Some of the most exciting innovations to capture the public’s eye in recent years revolve around space transportation. Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will soon be whisking brave travelers away on interplanetary adventures. The biggest innovation has been in reusable rockets, which the MIT Technology Review listed as one of the top breakthrough technologies of 2016. Bezos launched and landed his Blue Origin reusable rocket in November 2015 in West Texas, and Elon Musk did the same in December 2015 at Cape Canaveral. The cost-saving potential for this technology is huge, as reusable rockets can be used multiple times instead of being launched once and then destroyed after takeoff. But the implications behind this technology go even further. On September 27, 2016, Elon Musk presented at the 67th International Astronautical Congress and spoke about plans to colonize Mars. Though this endeavor would require a more capable rocket, one of the major logistical hurdles of sending people to other planets has been how to get them home. Perfecting the reusable rocket would make long-distance traveling a much more realistic prospect.

Stock photo of Mars

Innovation is always ripe in the worlds of technology and aerospace travel, but electric utilities don’t have to just watch from the bleachers. Some energy providers are pushing the business-as-usual envelope and rolling out new solutions that are galaxies away from typical. Table 1 details some of the novel ways utilities are working to increase energy savings.

TABLE 1: Examples of innovative demand-side management programs

Administrator Program Description
Con Edison Brooklyn/Queens Demand Management Calls for using a wide range of resources, including energy efficiency, demand-side management (DSM), distributed generation, and storage to defer by seven years the need for a new substation by seven years
Energy Trust of Oregon Pay for Performance Provides financial incentives annually for three years rather than one up-front payment at project completion
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) Small Business Welcome Series Aims to improve small and midsize business (SMB) participation in DSM programs to decrease the amount of SMB help requests
Southern California Gas Co. (SoCalGas) and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Comprehensive Energy Efficiency Foodservice Program Builds on a unique “Master Partnership” between the two utilities so that both utilities save time and money through streamlined program deliveries; offers new electric energy-efficiency rebates to food-service establishments in the utilities’ shared service area
Xcel Energy Partners in Energy Using dedicated community liaisons, Xcel provides expertise and resources to help participating communities design and implement a communitywide energy action plan over two years

If you think about it, finding ways to increase energy efficiency for businesses is like developing a reusable rocket—both projects allow us to save money and accomplish our wildest dreams (assuming your dream is getting businesses to participate in energy-efficient measures—and who doesn’t have that dream?). For more information, check out E Source’s report on innovative DSM programs, DSM Roundup 2016: Innovative Commercial Programs.

Did you attend this year’s E Source Forum? Then you might have heard from representatives from Con Edison, Energy Trust of Oregon, PG&E, SoCalGas, LADWP, Xcel, and others at the Lightning Round: Innovative DSM Programs (PDF) event. From community collaborations to new incentives for smart thermostats, utilities are coming up with a variety of measures to maximize energy efficiency. Although there are no DSM programs involving interplanetary space travel at this time, the prospect of helping customers save money might be just as exciting to some. Elon Musk needs about $10 billion to develop his Mars Colonial Transporter rocket, and perhaps he can get to that sum sooner with the help of innovative DSM programs. We shall see …