Distributed energy

I just read this online article about Jeremy Rifkin’s vision for a distributed energy future for Europe (renewable energy systems on every building, smart grids that can skip your clothes washer’s extra rinse if the grid power demands are too high, etc). Coincidentally, I just finished reading Rifkin’s 1980’s book ‘Entropy – into the greenhouse world’ which was fairly prophetic of many of our current woes (though predictions were perhaps a decade too early in many cases). The science strikes me as a bit off. Even though the postscript grounds the book’s arguments a bit more in an appropriate thermodynamic domain and makes clear that Rifkin is not trying to argue we are anywhere near heat death of the planet, I kept thinking while reading the chapters that the calling on the second law of thermodynamics seemed a bit of a stretch for many of the arguments. Overall, though, I agree with the conclusions – I do think we need to seriously rethink what is a necessary expenditure of energy, I think we do need to transition quickly to a generally distributed generation picture, and I do think mega-cities are very poorly equipped to do this. I do not believe that ‘clean’ coal or carbon sequestration or nuclear are good answers (or perhaps even feasible answers) to our problems. Most renewables are distributed, so distributed generation makes sense. Perhaps concentrated high-quality geothermal, tidal or large but low-impact hydro energy sources are the exception to this (such as Mount Spur or Cook Inlet tidal near Anchorage). First, though, I think we need serious efficiency – above and beyond what is currently aimed at, including giving up some uses of power that are just plain hard to justify. Why would you drag a one to two ton car with you a mile or two to the store, when you could easily pedal a 30 pound bike? Why would you keep baby-wipes constantly warm? Wiping a baby’s butt with a room-temperature washcloth is NOT torture. Then there is the non-renewable and faster than replacement renewable resource use – I agree that Rifkin that 100% recycling is not the answer either.
Anyway, nothing I haven’t said before, or won’t say again. I was just happy to see some people taking this rather radical energy generation picture seriously in the ‘real’ world.


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