Energy, the new currency


The need for energy management systems has never been greater. Considering that the expense to build new power plants has more than doubled since 2000 and growing public resistance for building more power generation or transmission often delays or prevents many new projects, one can only expect energy costs to increase. With soaring fuel prices and increased global competition for those resources, we are on the verge of a global energy crisis. As stock markets and currencies fluctuate, investors are shifting toward investing in commodities – especially energy. As energy becomes the driver of tomorrow’s trading markets, there has never been a better time to shift thinking, investment and products towards energy efficiency.

With a new currency based on energy come new programs and the expansion of existing schemes. Energy trading, carbon emission credit trading, energy audits, selection of the types of energy used (e.g. solar powered versus coal plant generated) will become the framework for the new global market centered around energy. Correspondingly, energy ownership along with the capability to define quantities of energy bought and sold, the types of usage and means to distribute will become additional value propositions.

A centralized system that provides the control around how energy is bought and sold and how, when and what type of energy is used will be the means to measure, value, and trade in the new energy market. This energy trading market will also offer data rich in its potential to determine new revenue streams around achieving greater energy efficiencies. Imagine translating the breadth and depth of stock trading information to your energy consumption.

Only a phased approach will achieve a global energy trading market focused on energy efficiency versus usage in which any individual or business could participate.

The first phase is already underway today – the move to smart grids. These bi-directional communication platforms connect a utility and their customers, be they residential, commercial or industrial. Any type of device that supplies or uses energy can now be wirelessly interconnected to these smart grids through ZigBee. ZigBee is the wireless language, and an open global standard, providing devices with a cost effective and simple means to garner the required intelligence to communicate with others.  

ZigBee helps everything connect and work together to foster greater efficiency. By connecting the electric meter to a thermostat and to their plug-in hybrid car people gain  the capability to not only use power from the grid but also to provide stored energy to the grid (e.g. for the batteries in a plug-in hybrid car) as well as information (the car’s condition: on/off; activity/cycle level).  

This two-way communication minimizes the possibility of brown-outs and black-outs as the smart grid can more rapidly and accurately balance energy supply and device at a device, home/building or even community/area level. Consequently, a smart grid enables utilities and customers alike to react accordingly to spikes and dips in energy demand to help smooth out load curves. Customers of all types can be motivated to cycle-down or turn off unnecessary devices during those peak energy times that demand surpasses supply.  

ZigBee devices that connect to and communicate with the smart grid are available today. They have undergone independent tests and have been certified by the ZigBee Alliance to perform as promise. ZigBee certified hardware devices include meters, thermostats, smart plugs and energy service portals. Together, they comprise the basics needed to control air conditioners, heaters, appliances, lighting and much more. They also provide the connection utilities need to implement the final connection to the smart grid.

ZigBee is the first step in building a smart grid and implementing the energy efficiency programs necessary for enabling a worldwide energy market. With two-way communication about energy, we are moving closer to an energy trading market that efficiently supports carbon emission credit trading, device level energy audits, distributed generation sold back to the grid, and more. Connectivity plays a key role as energy becomes a new currency.