I’ve been talking a lot about the possible opportunities that
can open up for onsite power and distributed energy with the creation of the
“Smart Grid.” In my mind, the
ability to manage demand while switching back and forth between the grid and a
localized power source is what makes this grid “smart” and energy
efficient—especially when renewable energy is added to the mix. As far as I’m concerned, onsite power is
integral to any national power initiative.
In fact, the benefits of the smart grid and renewable energy greatly
diminish the further energy must travel from the source.
And yet, that’s exactly what could happen if the call for
efficiency and renewable energy is morphed into promoting the construction of
new power transmission lines across large swathes of open land in order to power
large population centers. In “The Dirty Green Line”,
author Katharine Mieszkowski explains how the power companies and powerful
politicians (including President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid)
are lobbying for a new national grid similar to “the Interstate Highway System
in the 1950s.” Called the “electric
superhighway,” by Reid (who has initiated legislation to make this superhighway
a reality), the idea of a national grid has even been touted by environmental
groups like the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.
these kinds of supporters, what could be the downside? For starters, as critics point out, this
grid would traverse over wide-open spaces—including not only the rural
heartland, but also sensitive habitats and even national parks like California’s
Anza-Borrego Desert. Additionally,
there’s no guarantee that these transmission lines will only be used to
transport electricity from renewable energy sources. It’s also important to note that the
further that electricity travel from it’s source, the more of it is lost along
the way—cutting significantly into the efficiency of using renewables. And, finally, let’s not forget that, in
the end, it’s the taxpayer that will be footing the bill for this project—money
that, as Jim Harvey (executive director of the Alliance for Responsible Energy)
points out in Mieszkowski’s article, could be taken and invested in renewable
energy technologies. “Transmission
is a 19th-century technology,” says Harvey. “Adding more transmission is not going
to encourage conservation and reduce our consumption. The solution is point-of-use
generation. We need to look at
electricity near its point of use."
As Mieszkowski points out, many cities—including Gainesville, FL and Los Angeles, CA—are experimenting with municipal projects that combine
renewable energy (mostly solar) with onsite power generation. Even in a small city like Santa Barbara,
CA, this idea has taken root: Under a new city program, a 384-kW solar system
will be spread out atop several
city buildings. No new transmission
lines will be needed, and any excess power generated by the system will be sold
back to the grid.
What do you think? Does it seem fair to say that,
ultimately, the smartest future lies in a power system that keeps use close to
source while taking advantage of existing infrastucture?
Click Here to read more about
Santa Barbara’s city solar project.