subject: 'Distributed power' to save Earth posted: Sun, 16 Aug 2009 12:25:20 +0100
[Quality is the best word for this, someone has been doing some class-
A thinking, jolly good! This gets points from me for the following
1. involves decentralisation
2. environmentally friendly
3. partial fix for the energy crisis
4. creates a marketplace/integrates financial aspects
The article suggests that the idea is "too big" but that is bollocks,
no doubt the reporter would also find the idea of every computer in
the world connected together, speaking the same language, also "too
big", but fortunately, it's already been invented, and you are using
it to read this.
Also, the criticism from Professor Ekins is referring to base load,
that is, he is saying that if we ONLY relied on generators with
variable output, we could potentially find ourselves without power
when we need it, this is true, however, this does not mean that a
microgeneration network is a bad idea, it just means that some other
kind of base load generation capacity must ALSO be used. Right now,
base load comes from coal and fission, however later, it could come
from geothermal and fusion, for example.
Indeed, the idea of distributed microgeneration ("smart grids") isn't
new, what I find exciting about this is that the guy who is pushing
it, Jeremy Rifkin, "leads a roundtable of 100 top CEOs and government
officials who have subscribed to the plan", and that it's getting
column inches in the maintream media.
By Jason Palmer
Science and technology reporter, BBC News, Prague
Economist Jeremy Rifkin galvanised the Research Connections 2009
conference in Prague with a roadmap to simultaneously solve the
economic and energy crises.
He proposed a pan-European strategy of small-scale energy generation
and smart energy grids that make everyone a partner in energy.
What is more, he said, the plan would create millions of jobs and
foster investment that would see the end of the current economic
Mr Rifkin leads a roundtable of 100 top CEOs and government officials
who have subscribed to the plan.
The roundtable is part of the Foundation on Economic Trends, which Mr
He said old economic models will not see humanity through, and the
combination of the climatic, energy and economic woes of the planet
created a "perfect storm" that will see in a new era for its
But such a revolution is not unique to human history, he said.
"The great economic revolutions in history occur when two things
happen," he explained.
"First, we humans change the way we organise the energy of the Earth;
we've done this frequently over the course of our history.
"Second, and equally important, we change the way we communicate to
organise new energy regimes. When energy revolutions converge with
communication revolutions, those are the pivotal points in human
The current renewable energy push, in common with the information and
communication technology revolution that characterised the 1990s, is
just such a pairing of regime changes.
But in Mr Rifkin's grand plan, every citizen of the EU would
participate in order to revolutionise the way energy is generated,
used, and monetised.
Although the sheer scope of the idea raised eyebrows throughout the
room, Mr Rifkin laid out a cogent, four-part plan that he said could
in one stroke dispel the perfect storm he described.
The first two pillars of the plan were a call to technological arms:
further develop renewable energy technologies' efficiencies, amplify
production to access "economies of scale", and develop means to store
the intermittent energy they harvest.
The third pillar is a common idea writ very large indeed. He called
for a pan-European commitment to microgeneration - small
installations of renewable energy technology work in place of, for
example, vast wind farms - but on every single building already up or
yet to be built.
"We cannot build enough centralised wind and solar parks to run
Europe," he said.
"If this energy is distributed over every square foot all over the
world, why would we collect it only at a few points? The problem is
we're using 20th century, centralised, top-down business models."
Instead, Mr Rifkin suggested overhauling the technology of
infrastructure and architecture such that buildings have integral
power generation: solar panels and small vertical wind turbines on
roofs, heat pumps harvesting geothermal energy in basements.
In rural settings, agricultural waste could be used to generate
methane and in coastal regions, tidal power could be harvested.
"Your building becomes your power plant, just like your computer
becomes your information vehicle to the world. Every home, factory,
industrial park, every building is converted," he explained.
While existing buildings could generate a sizeable fraction of their
energy demands, new buildings would be "positive power" - generating
more than they need through grand changes in building materials and
Such an idea is not new; in fact, installations are already underway.
Mr Rifkin cited car maker GM's Opel factory in Zaragoza, Spain, which
sports a $78m (£52m) solar panel array.
It produces some 10 Megawatts of power, which means the energy
savings could pay for the installation in just nine years.
Elsewhere in Spain, Navarra and Aragon have, in the past 10 years,
moved to generating 70% of their energy with renewables.
Using wind turbines in the Pyrenees, hydroelectric generation from
snowmelt, and sun-tracking solar arrays, Aragon will be 100% self-
sufficient in six months and be in energy surplus in six more.
"Everyone can do that tomorrow," Mr Rifkin emphasised. Moreover, it
is a handy way out of an economic abyss.
"If you want to jump-start an economy it's always about construction.
You jump-start not hundreds of thousands of jobs building solar
collectors, but millions of jobs reconverting the entire
The scale of the proposed changeover is unconvincing for Paul Ekins,
professor of energy and environment policy at King's College London.
"People tend to want power when they demand it and they tend to want
it to be there all the time," he told BBC News.
"It's certainly possible that microgeneration has a role to play in
the future energy system, but my view is that central generation is
likely to be a very important part of satisfying that demand."
The fourth pillar of the plan would make everyone a stakeholder in
the scheme by overhauling the outdated power grid system.
"We're going to use the same tecnology that created the internet; we
take the power grid of the EU and turn it into an 'intergrid' that
works just like the internet.
"Say you're producing 30% of your energy need, it's peak period in
the middle of the day and you don't need the electricity. If millions
of people send just a little bit back to the grid, peer-to-peer just
like we send information on the internet, that's distributed power."
But the distributed computing [sic - I think the reporter means
"distributed power generation", and was confused by the metaphor -
Stu] allowed by the revamped power grid could introduce a new
economic paradigm - what Mr Rifkin calls "distributed capitalism".
"The main grid [will be] completely distributed, software connected
to sensors connected to every appliance in your home: thermostat,
washing machine, toaster, everything.
"At any one time the system will know what every washing machine is
doing in Europe. If you have peak demand, not enough supply, software
can say to two million washing machines 'forget the extra rinse'.
"If you bought the program - it's all voluntary - you get a cheque at
the end of the month or a credit from the electricity company."
Like microgeneration, the idea of such "smart grids" has been
circulating in the energy community for some time. But it is the
sheer scope of all facets of Mr Rifkin's plan that makes it unique.
He has formed the "Third Industrial Revolution Roundtable" with 100
leaders from industry - big names such as IBM and BASF are on the
list - as well as governments to further promote the idea.
And he is sure that the EU will continue to lead the way, citing the
"golden goose" of the union: it is the largest internal market
economy in the world, making it particularly poised to undertake such
an ambitious plan.
Professor Ekins wonders about the likelihood that all the facets such
a long-term, high-investment initiative is what the future holds.
"The world has room for visionaries," he said, "and one of the
characteristics of visionaries is that their total vision very rarely
"Normally the future ends up having some aspect of different