Pico Grids


We use a lot of energy each day.  While we use electricity practically every minute of every day, not everyone understands its major uses in our homes and offices. Reducing electricity usage is a big opportunity to reduce both monthly power bills and carbon emissions. And the crucial first step toward diminishing electricity usage is understanding it. 

When we’re able to separate electricity usage into different end uses, we can see where the major demand for electricity is in most buildings. But before we can understand how energy is used, we need to develop an understanding of some key terms and how they fit into our power system.

Behavior-Based Critical Loads
The “plug load” refers to the amount of energy being used by a home or building through its electrical outlets by things like computers, TVs, printers, vending machines, refrigerators, and more. The more appliances and electronic devices that are plugged in, the larger the plug load. Because a home or building’s plug load can account for a huge percent of its total energy use, better managing plug loads can have a sizable impact on energy efficiency.

Critical, or essential, loads are those electrical loads to which power supply has to be maintained. When discussing behavior-based critical loads, the way in which we interact with and use energy determines what the most critical loads are based on what is used most frequently or necessary to sustain the continuity of our lifestyle or business.

According to “Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use,” the largest electricity uses in US homes—heating and cooling, lighting, and refrigeration—account for just 15% of always-on electricity consumption while consumer electronics like televisions, printers, and game consoles account for 51%. 

Whether discussing refrigerators, Wi-Fi routers, security systems, entertainment systems, garage doors, or sump pumps, these loads are most essential because we either use them most or need them—even during small power outages. It’s in this behavioral-based idea where certain electronic devices and appliances can begin to be seen as more important than others (your washer/dryer, for example).

Certain Electronics and Appliances are More Important
When end-users are able to assess how loads are broken up around their home or office, they’re able to ensure the continuity of their lifestyle or business without interruption in the event of an outage. By tracking plug loads, users can determine where energy is being wasted as well as used, which, in turn, allows for the use of advanced technologies to shut off the flow of energy to certain devices at certain times in order to cut down on wasted energy.

Reliable Backup Power (also known as Distributed Energy Storage)
We need to consider a better way to manage the grid at a micro-utility scale. If you want backup power, or reliability of power for a home or building, there are energy storage options out there. You just have to spend a lot of money to get microgrid-sized storage because you’re powering everything as opposed to the essentials.

It’s too expensive to generate energy all by yourself, so use the grid infrastructure that already exists. This is where the idea of a “pico-grid” that leverages distributed energy storage comes in, where consumers can power just the items that are most essential around the home and office first. With distributed energy storage on a pico-grid, it doesn’t matter what happens on the outside of the meter because if an outage occurs, you’re protected on the inside.

When you manage personal grids at a micro-scale, it plays into the bigger picture of reliability and resilience as well. In fact, it’s actually the cooperation of the interconnected main grid down to your grid all working together to better manage plug loads. 

What Matters Most to You?
Think about what’s most important to you because that impacts the grid at large, how energy is being managed and how sustainable and efficient it can be. All we have to do is look at how energy is used in our homes and offices to understand our personal grid and take initiative to become more energy efficient. If we understand that and the notion that there’s other critical things that are important to power that keep our lives and businesses going, it might help the big picture of how to generate and distribute energy in the future.

About the Author:
Caleb Scalf is the founder and CEO of Hygge Power, a Boulder, CO-based energy startup working on the future of energy generation, distribution, and storage.

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