Alvin Toffler, acclaimed futurist, and reformer, coined the term prosumer back in 1980. During the industrial age, it was a radical idea since people were content with consuming mass-produced goods and services. However, in today’s world, the idea of switching from being a consumer to an involved prosumer is becoming increasingly accepted and even desired.
Consumers merely purchase an end-product from the market while prosumers are consumers who are actively involved in the production process. This involvement can be in many ways: partnership, collaboration, creation or knowledge. From producing the goods or services themselves to wanting to know which ingredients go into the making of the product to understanding the ethics and values of the firm, the new consumer i.e. the prosumer, wants to be in the know. The digital age we now live in has aided this shift from consuming to prosuming. Communication and information can now flow faster and further giving consumers more power, influence, and the newfound drive to know the stories behind the products they consume.
There are many ways to be a prosumer. Bloggers and social media influencers are prosumers who drive demand for products. Pop-up shops and customization stations allow prosumers to create one-of-a-kind products. The do-it-yourself industry mass-produces products but allows consumers to be involved in the assembly process. The digital world has created a new kind of prosumer through the open-source software movement which leads to collaboration and building of software together. Lastly, an important and revolutionary way is within the energy space: decentralized energy production has immense potential to power not only individuals but whole cities.
In the energy world, a prosumer is someone who both produces and consumes energy. Formally, energy prosumers can be defined as “a customer or a group of jointly acting customers who consume, store, or sell electricity generated on their premises.” The shift to prosumerism in this sector is due to the increasing popularity of renewable energy such as solar panels, wind energy, and electric vehicles.
The pressing need to address climate change as well as the ever-growing demand for energy has made it vital to examine sustainability in the ways in which we produce and consume energy. Digitization and decentralization are spear-heading this movement.
Digitization enables a smart electricity system, the smart grid. Using a smart grid, the consumer can now automate the operation of the system and it enables a bi-directional flow of energy to and from the grid replacing the unidirectional flow of energy from the power plant to the consumer. This allows for the decentralization of energy.
In place of centralized power plants, decentralization allows for distributed generation of energy. This leads to the energy system, traditionally dominated by large firms, to increasingly open up to new entrants, one of which is the energy prosumer. Prosumers bring multiple benefits to the energy system, the sustainability movement, as well as to society as a whole: reduced carbon emissions, increased use of renewable energy sources, new business opportunities, better access to energy in urban areas, and improved resilience in developing communities. On the other hand, centralized power plants, supplying 95% of India’s energy requirement, are set up in forests in central India – displacing local communities, destroying flora and fauna, and polluting rivers and land. Further, for every 4 units of energy generated, 1 unit is lost during transmission, reliability is not always guaranteed, and traditional fuels like coal, nuclear power, and gas have fallen into disrepute due to their negative impact on climate.
Digitalization and decentralization have led to a significant change in the decade-long one-way flow of energy from central plants to individual buildings. Energy users are no longer simply electricity, gas, or heat consumers, but prosumers who produce and consume energy. In order to understand how, let’s break down decentralization in the solar industry.
Solar Energy Prosumers
Centralized clean energy sources like large solar plants solve some issues described above, but where the energy is being produced and where it is consumed are still hundreds of miles apart.
Decentralized solar plants, such as on rooftops, solve most issues.
Once a solar panel is installed on a rooftop, it begins to harness the sun’s energy to produce electricity. The panels can be off-grid or on-grid, i.e., connected to the main electricity grid. Energy consumption, as well as production rates, fluctuate often based on the weather and other conditions. When on-grid prosumers produce surplus energy, they feed the excess into the grid. On the other hand, when their consumption needs outweigh the amount of energy they produce, they consume energy from the grid. Off-grid prosumers attain a balance between production and consumption through energy storage facilities.
The shift to rooftop solar energy prosuming is gaining widespread popularity. Working towards a goal to install 100GW of solar capacity by 2022, India has installed approximately 37GW as of December 2020. Of this, rooftop solar accounts for 6GW with 15% attributed to residential rooftops. Be a part of the shift from mere consumption to prosumption and #solarify your rooftop today!