, there are opportunities that most of us can take advantage of right now. Making one’s home more energy efficient is the best initial approach, followed by the installation of an appropriate renewable energy system if possible.

Personal load management, in the form of good energy habits, is a good idea too. Investments in efficiency and renewable energy can be very rewarding and the returns often out-perform the stock market.

When enough of us take these steps, we not only take control of our energy expenditures, but we contribute to a better world for everyone else too. Personal responsibility can go a long way, but we still need the right policies in place to make sure the rest of the system is moving in a complementary direction. This is where our public utility and regulatory agencies play an important role. A strong energy-efficiency program is the key to success.

There has never been a more crucial or appropriate time to adopt forward-looking policies that encourage the rapid, wide-scale adoption of energy efficiency. This is the time to accelerate and expand programs that help people reduce energy waste. Many utilities across the country are realizing that it is in the best interests of their customers and shareholders to implement aggressive energy-efficiency programs. These programs can make good financial sense, usually saving more money than they cost while helping customers maintain or improve their level of service while using less power.

On the other hand, cutting efficiency programs results in higher energy demand and more expensive, environmentally damaging central plants or the importation of more energy from out of state. In Nevada, we must do everything we can to stem the flow of dollars to other states. Energy-efficiency programs circulate more money in our local economy.

The weak economy presents a unique opportunity to promote new businesses through energy efficiency while providing utility customers with much needed options that can improve their lives. The environmental and social consequences of failing to take action, to the greatest degree possible, become more apparent each day. This is the time for all of us — individuals, companies, utilities and governing officials alike – to step up to the plate and do the right thing.

Traditional distinctions are dissolving as our energy-dependent culture matures. Homes become generators, utilities become communication hubs. The capabilities of our newly evolving energy systems will be profound, but the benefits will never be fully realized without the most important ingredient of all: efficiency. Let’s make absolutely sure we maximize every opportunity to move forward. It’s a responsibility we cannot ignore.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, a company committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. Steve can be reached via e-mail at steve@greendream.biz. More information relating to this column is posted at www.greendream.biz.

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