The Electric Super Highway to Nowhere

Wasteful, Costly and Slow: Why spend billions on long-haul power lines?

New York, June 16, 2009 - In the July/August issue of Fast Company, staff writer Anya Kamenetz takes aim at admired environmental leaders including Al Gore and Harry Reid who are calling for an "electric superhighway" - a parallel to the "information superhighway" that enables the Internet. Offering both a compelling call to action and a cautionary tale about the far-reaching power of entrenched interests, Kamenetz argues in "Beyond the Grid" that local, renewable power - windmills and solar panels on every roof - offers a cheaper, faster and more effective way to update the nation's energy system.

"The evidence is growing that privately owned, consumer-driven, small-scale, geographically distributed renewables could deliver a 100% green-energy future faster and cheaper than big power projects alone," Kamenetz writes. "Companies like GE and IBM are talking in terms of up to half of American homes generating their own electricity, renewably, within a decade. But distributed power - call it "the microgrid" - poses an existential threat to the business model the utilities have happily depended on for more than a century. No wonder so many of them are fighting the microgrid every step of the way."

The microgrid is all about consumer control, Kamenetz says: aligning monetary incentives, with the help of information technology, to make renewables and efficiency pay off for the average homeowner, commercial developer, or even a town. Kamenetz writes that the "killer app comes when you, the consumer, can actually profit by using power intelligently. What we're talking about here is potentially a shift every bit as profound as the switch from mainframes to PCs, or from landline to cellular - a movement from behemoth centralized power plants to a network of privately owned, renewable, geographically distributed installations, managed using the same kind of packet-switching software that regulates the flow of information over the Internet."

Kamenetz cites examples of how "the microgrid" is already working in several locales.

"It's inevitable that consumers will continue to want to exercise more involvement in energy decisions," Allan Schurr at IBM tells Fast Company. "I don't think utilities can make unilateral choices here. The force is very strong."

Anya Kamenetz is available for interview and commentary on "Beyond the Grid." Please contact Terry McDevtt at 210 822-0066 or 210 232-5759.

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