Empowering People: Energy Solutions for the 21st Century

I was taking one last look around GE’s cool annual reports data visualization on Monday and a really interesting and inspiring thing popped out at me — more and more “power” is being put in the hands of individuals (or households) when it comes to energy.

Aside from renewable energy (such as decentralized solar) popping onto the scene to a noticeable degree in the early 2000s, and then growing to become a large economic player in the past few years, there are several other points to note when it comes to putting power in the hands of the people.

Decentralized Clean Energy for Billions

Perhaps most notably, but also invisible to many of us in the Western world, there are still billions of people around the world who don’t have electricity. Luckily, many of them will get electricity in the coming decades, and they can leapfrog outdated dirty energy options and go straight to clean energy options such as solar (something I focused on in my CNBC & Harvard Business Review “Energy Opportunities” interview last year). GE notes this as well, focusing on the fact that much of the electricity approximately 1.5 billion will gain in the coming 25 years will be from decentralized energy (e.g. solar and small-scale wind energy). In its 2011 annual report, GE notes that “in the next 25 years, 1.5 billion people will gain access to power, much of it ‘off’ the electricity grid. This will result in a $16 trillion power opportunity.” Luckily, companies like GE are advancing and lowering the cost of technologies needed for this energy revolution.

Controlling & Improving Your Home

It’s not all about what powers your home when it comes to ‘saving the world’ through a cleantech revolution. We also need to become much more efficient. One way to do so is to have better home management technology. Luckily, there are now dozens (or perhaps even hundreds) of companies and new technologies looking to provide us with that these days.

GE is one such company, of course, and GE’s Home Builder Program is one such technology. “A home built using the GE ecomagination Home Builder Program is designed to save 20% annually in energy and indoor water consumption, with 20% fewer emissions of CO2 compared to an industry-accepted average new home,” GE wrote in its 2007 annual report. “For a 2,500 square foot home, this could save homeowners $600 to $1,500 on energy and water bills every year.” Nice!

Electric Vehicles: Home Infrastructure/Technology Needed… & Served

One of the rather silent benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) is that they can be charged at home (rather than standing at a smelly gas station in the cold or heat). But, for that to be a possibility, someone needs to develop efficient, convenient, cost-effective infrastracture/technology for home EV charging. GE’s on that.

In 2010, under a section on its EV Infrastructure, GE wrote: “GE has developed intelligent, plug-in electric vehicle charging devices for U.S. and global markets to help consumers charge their cars during low-demand, lower-cost time periods. As a result, great chargers will make plug-in cars more attractive to utilities and consumers, helping to lower our carbon footprint and oil dependence.” Very useful.

GE again mentions its EV charging stations in 2011: “We deliver innovation that the world needs: from an integrated wind, solar, and natural gas project, to smart grids that help utilities manage electricity demand, to gas engines that run on organic waste, to more accessible charging stations for electric vehicles.”

I think it should also be noted that EV chargers match up great with solar power to tremendously lower the amount of money households must spend on energy, and they are also a great fit with wind energy since the wind blows most at night, when electricity demand is lowest and charging EVs is most convenient and cheapest.

And you can even get these EV chargers at Lowe’s now!

All in all, more power (literally) is being put back in the hands of individuals and households. I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks that’s a good thing.

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