Distributed Energy: Powering the Electricity Grid Together

Electric utilities’ concerns about distributed energy may result from them eyeing their bottom line more than considering the practicality and sustainability of home energy generation.
By Kale Roberts
August/September 2014
Add to My MSN

Distributed energy generation could strengthen the U.S. electricity system and relieve grid pressure during power outages.
Photo by Fotolia/rob245


Content Tools

Related Content

Utilities Fear ‘Death Spiral’ — They Shouldn't

Why the cost of utilities won’t be drastically affected by renewable energy sources.

The Winter of Our Content

Natural Home editor-in-chief Robyn Griggs Lawrence looks forward to good, green building news for 20...

Senator Bernie Sanders Pushes Solar Energy

Senator Bernie Sanders’ new bill would promote installation of 10 million new rooftop solar energy s...

States Achieve 25 Percent Renewable Energy With Wind Power

Defying conventional wisdom about the limits of wind power, in 2012 both Iowa and South Dakota gener...

“Distributed energy” refers to electricity generation from many small-scale (often renewable) sources tied into the grid to meet the power demand of local communities — such as solar arrays or small wind turbines powering individual houses. This network is contrary to the conventional energy setup of large, centralized power plants that transmit electricity up to hundreds of miles to consumers. As the price of solar power continues to plummet and more homeowners install renewable energy systems on their homesteads, locally produced, distributed energy is becoming a larger component of the electricity grid.

Distributed small-scale power producers could make the nation’s electricity system stronger if their output were combined with storage systems and load-management software, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This is because these small systems relieve pressure on the grid during peak hours and continue to produce during outages. An increasing number of small renewable systems feeding into the electricity grid makes for a complex web of new connections, and, in this sense, the electricity grid must get a lot “messier” in order for its energy to be cleaner and less concentrated.

Now, some electric utilities are claiming the grid is becoming too messy — and they’re working to block home energy generation. The utilities say the grid is too fragile to handle the burden of distributed energy. But former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu calls the claims “another bullshit argument,” and says solar installations won’t threaten grid stability until they approach 20 percent of the customer base. No state has neared that proportion, but that’s not stopping utilities from lobbying to repeal renewable-energy tax credits and abolish net-metering agreements between utilities and grid-tied homeowners seeking to sell their excess power back to the utility. For example, Hawaiian Electric Co., which operates in one of the most highly solar-powered states, has adopted policies that effectively halt solar installations. The company cites safety concerns even though less than 5 percent of its customers use photovoltaics.

The grid isn’t as burdened as these utilities claim, and renewable-energy proponents theorize the utilities may be attacking distributed energy to protect their profits rather than the integrity of the grid. It’s up to you to tell your state government that you support legislation allowing distributed energy. To get the facts, read the Department of Energy study The Potential Benefits of Distributed Generation.


Kale Roberts is an assistant editor of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. His interests include renewable energy, real food and sustainable rural development. You can find him on .








Post a comment below.

 








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.