Although you may or may not agree with Obama’s philosophies and policies, one thing is certain: He was able to utilize the internet to formulate a fundraising effort like no presidential candidate before him. This type of grassroots movement would not have been possible 15 years ago without the internet and the ability to disseminate information as easily and cost effective as it is today.
This feat reflects a much larger movement that is happening today. As I mentioned in my Energy 2.0 post, the internet created a democracy of information by giving every person access virtually all public data in one place. The information empowers people, lowering the barrier of entry and allowing competition with the larger entities with more power and resources.
Renewable energy technology provides the tools to achieve the same democracy in energy that the internet provided with information. To understand how this is possible, it is important to first look back at how energy development has been done over the past century.
In the days of fossil fuels, it was much more efficient to build large centralized power plants hundreds of miles away from population centers. This allowed for the construction of larger plants as it diverted the impacts of pollution away from the people. The OPEC crises of the 1970’s lead to a new initiative to develop non-fossil fuel based energy production technologies that take advantage of locally available resources. The skyrocketing oil and electricity prices over the past 5 years has made these new technologies economically feasible, resulting in a wave of developers rushing to make money under the guise of “green” and “sustainable”. However, many of them are still following the archaic principles of the oil and coal power plants by building large wind farms and solar farms out in the middle of nowhere and shipping the electricity to the population centers.
To centralize renewable energy fundamentally does not make sense. Shipping this electricity hundreds of miles can result in up to 10% loss of electricity. Also, renewable energy virtually eliminates the emissions problem, reducing the need to keep energy generation out of population centers. While the system is partially responsible for promoting centralized development, a paradigm shift needs to occur to fully understand the potential of distributed energy generation.
We need to stop thinking about energy in the same way that we did in 1900. Renewable energy gives us the ability to capture our energy and use it at the source.
We need to stop thinking about energy as a utility bill. Energy is the lifeblood of our economy and our society. We must control it.
We need to stop thinking about energy security solely in a national sense, but also in a corporate sense. Let our communities with our best interests in mind own our wind turbines, not a giant corporation that panders to its shareholders.
We need to start thinking about an Energy Democracy. Just as the modern political democracy empowered people with politics, and as the internet empowered people with ease of access to information, an Energy Democracy will put the control of energy production into the hands of those who use it.
Centralized energy producition is dead. Power to the new Energy Democracy!