In Business Power Play

Listen to Power Play (05/08/2010)

It looks like a traffic light, sitting there in a cupboard or under the stairs. When your home is using minimal electricity, the green light shows. Orange means you've stepped up your power usage, and the red light comes on when you switch on a device that gobbles up electricity: the oven or the tumble drier.

This power consumption signaller is the main manifestation of the so called "Intelligent Grid" at the moment, also known as the "Smart Grid".

In Britain and other parts of Europe, you can find these smart meters in just a few homes of early adopters, people with an eye on global warming who also want a little more control over the power they use as and when they are actually using it, rather than waiting for the next bill to arrive.

A nice talking point when friends drop round.

But it is a talking point that we may all have to get used to talking about soon. The Smart Grid is something that high technology people are getting very excited about. Some even call it the dawn of a new sort of economy. It is similar to the coming of the Internet, but bigger, much bigger.

Wedge

It is certainly going to cost billions to install 48-million new smart electricity meters in every consumer's home and office in Britain by the official government target date of 2020. Some experts think it may be moved forward to 2016.

The 2020 date is significant because that's the date by which the European Union has signed up member countries to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels.

If cutting greenhouse gasses is the aim, then the smart meter programme is the thin end of what may turn out to be a thick and expensive wedge.

Simple awareness that consumers are using electricity is - I suggest - unlikely to do much to cut consumption of electricity made from burning carbon.

There will have to be carrots and sticks in the form of significant price differentials. The Smart Grid will provide the intelligence to deliver them. Electricity supply companies must already be working on deep studies of users' behaviour: what incentives will people need to switch to "cheap" off peak power to do routine things.

Will the coming of smart meters lead to a string of home appliances that can be switched on remotely (perhaps by the power company) when surplus electricity is available in the system. Your tumble drier communicating direct with the power company, and responding to it ... to keep your electricity bill down. Creepy!

Windmills

Some visionaries go much further than this. For them, the switching power made possible by the networking together of smart meters will eventually usher in the day when most premises are power producers as well as power consumers.

Domestic windmills, solar panels and even hydrogen cells in homes and offices may generate power that can be monitored in and out of the grid by local smart meters.

Just as mainframe computers gave way to the desktop and laptop machines and localised computer power, so the smart meter system may one day make possible localised power supplies, moderated by the information flows generated by those smart meters under the stairs.

That anyway is what the enthusiasts say. It seems to me that it's a lot further off than 2020. Those 48-million smart meters are just the start (perhaps) of something big.

Listen to Power Play (05/08/2010)

Previous Programmes

Watch Your Language - Peter Day joins a group of enthusiasts determined to improve the language of business.

Keep it Local - As pubs struggle to survive, Peter Day travels through villages in Yorkshire and Cumbria to talk to local activists.

Space - Peter Day asks what happens next on the USA's journey into space.

German Pencils - Peter Day asks Faber-Castell and Staedtler how they both stay sharp ...

Building BRICS - Peter Day finds out about the BRICS - Brazil, Russia, Indonesia and China

Over A Barrel - Peter Day contemplates the turmoil in the Middle East and fears it will affect the price of oil

Reconstructing Capitalism - Peter Day hears all about the challenges to the way capitalism works.

All at Sea - Peter Day hears all about sea transport.

China Dispossessed - Peter Day hears about some of the problems caused by China's rush for prosperity.

Back on the Road - Alan Mulally tells Peter Day how he changed the way Ford works and how it is now back in the business of selling cars.

Asia Bling! - Peter Day ponders how the rise of the Asian comsumer will change business.

Euro on the Rocks - Peter Day asks what is the future for the Euro?

Bitter Pills - Peter Day looks at changing face of drug development.

Operation Robot - would you allow a robot to operate on you? Peter Day looks at robot-assisted surgery.

Growing Pains - Peter Day asks, what is the main component of growth?

After the Crunch - Government funding and regional development: the view from Newcastle.

Chips off the Old Block - Computing in the UK, past, present and future.

Hidden Depths - Graham Hawkes, DeepFlight and exploring the oceans.

Sociability - How social technology makes new business models possible.

Are CEOs Up to the Job? - Two thirds aren't according to Xinfu's Steve Tappin. Peter Day investigates.

In at the Start - Saeed Amidi and Silicon Valley

Power Play - Is the 'smart grid' the start of something big?

Now Wash Your Hands Please - How a simple idea can transform lives in the developing world

Coming Soon - What can the experience of previous financial crises tell us about the current one?

Ticking Over - Can the Isle of Man rejuvenate the business of watchmaking?

Not Just Silicon - what can Silicon Valley teach us about innovation?

Press under Pressure - what lies ahead for the world of newspaper publishing?

Remembering CK Prahalad - in a world of change and multiple opportunities, how does a company keep up?

Rwanda Rising - building a clean safe state where business can flourish.

Life Cycles - building businesses around the idea of new kinds of bikes.

Who Sets Our Standards - the business and social benefits of standardisation.

Ready to wear - the ethical issues of the international clothing industry.

Doing It Wrong - what's wrong with the way business works?

New Age - the business of aging.

Project Alcatraz - rehabilitating offenders in Venezuela.

Selling Salvation - Peter Drucker and the Salvation Army.

Let Me Entertain You - office parties and away days.

Brazil's Sugar Rush - Brazil.

Small Wonder - microfinance.

Unlimited Company - organizational models.

Credit Crunch - cash and credit.

Student Startups - student entrepreneurs.

Media Mayhem - changes in the newspaper industry.

Squeaky Clean - branding.

Battery Power - Bolivia.

Women's Work - women in the city.

Hell For Leather - John Timpson and Timpson's Shoes.

Learning Curve - organisational culture.

Let's Start a Bank - banking.

Goodbye to Intel - Craig Barrett and Intel.

Location Location - So?

Iceland feels the Heat - the credit crunch in Iceland.

The Cisco Kid - Mike Lynch and John Chambers.

Grand Design - business schools.

Power Drive - the car industry.

All New - innovation.

Europe on the edge - What is this thing called "Europe"?

For more programmes visit the In Business programme archive.

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