A prosumer is an electricity customer that both consumes and produces energy. Becoming a prosumer is enabled by technologies such as price-responsive demand side management, distributed generation, and distributed storage. The graphic below of the House of the Future shows elements that may soon be integrated into new homes and retrofit into existing homes allowing homeowners to become prosumers.
Here is more detail on the "House of the Future"...
Future homes will use energy-efficient technologies that reduce overall energy usage. These include:
- highly efficient appliances and lighting
- a super-insulated shell and energy-efficient windows
- geothermal heating and cooling that use thermal energy from the earth to efficiently heat and cool a home
- a smart thermostat that keeps a home at an optimum temperature
- a home combined heat and power (CHP) system that generates electricity and provides heat for hot water and/or space heating
While a single home will likely not include all of these elements, a mix of just some of them will significantly minimize the amount of energy required to meet desired lifestyle demands.
Once one's needs to buy energy services from the grid are reduced, the next investment may be in technologies that lower energy costs (or even make them go negative so that homeowners are making money!). This may be achieved by shifting electric demand to times when power is the cheapest and/or by selling electricity back to the grid. This is what turns a consumer into a prosumer. Technologies that facilitate this change include:
- smart appliances; adaptive lighting; a smart thermostat; a controllable water heater; and an electric vehicle with a battery; all of these allow consumers to time-shift their electric usage
- The previously mentioned CHP system, which provides capacity and electricity
- A solar array that can also provide capacity and electricity
- A home battery that can provide capacity, electricity, and regulation services and may also allow the homeowner to time-shift use of power bought from the grid or generated by a CHP system or solar array
Those who take advantage of these technologies' benefits will want to remain connected to the distribution utility to get the economic benefit of selling these services. This requires a smart meter and a smart inverter that converts the power generated or the electricity discharged from batteries to the level of power quality needed for the distribution system.
All these components won't run and optimize themselves alone, so a home energy management system (HEMS) is required to manage it all. HEMS users will simply use the convenient home energy app provided by their energy services provider (Google, Facebook, cable/internet provider, electric utility, or energy retailer) to set preferences and the system will then run itself. Such efforts should result in a reduced energy bill at the end of every month.
Sound futuristic? All of these technologies are available today. But to fully integrate them as described above there must be changes to the electric utility model as well as innovative service providers who pull it all together. In some states around the U.S. and countries around the world, this future is not too far away.