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energy independence

The Fourth of July has very special meaning to Americans as our official proclamation of political and economic independence, couched in terms of human rights.  2013 also marks the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest battle ever waged by Americans – the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.  It was our second war of independence  – this time to end slavery.  The Civil War eliminated an economic model that benefited a small minority of owners of assets in the form of cheap labor.

So what, you may be asking yourself, does this have to do with energy?  It ‘s all about understanding the lessons of history and finding inspiration in them.  With Smart Grid technologies that modernize and revolutionize the electricity grid, we have the opportunity to convert our energy supplies from brute force extraction methods such as mountaintop removals, cooking tar sands, drilling a mile deep into ocean floors, and hydraulic fracturing of geologic formations.  These extraction methods carry big carbon footprints and heavy environmental costs that are borne by society in the forms of poisoned air, water and land, not to mention climate change impacts.  We have the opportunity to convert our energy supplies for electricity to much more benign energy harvesting methods focused on clean renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydro.  Extraction and carbon costs are virtually eliminated with renewable energy sources.  In 2013, American energy independence means the opportunity to free ourselves from an energy-intensive, water-intensive, and carbon-intensive supply chain for electricity generation.

Today’s energy model concentrates the assets that produce electricity into the hands of relatively few owners.  Consumers are captive to the owners of generation, transmission, and distribution grid assets.  Smart Grid technologies make it possible for electricity generation to occur at hyperlocal levels such as our rooftops or community solar gardens.  That means revolutionary changes to the electricity markets to accommodate a greater number of producers.  In 2013, American energy independence means freedom to produce our own electricity and freedom to sell it at fair market rates.

There’s one other real weakness to today’s energy model.  It has inherent risks of price volatility.  The energy supplies that are extracted are transportable.  Transportable means exportable.  Exportable means price volatility.  Just because natural gas is extracted in the USA doesn’t mean it will stay onshore.  It will go to the highest bidder. Contrast that to renewables.  Do you think the sun is going to jack up its prices anytime in the future?    In 2013, American energy independence means freedom from price volatility in energy sources.

There are encouraging signs here and around the world that people recognize the current energy model is overdue for a restructuring that will be both evolutionary and revolutionary. The International Energy Agency just released a report that projects a global increase in renewables – particularly in developing countries.  It’s very smart that they are choosing to adopt the model that guarantees price stabilities.

If Ben Franklin, an early experimenter with electricity and inventor of the Franklin stove were alive today, he would recognize the potential of Smart Grid technologies to revolutionize our energy model, and he’d embrace them.   He’d be CEO of a Silicon Valley startup focused on renewable energy generation and storage at the distribution grid level.  Franklin understood the concept of power to the people in 1776.  We should be as prescient now and apply his innovative thinking to a new model that promotes American independence in energy.

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