What's transactive energy? PNNL's Carl Imhoff fills in the blanks

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Carl Imhoff suggested that within 10 years, everyone'll know about transactive energy.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Carl Imhoff suggested that within 10 years, everyone'll know about transactive energy.

Upon entering Thursday’s Conference and Workshop on Transactive Energy in downtown Portland, I really only had one question.

What, exactly, is the working definition of transactive energy?

Turns out, I’m not the only one. A speaker immediately noted that few rate regulators even know about the term, let alone the industry bubbling up around it. But if the packed mezzanine-level event room at Portland’s World Trade Center is any indication, a lot more people clearly want to know not only what transactive energy is, they want to know how to use it.

I met up with Carl Imhoff, manager of electricity infrastructure sector for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, after a panel he moderated to see whether he could explain the concept. Luckily, Imhoff’s not only a learned transactive energy student, he’s als very patient.

Sustainable Business Oregon: So, the question was posed outright during your panel: What, exactly, is transactive energy?

Carl Imhoff: Transactive energy is a means of using economic signals or incentives to engage all the intelligent devices in the power grid from the consumer to the transmission system to get a more optimal allocation of resources and engage demand in ways we haven’t been able to before.

And it’s all enabled with the communication concepts we get with the smart grid.

SBO: That’s what I was going to ask: What’s the difference between this and a smart grid?

Imhoff: It’s basically leveraging the communication and the smart (functions) on some of the devices, the embedded microprocessors on the devices, to enable these things. Like your hot water heater (being) able to communicate to a smart meter which is getting the price signal that’s flowing down through the system. You might say, for the next five minutes, “I really don’t need my water that hot and I could earn a little money if I could back it off by a couple of degrees.” So it’s leveraging that communication and local decision making in ways we could never do before until we had some of these devices.

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