The Sharing Economy’s Impact on the Energy Industry

Amanda Gassé, ERS, for Zondits

There is an extremely powerful dynamic that has shifted the commercial and cultural relationships in our economy. Technology has, and continues to, enable trust between strangers and is changing the way consumers do business, both locally and globally. By engaging in collaborative consumption in marketplaces, like Airbnb and Etsy, we are choosing to build personal relationships instead of empty transactions with institutions.

The principles of collaborative consumption are principles from old market behaviors that have been reinvented for the social media era. This new era of commerce has been labeled as the sharing economy and it creates the possibility for a more transparent, inclusive and accountable society. But how are these principles changing and influencing the energy industry?

Two years ago, Zondits reported on the rise of the sharing economy and its potential impact on the energy industry. Our article postulated the development of a parallel marketplace that could emerge using the same principles as the sharing economy to offer energy choices using private distributed energy resources (DERs). Then in March we published an article about the Brooklyn Microgrid project called TransActive Grid. The project is a combination of software and hardware that enables members to buy and sell energy from each other securely and automatically, using smart contracts and the . The microgrid project is developing distributed power generation and storage assets in the physical world while ConsenSys is building Ethereum, a blockchain software that deals with the buying and selling of electrons generated by solar panels, allowing participants to transact with each other peer-to-peer. In essence, TransActive Grid has created a community market giving prosumers control over their own energy choices. While grid-scale applications of blockchain are largely theoretical right now, the energy industry could be transformed by its potential implications.

More recently, an American Home Comfort study from Decision Analyst reinforced the impact of the sharing economy on consumers and the HVAC marketplace. The study reported that homeowners are more trusting of the Internet for HVAC information than they are of their contractors. The results of the study relay the influence of the sharing economy on all aspects of the energy industry. No longer are contractors and institutions the primary source for consumer information. Technology and access to information is guiding consumers in their purchasing decisions.

This new consumer system is built on reputation and access to trustworthy information. The sharing economy is creating a more sustainable system built to serve the innate needs of the community and individuals while moving towards the rediscovery of collective good. It remains to be seen how this new system will help our industry become less wasteful and improve overall energy management, but it’s looking good.