BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 20


OPINION: ELECTRIC GRID

DOES ELECTRIC GRID 2.0
MEAN ENERGY
DEMOCRACY?
BY JOHN FARRELL

PEER-REVIEWED BY
STEPHAN WOLLENBURG

We need
local grids to
be operated
like a
commons,
just like
roads or the
internet.

hether it's smartphones in our
hands or solar on our roofs,
disruptive technology is rapidly
transforming the way we get
electricity. It's a change that
should feel familiar.
Think about this: Most of today's high school
students have never used a landline phone. Most of
today's elementary students, like my kids, think that
all phones can take pictures, play movies and send
messages from anywhere. These disruptive devices
have put unprecedented communication power in
the hands of nearly every American.
The rise of distributed communication power,
and its threat to landline phone companies, is being
mirrored in the energy business. It has similar
implications for the monopoly companies that
control our electric grid.
For decades, these utility companies have been
staid and secure. They relied on burning fossil fuels
or splitting atoms to generate heat, boiled water
for steam, and used steam to turn turbines and
generate power. Bigger meant more efficient, so
utilities invested in ever-larger power plants, with
some generating enough power for hundreds of
thousands of homes. The result was lower prices
for electricity (and plenty of air pollution and/or
radioactive waste).
The largely ignored cost was the concentration of
capital and power into monopoly companies, much
like the landline phone business.
A secondary cost of reliance on large power
plants was slowing technological innovation.
Utilities built fewer plants to serve the same
demand. In recent years, demand has stagnated,
further slowing even incremental improvement
of existing fossil fuel or nuclear generation
technology. As iteration and learning slowed, a
culture of stagnation set in, reinforced by the lack of
competition.
Now, new technology-from rooftop solar to
smart thermostats to smartphones-is upending
utility monopolies with rapid innovation.
Solar panels, for example, are mass-produced.
The same panels grace home rooftops or massive
utility-scale power plants. In 2014, a new solar

20 * BUILDINGENERGY VOL. 35 NO. 2 | FALL 2016

array was installed every 150 seconds; today, it's
nearly every 60 seconds. The rapid repetition in
manufacturing, delivery, and installation drives
innovation. Prices have fallen 80 percent in five
years, and electricity from rooftop solar is now
competitive (without subsidies) in over 20 states
with the price home or business owners would
pay for utility electricity. (See https://ilsr.org/
newsolarparitymap/.) In the next decade, solar
will be cheaper than utility electricity almost
everywhere.
Costs for energy storage, such as batteries, are
falling fast as well, driven by electric vehicles and
the widespread adoption of mobile computing and
smartphones.
Alternatives aren't just cheaper, they're
smarter. Just as mobile phones made landline
phones passé, smartphones are putting power in
the hands of electric customers. New apps allow
people to change thermostat or lighting settings (or
tweak sophisticated building energy management
software) with a tap or a touch, creating a new
expectation of control. And much like solar panels,
smartphones iterate remarkably fast. Your phone
may have a useful life of a few years, but it's
superseded by a new model within 12 months and its
apps are updated regularly, even weekly.
Already this disruptive technology is changing the
energy market.
In the small town of Minster, Ohio, city leaders
were blindsided by a state legislative push by
monopoly utilities to reduce revenue from solar.
With their proposed solar array in limbo, a developer
suggested they add a battery, helping to use the
solar to avoid peak energy purchases from the
grid, and also to help stabilize the grid's voltage
and frequency. Now, the project is delivering nearly
10 percent of the town's electricity and using the
battery to deliver essential services to the wider,
de-monopolized electric grid (at a profit).
In Hawaii, rooftop solar is so affordable
compared to utility electric prices that more than
15 percent of households have already installed
solar panels. After utilities successfully reduced
compensation for customer-produced solar last
year, SolarCity started offering a bundled solar


https://www.ilsr.org/newsolarparitymap/

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016

From the Executive Director and Board Chair
New York City is Transforming Buildings for a Low Carbon Future
Does Electric Grid 2.0 Mean Energy Democracy?
Resiliency for Affordable Multifamily Housing: What We Have Learned and What We Still Need to Know
Break It or Lose It: Thermal Bridging in Rainscreen Systems
My PEI is Better Than Your PEI
Life Cycle Assessment at the Speed of Design
From Theory to Reality: Our Journey Toward Sustainability Building a Net Zero Home
Solar Policy in the Northeast: What’s New, What’s Next?
BuildingEnergy Green Pages
Index to Advertisers / Ad.com
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - cover1
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - cover2
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 3
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 4
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 5
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - From the Executive Director and Board Chair
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 7
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 8
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 9
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - New York City is Transforming Buildings for a Low Carbon Future
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 11
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 12
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 13
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 14
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 15
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 16
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 17
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 18
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 19
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Does Electric Grid 2.0 Mean Energy Democracy?
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 21
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 22
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 23
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 24
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 25
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Resiliency for Affordable Multifamily Housing: What We Have Learned and What We Still Need to Know
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 27
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 28
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 29
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 30
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 31
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 32
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 33
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Break It or Lose It: Thermal Bridging in Rainscreen Systems
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 35
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 36
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 37
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 38
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 39
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - My PEI is Better Than Your PEI
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 41
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 42
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 43
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Life Cycle Assessment at the Speed of Design
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 45
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 46
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 47
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - From Theory to Reality: Our Journey Toward Sustainability Building a Net Zero Home
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 49
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 50
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Solar Policy in the Northeast: What’s New, What’s Next?
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 52
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 53
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - BuildingEnergy Green Pages
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 55
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 56
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 57
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 58
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 59
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 60
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 61
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BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 69
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 70
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 71
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 72
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 73
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BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 75
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 76
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 77
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 78
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 79
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 80
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - Index to Advertisers / Ad.com
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - 82
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - cover3
BUILDING ENERGY - Fall 2016 - cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0118
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0217
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0117
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0216
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0116
https://www.nxtbook.com/naylor/ENEB/ENEB0215
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com