Monday, August 11, 2008

Distributed Power

An article posted at Forbes.com last Thursday describes Denmark's decentralized and decoupled energy system, billing it as "The Answer To The Energy Problem."

Denmark has done what other countries only dream of doing: achieved energy independence. While Europe's overall energy imports rose 2.4% in 2006, Denmark's energy imports fell to -8%. In fact, the European Union as a whole scores 54% on the scale of energy dependency. Denmark scores -37%.

"Denmark is the model that the United States should be following," said Steve Pullins, executive director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Modern Grid Initiative.

How'd they do it? Distributed energy.

Unlike traditional "centralized" systems, distributed energy relies on small power-generating technologies like solar panels or ultra-efficient natural-gas turbines built near the point of energy consumption to supplement or displace grid-distributed electricity.

Consumers can not only draw power from the grid, but can feed power into it as well. For instance, homes equipped with solar-power panels could feed unused electricity back into the grid, adding to the total available supply.
Somehow this arrangement seems so obvious. We all need energy and can have it clean and renewably if we treat it as the commons rather than a commodity. Forbes continues:
The change has taken Denmark nearly two decades to implement, but the most critical step was the introduction of smart- or net-metering, which required utilities to buy back electricity from consumers at 85% of the price. Denmark's success has convinced a growing number of policymakers and energy executives to follow suit.

In the U.S., the movement faces constraints from a familiar place: power companies. Distributed energy aims to decouple profits and consumption so that power companies have a greater incentive to invest in energy-efficiency technologies that drive distributed-energy networks. Changing that relationship is even more critical than technological innovation.

"Very little can happen without having the utilities involved in the process," said Ron Pernick, a founder of clean-technology consulting firm Clean Edge. "Regulators need to give utilities the tools they need to get involved, which basically means decoupling."
It is no accident America has the opposite of distributed power. Corporate control of the government/military/media juggernaut, the fascist backbone, subjugates the population, in part through manipulation of the type, amount and cost of available energy. On top of that is the sabotage of the environment (pollution for profit).

Paul Krugman, in last Thursday's NY Times, glibly wrote about "Know-Nothing Politics," inventing a de-facto slogan for the Republican party: "Real men don't think things through." This followed Obama's Tuesday remark that McCain is "proud to be ignorant," when it comes to energy and the environment.

The truth is we are generations late in realizing the virtues of clean and renewable energy. This isn't a debate to even be had in the present. Perhaps in a parallel universe the Industrial Revolution occurred with full observance of the triple bottom line, balancing profit with environmental and societal impact. Instead of disaster capitalism, is conscious capitalism even conceivable or just a paradoxical slogan?

I always thought one of the all-time greatest things to make you say "huh" was Reagan removing Carter's solar panels from the White House roof. The Forbes article above ends with another along these lines:
Last year, the U.S Army Corps of Engineers installed more than 1,000 solar-powered street lights in Fallujah, a predominantly Sunni city in central Iraq that was the scene of a brutal battle between insurgents and U.S. soldiers in 2004.

During the day, the lamps store energy from the intense desert sunlight in batteries large enough to keep them lit from dusk to dawn. Now, the streets are lit every night--in a country which, in the last five years, has probably spent more hours without electricity than with it.
* * *
A phrase came to mind the other day and I thought for sure it would turn up more than four Google hits: We need the Earth more than the Earth needs us.

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