The coming critical mass of sustainable energy

posted by Jeff | Friday, November 11, 2016, 12:08 AM | comments: 0

The presidential election may have been a big disappointment (I'm still processing what I want to write about), but Flori-duh actually got something right for a change. It voted down a proposed constitutional amendment that was written by the electric utilities to "guarantee" the right to install solar at home. Obviously, that's pretty stupid because we already have that. The fine print was nonsense about not being required, as an electrical customer, to "subsidize" the installation of solar for others. What this really means is that the utilities might be able to charge solar customers more, and wouldn't be obligated to engage in net metering, the process where a solar user puts power into the grid and gets credit for it.

Net metering is a core concept in distributed generation. Distributed generation means that power on the grid can literally come from anywhere. In some ways, it already does, and in some states (including, unbelievably, Ohio) you can even choose who provides the actual electricity and pay their rates while the utility charges you for the transmission of the power. Solar will likely be one component of your future power generation, because in a distributed system, the power may be a combination of your own solar, neighborhood substations filled with batteries, wind turbines in the next county, or large scale plants in the next state. In the developed world, of course this is awesome because it's cleaner. In the rest of the world, distributed generation means you don't have to run huge power lines to areas at great expense. They're doing this in rural and poor parts of India already.

Electric cars are, technologically, a solved problem. We have a long way to go on the economic side of it, but Tesla is clearly leading the way and (slowly) delivering. Even GM has an EV now, and it doesn't appear to be terrible. Well, it's ugly, but it's functional and under $40k, which is a step in the right direction. Education is slowly coming around to the point that people are understanding that home is your "gas station," and public charging is mostly for road trips. The charging keeps getting faster.

Our journey started when I rented an EV more than three years ago, and got very real when we leased our Nissan Leaf a year after that. Another year and we bought a Tesla Model S, which admittedly was fiscally suspect, but it has proven that the technology works and does not inhibit us in any way. I imagine that our next step is solar, but I'm not sure when. My point is that we came a long way in a short time, and I didn't see it coming.

The journey to sustainable energy will be political, which is unfortunate, because the economic opportunity is enormous. Sometimes you see something that looks proactive, like Duke Energy's deal with Walt Disney World to build and operate a solar plant on their land and sell that power to them, but Duke also contributed to the campaign for the Florida amendment. It can be maddening when big companies defend their status quo instead of going where the future is.

I'm excited about this. There's an inevitability now that I didn't see even three years ago. I think it's important that we don't let lobbying efforts and politicians get in the way.


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