Providence-based VCharge Inc. coined the term “transactive load” to describe a concept company founders believe will change the world. It’s the idea that end users of electricity can save money by determining when they buy power, taking advantage of the pre-dawn hours when demand is low and generators are pumping out far more energy than needed. To take advantage of this concept, VCharge is developing smart-grid applications, such as its Smartbricks for electric thermal-storage systems, that could potentially balance supply and demand on the electric grid and pave the way for alternative energy. Jessica Millar is VCharge’s founder and chief security officer.
PBN: What are Smartbricks?
MILLAR: Smartbricks are controls we put on electric thermal-storage heaters so we can talk to them over the Internet. The controls will learn the patterns and behaviors of the space they heat. When we send down the weather forecast, it will estimate how much energy it will need over 24 hours. Then we send it a price forecast and plan for the best hours to buy energy.
PBN: How do electric thermal-storage heaters work?
MILLAR: Electric thermal storage heaters are incredibly simple technology that started getting used in Europe after World War II when the grid was not reliable. It’s a heat tank, either ceramic or water, heated up with simple electric elements and insulated with a thermostatically controlled fan. The bricks come as room units or furnaces and get up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. An appropriately sized system can store a day-and-a-half of heat and be charged to full in four or five hours. So it is big bathtub of heat energy. You can buy the energy at one point in time and use it later in the form of heat.