Monday, May 2, 2011

Why we need to do this...

The following is an early draft of an intended first entry in this blog.  I never posted it, but recent events, both in the industry and in my own life have made it more relevant than when I first wrote it.

This blog is supposed to be about realities, here are some realities about why we need to do Smart Grid, as I understand them:
  • The economy tanking when it did actually did the electric power industry a huge favour. It bought us all a little bit of time. When the economy is really cranking, demand for electricity grows. 
  • Despite the economy diving faster than an SR-71 with both engines flamed out, the demand for power still grew. However, it's been doing it a lot more slowly. 
  • As the economy recovers, electric demand will rise faster than it has been of late, possibly faster than it was rising before. 
  • We have two choices from here. Either do what we've always done; build additional (expensive, fossil-fuel consuming, environmentally difficult) powerplants, or learn to use the grid, different resources, and the powerplants we already have in place, more efficiently. 
That's a lot of what SmartGrid is about, making the most of that second option. A lot of very bright people are trying to make that possible, along with a few "Average Joes" like me. Will it be expensive? Probably. Will it be more expensive than building those powerplants? That depends on how you do the math.

You see, for far to long, we've treated our environment like resources are limitless. By "environment" I don't mean strictly the pure air/tree hugging/save the whales variety, though that's certainly a part of it.  What I mean is the whole socioeconomic engine that's driven in large part by fossil fuels as a source of energy.

We've been treating fossil fuels like like they're infinite, but they aren't. We have a closed system here, and eventually, we're going out run out of stuff to pull out of the ground to do energy conversion with.  That reality is a future cost that hasn't really been factored in historically, so we're starting to pay the price now for having ignored it.

Yes, nuclear power is a possibility, and there are some really intriguing designs out there.  However, getting from intriguing designs to practical application takes time.  Sometimes lots of it.

The longer we keep whistling in the dark about this, the worse things are going to get before they get any better.

I'm no tree-hugger (well, maybe a little bit.) Still, I like to go fast in my car, be comfortable, and have all the power I need whenever I want it at cheap rates as much as the next person, and maybe more than some of you.  However I do know when something is a threat to my children's future, and this is one.

Now we could do this Smart Grid thing very wrong, and end up with a terrible, limited, energy constrained, privacy invaded, society. 

We could also do it very right, and hand our kids and grandkids a better, freer, cleaner and less limited world than we started with.

The difference between the two is likely to be telling each other the truth about what we're doing and why.  Deal with the realities, even when they're ugly, and every once in a while look further ahead than next quarter's (or next year's) financial statements.

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