Ride-sharing companies use surge pricing to balance supply and demand. When prices go up, drivers already on the road can “chase the surge” and be induced to drive to a particular area. This helps reduce imbalances over space. Surge pricing also goes up during peak periods (e.g. in the mornings and evenings). This could help reduce imbalances over time, for instance, by bringing more casual drivers on the road just when they are needed.
As the driver pool gets more professionalized, I suspect that time imbalances will be harder to solve. There just won’t be enough casual drivers around willing to dip in and out of the market.
However, this time imbalance reminds me a lot of the challenge facing solar. When the sun is out, excess electricity is generated. At night, electricity is consumed. Supply is predetermined by the rotation of the earth (and cloud cover) – there’s only so much that pricing can solve.
The industry is solving this through “behind the meter” solutions – ie batteries which are housed in private individuals’ properties, together with solar cells. These store energy when excess electricity is generated, releasing it back onto the grid when it’s needed. It is possible to conceive of a world where private storage capacity could contribute – on demand – to public consumption when needed. Regulation seems to be moving in the right direction.
With autonomous vehicles (AVs), I could also imagine some sort of “behind the garage” system, where individuals own AVs which are dispatched to a transport system when not in use. The transport company would in effect act like a grid, but for cars.
I’m not certain that we are near that scenario yet but I think a system like this, if implemented, could give a good compromise to individuals who wish to have the convenience of their own car but the opportunity to lease it out to offset costs.
(Image from: Greentechmedia.com)