Some progressives lament the loss of Bernie Sanders’ run for President, arguing “we need to get our democracy back.” A necessary step in order to get your democracy back is to take back control of your energy supply. Centralized energy means centralized political power. Residential solar PV power, possibly with energy storage, in individual homes or in local communities, is a political force for good, not only because it is an element of a plan to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The energy supply needs to be decentralized. The late Hermann Scheer understood this perfectly, as captured in his talk above, and spells it out in his book. The late Buckminster Fuller alludes to it in his Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
Not only does absolute power corrupt absolutely, centralized power corrupts and gives some members of the polity and some politicians undo influence, not only because of the associated monies.
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” In the day when the answer was just to keep building more and more generation that may have made some sense.”
But, that is exactly where we are today – we have to rebuild our entire generation system – with renewable energy. And, we have to rebuild our transmission system around a smart grid to move power from where it will be generated (generally in the MidWest and South West) back to the East.
“centralized grid systems are inherently inefficient because of transmission and conversion overheads”
Transmission losses for HVDC are tiny – and can certainly be offset by some percentage of overbuilding generation, which will have to be inherent in any RE design. Plus, the inefficiencies of transmission are more than recovered by 1) Double the insolation values for SW U.S. vs NE U.S. for solar ( which tends to invalidate your statement that : “An efficient grid generates near to where power is consumed”) and 2) The enormous savings realized by the reduction of storage costs that a national grid can provide. ( That new study which showed we can get 80% of the way to exclusively RE without storage costs just by using a smart grid and western energy farms) New York City at night can be receiving juice from Nevada solar farms which are still in sunlight.
You speak eloquently of the bad actors in the energy business who retard our transition. Agreed – the bad actors HAVE to go. But that is no reason to make centralized energy or local service boards the enemy – we simply need to change their mission and/or ownership – profit paradigm.
And we do that with public pressure generated by people who are sick and tired of constantly paying through the nose for fossil fuels, and who are educated to realize that a very few years worth of national fossil fuel spending will buy every single person in the country a brand spanking new RE system that will provide electricity at very low prices. Low prices because we will build this new RE system together, as a nation, at wholesale prices and with continental strategic intelligence – the very opposite of single homeowners building their own system just for themselves at full retail.
I don’t believe that repeating the mistake of centralization is a win, because of its recurring overhead. And there are lots of examples on how to do this well.
And here is an example of the wrangling that goes on when utilities and public utility commissions try to modernize the grid.
I have nothing more to say.
(Updated 12th July 2016 after I found the reference I recently read.)
There is nothing wrong per se with being “connected”, just what you are connected to, who gets your energy, and what are the rules for being connected.
The principle obstacles to build-out of zero Carbon energy is regulatory capture of (a) state utility commissions by so-called “public utilities” and of (b) local building, electrical, and safety ordinances which give conventional fossil fuels a pass, but are stacked against new kinds of energy, whether these be wind turbines, residential solar PV, or community solar PV. Many of the “public utilities” are actually for-profit companies, and, while they have little experience serving a market, they are experts at manipulating public utility commissions, politicians, and the general public through the media to get their rate increases and get their projects approved. They also work hand-in-hand with the ISOs to assure that centralized electrical energy is controlled from a central place, and people associated with that central place wield considerable political power.
There are dozens of examples in the United States and in Germany where the only way utilities have changed to accommodate renewables and smarter grids is by being forced to do so. Otherwise, many will do everything they can to stall, impede, and divert to other energy sources, such as natural gas, which they find more profitable.
The major culprits in Massachusetts are Eversource, and National Grid. They skirt the law and the rules and, at least here, all the lobbying they do on their own behalf with politicians and the public are recoverable as costs passed on to ratepayers.
As Buckminster Fuller observed, the only real wealth is energy. The first step in getting democracy back is busting the nexus of control over electrical energy first, and then transport second. In the first case that means making irrelevant public utility commissions, ISOs, and “baseload”. In the second case, that means moving transport off fossil fuels to locally generated electrical energy and, so, making the fossil fuel mining, refining, and delivery systems irrelevant.
As I have noted time and time again here, centralized grid systems are inherently inefficient because of transmission and conversion overheads. In the day when the answer was just to keep building more and more generation that may have made some sense. But in a world when we need to transition to zero Carbon energy and shut down fossil fuel generation as quickly as possible that means being as efficient as possible, from within individual homes and businesses, to the grid itself.
An efficient grid generates near to where power is consumed, and controls its own local subnet. Occasionally there is a need to draw upon energies from adjacent subnets, and even more rarely from some distance away. This is a network of communities, not a hub-and-spoke network. To the degree utilities do not want to cooperate in creating the former, because they see no profits in it for them, then the only answer is their economic destruction by bringing out a superior model.
And that model brings self-determination back to the locality and community, making these decisions independent of ISOs and centralized planning and control.
I am all for sharing electrons. But I am not supportive of abiding by rules which, increasingly, penalize residential and business owners and prospective owners and operators of solar PV for having it, or dictating that if they are grid connected they must necessarily lose their solar generation when the grid goes down. All these rules do is incentivize people to (a) be less efficient with their energy use, and (b) defect from the grid. If utility commissions and state legislatures insist upon such measures, then grid defection appears to me to be a suitable and appropriate response in protest. If I defect from the grid, I can limit how much I pay to the utility, no matter what they do, and I can regain the ability to draw from my solar array if the grid goes down.
So, taking public collective ownership of our energy future and giving it to corporations and individual property owners is somehow good for democracy?
Just a few years ago, the majority of electric utilities were public, collective entities. No longer. Now, PV rooftop corporations are spreading this twisted gospel that spending your own money for your own private PV fiefdom is “empowering”, “democratic”. Being “decentralized” is the new black, evidently. Every man for himself is the new ‘patriotism’ it would seem. How Libertarian.
Meanwhile, back in Realityville, the more we learn about RE integration the more we come to the inescapable conclusion that being connected is the key – that it is a smart grid – used for the collective good – that is the real answer.