To embrace change or fight it? The choice to either act or wait and see is fraught with complexity.
Integrating distributed resources into the smart grid.
America’s national treasury and moral authority will only escalate with the growth of petroleum demand in the expanding global economy.
Domestic coal resources also impose catastrophic costs. Coal extraction and emissions from coal power plants are polluting America’s air and water, affecting wildlife, fisheries, children and the land. Likewise, oil derived from the Canadian tar sands, or from deep platforms in the Gulf of Mexico or remote parts of Alaska have their own risks and social costs. 1 Newly discovered domestic shale gas threatens ground and surface waters and has caused serious pollution, serious health impacts and ruinous property damage in rural communities.
We don’t have to rely on these insecure, expensive and polluting energy options. America is blessed with abundant renewable resources including vast solar and wind energy, not to mention geothermal, small hydro, and other power sources capable of providing an increasing proportion of our heat and electricity needs. Today, California gets roughly 20 percent of its electricity from renewable resources 2 and this proportion is expected to reach 33 percent by 2020. Texas boasts more than 10 GW of installed wind capacity, and other states also generate significant amounts of wind energy. Last year America crossed an important milestone, building more new generation capacity in wind and solar than all of the incumbents (nuclear, oil, coal and gas) combined.
The American Wind Energy Association estimates that more than 85,000 U.S. jobs have already been created by the wind industry. The wind sector provides more jobs in America than all our nation’s coal mines put together. 3 And wind energy deployment can be rapidly doubled or tripled. With much less renewable potential than the United States, other nations are responding far more aggressively to the dramatic opportunities in the renewable space. China has just overtaken the United States in installed wind capacity (Figure 2) and is investing heavily to turn itself into a renewable exporting powerhouse. China has committed to increasing wind generating capacity twelvefold and solar generating capacity 20,000 percent by 2020. The U.S. can’t afford to ignore China’s bid for dominance in this sector.
The principal obstacle in transitioning to a new energy economy is the absence of a grid system that can absorb, integrate and intelligently transmit new currents of renewable energy from the point of generation to consumer markets. Proven smart grid technology solves a big piece of this problem.
The Key to Integrating Renewables
Aggressive actions by state and local governments have magnified the urgency and opportunity for encouraging the widespread adoption of smart grid systems. State governments and utilities are already funneling massive investments into advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). These projects aim to replace spinning disk meters with digital integral meters, usually with two-way communication capabilities. 4 A growing number of programmable thermostats, air conditioners and other appliances on the customer side of the meter are becoming smart, capable of communicating and responding to dynamic prices.
Furthermore, due to supportive state and federal incentive programs, both utilities and customers are making significant investments in solar rooftop PV installations, wind farms and concentrated solar power