Today, the NY Times ran a major feature story on renewable power’s impact on the obsolete electric power model. The story itself is kind of all over the place, without a really clear focus. It does touch on a number of important developments, mainly in the US and Germany.
Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.
A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.
A similar pattern may well play out in other countries that are pursuing ambitious plans for renewable energy. Some American states, impatient with legislative gridlock in Washington, have set aggressive goals of their own, aiming for 20 or 30 percent renewable energy as soon as 2020.
The word the Germans use for their plan is starting to make its way into conversations elsewhere: energiewende, the energy transition. Worldwide, Germany is being held up as a model, cited by environmental activists as proof that a transformation of the global energy system is possible.
But it is becoming clear that the transformation, if plausible, will be wrenching. Some experts say the electricity business is entering a period of turmoil beyond anything in its 130-year history, a disruption potentially as great as those that have remade the airlines, the music industry and the telephone business.
None of this will be new to readers of The Power Line, but it is nice that the editorial board of the NYT has finally decided to report the news.
There is an interesting anecdote about Lennar Corporation, the second largest home construction company in the US:
One recent day, under a brilliant California sun, saws buzzed as workers put the finishing touches on spacious new homes. They looked like many others going up in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, but with an extra feature: Lennar Corporation was putting solar panels on every house it built.
The prices of the panels have plunged 70 percent in the past five years. That huge decline means solar power is starting to make more economic sense, especially in parts of the United States with high electricity prices.
At about 100 Lennar subdivisions in California, buyers who move into a new home automatically get solar panels on the roof. Lennar, the nation’s second-largest homebuilder, recently decided to expand that policy to several more states, starting with Colorado. The company typically retains ownership of the panels and signs 20-year deals to sell homeowners the power from their own roofs, at a 20 percent discount from the local utility’s prices. [emphasis mine]
“It’s so simple when we tell a customer, ‘You’re guaranteed to save money,’ ” said David J. Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, the division overseeing the solar plan.
The article also has an interesting account of how ordinary Germans are fighting back against the effort by the German government to protect the big international corporations that used to sell a lot of electricity in the country from the rising renewable wave. The Times story includes a video about public resistance. It’s worth a look. Working people in Germany have learned how locally based solar power, biogas and wind power generate jobs in local farms and businesses. They aren’t about to turn back now.