5 Things US Congressional Representatives Need to Hear About the Smart Grid

As the US Congressional representatives head home to their respective districts, some of which defy all logic in terms of that contortionist geography called gerrymandering, it’s a perfect opportunity to attend their town hall meetings to offer advice in support of Smart Grid initiatives. 

  1.  Support a national energy policy that encourages development of clean and domestically-produced renewable sources of energy.  The Smart Grid integrates renewable sources of energy and builds the foundation for wide adoption of electric vehicles (EVs).  The faster we upgrade and update our electrical infrastructure and revise our policies to support distributed generation from renewables and EVs, the sooner we end our reliance on oil.  And that means the sooner we can keep that $1 Billion daily transfer of wealth from going offshore into the bank accounts of petro nations like Iran that don’t like us. 
  2. Revise the tax code to eliminate the permanent subsidies, royalty forgiveness, and other tax breaks that fossil energy companies enjoy.  If subsidies are bad for young solar and wind power developers, then they are insanely stupid for established oil companies that earn record-breaking profits.  We can’t afford corporate welfare to multinationals that pollute our atmosphere with CO2 emissions and foul our waterways with spills and pipeline leaks.  The Smart Grid helps make that transition from dirty energy sources to clean ones that are locally produced.
  3. Invest in promising new Smart Grid technologies and businesses.  To make that happen, we need long-lasting tax and investment policies that create market certainty for private investors, not the piecemeal policy erraticism that seems so uniquely applied to anything that reduces our reliance on dirty fossil fuels.   There are opportunities for the USA to take technology leadership positions in energy storage, energy efficient materials, components, and technologies, advanced analytics, and cybersecurity applications.  All of these are vital to the establishment and ongoing operations of the Smart Grid.  While we’re generating lots of heat about Solyndra, there’s been little light shed on the fact that even very smart venture capitalists generally see a 10% success rate on their investments. Thomas Edison, an inventive genius, had more failures than successes too.
  4. Stop doing stupid things like making the world safe for incandescent light bulbs.  Do we pay our elected officials exorbitant salaries with perks so they can cost us more money in our annual energy bills?  The incandescent bulb, so beloved of a vocal minority in Congress, hasn’t changed much since Edison invented it.  It is an extremely inefficient source of light, and an inconvenient source of heat (which is simply wasted energy).  The Smart Grid not only seeks to increase energy supplies from renewables, it aims to decrease demand for electricity through use of more efficient lighting.  The 100W bulb that has captured the adoration of some Congressional Republicans costs $25/year for 6 hours of operation a day.  It is a total operating cost that is higher than that of compact fluorescents or other new lighting technologies. Consumers have benefited from Energy Star appliances in the form of lowered electricity bills, and we deserve to enjoy the monetary benefits that elimination of wasteful incandescent bulbs will bring to our wallets too. 
  5. Allocate more funding to microgrid R&D in the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE).  The US military is the largest consumer of petroleum fuels in the world, and has grim statistics on the human costs incurred in fuel transport.  In 2007 alone, 170 US soldiers or civilians were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving fuel.  That’s an avoidable cost when locally-produced electricity can reduce fuel needs.  In fact, the DOD’s first issued Operational Energy Strategy defines its marching orders much as many US electric utilities document them:  reduce demand, find alternative sources of energy, and improve security.  Encourage microgrid research and give it more funding.  The knowledge the military builds will be disseminated into civilian microgrid applications that are part of the Smart Grid, and could end up lifting much of the world out of energy poverty.