I wrote a (rather heady) post this morning about the move from centralized to distributed energy systems. Thanks to John Farrell — who, by the way, is the guru of distributed energy — I just came across a great example of how it’s beginning to happen.

NRG Energy is a huge provider of power to U.S. utilities, the biggest single provider, actually, with a large fleet of enormous fossil fuel plants. But now it’s getting into a different business. NRG has started selling solar panels directly to homeowners. And it intends to couple those solar systems with fuel cells and micro-turbines that can generate power from natural gas, to serve as backup when the sun isn’t shining.

What happens then? NRG CEO David Crane puts it this way: “The individual homeowner should be able to tie a machine to their natural gas line and tie that with solar on the roof and suddenly they can say to the transmission-distribution company, ‘Disconnect that line.’” Put more simply, consumers will realize “they don’t need the power industry at all.”

Think about that! For the first time since the power industry was created in the late 1800s, consumers will need no intermediary between them and their electricity. Says Jim Rogers, CEO of utility giant Duke Energy, “It is obviously a potential threat to us over the long term.”

Of course NRG is not alone. Tons of companies are springing up lately to sell or lease micropower solutions directly to customers. And as those customers generate more of their own power, and hook up with other members of their community who are doing the same through microgrids, utilities will increasingly be pushed out of the picture.

That’s a big, big deal. It’s just beginning now, just in its larval stages, but the fact that the biggest utility power provider in the country is getting into the game is a clear signal that it’s real. We live in interesting times.