If I were the kind of person who really dug in and learned about subjects in depth instead of a quasi-pundit dilettante who knows just enough about a lot of subjects to be dangerous [takes breath] I would study distributed electrical grids. They are, after all, the new black.
Here’s the take-home message: Smaller-scale, distributed electrical generation (solar, wind, etc.), built closer to consumers, run by intelligent grids, is cheaper and more efficient than the big, centralized kind, could be implemented with no loss of quality or service, and would sharply reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. It is, as Martha is wont to say, a good thing. The impediments are not only technical but political, since distributed electrical grids are by nature democratizing.
More below the fold.
This is one of those subjects that, the minute you read one thing, you find 10 other things to read, you realize scads of people have devoted their lives to studying it, and most of what you say about it will sound hopelessly ignorant, and you decide just to pop open a beer, even though it’s only 4 pm. Or perhaps I’m projecting.
Anyway, thanks to reader TK for drawing my attention to a BBC story on "microgrids." It’s a fine, compact introduction to the subject:
“A microgrid is a collection of small generators for a collection of users in close proximity,” explained Dr [Tom] Markvart …
“It supplies heat through the household, but you already have cables in the ground, so it is easy to construct an electricity network. Then you create some sort of control network.”
That network could be made into a smart grid using more sophisticated software and grid computing technologies.
As an analogy, the microgrids could work like peer-to-peer file-sharing technologies, such as BitTorrents, where demand is split up and shared around the network of “users”.
Microgrids could exist as stand alone power networks within small communities, or be owned and operated by existing power suppliers.
If you’re interested, read more about Markvart’s research, beginning with this very brief summary. Also don’t miss this extremely informative Worldchanging post on the subject and this executive summary of Small is Profitable, which argues that smaller is better in the world of electrical generation. Go and learn!