There’s a point about renewable energy that’s been rattling around in my head for a while. Now one of our dear readers has gone and made it in comments, so let me take a whack at it here, drawing on what he said.

Imagine this: A (small-d) democratic, open-source, modular energy grid that accepts and distributes power from any source. Some regions or towns generate power with solar installations, some with wind turbines, some with hydropower, some with tide or wave power, and most with some combination of sources. The energy grid is a piece of federal infrastructure; access to it is a guaranteed public good.

This is, I think, the kind of energy grid most greens would like to see, and the kind they ultimately have in mind when they advocate for clean energy. (The details — and they are legion — will have to be hashed out, obviously.)

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!

Now, consider a few characteristics of that system:

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

There’s no central source of energy, access to which can be controlled or taxed. Local communities will be substantially more economically self-reliant, less subject to manipulation through strings-laden federal grants. Because energy sources will mostly be small-scale and locally owned, there will be no massive energy lobby cuddling up to politicians, lavishing them with donations in exchange for special favors.

The more you think it through, the more you realize: a lot of today’s centers of power and influence stand to lose big in the transition to a post-oil, distributed-energy society. Power, both literal and political, will devolve downward and outward.

This is, in fact, just the point jimbeyer makes in this comment: "Renewable energy is about the permanent loss of a major source of control of much of modern humanity."

His guess is that the big PR push for the "hydrogen economy" is "an attempt to try to structure renewable energy and remaining coal resources into a mechanism of control." (I would make a similar point about the concurrent PR pushes for nuclear power and natural gas.)

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

I don’t even chalk it up to a grand conspiracy on the part of the powers-that-be, really. It’s just what they know. It’s the model they’re familiar with. They are accustomed to power and influence being centralized in the hands of elites. They will fight the passing of that model — it portends their own obsolescence.

Renewable energy is part of the historical trend putting more and more power in the hands of individuals, fracturing the elites that once held it. That — not feasibility, or economic viability, or dead friggin’ birds — is the biggest challenge it has to overcome.