Powering Local



I am a small business owner, interactive marketing devotee, capitalist, and committed environmental protectionist.

Over the last few months, these sometimes conflicting passions have led me to educate myself on an industry that touches our lives and wallets virtually every moment of every day: energy consumption. 

In an increasing number of arenas, business and residential consumers are asking themselves: “How can I ensure what I consume is locally and sustainably produced?”  Witness the resurgence in our local food markets.

Asking a parallel question about my energy consumption sent me headlong into unchartered territory  -- how many of us as consumers even wonder where the electric current that powers our lives and the myriad of devices on which we rely comes from?  Is it generated from oil? coal? wind? nuclear reactors? natural gas? Where is it generated?  And, what is its impact on our environment?  Conversely, how many of us simply take for granted that the lights will go on and the devices will recharge?
Shale.  In western Maryland, we sit on top the of the Marcellus Shale formation & debate is heated about whether these energy assets can be extracted safely.  Do your research with CitizenShale.
The unchartered territory is a heady, politically contentious place where long-held monopolies fight for survival and consumer behavior is hard to change.  I was one of many Maryland business owners that recently testified in the Maryland State Legislature regarding proposed Marcellus Shale Drilling  -- a.k.a. “fracking” – and witnessed this contention first-hand.

However, in many states these energy markets are actively being restructured to increase competition and consumer choice.  I found the Compete Coalition’s website very helpful in understanding these important efforts.

So, here in the DC metro area we live in a region where active deregulation is at work.  How and where is competition increasing? And, as businesses and consumers, where are we able to exercise choice?

Competition and choice can be driven by low price especially given today’s economic environment.  There are an increasing number of energy buying groups that are forming to “pool” together market demand and leverage that pooled demand to lower prices.  In western Maryland, our local chamber of commerce has formed exactly such a pool through a partnership with Premier Power Solutions.

Competition and choice can also be driven by other factors related to energy quality and environmental impact.  There are some exciting examples of this competitive dynamic.  First, energy consumers are starting to “pool” themselves in order to demand choice.  WTOP recently ran a piece that highlighted “more than 100 religious, community, labor and low-income housing groups in the Washington area (that) say they are joining forces to buy clean power and save money.”  Check out Groundswell for more information.

And, there is an increasing number of new entrant “energy retailers” that are marketing cleaner energy choices to DC metro area businesses and consumers.  Check out Clean Currents and Washington Gas Energy Service’s Clean Steps.

There are an increasing number of apps – both mobile and internet-based – that allow energy consumers to monitor and manage their usage.  These apps are based on new Smart Grid technologies.  And, according to DC-based OPower’s website: “they reinvent the way utilities interact with customers—from the quality of the information provided to the way it's presented and delivered. It helps people use energy more efficiently and ultimately save money on their energy bills. And it vastly improves the overall customer experience by making energy use personally relevant.”

Check out Green Button Connect and Nest for home energy consumption monitoring.  And, for you globalists, check out the cool stuff our pioneering German friends are doing at GreenPocket.

And for you trendsetters with electric vehicles, check out Plugshare to locate charging stations and Springwise for apps monitoring electric vehicle consumption.

Seth Godin’s Blog recently asked “will our energy consumption stay private?”  Will the choices about energy consumption made by brands and businesses be public?  Could they drive preference for brands that are making sustainable energy choices?

My sense is a resounding “yes.” Whether driven by our need to reduce our dependence on non-renewable, globally contentious oil resources – foreign oil especially – or, our need to reduce our carbon footprint and begin earnestly the fight against global climate change – my sense is brands will be looking to differentiate themselves actively based on their energy consumption choices.  And consumers will be looking for brands that reflect their own energy consumption values and priorities.


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