Youngster to utilities: Here's a better way to build a grid


By: SGN Staff


By Jesse Berst


Today's power engineering workforce looks like a barbell. It is heavily weighted on one side with baby boomers near retirement. And on the other end by a crop of young recruits attracted by the cachet of clean energy technology. But only a thin bar in the middle. It is almost as if power engineering skipped one or two generations.


It's terrific to see youngsters now studying and working in electric power. For one thing, they don't know what they don't know. For another, they are not burdened by past failures. Presented with a new idea, they don't get bogged down by self-inflicted limits ("Well, we tried that back in 1987 and it got shot down then, so...").


Consider young Mr. Robert Fares, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Writing in Scientific American, he proposes a form of "modular grid" that combines neighborhood-scale solar PV plus energy storage. Basically, he is proposing federated microgrids, an idea that's been around in theory for decades. An idea that is being piloted in California and elsewhere. And an idea that has long been technically feasible, economically unlikely and regulatorily (is that a word?) improbable.


But let's not tell him that. Because in a world of Irenes and Sandys, we need to move to a distributed grid powered by distributed generation. And because he isn't resigned to reality. He believes we can change our electric power system. And if we can attract enough young believers to our industry, enough people that don't know what they don't know, then maybe we really can create the grand transformation that is so necessary if America is to compete in the 21st century.


Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.


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