The “Internetization” of Energy
energywhiz | On 29, Oct 2013
Net Energy Metering has been enacted into law in a number of states of the U.S. As exemplar, California passed a law in ’09 that enables any home or business owner to generate electricity independently, via sustainable, clean, renewable energy generation technologies (like wind and solar), pass on any net surplus to the collective energy grid (for others to use), and derive revenue from it. Prior to this, they could pass on the surplus, but not make any money off it.
These moves are a significant harbinger for the direction necessary and critical to achieving true National energy independence.
The US must further incentivize the “internetization” or “webification” of energy. That is, massively distribute and network the means of production and distribution, instead of centralize and control it as we have historically. It’s called “Distributed Energy” and is analogized succinctly by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Colorado:
The growing popularity of distributed energy is analogous to the historical evolution of computer systems. Whereas we once relied solely on mainframe computers with outlying workstations that had no processing power of their own, we now rely primarily on a small number of powerful servers networked with a larger number of desktop personal computers, all of which help to meet the information processing demands of the end users.
And just as the smaller size and lower cost of computers has enabled individuals to buy and run their own computing power, so the same trend in generating technologies is enabling individual business and residential consumers to purchase and run their own electrical power systems.
NREL is a primarily DOE-funded entity (to the tune of about half a billion dollars per year) and run by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, a partnership of Battelle and MRIGlobal. And EGW! loves their rhetoric.
The internet massively moved the means of production to billions of people across the planet. Whereas video, animation, publishing, filmmaking and other media were historically confined to major institutions who were able to support the infrastructure and expense necessary to produce, networked cheap powerful computers spread that capability to everyone, and business models emerged to support that massively distributed production and distribution capability.
Distributed energy will revolutionize the National energy landscape faster than perhaps any other dynamic. With implementation, we would very, very quickly see far, far less dependence on centralized, corporate-controlled power plants, who are in-turn dependent on environment and health-destroying coal and natural gas extraction, and those sources of energy would wither and die a well-deserved death.
Can you imagine a world where every person, business and or edifice *produces and distributes* power instead of just consumes it? Technologically, that day is here. Today. Yesterday, even. Politically we are even pretty much there, given there has been a fair amount of investment and research put into efforts like the 21st Century “Smart Grid” and organizations like NREL. But there are still very myopic (and selfish) commercial forces that don’t want this eventuality to see the light of day… who would prefer to keep fracking for gas and lopping off mountain tops for coal. We’re confident in asserting that these entities don’t want distributed energy production, because there’s no money in it for them. Institutionally, they are thinking “there are still trillions of dollars laying in the ground… so do we really want citizens to be energy independent, and actually competing with us en masse for the business of energy production?” Not a chance. And they take active measures to ensure that the (inevitable) day distributed energy hits a tipping point is staved off as long as possible.
Massively atomized and distributed energy production is not a comparatively difficult thing to do technologically or logistically. The technologies are here, and improving daily/weekly/monthly. And innovation and entrepreneurship in this realm should be encouraged and allowed to happen at the city, county, state and national level, in that order. We should NOT be waiting for a wholesale overhaul of the national energy grid. That’s decades away. Let’s start this now as “loosely collaborative” local and state-level efforts. Having future surmountable “interfacing” problems between regional grids is a far better and cheaper problem– a rich man’s problem, as they say– than having poisoned fresh water reserves and razed-earth regions across the country.
Start at the State
We’ve already seen tectonic shifts in California’s energy policy profile, and that kind of incentive and innovation seems to be picking up steam there. Our hopes for our current home state– Utah– are far less promising… and arguably at the other end of the spectrum from California’s efforts. But a girl can dream.
The state of Utah generates nearly 90% of its electricity from coal and gas burning power plants, substantially higher than the national average (nearly double). Less than 5% of State-wide energy production comes from renewables. This in spite of the fact that Utah is a fantastic candidate for both wind and solar. According to US Energy Information Administration, Utah has a voluntary goal of 20 percent of net electricity generation from cost-effective renewable energy resources by 2025. Pitiful. Clearly, that stated goal for less than a decade-hence wasn’t crafted by someone looking out for Utah residents or Utah lands. If Brazil as a nation of 200 million people can achieve 85%-plus of their energy from renewables, we think a rich little business-friendly state like Utah, with a mere 2.8 million residents, can match or exceed that in short order.
Arguments that coal and gas are “cheaper” simply cannot be tolerated. (1) There are massive costs we as individuals and institutions don’t see in our energy bills, and most commercial entity consumers of energy simply don’t care about. Those are principally the massive amounts of our precious fresh water supplies used in the extraction and treatment of fossil fuels, and the toll those extraction procedures take on the environment and human health. Those are costs that must be taken into account when comparing “apples to apples” with the cost of renewables that don’t suffer from those nasty, unmentionable by-products from which fossil fuel extraction and processing suffer. (2) The “vector” (direction and speed) of increased efficiencies and decreased costs for renewables are in our favor. That is, the technologies are predictably advancing by leaps and bounds, and costs equally predictably going down.
Nearly 50% of energy consumption in Utah is by commercial and industrial. Only 20% is from residential. The economic driver for demand of cheap energy is by far and away going to be from the commercial sector, not private citizens. But what if Utah incentivized every business and every home to substantially lower their energy bills, and indeed in some cases create a profit center out of what is now a cost center– their energy consumption. Creating net positive energy they would pump back out to the grid for others in-state or out-of-state to consume. It would change the Utah energy landscape overnight. Factory and warehouse rooftops painted with solar cells and wind turbines would create paradigm-shifting energy independence, lowering energy bills and provide fertile ground for a thriving cottage industry to sprout up in distributed power generation, installation and maintenance (read: more, sustainable, long-term jobs).
This is not a pipe dream. The reality is here. Now. There for the taking.
Sure there’ll be bits and bumps in the road, but all economically and logistically surmountable, and a far better road to hoe that continued commitment and dependence on fossil fuels that destroy our precious lands and threaten the health of our citizenry.
The big idea– the thing one needs to get their head around in creating policy and economic incentives is the move *away* from centralized, hegemonic energy production and distribution, and into distributed, networked, atomized energy production and distribution.
EGW! challenges those in favor of proliferation and doubling-down on fossil fuels to make a cogent and convincing argument against our (and others’) proposed path to safer, cheaper, more efficient, more sustainable, more job-creating, more environmentally and human health-friendly energy independence, a national security issue, and an moral, economic and environmental-sustainability issue for Utah.