The Smart Grid Can Change the Energy Agenda
President Obama focused on energy and gas prices in recent speeches, deriding the opposition party’s outright preference for all things oil. “They dismiss wind power,” he said. “They dismiss solar power.… We’re trying to move towards the future, and they want to be stuck in the past.” Their peculiar focus on this singularly bad fossil fuel has ramifications far beyond their continued push for the Keystone pipeline, which merely sends Canadian tar sands oil straight to a US port where it can be shipped to the highest bidder anywhere in the world. Opponents of renewable energy sources are failing the nation by failing to invest in infrastructure innovations in our electrical grid – transforming it into a Smart Grid.
Modernizing the grid can transform the energy agenda from oil as our primary transportation fuel to clean, domestic and renewable sources of electricity. Investing in a Smart Grid that integrates renewables also addresses future resourcing concerns. Do you think we’ll ever utter the words “peak wind” or “peak solar” like we use the phrase “peak oil?”
What would significant infrastructure investments in the Smart Grid do to gas prices? It would make them irrelevant for most American drivers. A modernized grid can support electrified transportation on a very large scale, and that has profound implications. Electric vehicles (EVs) can be refueled for pennies per kilowatt instead of dollars per gallon. Retail electricity prices do not fluctuate wildly like gas prices are influenced by Wall Street speculation.
The investment would not have to come at additional expense to taxpayers – the federal government could simply divert the billions in subsidies that currently go to enormously profitable multinational oil companies and redirect it to research and development (R&D) for the most effective materials and technologies in renewable energy sources, energy storage, and real-time energy management. Obama expects Congress to consider legislation in the next few weeks that would eliminate $4 billion in tax subsidies to oil companies. A vote would put politicians on record on whether they “stand up for oil companies” or “stand up for the American people.” Eliminating subsidies to the oil industry is a good start, but the federal government can do more to improve our economic and energy security.
Taking strategic steps to reduce the value that oil has to our economy is a much more effective way to “wage war” against unfriendly countries that base their wealth on oil than wasting American blood and treasure in military actions. Imagine the impacts to their economies if oil is rendered irrelevant by US-developed technologies that replace it with renewable sources of energy for transportation. It is big thinking, and it reframes the energy agenda to fit 21st century realities. Building a Smart Grid can provide significant acceleration to leaving the 20th century energy infrastructure, and all the visible and hidden costs of oil, behind us.