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GRID2.0 The Social Challenges of Energy


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Nothing serves to unite people and incite cooperation among ourselves quite like the assuring the basic necessities of Life. Among these basics, only food, water, and shelter rate higher than Energy on our list of survival needs, and since our industrialized world makes Energy a pre-requisite for these anyhow, perhaps it should take top spot by default…Unless we were to somehow revert back to an animal powered Agrarian Society that subsisted on local resources. Things being as they currently are though, out of all our currently available sources of heat, light, and power, none is more ubiquitous than the electrical energy grid that has clearly become a pre-requisite for Life as we know it.

In it’s longstanding role as an enabler for the technologies that modern civilization is based upon, the history of electricity also serves as a direct reflection of how Technology, Business, and even Politics have all interconnected over time to shape our world into what it is today. Therefore, it’s not at all surprising that the future of civilization is directly dependent on how well electricity will be ‘generated’ (with Renewable and Green sources coming online), ‘distributed’ (via an electrical grid that is long overdue for a major upgrade), and ‘consumed’ (by more ecologically aware and participative Consumers). In addressing the complex distribution challenges, radically new business models, and progressive technical opportunities that are currently being faced by our outdated electrical energy grids, we are also and in fact confronting the bigger social issues and technological opportunities that face our Society in general, and which will most certainly define the future of Modern Civilization. So what are the greater opportunities that can be realized at a time when Energy production, Distribution, and Consumption are all on the cusp of such radical change?

First of all, if you aren’t aware of why our Electric Grids are in such dire need of upgrades, and how such an overhaul could change life as we know it (if they are undertaken properly), Please pop-up “GRID2.0: Why Upgrade?” (it will open another window) for a quick overview of the Past, and what it says about the Future…

Historically, the wider availability of electricity helped open up energy markets dominated by wood and fossil fuels, allowed heavy machinery to be built without having to also construct large onsite power plants, and thus leveled the industrial playing field of entire nations, while also democratizing the populace by freeing them from more manual forms time constrained labor, while also providing them with leisurely access to information about the world around them. Here on the cusp of the Future, tomorrow’s electric grids could also tear down the centralised and vertically integrated power structures of yesterday, and allow a more entrepreneurial, pluralistic, and participative role to individuals in our power distribution/consumption systems.

t this opportune time in history, when we’re seeing so many old, centralised, and top-heavy business models faltering and failing, and the much more dynamic needs of smaller Renewable Energy sources pushing against the limits of our aging patchwork of electrical grids, we also see that the political, regulatory, and financial structures that support our Energy systems are also being challenged and stimulated into new directions. Compelled by growing market needs, and the exciting technological opportunities that are afoot, and most especially by the public desire to understand and update it’s own use of Energy.

As is the case in so many industries, we’re seeing the need to adapt business models to the initial demands of more 2-way vertical communications with the central authorities, that quickly evolve into completely decentralised peer-to-peer systems, where the central Middlemen are being increasingly cut out of the value chain. The old “top down” mechanisms of social administration through centralised state are no longer capable of working effectively in such a model, and must adapt of perish. Nowhere is the threats of an evolving market, and the failures of old politics and centralised “Statism” made more apparent and urgent than in the area of energy policy.

In the political sphere there are also enormous opportunities to create synergised new views that can not only cross, but erase political boundaries by addressing the needs of all people, regardless of their affiliations. In developing new Energy Policy our governments and regulators can take steps to assure both our independence as Consumers and Citizens, while also better managing our increasing interdependence via an open, socially aware, and highly interoperable energy grid.

On one side we have Social Democrats who believe that markets should fit the needs of Society, and on the others side we have Neo-Liberal / Conservatives who might prefer unfettered markets that are free to respond to actually market demands, without the draining burdens of regulatory oversight. The potential of a re-designed Energy Grid is that by providing open mechanisms and protocols that are not managed by proprietary interests, and optimized to responding dynamically to both supply and demand, without the need for central authority, we start to see how a GRID2.0 ideal can actually satisfy these seemingly disparate needs.

Ironically, the same design philosophies that made the Internet such an enormously pluralistic success (pending the survival of open-standards, and unregulated traffic flow through large network providers), are now at work in the new design ideas for our electrical grids as well…Which in theory could also be designed to easily carry information/data as well as power! However we’ll have to look further into the new and existing Protocols around this subject, before we delve into such an exciting and Futuristic area right away…

In the meantime, if you aren’t already aware of why our Electric Grids are in such dire need of upgrades, and how such an overhaul could change life as we know it (if they are undertaken properly, of course), Please take a look at “Grid 2.0: Why Upgrade?” for a quick overview of the Past, and what it says about the Future:

“GRID2.0: Why Upgrade”

SOURCES

Grid20TheNextGeneration.pdf

http://www.ucei.berkeley.edu/PDF/pwp081.pdf

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  1. 16/10/2011 at 10:50 PM

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