Mendo Island Journal — Timely. Useful. Sometimes Cranky.

Dan Hamburg: The Solution to Remote Mega Solar Projects — Decentralize & Relocalize

In Around Mendo Island on October 18, 2010 at 11:07 pm

From DAN HAMBURG
Mendocino County

Much of the conventional thinking about alternative energy rallied around mega projects: 60 square miles filled with huge arrays of solar collectors that produce enough energy to power a small city.

But 8 to 12% of the electricity generated at these remote sources is lost along the wires, largely from resistance, before the energy reaches the city. And corporate control of pricing is still a problem as it is in today’s energy distribution grid.

The articles below relate directly to the mega-solar project in the Mojave Desert (near Needles). I learned today that the Sierra Club will not sue to protect the endangered desert tortoise.

The first link discusses (& SHOWS with photos) some of the many problems with large scale solar (etc.). The second link (some of which is posted below), points toward “solutions” which involve more decentralized formations of energy acquisition & distribution.
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http://www.basinandrangewatch.org/SolarDesert.html

http://www.basinandrangewatch.org/Solar-TheSolution.html

The Solution: Relocalize
Relocalization is a term for a way of life, where not only energy is locally produced and consumed, but also food and goods. The idea is to strengthen the local economy rather than ship everything in from across the country and overseas.

Much of the conventional thinking about alternative energy rallied around mega projects: 60 square miles filled with huge arrays of solar collectors that produce enough energy to power a small city. But 8 to 12% of the electricity generated at these remote sources is lost along the wires, largely from resistance, before the energy reaches the city. And corporate control of pricing is still a problem as it is in today’s energy distribution grid.

Jason Bradford, Ph.D., founder of the nonprofit Willits Economic Localization (WELL) in Willits, California, foresees a sustainable local economy for towns like his: “There needs to be local infrastructure for local use. There needs to be micro and regional grids.”

Julian Darley, founder of the Post Carbon Institute in Sebastopol, Caliornia, says, “The emphasis should be on the community level”. Communities could have solar panels on home rooftops but also on factory roofs, as WalMart and REI are starting to do in certain areas. Excess power produced from these panels then flows back into a local grid, rather than a statewide or multistate grid. Darley envisions photovoltaic community gardens instead of PV factory farms. This would minimize distribution losses.

Smallscale wind power also fits into this picture, microturbines designed to generate wind power within or close to communities where people live, rather than on remote thousand-acre wind-farms with huge, horizontal-axis turbines remote from users.

Local energy advocate Sheila Bowers put it well: “The internet is actually magnificent and successful because it is WHOLLY DECENTRALIZED, with computers in every home and millions of servers all over the place. It is a common comment that ‘the internet never could have worked if they tried to do it with 5 or 6 giant mainframes.’…LOCAL, POINT OF USE, DECENTRALIZED, DISTRIBUTED solutions are comparable to the genius and reliability of the Internet, and the PC and cellphone revolutions were based on PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT AT THE CONSUMER LEVEL, which is what led to rapid increases in efficiency and drops in price.”

In a similar way, strategies about regenerating the “commons” and self-organizing partnerships to locally manage these “common goods” such as resources and energy are taking shape.
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