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Electric grid to get a stimulus boost

Harvey Wasserman

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: President Obama will announce almost $3.5 billion in stimulus grants today. The money going to upgrade what the White House calls the smart electric grid. Renewable-energy advocate Harvey Wasserman is a senior adviser to Greenpeace. And he's here to tell us more about this power grid upgrade. Good morning.

Harvey Wasserman: Good morning. How are you?

Radke: Very well, thank you. What is a smart grid?

Wasserman: Well a smart grid is a method of distributing electricity a little more efficiently, with more information given. It will encourage people to use appliances and so on when rates are lower and the demand is lower.

Radke: What are we going to learn about these projects?

Wasserman: I think we're going to learn a lot more about how homes really use electricity. With $3.5 billion, we're going to get a pretty good sampling. The bottom line is we really don't know that much about how homes can be made more efficient, and where we can make our best strides forward to make homes, offices and factories self-sufficient.

Radke: Almost $3.5 billion. When do you think we'll recover that cost in savings?

Wasserman: Well that's going to be a big part of the experiment is to see what kind of cost recovery we get from the smart grid. Overall, we're going to learn a pretty good deal about what energy generation on a local level is going to be like. You see, the smart grid really is kind of an experiment on our way to a solar-topian solution to energy economy, which is going to have to be based on green sources, which is not now.

Radke: Harvey Wasserman, senior adviser to Greenpeace, author of "Solartopia," thank you.

Wasserman: Thank you.

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I respectfully disagree with Mr. Wasserman. I believe that "We" know a lot about end-user and consumer efficiency in the home. It is called LEED Certification for new homes and retrofitting existing homes. 30% of residential use is for heating water. The solutions are available now. What we don't know is who will pay for the upgrades of each home, be it structural, (insulation of walls, roof, windows) appliances (energy star) , solar water heaters, Solar Voltaic with net metering, and Peak/Off-Peak service charges (hit the consumer in the pocketbook and they will respond by modifying their behavior). Also, Peak/Off-Peak rates have been a standard in many municipalities for three or more decades.

The biggest hurdle for the "Smartgrid" vs energy efficiency in the home will be the balancing act of combining commercially generated but intermittent sources of electricity (renewable) and the "Baseload" traditional sources (fossil fuel/nuclear) without wasting fossil fuel on "spin reserves" often maintained by traditional resources. Once the storage issue is resolved and/or peak demand is reduced, the distribution issues will be the next hurdle i.e. line loss incurred with long distance transmission.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_grid

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_load_power_plant

http://www.economyprofessor.com/economictheories/peak-load-pricing.php

http://www.energy.gov/news2009/print2009/7670.htm

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