I’ve actually written about this before, but John Farrell of the ILSR (“Institute for Local Self-Reliance” a famous Emerson essay, by the way) presents an up-to-date synthesis of developments, incorporating policy as well as Tony Seba-like, Hermann Scheer-like, and Michael Osborne-like insights.
By the way, the dreaded duck curve which utilities wonks and even some IEEE engineers from the PES I’ve listened to (more details here) does not seem to be materializing in two of the strongest renewables markets in the United States.
It’s a matter of political and philosophical debate, but I agree with the idea that society is generally better off when socioeconomic and political power are distributed. (Granted, a benevolent dictator can be a wonderful gift for a society, but most dictatorships don’t tend to be very benevolent from what I’ve seen.)
While we do live in a somewhat democratic society (in the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia, India, Korea, Japan, or wherever you are probably reading from), there’s no doubt that money = power, and people with more money or representing more money have more power in politics and society.
With regard to this matter, we often think of powerful people and companies in the telecommunications, media, banking, and real estate industries. Clearly, though, these aren’t the only ones trying to steer more cash to their executives than to society as a whole.
Of course, with many utilities being regulated monopolies, these are powerful giants as well (no pun intended). Despite the fact that they are regulated, the vast majority of us can’t name the people who regulate them, and there is rampant corruption in the sector. Largely, we don’t even know what they’re doing. I think we typically take utilities for granted and leave their work almost invisible — they’re there, we have to pay them to keep the lights and computers on, someone is watching over them to make sure they don’t fleece us (too much), etc.
A more obvious “enemy of the societal good” is the fossil energy industry. Burning coal and natural gas kills millions of people prematurely every year. We somehow accept burning these fossils as a necessity of modern life (though, given the state of clean technologies like solar and EVs, we no longer should), but we also know that these industries work hard to not clean up their processes and emit less pollution. They lobby government and fight huge wars against regulation with millions and millions of dollars that could have just gone toward protecting more lives from pollution. But hey, what can we do?
To find out, read their article.
From ILSR, again:
I wouldn’t presume to define energy democracy for all those using the term, but I think those of us that use it share these common principles:
- Energy democracy means both the sources (e.g. solar panels) and ownership of energy generation are distributed widely.
- Energy democracy means that the management of the energy system be governed by democratic principles (e.g. by a public, transparent, accountable authority) that allows ordinary citizens to have a say. This means that communities that wish greater control over their energy system (via municipalization of utilities, for example) should have minimal barriers to doing so.
- Energy democracy means that the wide distribution of power generation and ownership, and access to governance of the energy system be equitable by race and socioeconomic status.