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Cap the Grid

Cap the Grid

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As a species, we must learn to live within the physical limitations of the biosphere. In the electric energy sector, this requires reversing the worldwide trend of ever‑expanding electricity supply grids carrying energy vast distances from more and more large, centralized
power plants. “Capping the grid” is a crucial step toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution and increasing the percentage of electricity generated by renewables.
As a species, we must learn to live within the physical limitations of the biosphere. In the electric energy sector, this requires reversing the worldwide trend of ever‑expanding electricity supply grids carrying energy vast distances from more and more large, centralized
power plants. “Capping the grid” is a crucial step toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution and increasing the percentage of electricity generated by renewables.

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Published by: Post Carbon Institute on Oct 31, 2013
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12/18/2014

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CAP THE GRID
ROBERT E. KING
 
This publication is an excerpted chapter from
The Energy Reader: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth
, Tom Butler, Daniel Lerch, and George Wuerthner, eds. (Healdsburg, CA: Watershed Media, 2012).
The Energy Reader 
 is copyright © 2012 by the Foundation for Deep Ecology, and published in collaboration with Watershed Media and Post Carbon Institute.For other excerpts, permission to reprint, and purchasing visit energy-reality.org or contact Post Carbon Institute. Photo: George Wuerthner.
Transmission lines near Malad, Idaho, disrupt the wide open  feeling of the West 
.
about the author
An engineer with decades of experience developing small-scale hydroelectric, solar, and wind power projects,
Bob King
 is the president of Ashuelot River Hydro in Keene, New Hampshire. He owns and operates hydroelec-tric dams in New England and upstate New York, and he is deeply engaged in land conservation and renewable energy activism.
Post Carbon Institute | 613 4th Street, Suite 208 | Santa Rosa, California 95404 USA
 
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T
he electric grid, comprised of generation, trans-mission, and distribution facilities, is controlled in the United States by “independent system operators” and electric utilities. These grid operators work closely with power plant owners and government regulators as they operate and plan for the future of the electric sys-tem. Grid operators regularly forecast electricity usage in their region and then set off alarm bells when they see the forecasted demand for electricity exceeding the supply. There follows a Pavlovian reaction as planners, engineers, and generation companies enter a bidding process to determine who will build the next round of generation and transmission to meet the predicted supply shortfall.Civic leaders respond to the dire scenarios forecast and become part of a positive feedback loop driving an ever-expanding grid by pushing for additional power plant and transmission construction. The end result, not surprisingly, is to keep fossil fuel use high, electric-ity supplies plentiful, prices relatively low, and serious conservation limited only to the virtuous.Grid growth results from population growth, eco-nomic growth, and growth in per capita consumption. In a finite global ecosystem, societies would do well to figure out how to flourish in the absence of unchecked growth on all these fronts. They
must 
, however, figure out how to stop—and ideally reverse—grid growth because of the multitude of negative impacts asso-ciated with the expanding grid. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts the grid will grow in the next twenty-five years at an annual rate of 0.5–1 percent. This may not sound like much, but it would require adding ten power plants the size of Three Mile Island
every year 
.Specific drivers of grid growth include the Internet, which now consumes 5-10 percent of worldwide elec-trical energy. Countless servers and personal computers running 24/7 have a larger carbon footprint than the world’s aviation industry, according to recent research. In the near future, electric cars, which are more efficient than gas or fuel cell vehicles, will demand an increasing share of the grid’s output, though they can also help stabilize the grid if programmed to send energy back from their batteries at peak demand hours. If car charg-ing occurs late at night, it takes advantage of existing generating capacity when it is underutilized. To make this a truly ecological progression, however, the charg-ing energy should be derived from deep conservation, such as the retirement of millions of unnecessary lights that now currently pollute the night sky in the interest of 24-hour commerce and presumed security.Since the 1978 passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, with many fits and starts, renewable energy sources have begun to fill in the need for additional
 
As a species, we must learn to live within the physical limitations of the biosphere. In the electric energy sector, this requires reversing the worldwide trend of ever-expanding electricity supply grids carrying energy vast distances from more and more large, centralized power plants. “Capping the grid” is a crucial step toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution and increasing the percentage of electricity generated by renewables.

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