Solar’s rapid evolution makes energy planners rethink the grid

Posted by Trish Riley, November 24, 2009

I appreciate President O’Bama’s push to upgrade the national power transmission system with a “Smart Grid,” which he’s talked about since campaigning and for which he has just announced financial support. But I have questioned the need for this since I first heard about it, suspecting that power companies were behind the push for the smart grid because its construction would funnel massive amounts of money their way and ensure their continued involvement in meeting our need for energy. Yet transmission lines pose multiple problems. They are subject to damage from weather and accidents, resulting in large-scale outages; they pose a danger of electrocution when damaged; and there is evidence suggesting that exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitting from power lines can be a health hazard. Furthermore, renewable energies such as wind and solar can be installed onsite in many locations, negating the need for transmission. But power companies don’t want to support that plan, because it cuts them out of the power revenue picture. Here’s a clip from an article on reduced need for power lines, followed by an announcement from the White House about its investment in the smart grid:

Connecting solar farms and geothermal plants in the Mojave Desert and wind farms in the Tehachapis to coastal metropolises means building a massive new transmission system.But the rapidly evolving solar photovoltaic market may moot the need for some of those expensive and contentious transmission lines, requiring transmission planners to rethink their long-term plans… In short, solar panel prices have plummeted so much as to make viable the prospect of generating gigawatts of electricity from rooftops and photovoltaic farms built near cities.

Distributed generation could potentially provide up to 40,000 gigawatt hours of electricity, or two-thirds of projected demand.

“Certainly some of the new transmission lines will be needed but not as many as before,” he says.

That analysis also calls into question the need for as many large-scale solar power plants.

Cities, Pletka notes, could become generators of electricity rather than consumers of power.

via Solar’s rapid evolution makes energy planners rethink the grid | Grist.

And yet:

The White House Blog

The Smart Grid and You

Posted by Secretary Steven Chu on November 24, 2009 at 01:24 PM EST

Today, I announced a $620 million investment in the “Smart Grid” — building on a $3.4 billion investment announced by President Obama last month as part of the Recovery Act.  So what is a “Smart Grid?”  How will it save your family money?  Check out this video: