The Audacity of Hope – Making Energy Clean

The greatest environmental disaster in US history began on April 20, two days before Earth Day.  Even if a miracle occurred and the well stopped leaking now, the damage to the marine and coastal environments will need years to recover.  Who knows – any hurricane that whips up these oiled waters may deposit pollutants miles inland for the foreseeable future. 

This ongoing environmental tragedy makes the reasons to accelerate deployment of Smart Grid solutions all the more compelling.  The Smart Grid uses renewable, clean energy – and lots of it.  The current grid isn’t designed to accommodate variable (wind and solar) sources of energy, but there are two Smart Grid technologies that make it possible.  First is energy storage.  Utility-scale energy storage generally fulfills one of two missions – it is either long-lasting, or it is instantaneously available.  Advances are being made in both storage categories to drive down the costs of energy storage and make it economically feasible.  (There are a few questions about how to define this asset for amortization purposes, and these are regulatory matters that need to be decided at federal and state levels). 

The second technology that supports integration of clean and renewable energy sources into our electrical grid consists of sensors and actuators that remotely monitor and control the grid at points ranging from generation through transmission to distribution.  These devices are called PMUs or Phasor Measurement Units, and they collect time-stamped data samples at multiple points across the grid to deliver what the industry calls “wide area situational awareness”.  That big picture view of the grid helps the people responsible for electricity delivery to prevent brownouts and blackouts. 

These technologies are in deployment now in pilots and in full-fledged operations.  These technologies accelerate integration of renewables into the Smart Grid, and acceleration of the Smart Grid means a faster adoption of EVs (electric vehicles) in this country.  And that means we can give the heave ho to oil, instead of watching it give the heave ho to the entire Gulf ecosystem (which includes all the humans in it). 

I alluded to the regulatory questions about energy storage, and this is important.  You can do something instead of helplessly watching video of oiled marshes and dead birds.  There is a bill in Congress to encourage investment in energy storage.  It is SB1091, the Storage Technology of Renewable and Green Energy act of 2009 (STORAGE) also known as the Wyden bill.  It provides tax credits and accelerated depreciation for energy storage assets, so utilities have financial incentives over and above the good arguments about reducing carbon footprints and reliance on clean forms of energy.    It will create a standard definition of how energy storage assets should be treated.  It is sitting on Capitol Hill right now.  You may not be able to decontaminate the Gulf waters or beaches, but you CAN do this – you can contact your US senators and representatives and ask them to make this the law of the land.  

It’s not an audacious act, but as a combined effort, it becomes part of an audacious goal – to create a Smart Grid that sustains millions of EVs using electricity coming from clean energy sources.  This should be our future, instead of continued reliance on oil.  Is that too much to hope for?

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