Alternative energy grids are a thing of the future. Their successful introduction at local and community level depends a lot on eliminating information gaps and getting people organized. Britain is undeniably far ahead in thinking up practical schemes. A recent study by the Energy Savings Trust in the UK outlines in depth how the social revolution can truly explode by including real life energy initiatives.
The study is entitled Power in Numbers and exploits the vast untapped potential of renewable energy schemes. Because, after all, the most attractive unrealized potential of renewable energy is that it seamlessly intermarries the environment’s need to cut energy consumption with another need; that of humans for cheaper energy.
The Trust’s study outlines razor-sharp how alternative grids can be organized at the local and community level.
“Today energy generated by communities could produce about 13% of all household needs. With the right policies in place this potential could rise to 54%,” according to the report.
The organization has termed community energy initiatives ‘energy services companies’ (ESCOs) and proposes the elimination of bureaucratic hurdles.
The rationale for linking up in a community energy scheme is efficiency and cost savings, which are made when wind, solar or biomass schemes are scaled up from individual to community-sized projects. Private households could save 34% of the cost of producing solar hot water and 18% of electricity from wind turbines, the Trust calculates.
This is not only makes sense for people living in Britain. A global report written by the international consultancy McKinsey underscores pretty much a similar message. While energy demand will continue to grow in years to come, “there are sufficiently economically viable opportunities for energy-productivity improvements that could keep global energy-demand growth at less than 1% per annum – or less than half of the 2.2% average growth to 2020 anticipated in our base-case scenario,” the writers say. They add that it’s possible to cut global energy demand back by the equivalent of 64 million barrels of oil per day, or almost 150 percent of today’s entire U.S. energy consumption. That’s dramatic and it outlines the potential for alternative energy schemes quite precisely.
Google’s energy and environment guru Dan Reicher notified a Capitol Hill hearing of similar ideas recently,
“The increasing interplay between energy hardware and information software – and the corresponding rise of the Internet and the connectivity it brings – adds to the potential to make and to use energy more productively,” Reicher told the Joint Economic Committee Hearing on ‘Efficiency: The Hidden Secret to Solving Our Energy Crisis‘.
A development that might provide a speedy impulse in adapting people to new energy set ups could be smart metering to a smart grid – all the devices that enable people to monitor and manage their energy.
The McKinsey authors affirm that the residential sector will undoubtedly play an essential part in achieving global energy-productivity improvements. Globally, the largest untapped potential for cost-effective energy productivity gains is lying dormant in the residential sector (e.g. better building shells and more efficient water heating and lighting), power generation sector (e.g. more efficient power plants and electricity distribution) and industrial sector (e.g. less energy-intensive oil refineries and steel plants).
How modestly sized schemes are going to capture this potential is what it’s all going to be about in the future. The case has been made, but significant policy changes are first required. The challenges? Eliminating information gaps, clearing up subsidy regimes and sorting out agency issues.