The Transformation of the Electricity Grid: What is OhmConnect doing that’s so innovative?
I sat down with OhmConnect CEO Matt Duesterberg to get the scoop.
2018 has been a big year for OhmConnect, and we’re not even halfway through. We’ve seen big jumps in the number of users participating in weekly #OhmHours, and spikes in the amount of energy that each user is saving after launching the MEGA #OhmHour program.
But what does all this mean for the electricity grid, and the planet?
To answer some of these questions, I sat down with OhmConnect CEO Matt Duesterberg this week and got the scoop.
KO: So what exactly are OhmConnect, and all its users, doing for the grid?
MD: “How do you change a sector that is ingrained with centuries of incumbents that rely on old technology? That is the task that the new generation of energy leaders are faced with and it is no small feat. At OhmConnect, we’re doing just a small part - helping shift the mindset of the energy sector to rely on changing electricity usage. We’re seeing positive feedback from our users that there is a huge, untapped potential of empowering you - the end user of electricity - to provide grid services.
KO: Why do we need OhmConnect, instead of just transitioning to 100% clean energy now?
MD: “To create a truly sustainable grid, we need to increasingly rely on renewable generation. This creates a major problem referred to as “variability” or “grid-integration costs”. Unlike fossil-fuel power plants, we can’t control renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Clouds passing over solar arrays and winds ceasing stop the creation of electricity (more in this blog post). To balance the grid, we need to find a solution to complement these renewables. Currently, we turn on “backup” fossil-fuel power plants when we see a shortage in renewables. These “backup” plants are often some of the most inefficient power plants. As we continue to install more solar and wind, the costs of the grid shift from energy-based costs to “balancing” costs.”
KO: How can we empower more renewables, given the current state of the electricity grid?
MD: “OhmConnect was borne from the idea that we do not have to rely only on generation to solve grid balancing. Energy markets are like any other “market” - we have supply of electricity and demand of electricity. Supply must equal demand for the market to be functional. And it must do so every 15 minutes. Currently, however, only supply is being fluctuated to balance the grid. The energy operators often refer to the demand side as “fat, dumb, and stupid” because their view is that we are unable to influence when we use energy. We, at OhmConnect, disagree with that view. Our view is the opposite: together, we can modify our energy usage when it makes sense environmentally and economically.”
KO: So how are OhmConnect users part of that solution, and why is it so important that we collectively reduce our energy usage?
MD: “By working with tens of thousands of homes in each local energy area (think of a dozen zip codes), we create small “virtual power plants”. These “virtual power plants” are an aggregation of homes that are reducing their energy usage simultaneously during an #OhmHour.
You may just turn off a few lights, your neighbor turns off their A/C, and another neighbor turns off their washing machine. Together, those little actions add up to a large amount of electricity that is not consumed and ultimately, prevents another power plant to turn on or increase its generation of electricity.
Just know that every time you turn off your electricity during an #OhmHour, we have coordinated that with thousands of your neighbors to ensure that our “virtual power plant” can replace the physical power plant that would need to burn gas or oil to create electricity.”