John Trotti 2016-01-08 15:09:56
One very clear and well-understood energy policy in the US needs no iteration by politicians or translation by news speakers, lawyers, or academicians. In truth it is not verbal; rather, it is the simple understanding that when you flip the switch, you and everyone else in the country expect the lights to come on. That such a complex organism has evolved in so short a time—it still boggles my mind to think that the electrification age is barely more than a century old—is without precedent in human history, yet most of us cannot even conceive of life without electricity, and in fact you have to wonder just how many of us would inhabit the planet if it did not exist . . . a sobering thought when it comes to determining just what level of effort we ought to put forth in maintaining and improving the system. Yes, what has evolved is truly amazing—miraculous, you might say—but even so I wonder if we called a timeout to reconsider how we generate and deliver electricity, whether we would take the same approach. Perhaps we wouldn’t, but we have neither the luxury nor the wherewithal to go about reinventing things. Nor are we any more imbued with 20/20 foresight than were our predecessors, so it’s better that we look for ways to augment and improve what we have in order to meet new demands and challenges as they unfold. As many of you will remember Business Energy began life as Distributed Energy, the Journal for Onsite Power Solutions, not because distributed energy is the be-all, end-all answer to the myriad challenges our nation faces, but because it offers options for dealing with some of them—and I cannot conceive of any advantage in not having as many options as possible. This is especially true for those responsible for meeting the demanding challenges brought about by the ever-changing, ever-increasing, ever-more demanding need for reasonably priced, economically stable, secure, reliable, high-quality electrical energy. If this vision was true in 2002, it is no less so today. Questioning the Centralized Approach It seems like only yesterday our nation found itself reeling in the wake of well-planned, organized, and coordinated terrorist attacks designed to inflict the maximum number of human casualties and capture the undivided attention of the entire world. While we were indeed fortunate that the casualty figures from the strikes fell short of their potential, there is no doubt that the terrorists achieved their overall political aims. Moreover, these attacks lay bare the vulnerability of much of our critical infrastructure . . . none more vulnerable and at risk to a variety of threats than our electrical-generating and transmission systems. Now, years after digesting the lessons of those attacks—other than laying down barbed wire and posting guards to protect strategic facilities—we seem no closer to coming to grips with many of the risks than we were in the wake of 9/11. I shudder when I hear that our federal government is sitting down to solve a major problem, but nothing shivers my timbers faster than when the subject is so redolent with vested interests as energy. The waves of outrage, fear, and incipient panic brought about by grid failure barely begins to subside before nearly everyone in the nation with a soapbox and an audience is demanding an answer to what had happened and a government plan to deal with it . . . as if the “what” mattered. The “what” as is brought forcefully to our attention with all too much regularity is rarely something that can be anticipated, or else it would have been studied nearly to death and then banished to oblivion by the application of a new and foolproof Band-Aid, guaranteeing “this will never again happen.” And what’s wrong with this? Probably nothing is unless the Band-Aid itself is a disaster. The real danger, it seems to me, lies in devising patches that increase rather than decrease the centralization of our electrical-generating and transmission systems. Changing the Equation Following bouts of what were dubbed “rolling blackouts,” California—under the leadership of the California Energy Commission—began to actively promote the development of distributed energy resources, an approach that is heartening to those who see in distributed energy its potential for taking pressure off the grid while providing reliable, high-quality, environmentally superior electrical energy at cost-competitive rates. Frequent blackouts add even greater impetus to the search for solutions and the recognition that we are engaged in what amounts to a war against implacable foes, only some of whom are known. Carl von Clausewitz, the father of modern military theory, coined the term “friction” to describe the ever-widening gap between plans and reality. To him and his disciples, the first and most important principle in planning is to prepare for the worst. No general was ever condemned for winning a war by having more resources available to him than actually used. Most of us know intuitively that assigning resources on the basis of expected requirements is prescription for disaster, partly because, as experience teaches us, few things come in on time or within budget, but more because nearly all situations take on lives of their own that tend to invalidate expectations right from the start. To me, this vision as a prescription for action is the strongest argument for the need to encourage the development and implementation of distributed energy resources. Distributed energy resources are not a panacea that can solve all our power problems, but its contribution to the effort cannot and should not be underestimated. It is Business Energy’s mission to promote this vision, and with your help and support we’re going to accomplish it.
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