New business platforms like Uber and Airbnb have permanently altered traditional business models that a decade ago seemed unchangeable. Economists are calling the market where these new entities operate the sharing economy.
Could the same sharing approach work in the utility business?
Julia Morgan, a Missouri S&T Ph.D. student in systems engineering, thinks it can, and she has developed a model for a peer-to-peer network through which consumers could buy, sell and share energy.
For her research, Morgan is studying how individuals who get their power from multiple sources – from solar panels and wind turbines to more conventional sources – could form communities for energy sharing with each other and local utility companies.
Morgan says that sharing communities include not only consumers of electricity, but also “prosumers” – end-users who both consume and produce electricity using their own renewable energy generators. The idea of energy sharing is to meet individual energy needs through renewable energies and to sell excess energy within a sharing community when households produce more electricity than they need. By sharing energy generation and demand, prosumers could see a cost savings and become more self-sufficient.
There are several benefits to sharing energy for consumers and utility companies. Sharing unused generation from renewable energy sources within a community benefits all participants in the community. Consumers not only enjoy clean energy generated locally at a lower price than paying for the utility, but prosumers may also be able to sell the excess electricity to the community at a more attractive price.
Morgan pointed to an example of a functioning microgrid operating in Brooklyn, New York. The Brooklyn Microgrid (BMG) allows its participants to “engage in a sustainable energy network and choose their preferred energy sources, locally.” BMG is a blockchain-enabled platform that allows for energy transactions through an online marketplace. Participants include energy companies, solar communities, residential and business consumers, as well as residential and business prosumers.