2005: It's time to Look to the Future
It is with sadness that I report to you the death of Joe Iannucci, who, as many already know, has been a if not the guiding light in the cause of distributed power generation and transmission. As principal of Distributed Utility Associates (DUA), a consulting firm specializing in emerging energy business concepts and economic studies of innovative technologies, Joe was responsible for the creation and management of the Distributed Utility Integration Test facility in San Ramon, CA, for the California Energy Commission and the USDOE. Prior to founding DUA, he was acting director of advanced energy systems in Pacific Gas & Electric's research and development department.
I encourage you to read "Tribute to Joe Iannucci" by peers and friends in this issue and reflect on the man, his accomplishments, and his vision. We at Distributed Energy have and will continue to do so as we proceed down a path lit by the brilliance of his perceptions.
Time to Look to the Future
Along with Distributed Energy, we publish four other infrastructure-related publications aimed at professional audiences, a situation that makes me acutely aware of the common denominators and barriers that exist among their subjects. You may find it a stretch to believe that such disparate areas as water handling, transportation infrastructure, waste handling, and energy resource management have much in common, but I'd like to suggest that the factors that affect them at the deepest level are strikingly similar. The areas of command and control, once in the hands of predominantly local interests, have gravitated inexorably to higher and more remote levels of centralization, a situation not well suited to the demands and changes taking place in our society.
I remember clearly the moment it came to me that the difference between the old world and the new lay in the focus of our primary institutions…theirs sought stability while ours placed value in change. This difference, I believed (and still do), gave us an enormous advantage in allowing us to tap the energy and creativity of a very large part of our citizens and in so doing ride the crest of change rather than flounder in its backwaters. But it seems we've allowed this vision to dim over the past several decades to the point that we have yielded to the comfort of Maginot Line security rather than pushing forward into the future on the basis of goals. This kind of thinking is as bankrupt to us today as it was to the French 55 years ago, and I'll use the general state of our transportation and urban water conveyance systems in the US to exemplify what I have in mind.
Over the last half-century we have undergone a transition from a rural to an urban society, a trend that is accelerating, taxing our ability to provide new water delivery and discharge systems and overwhelming those already in existence. I've listened to estimates for the repair, replacement, and upgrade of our existing water infrastructure between now and mid-century range from $15 trillion to $30 trillion…figures, mind you, predicated on fighting a rear-guard action. Road repairs, right-of-way demands, and new highway construction could add another 50% to the total. It's one thing to screw up your courage enough to ask where such amounts of money might come from, but quite another to question our society's ability to actually mobilize itself to utilize such an investment. In short, even if we could find the funds, could we actually deploy them in a meaningful way? I think not.
Now before you get comfortable figuring out how we deal with these issues, consider what it might take to ensure the security and reliability of our nation's energy system if we continue on as we have in the past. In this regard we're in better shape than our water and transportation brethren because we have the ability to go outside the system to redress its faults. While it's not the solution, distributed power generation is certainly a strong part of it.
Is the Sky Falling?
No ... but can we survive the severe disruption in any of these vital systems? I guess it depends on what you mean by survive, but to me the answer is no. Moreover, I think most of our citizens, brought to the realization of how at risk these systems are, would come to the same conclusion ... only what can they do about it? How about those in positions of authority and control of these systems? Is it any different for them? It is, only if you think they're relevant to the solutions, and it's my opinion that they are bound by their institutionalization.
We need now to step back and take a long-range look at the challenges we're facing, just what it is we want, and perhaps even more compellingly what we're willing to accept 10, 20, 50 years down the line. We may not like some of the casualties that this will bring, but only then will we be able to take actions necessary to the survival of our most important values. What might these actions be? Darned if I know, but I'll bet they won't include increased centralization.
Author's Bio: John Trotti is the Group Editor for Forester Media.