The real reason for grid divorce? It's not cost reduction or green energy



By Jesse Berst


The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) think tank recently ran a piece suggesting that a "personal power plant” could be American's next major home appliance. The story contains at least one good idea. And at least one bad one.


The good idea is the implication that customer power plants will be purchased as much to improve reliability as to lower costs. Reducing energy costs cannot and will not be a major motivator in the short term since payback takes too many years.


Nor is green energy a major motivator for grid divorce. Sure, some avid environmentalists will spend more to be green. And some corporations, which think being green is a branding and competitive advantage.


But self-reliance is the real reason behind most of today's real-life grid divorce scenarios. Certainly that's true in parts of the world where the grid is notoriously unreliable. Office and manufacturing facilities in those regions have long understood the need to have their own generating facilities (which sadly are often diesel-powered).


The bad idea? It's RMI's emphasis on consumer adoption. Residences have far less energy and money at stake than commercial and industrial sites. And individual residences can't take advantage of economies of scale. And it is far harder politically to change rate structures and regulations for residential customers than for C+I customers.


If RMI truly wants to affect change, it should do everything to help C+I customers make the switch. That would result in improved versions and lower prices that would eventually trickle down to residential customers. Pretending that the change will happen first on the consumer side just distracts from the real issues.


It is not far-fetched to imagine a day when many customers go off grid with solar-plus-battery systems. A personal power plant could become as convenient and widespread as today's refrigerators and clothes dryers.