Duke Alumnus David Brewster on a Sustainable Grid
One major problem with the electric power utility industry is that it builds peaking (or backup) power plants that account for 10% of the built infrastructure but stand idle 99% of the time, awaiting peak demand events. During those rare events, utilities bring those peaking plants online to help provide power to an overburdened system, like in summer months when AC units are in overdrive and thus over-stressing the grid. Some companies, including the Boston-based EnerNOC, are seeing that de-stressing the over-stressed can also be accomplished without building wasteful peaking power plants that sit idle for the greater part of the year.
Their idea is to take non-essential electricity use off the grid to de-stress the system. And so they are building a network of large power users (businesses, schools, institutions, hospitals, governments, etc.), installing smart energy-management meters and monitors, and working with them to assess how much energy they can curtail on demand during those rare demand response events. In effect they are building virtual plants and in the process preventing blackouts and brownouts in regions all across the country. More info here: http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/main/dukenvironment/sp11/brewster