Transactive Energy: The Future May Be Closer than It Appears

At the recent Transactive Energy Conference, ideas, innovations and buzzwords (“prosumer” was a popular choice, followed closely by “aggregator” and “interoperability”) flew as thickly as the Portland raindrops outside the windows. But for me, one simple concept stood out: it’s time to take this crazy transactive energy idea seriously. It’s going to be a part of the future electric power industry, sooner rather than later, and many of the conference’s nearly 200 participants came away with the realization that that future, like that Mack truck in the rear-view, may be closer than it appears.

The promise of this technology boils down to a simple question, articulated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Roland Risser during his Day 1 morning keynote address: “What if loads could follow generation, instead of requiring generation to follow loads?” In other words, what if millions of “smart” devices — electric car chargers, water heaters, battery storage systems — were intelligent enough to power up when the sun was shining or the wind was blowing, when power was at its cheapest and most abundant?

At the conference, held over two days at the World Trade Center in downtown Portland, attendees were regaled by a who’s-who of smart grid and transactive energy proponents, from Dr. Carl Pechman, senior advisor for electricity to the U.S. Office of Energy Policy, to Koen Kok, “senior scientist intelligent electricity” for European transactive energy superstar TNO. Keynote addresses on “The Coming Value Revolution” and Transaction-Based Controls alternated with well-attended workshops, paper sessions, and plenary panels (“Regulatory, Legislative, and Policy Considerations for Transactive Energy,” “International Perspectives on Transactive Energy”).

During the latter session, held on the morning of Day 2, participants were wowed by a panel discussion that included Kok, Reji Kumar of the India Smart Grid Forum, Frits Bliek, principal consultant, Smart Grid for Oslo-based DNV GL, and Mark Paterson, who heads up grids and renewable energy integration for Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). Kok turned heads with his observation that TNO’s 10-year-old open-source PowerMatcher transactive energy software is now in its fourth version, and is already up and running in more than 1,000 real-world commercial and residential deployments across Europe.

The international perspective was just one of the highlights of the TEC, which also featured a lively back-and-forth between legislators and regulators at the Day 1 “Regulatory, Legislative and Policy Considerations for Transactive Energy” plenary panel. “Overall, there was just great energy and a high level of engagement,” said Dr. Ron Melton of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a conference organizer who led the final-day wrap-up session. “One thing that became very clear to me, especially from the discussion during the Regulatory/Legislative panel, is that consumers are going to drive this change. In the not-very-distant future, they’re going to begin demanding the transactive energy products and services that are already being created by energy innovators. It will be interesting to see where that takes us.”

Did you attend TEC 2014 in Portland? If so, what were your takeaways?