Jock Gill: The digital energy solution is within reach
This commentary is from Jock Gill of Peacham, an Internet communications consultant who worked in President Bill Clinton’s Office of Media Affairs. He is the energy coordinator for the town of Peacham.
Our fossil fuel system is broken: it is obsolete, has single points of failure and its energy is expensive. Moreover, it is both vulnerable to cyberattacks while destroying our environment.
Every dollar we spend on fossil fuels is an unnecessary tax on the American consumer. Current weather patterns – including deadly heat waves, out-of-control wildfires, severe droughts and more frequent severe storms – demonstrate that our current energy policy is unsustainable.
There is an alternative. This is called “computational energy”. Computational energy is based on local renewable generation, local smart storage, and omnidirectional multipath connectivity, much like the Internet.
Such a system is robust; it avoids single points of failure. It has the additional advantage of offering energy products at a lower cost while being environmentally friendly. For example, a new battery developed in Holland can be connected to a Wi-Fi cloud-based algorithm that controls the battery to provide maximum energy savings and maximum revenue from dynamic energy contracts. The company writes: “It takes into account solar radiation and consumption forecasts, as well as electricity prices, in order to calculate the optimal time to charge and discharge the battery.”
Other devices, such as Tesla Powerwalls and Sonnen batteries, are also compatible with and enable computational energy systems.
The advent of revolutionary smart local storage, whether fixed or mobile, is enabling the development of energy systems that nearly eliminate carbon-based energy in favor of an IT energy system based on renewable sources. This new approach raises at least four questions that need to be answered:
1: How to optimize the system composed of the three components: renewable wind and solar, smart storage and network?
2: How should the system maximize off-grid time? Is it better to operate as much as possible with batteries and local renewable energies?
3: How to minimize the amount of energy taken from the network?
4. How to maximize the amount of energy sent to the grid?
Once these questions are answered, we can develop performance goals for the computational energy system.
1: Reduce the cost per installed watt of solar energy for residential properties to less than $1.50.
2: Establish a goal of 200 megawatts of new renewable energy generation per year for the next 15 to 20 years. This means powering our electric vehicles and heat pumps with real green energy. (See CADMUS Vermont Pathways Analysis, page 24.)
3: Reduce the price of energy below 6 cents per kWh. (Note that the global average levelized cost of energy for large-scale solar panels has already fallen to 4.8 cents per kilowatt-hour according to the IRENA study. This price will be lower than the current cost of transmission. The cost of transmission alone makes centrally generated energy too expensive.
4: Establish a state office that facilitates and supports new renewable energy and storage projects, especially community solar projects.
5: Implement legislation or regulation to allow the sale of locally generated renewable energy across property lines, currently prohibited, to the highest bidder, not necessarily a utility. This is necessary to ensure a robust IT power market with multipath connectivity.
All of these goals will require relevant government agencies to align their policies and regulations to support these goals. Unfortunately, this is not the case now. For example, limiting a master electrician to one apprentice will make it almost impossible to create the workforce needed to install 200 megawatts of new renewable energy sources per year. How can we change the codes to create the supply of electricians that the new paradigm will require?
In a nutshell, we need a new energy paradigm for our new century. For purely economic reasons, the existing legacy network will follow the path of conventional dairy farming in Vermont. What will replace the centralized production model in place since 1882 and Thomas Edison’s coal-fired power station in Pearl Street?
We can either deny the possibility of alternatives and resist the changes involved in moving to an IT energy system, or we can embrace these changes to create exciting new opportunities.
A major problem is that today, due to perverse economic and political theories, far too many people believe that the future cannot be better. Once hope is lost, it is almost impossible to imagine alternatives with better results. What we can’t imagine, we won’t embrace.
Unfortunately, it may take a major catastrophe to dislodge the myth of the lack of possibility of alternatives and open up the reality of creative alternatives.
Despite the challenges and obstacles, decarbonization through electrification and IT power is clearly possible. Just look at what is happening in Texas, California and Australia for examples. The sensible choice is clear and it is up to us to make it.
The simple fact is that the status quo is on life support, requiring trillions of dollars in annual subsidies. Imagine what we could do if those trillions were redirected to support IT energy solutions.