9/26/2005

Daily Kos: The Economics of the Sphere: Microgrids

The Economics of the Sphere: Microgrids
by Stirling Newberry [Subscribe]
Mon Sep 26th, 2005 at 07:31:09 CDT

We need to do for power, what the internet has done for telecommunications.

There is a transformation of society coming, and that transformation rests on the "few to few" model of the sphere, using better information technology, and better information distribution, to deal with the waves of challenges that we face now.

There are two energy problems. One is the transportation problem, which we see visibly, because it shows up in the form of oil prices, and the geopolitical struggle over its control. But this problem is related to a second energy problem: the problem of household energy.

Some time ago I proposed a national energy directive, this article bears on two of the points in it.

* Stirling Newberry's diary :: ::
*

If you check your gas and electricity bill recently, you will know that all kinds of energy are going up in price. The reactionaries want to sink trillions into a larger top down energy system. Huge process heat nuclear power plants, vast refineries, and "the phony fuel economy".

The alternative is not "bottom up" - because the bottom is a net consumer, not producer, of electricity, and this leads to the same problems as top down. Instead the very structure that holds the society together must change. This change will mean a shift from a "producer/consumer" society - into one where everyone is a producer, but tied together by lower barrier to entry iterative and incremental networks.

The article points to, but does not elaborate on, another important project: improving the old grid. One way to do this is by heat recapture and hot spotting: taking what is currently waste heat, and recycling it back as micro grid eletricity, as well as creating sites that can use this eletricity as another microgrid.

These kinds of technologies will allow the slashing of 40% of our current energy needs without any substantial change in the material standard of living. Rather than approaching our current fiscal crisis as a tax juggling enterprise, we should look at it as a basic problem with the monetary system. Our money is coupled to land values, but our consumption is coupled to energy. There is no longer an organic relationship between a dollar, and the ultimate basis of that dollar.

Micro-grids restore some of this equilibrium.

::

There is a larger point, one that, when grasped as a general tendency, will have be applied over and over again. That tendency is two fold. The first is to build "few to few" networks, where small numbers of complementary needs can be matched together. The second is to look for "recapture", waste that the system is generating to to be used. Digital networks do both, in terms of communications, but also in looking for unused capacity, particularly bandwidth, to but into play.

The future, in otherwords, is already here. We just need to implement it.

And this is why the future is a progressive future. If you do the numbers on the "next generation top down economy", they don't work. Either they run into supply problems - or they run into sink problems. The important equation is

GDP/Person * Watt/GDP * (Greenhouse)/Watt

Every solution focuses on one of these legs. The reactionary solution is to reduce GDP/Person, by radically reducing the number of people that are in a higher level of energy state. This produces a classic quantum utility diagram, where actors fight to stay above the threshold points, and when the drop below it, enter into a state of permanently lower economic utility. They are also willing to lower Watt/GDP by concentrating much more of GDP in the form of rent shuttling, which is an energy efficient way of generating a great deal of economic churn. It will keep a few stock brokers ecstatically happy. The problem with this solution is that it does not connect trade offs. For example, Iraq was a giant attempt to reduce GDP/Person, by locking a large number of people out of the affluent economy - that's what pouring a great deal more oil into the US does - but, even aside from the welfare problems, it was a massively expensive way of accomplishing its own end. The economy enforces trade offs, if policy makers don't.

The progressive solution rests on the understanding that this is a three valued market. That the best balancing point comes in making conscious trade offs between how much effort we send on each term. But it is only by setting up a system where individuals understand the consequences of their actions, and see them on a day to day basis that we can do this.

This is why setting up spheres works - people rapidly see the consequences of over consumption, waste and misallocated production. The information feedback is rapid, rather than distant, it is harder to be a free rider.

Daily Kos: The Economics of the Sphere: Microgrids

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