Which Energy Future: Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels (and Storage Batteries)?
The New York Times reports on “an intense policy struggle” in America’s national and state governments:

-On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs.

– On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.

And the result “could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades.”

At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase… The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid. “You’ve got to have a big national plan to make sure the power gets from where it is generated to where the need is,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in an interview.
But many of Mr. Biden’s liberal allies argue that solar panels, batteries and other local energy sources should be emphasized because they would be more resilient and could be built more quickly… In all probability, there will be a mix of solutions that include more transmission lines and rooftop solar panels. What combination emerges will depend on deals made in Congress but also skirmishes playing out across the country…

As millions of California homes went dark during a heat wave last summer, help came from an unusual source: batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings. Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity… California showed that homes and businesses don’t have to be passive consumers. They can become mini power plants, potentially earning as much from supplying energy as they pay for electricity they draw from the grid. Home and business batteries, which can be as small as a large television and as big as a computer server room, are charged from the grid or rooftop solar panels…

Regulators generally allow utilities to charge customers the cost of investments plus a profit margin, typically about 10.5 percent, giving companies an incentive to build power plants and lines… A 2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.
The director of a Chicago-based environmental nonprofit tells the Times that “Solar energy plus storage is as transformative to the electric sector as wireless services were to the telecommunications sector.”

In a weird twist, fossil fuel companies are now joining forces with local groups (including environmental groups) to fight the construction of new power lines.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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