The 100-Mile Diet for Electricity? The Institute for Local Self-Reliance Argues for Decentralization
Well, Not Literally 100 Miles...
The Insitute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) has released a second version of its study titled Energy Self-Reliant States. In it they look at various ways that U.S. states could generate clean electricity locally (rooftop solar PV, onshore wind, offshore wind, etc). Just from the name of the institute, it's pretty obvious that they aren't in favor of centralized solutions to our energy problems, but at least they aren't all ideology: They back up their claims with a lot of data.
Among other things, the report claims:
All 36 states with either renewable energy goals or renewable energy mandates could meet them by relying on in-state renewable fuels. Sixty-four percent could be self-sufficient in electricity from in-state renewables; another 14 percent could generate 75 percent of their electricity from homegrown fuels. [...]
More than 40 states plus the District of Columbia could generate 25 percent of their electricity just with rooftop PV. [...]
much of the West and Midwest can be entirely self-sufficient by harnessing in-state [onshore] wind power [...]
Nine states could produce at least 10 percent of their domestic electricity consumption from conventional geothermal. Nevada could satisfy 40 percent of its electricity needs. [etc]
Good & Bad
A big part of their argument is that once your factor in "the cost of constructing new transmission lines to carry that power and the electricity losses during transmission could result in an electricity cost to the customer that is about the same, or higher, than local generation with minimal transmission upgrades." It seems to make sense since building transmission lines over long distances is so expensive, but I'm not sure if in the end it would really be similar. We know most of the potential problems with centralized generation, but we still have a lot to learn about producing massive amounts of power in a decentralized way. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing, but it means that there's more uncertainty (and more potential for cost overruns and unforeseen problems).
So the main problem here will be economics. There's no doubt that there's tons of wind and solar power all around, but the question remains: Will people pay more for rooftop solar PV over solar farms (thermal or PV) just because it is local? There are many factors. Maybe people would be ready to pay more if this is offset by other benefits, or if over time it isn't cheaper. But I suspect it's going to be hard to convince people of that. Not everybody is ready to make sacrifices for the environment and so the best solutions are usually those that align people's wallet with nature.
Via ILSR, Green Inc
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