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Finance & Innovation

Get paid to flick a switch

Source: Wpg Pro Photographer 

What if you got paid for something as simple as turning off the lights?  Or better yet even, what if someone paid you to procrastinate putting your laundry in the dryer for a little bit longer? This company called Ohmconnect actually does this and I think their model should be adapted and used everywhere!

Source: MLP Forums 

What is it?

Ohmconnect (https://www.ohmconnect.com/index) is a company based in California that launched in February 2014.  Ohmconnect is free to join and actually pays you to reduce your energy consumption at specific times.  This reduces the cost of, and environmental impact of, generating energy.

How does it work?

Most of the time, the energy market accurately predicts how much energy will be needed in a given region. But sometimes, people use more energy than forecasted, which means the grid will turn on a “fast-acting power plant” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_power_station) to balance the system. However, these fast-acting power plants are very expensive to operate and they use fossil fuels inefficiently.

When a user activates an account with Ohmconnect with  their utility login credentials, Ohmconnect gives the user permission to link their smart meter to Ohmconnect. Smart meters are digital energy readers available on most California residences. These meters take frequent readings that allow the Ohmconnect system to track the user’s energy consumption.

When individuals save energy in response to notifications from Ohmconnect, they put the savings back into something called the “energy market” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_market).  This market is where wholesale energy is bought and sold. To the market, saved energy is equivalent to generated energy, which means it has economic value. The energy market pays Ohmconnect to sell saved energy into the grid. Ohmconnect then takes a portion of that earning and passes it on to the users who reduced their electricity use during #OhmHour events.

#OhmHour is a brief time period when a dirty and inefficient power plant has to be turned on due to energy demand.

Source: Hazelwood Power Station - en.wikipedia.org

Ohmconnect notifies users when there is an #OhmHour event via text or email so that they can respond by reducing their electricity use.  Users can expect to receive 2-3 alerts each week. They will always begin sometime in the first half of the hour and finish at the end of the hour. For example, if a user receives an alert at 8:15pm, they reduce their energy use until 9:00pm.

When users receive an #OhmHour notification, they turn off or unplug non-vital electronic devices and appliances until the Alert is over at the end of the hour. This could also include turning off air conditioning and waiting until the end of the hour before using major appliances, such as the dryer. 

Users earn points on Ohmconnect by responding to the #OhmHour events sent via email or text message. The more users are able to reduce their electricity use below their “baseline” during these events, the more points they will earn. The points can be cashed in for money at any time - either paid directly to the individual or donated to the individual’s charity of choice. I absolutely love this aspect of the model. It almost makes me want to move to California….almost.  

The baseline for each user is established by taking an average of the energy used per hour for the past 10 days. For example, the baseline electricity use for a user between 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. on Thursday is calculated by looking at the 10 previous weekdays from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Ohmconnect then compares the energy use during the #OhmHour with the user’s baseline for that hour. The lower the energy use relative to the baseline, the more points earned.  

Ohmconnect also works with Internet-connected thermostats, switches, and electric vehicles, which automatically switch off during #OhmHour events. They turn back on at the end of the alert.

How can we apply this?

Currently this model is only being used in the state of California, however it will soon expand to other states.  What if it expanded to other countries though?

One example of many where this would be beneficial is Egypt. Egypt is experiencing one of its most serious energy crises in decades, with parts of the country facing around six power cuts a day for up to two hours at a time.  There are times when electricity demand is over 20% higher than power stations can provide.  If there were a company such as Ohmconnect that informed individuals when the electricity demand was getting close to capacity, and paid people to reduce their energy, this would have both economic and environmental benefits.  

In this day and age, innovative, unique solutions to problems is what we need.  These kinds of ideas and approaches is what will take us that one step further - as global citizens we want to make sure that every individual is not only free from poverty but also able to thrive in this world.  Ohmconnect has shown us that there really are no limits to what we can achieve.  

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Alison Costa