Off The Grid
In an editorial about the need to expand renewable energy resources, despite the limitations inherent in some technologies, the science journal Nature gets part of the point:
Giant wind farms are something of an exception in the renewable-energy picture, as they resemble the traditional model of big, centralized coal, gas or nuclear power plants feeding bulk-distribution networks. Looked at more broadly, renewables point to a future in which the power grid could be far less centralized than it is today, with a much greater reliance on local power sources such as rooftop solar panels. This could make the electricity grid more efficient, as less power would be lost in long-distance transmission.
Nature then goes on to discuss the need to improve the grid, which is also necessary, and which decentralization would help:
Such a grid would benefit from better electricity storage — in the form of large-scale batteries, say — to smooth out drops in wind or cloudy days. And it would certainly have to be smarter than it is today. To manage this decentralized proliferation of sources and users, the grid would have to be liberally studded with microprocessors that can take actions on their own, without humans pressing any buttons or picking up any phones.
Public and private programmes to achieve these goals will probably generate many new, highly skilled 'clean-tech' and 'green collar' jobs. Both candidates for the US presidency have talked about investing in the grid, and Democrat Barack Obama has specifically promised to spend $150 billion to create 5 million green jobs if elected. Meanwhile, countries such as Germany, Denmark, Britain and Australia are already showing that green jobs can buoy their economies.
But decentralization, itself, is an issue that should be defined and highlighted by a candidate with a vision to the future. It could have great political appeal. In addition to being environmentally and economically sound, it gets to the heart of libertarian ideals. Get people off the grids, altogether. Help them stop having to depend on and pay monthly dues to large corporations that truly serve but their own self-interests. Decentralization should be one of the defining issues of any serious political campaign.