There’s no question that the energy system is undergoing change. One need look no further than the 1 million solar rooftops in the U.S. or — for the wonky — the source of new power capacity in the U.S. over the past 15 years. In 2003, just 20% of new electric capacity came from renewable power plants. In the last eight years, it’s been at or over 60% almost every year. In the first three quarters of 2016, 16% of our new power capacity came from distributed solar alone (such as home rooftop solar arrays).
But few people realize that the change from fossil fuels to renewable sources is just a harbinger for a phase of massive disruption in energy markets. The disruption will remake how the energy system serves its users and offer unprecedented choices for customers. It may go further than choice. As the energy system shifts away from the outdated utility monopoly model, the four Ds of energy democracy — distributed power, decentralization, democracy from ownership, and disruptive technology — have the potential to put those users in charge and allow them to reap the economic benefits.
Democracy from Distributed Power
Power generation is the first line of democratization, brought on by the miniaturization of power plants. Last century was defined by gigawatt-scale nuclear and coal and hundred-megawatt-scale gas power plants. Now, power generation has shrunk down to multi-megawatt wind turbines and multi-watt solar panels.
Even the largest wind and solar power plants are compilations of hundreds or thousands of mass produced individual turbines or solar cells. Continue reading