Monday, March 21, 2011

A Smart Human Energy Grid

I am a customer of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the electric utility of Northern California. PG&E installed smart meters in my home a few months back and gave me access to a web site where I and they can monitor my energy usage. I also signed up for a service where PG&E can control my air conditioner to turn it down a bit during peak energy usage hours.

This helps PG& reduce massive capital investment in power plans that are required only to meet the needs of few hours of demand a few days a year. By avoiding such power plants PG&E reduces the amount of carbon it dumps into the air northern Californians breath.

Such smart energy management is in its infancy even in the developed world.

Is this an invasion of my privacy?
There are two ways to look at this. One way is to look at this as an invasion of my privacy. Pretty soon PG&E will know my energy usage on a daily basis, the devices I use and when I use them. They will also be able to control almost all device in my house such as the fridge, the washing machine, the dishwasher, the television and even lights.

The second way to look at this is as my active participation in the smart energy grid. By providing and getting some insight into my energy usage and patterns, I am helping PG&E reduce my bill, reduce harmful emissions pumped into the air that are slowly but surely turning the air we breath into poison and laying the foundation for a stronger future economy.

Let me compare this situation with usage of human energy
Organizations have been behaving a lot like US electric utilities for a long time. Most employees and people management leaders have little timely insight into how human energy is utilized, how effectively it is utilized and for what purpose it is put to use. All they know is that a certain amount of human energy is consumed every year to produce some goods and services.

This worked well during the industrial era when most organizations were manufacturing tangible things. So human energy demand was arrived at dividing by the number of things produced by the number of people deployed to produce the same.

Then things changed. Most of the developed world moved from a manufacturing economy to an idea driven economy. But organizations did not change their human energy management systems to suit the changing reality. Suddenly they lost visibility into how much human energy it takes to produce something, how much it costs to produce the same and when will such energy be available for use at the lowest cost.

Affluent organizations plan capacity for peak demand and waste the excess capacity during non-peak hours, incurring enormous costs to the company, loss of value for shareholders and lost opportunity for unproductive employees. Poorly run organizations respond to demand spikes in human energy by deploying their human energy unproductively, unsustainably or by simply missing the opportunity.

A smart meter for every employee
Like the energy grid in the US, the human energy grid is not smart today. There is a very small step that human energy managers can take to nudge their organizations towards a smarter human energy grid. Organizations can ask every employee to make his or her performance goals and activities associated with those performance goals public. This simple act of providing visibility into what a person is working towards and what they are doing to get there will make organizations a lot smarter about human energy usage.

This is a bit like having a smart meter for every employee. What do you think? Are you ready to move towards a smarter human energy grid?

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