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Lincoln Bleveans's picture
Executive Director -- Sustainability & Energy Management Stanford University

Global Energy, Water, and Sustainability Executive | Thought Leader, Speaker, and Writer | Strategy, Planning, Project Development, Operations, M&A, and Transformation | Team Builder...

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  • Feb 22, 2021
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For a century, the electric utility industry has planned and invested in decades. Now we are transforming an incredibly complex, nationwide, $5 trillion system that our economies and societies rely on every single second of every day. 

That’s not just daunting, its terra incognita.  So what can we use for a map? By what distant stars can we set our course?

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Feb 22, 2021

All energy is compromise. The compromises inherent in fossil-fueled electricity are abundantly clear, from GHG globally to environmentally disadvantaged communities closer to home.

This is a great point. I've had many friends and family outside the industry ask if the answer is to try and find ways to simply stop consuming energy. While conservation and efficiency where reasonable is a great thing, it is not the answer. We're living in a modern society where power is needed more and more, but keeping the machine running with the state of power generation today and tomorrow is necessary-- it's a compromise, as you say. What we need to do is make that compromise easier to swallow as we design tomorrow's grid and generation stock!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 22, 2021

"Now we are transforming an incredibly complex, nationwide, $5 trillion system that our economies and societies rely on every single second of every day."

Lincoln, long before smartphones, even before personal computing, economies relied on electricity every single second of every single day.

Nothing essential has changed. Grid engineers, since the early 20th century, have recognized that "incredible complexity" is their enemy, not their friend. They've striven to make systems as simple as possible to avoid problems, that there is an inverse correlation between reliability and complexity.

Generating and distributing reliable electricity was just as daunting then as it is now, and it's always been terra incognita, but there's a difference. Today we are not only assuming adding complexity to electricity generation and distribution has no costs in reliability, we're also assuming there's no financial price to be paid by consumers. I often hear different electrical resources which are most "profitable", or which create the most number of jobs, described in glowing terms. Unconsidered are those who are paying the price, and whether customers of less financial means are unduly burdened by those costs.

What can we use for a map? We can, and should, use a map that doesn't prioritize the interests of utilities over those of the public, that minimizes costs for consumers. We can, and should, expand on the U.S. regulated utility model - not break it into thousands of independent pieces under the control of multi-state monopoly energy interests.

Above all, we should work to simplify the formidable job of electricity generation and distribution. In August, California was forced to learn the hard way the perils of unnecessary complexity. While multi-state energy holding companies are being paid to both create problems and solve them, it's unlikely that will change.

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