Choices are in the future for consumers buying electricity


Ongoing work towards both energy independence and the transition to energy sources that don’t use fossil fuels are going to create choices for energy consumers that we haven’t had in decades, or ever. If technologies in the energy field continue on their current course, buying energy is going to involve decisions we haven’t had to make before. We’re already seeing some of these changes and can expect to see more.

For instance, electric utilities won’t offer just one product (now with electricity: it’ll probably be on but maybe not, take it or leave it) at one (often mysterious) price. Instead, they’ll offer choices.

Do you want energy produced by an array of sources, as traditionally offered and principally chosen by the utility for low cost and reliability? Or, do you want the same reliability, but want your energy to only be produced through the use of a specific generation technology, like solar or wind?

Do you want to continue to buy electricity exclusively from your utility? Or, do you want to generate some of your energy at your home and sell it back to the utility when you’re producing more than you’re using? Or, do you want to own part of a community power plant built at a low cost in an advantageous location and (in effect) deliver electricity to both yourself and the local utility via the transmission grid?

Offers like these are already available here in Washington. As utilities become more sophisticated, new generation technologies continue to come down in price and as regulations are changed to keep up with what is now possible, more such offers and more complex variations, are likely to evolve.

Are you willing to trade some reliability for lower prices? For instance, would you sign up for a program in which the utility pays you to turn off your water heater for a few hours a year, so as to shift the utility’s need for generation away from high-use times of the day? Utility infrastructure costs can often be reduced significantly by shifting even a little demand away from those few hours a year during which everyone’s heaters or air conditioners are running. Rates and technologies that allow utilities to pay customers to turn off just a few appliances for a few hours are already common in the southeast. It seems likely that programs like these will soon be offered here.

Or, do you want extra-high reliability? Are you interested in installing a backup generator, or a whole-house battery or even a system to use the battery in your electric car to power your house?

If you have a whole-house battery or an electric car, would you be willing to sell some energy back to the grid during peak hours? In other words, would you be willing to charge your house or car batteries at low off-peak rates and then be paid more to sell the same electricity back to the utility during peak hours?

Conventional grid electricity will continue to be the preferred option for many customers, but it’s no longer the only option. The most successful utilities, in the future, will view technologies and concepts like these as business growth opportunities. Expect them to ask whether you might be interested.


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