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Picture a world where most of the electricity we use is renewable, affordable and reliable. Imagine consumers making this possible by occasionally and automatically selling electricity to the grid or delaying use, usually without even noticing.

Much work is needed to create this future, but the electricity paradigm that has served us for more than a century must fundamentally change. Power plants fueled mostly by fossil fuels simply ramping up and down to meet demand must be replaced by solar and wind generators that are less controllable.

Fortunately, today’s sensors, power electronics, algorithms and data science can help the grid manage extensive renewable generation and make the most of new, local energy resources, like residential solar power, home batteries and flexible consumer demand. This could shrink the need for massive energy storage facilities, standby natural gas-fired generators and long-distance transmission lines.

The Powernet project is developing integrated hardware and software to aggregate and control local energy resources. Our layered architecture should enable networked neighborhoods by the thousands to be aggregated and participate in wholesale electricity markets as both buyers and sellers to keep the lights on at the lowest cost and offer services such as ramp following and regulation support. We are also working to make this system attractive and easy for consumers to use, while preserving privacy.

In a preliminary study, we showed that 10,000 homes can provide up to three megawatts of local capacity. Powernet is developing the tools necessary for 125 million U.S. homes to capture that capacity economically. If successful, we will have contributed significantly to building a clean, reliable and affordable electricity future.

To learn more, please see our published technical paper here.