Will Our Electrical Power Utilities Remain Relevant?

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Here’s a Business Week article whose point is that the relevance of our power utilities is disappearing. Not true. Unless there is a breakthrough in energy of unprecedented proportion, along the lines of cold fusion or something else that appears equally unlikely at this point, our electrical utilities will continue to play a critical role in our lives, largely because of the issue of scale.

Absent a miracle, despite the claims of certain pundits, energy will not become “too cheap to meter.” For example, with further advancements in technology, we can get PV down to $1 per Watt. Can we get it to $0.10 per Watt – where we no longer have to think about the economics? Nope.

Let’s be realistic, and look at the basic facts of energy and money: regardless of how low the cost of renewable energy becomes, say solar PV or wind, using a centralized model for power generation will remain the dominant model, due to the sheer economy of scale.

So, if you agree that the cost of energy can be counted on to be significant, let’s talk more about this. Consider for a moment that the area you have on the roof of your suburban home or office building, when covered in PV, barely provides for your energy use. Then remind yourself that the large and ever-growing number of people living in urban areas have a minuscule fraction of that quotient of energy/sun-exposed area. Essentially regardless of the direction that the forms of energy generation take, we need entities that use regions of otherwise low-value real estate to generate energy and transmit/distribute it to us.

I’ve been to the great deserts of the U.S. southwest, where the sun shines 350 days a year, but I don’t want to live there. I’ve been to Tehachapi, one of the world’s great wind resources. Land is cheap, and the wind blows like nowhere you can imagine. But there is a reason that the land is cheap: no one wants to live in 24/7 gale-force winds.

The concept of asking a certain entity to go out and get us cheap energy (and soon, cheap and clean) is not going away.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. And will the next article address why trash trucks will remain relevant? Or why we will continue to need plumbing?

    I think perhaps your article meant to address the need for fossil and nuclear power generation. Those industries will be going away.

  2. I don’t think you’ve thought this through. To make an assertion that we will always need centralised power, assumes that existing technology will not evolve any furthur in efficiency or price. Which is simply not true. Consider a household biodigester consuming leftover faeces, food and grass clippings. producing methane for storage to be run through a methane fuel cell for times when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing. Consider a world with the entire electricity grid interconnected internationally, with a HVDC technology only losing 5% power per 1000km’s that would be economically viable. We could buy and sell power where-ever and when-ever it was being produced. Negating the need for as much storage. Thorium LFTR reactors, every city block the size of rain water tanks. Could supply power for centuries alone!! Cities of the future most likely won’t be the wastefull slumburban throw backs to the 50′s they are today. With less couples having kids and opting for lifestyle over nuclear familes, eco freindly apartments may become the main-stay, but then again who knows? They may crack cold or hot fusion soon as well… In the end we won’t even need governments, money or other people. Our technology will be that good, possibly provided by the coming singularity of sentient AI.

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