Last week, I posted on the fight between electric utilities and solar advocates over rooftop solar power. Today, I want to pull back the lens and begin to tackle the bigger question: How should utilities work? What's the right way to provision and manage electricity in the 21st century?
There's very little public discussion of utilities or utility regulations, especially relative to sexier topics like fracking or electric cars. That's mainly because the subject is excruciatingly boring, a thicket of obscure institutions and processes, opaque jargon, and acronyms out the wazoo. Whether PURPA allows IOUs to customize RFPs for low-carbon QFs is actually quite important, but you, dear reader, don't know it, because you fell asleep halfway through this sentence. Utilities are shielded by a force field of tedium.
It's is an unfortunate state of affairs, because this is going to be the century of electricity. Everything that can be electrified will be. (This point calls for its own post, but mark my words: transportation, heat, even lots of industrial work is going to shift to electricity.) So the question of how best to manage electricity is key to both economic competitiveness and ecological sustainability.
It's time to start talking about utilities. I, your courageous blogger and servant, am going to attempt to lay out, at a high level, how utilities work and why, the challenges facing them, and what a utility more suited to the 21st century might look like. It's a complicated problem, but I think the basics are approachable by ordinary citizens, who very much need to get involved and speak up on these issues. Occupy PUCs! (You'll get that joke after you read my next few posts.)