The energy economy of the 21st century demands an innovative energy grid. Right now, power comes to your house on what amounts to an inefficient one-way track. By upgrading the grid with smart meters at homes and offices that talk back to utilities, power transmission becomes more efficient as supply is adjusted to meet need. Equally importantly, a modernized grid creates the infrastructure needed to plug in distributed clean energy producers, from wind to solar. While the subject hasn’t attracted the same attention as efforts to green commutes with electric cars, it’s just as important to our future: According to the EPA, 80 percent of all carbon emissions comes from electricity production. Here are three GOOD Company finalists who are trying to change that equation:
Echelon, founded in 1988, is a leader in the smart grid field, producing a smart metering system that gives electrical utilities the tools to install smart devices throughout their networks. These devices make decisions about how to distribute power where it’s needed while avoiding unnecessary waste. They also allow consumers to make smarter choices about when and how to buy energy, allowing them to respond to pricing incentives to get power at off-peak times. Echelon’s products also help make power grids more resilient, rerouting demand for electricity if service is interrupted in one segment of the grid. While many of Echelon’s products are overseas—it services one of the world’s largest smart grids in Italy—it is currently working with Duke Energy to upgrade electrical infrastructure in North Carolina.
Analysts estimate that improving energy efficiency in the industrial sector could save $47 billion a year in costs, and that’s exactly where Powerit hopes to make its mark. The company was founded in 2002 based on Swedish technology first developed in the '90s; the current iteration, called Spara (Swedish for “conserve”) gives energy-intensive businesses the ability to better control their energy consumption by managing spikes in power demand. The company has helped an organic food company keep its refrigerators running even when it’s hot and configured a superalloy manufacturer’s energy usage to offset the equivalent of 1,775 acres of fir trees.
Consert, founded in 2008, is a relatively young entry to the smart grid sector, but has already partnered with a number of major players, including GE, Qualcomm and Verizon Wireless. Consert makes smart meters that allow consumers to save on their electrical spending and even adjust their thermostats and lights from a smartphone. The company also allows consumers to access a dashboard that shows their energy usage, giving them them the information they need to conserve energy and benefiting both the environment and their budgets. The company says its technology will allow utilities to better monitor carbon emissions, implement new pricing programs to take advantage of consumer decision-making, and begin integrating solar and wind power—along with electrical vehicle charging—into the grid.
Upgrading our energy infrastructure is a major social priority as the pressures of global warming and energy costs continue to increase. These three firms are GOOD companies because integrating information technology into the grid is a major step toward solving those problems.