Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Microgrids grow energy independence

Being energy independent by becoming your own distributor of electricity is an idea spreading among college campus administrators and the military -- to the point that soldiers in Afghanistan are already creating their own battlefield microgrids, according to an expert who predicts a 164 percent growth in generation capacity for campus microgrids over the next six years.

Yet the U.S. commercial/industrial sector, which includes large and small businesses that could benefit from generating and distributing their own power, is the least active of five industry groups in the developing market for microgrids, which Peter Asmus, a San Francisco-based analyst for Boulder's Pike Research, estimates will reach $777 million by 2017 for campus microgrids alone.

Commerical/industrial, especially small business, is "lagging a little bit" compared with other sectors' investigations of the benefits of microgrids and distributed power generation, Asmus said. "They're waiting for these [methods] to be validated," he said.

I wrote about Pike Research on this blog a little more than a year ago, and find its spotlight on cleantech markets a fascinating look into the future of American business. It also suggests promising markets for small businesses hoping to become vendors and suppliers to the bigger players in cleantech industries. Or to become bigger players themselves.

Asmus said distributed energy -- the local generation of power to serve onsite users, a long standing practice of college campuses using diesel fuel to generate power and now renewable sources like wind and solar -- is still "a small piece of the energy portfolio," but microgrids for distribution of such energy are increasingly considered adjunct enterprises to protect institutions from blackouts and sometimes to sell energy to create revenue.

"In the U.S.," Asmus said, "utilities will pay people to go off their systems" during peak periods in order to preserve capacity for their own customers.

Military bases in the U.S. are especially sensitive to power outages and are seeking to create their own microgrids to avoid dependence on a supplier subject to shortages. Asmus said soldiers in Afghanistan are already using "mobile" grids they can set up out of backpacks in the field.

Asmus' report suggests five groups of power users investigating greater use of microgrids: campus users (which includes business parks, college campuses, and large-company campuses); the military; remote users (mostly in developing countries that lack nationwide power grids for distribution); community/utilities (which are popular in Europe, especially in countries like Denmark which draws 25 percent of its total energy from wind); and finally commerical/industrial in the United States. He said some utilities in the U.S. are beginning to see the wisdom of creating microgrids for servicing customers off the national power grid.

Creating a microgrid is "relatively easy" when there is a single owner involved. Multiple owners of a grid, such as the many firms located in a business park, are more difficult to service and regulate.

By 2017, Asmus estimates installed generation capacity for microgrids will increase 164 percent from 620 megawatts to 1.6 gigawatts, with most of that coming from the campus sector worldwide.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Voters can save America

It's not often that news, analysis and even your friends' opinions converge to make clear what's been happening to make the American voter so damned mad!

Here's Floyd Norris from the New York Times on Sunday:

"In the eight decades before the recent recession, there was never a period when as much as 9 percent of U.S. gross domestic product went to companies in the form of after-tax profits. Now the figure is over 10 percent. During the same period, there never was a quarter when wage and salary income amounted to less than 45 percent of the economy. Now the figure is below 44 percent."

Here's Benjamin Wallace-Wells in a New York magazine profile of Mitt Romney's record as an executive at Bain Capital, a company he helped create:

"Romney was also a business revolutionary. Our economy went through a remarkable shift during the eighties as Wall Street reclaimed control of American business and sought to remake it in its own image. Romney developed one of the tools that made this possible, pioneering the use of takeovers to change the way a business functioned, remaking it in the name of efficiency."

And here is Tim Correll, a lawyer friend of mine who has a sharp eye for what is happening as the sand washes out from under the feet of middle class America:

"I've had it with these class villains who argue that the one percent are 'job creators' who won't create jobs if they get a tax increase. For starters, lets note that entrepreneurs don't create jobs, consumers create jobs. Our greatest job growth over an extended priod of time took place from 1950 to 1980. During that time the top marginal tax rate was ninety, yes, that's right, NINETY, percent -- 90%, but we had soldiers coming home, unemployed men who were skilled in the scutty blue-collar skills of war, but we funded the GI bill (with those taxes on the one percent) and those GIs went to school and bought houses and spent money and the economy grew and grew and grew. (I'm 67 years old and through all my growing up years I never saw a year where my father -- a university professor -- didn't get a raise.) and things just kept getting better. We built the interstate highway system, creating huge winners in the petroleum and automobile industry, cars went from $500 to $3,000, and gas went from $0.15 a gallon to $0.85 a gallon, and families went from riding buses to buying homes with two cars in the garage. That's what it was like when we built a nation where the cost was shared based upon everyone's ability to pay. Tax those constipated assholes that have no patriotism, no loyalty and think of no one but themselves, and -- you know what -- we'll be the better country we used to be, and they'll still make money."

I find it "amusing," as my friend Ken Bugosh would say, watching media types like Charlie Rose trying to make sense of the Occupy Wall Street movement when the destruction of the middle class has been a two-decade process that was hardly invisible. "News to me!" the mainstream media is saying now, which is as much a symptom of that industry's decline as is the fact I now read the Denver Post online.

News becomes news nowadays only when New York, and, yes, Wall Street, finally notices. But it takes good journalists like Norris to document the little recognized, big-picture facts that accumulate along the way of a nation's decline. And by documenting them, make possible the opportunity for the nation to react to such statistics.

It takes American politicians, however, much too long to read the tea leaves and actually enact legislation to change the things that are happening to us. And yet, if only the political elite would wake up to voters' needs, even our current Congress and state legislature in Colorado still have time to make important changes that will shape our future.

The Romney profile was the first piece of journalism I have seen that actually showed why and how he became a wealthy businessman, a credit he now claims qualifies him to become the next president. But the story shows, too, just how souless Romney's policy making becomes because he values the American investor over the American worker.

Yesterday, I asked a Hispanic receptionist at a business I was visiting whether she would vote for Obama, and she quickly shook her head: no, no, no. I left saying, Well, don't forget who you will be voting for then!

If Mitt Romney is the Republican nominee opposing Obama's re-election, then perhaps the stark difference between a president who cares for all the American people and a candidate whose life has demonstrated his disregard for common people and overwrought concern for the wealthy will be prominently illustrated by the television campaign ads sure to accompany the 2012 election campaign.

Let's hope so. Because news and analysis and even the opinions of friends converge to provide a stark illustration of what truly is happening in America today. The nation's common-man soul is being crushed by the success of wealth in these United States.

Only the American voter can reverse that tragic trend.