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‘Distributed energy’ could help preserve US landscape

Fewer large power plants?

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A ‘distributed energy’ network, consisting of countless small electricity generators rather than a handful of massive generating stations, could help preserve the remaining American landscape, according to Grist.

Grist notes that the US needs to expand its clean energy supplies, but that doing so often leads to large new power plants in undeveloped areas. The article notes:

The U.S. power industry has always had a fondness for gigantism:  huge plants, remotely located, generating electricity that’s sold cheaply and used profligately. Wind farms on the Plains and solar plants in the Southwest desert, connected to cities by expensive new transmission lines, fit the familiar model. Regulations provide incentives for this development, which utilities know how to manage,  and which politicians understand.

Yet the land and water problems facing solar plants should be a reminder that all large new industrial projects impose social costs.

Instead, Grist says the US should build lots of small generating stations within developed areas:

Solar panels over every parking lot, brownfield, warehouse, and residential roof. Small-scale wind turbines on every bridge, microhydro in every stream and river,  advanced geothermal in every back yard, waste heat capture on every industrial plant. Batteries that store power to be used or sold when it’s worth most. An IT-infused grid that can manage complexity; devices that display real-time use and price information; variable power pricing. Every building sealed and weatherized, every appliance and electric car net-connected.

Grist notes that rooftop solar panels are less efficient than large generating stations in terms of price per kilowatt, but that officials must also factor in other factors such as expensive transmission lines and keeping jobs and money within the same community. On top of that, the article says that social and economic power would be more evenly spread in a distributed power system, making the system more democratic and resilient.

(Picture: This microturbine is one of many generation technologies tested at the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Distributed Energy Resources Test Facility.)


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