There is quite some discussion on the subject of energy independence and energy democracy recently (for example, this article, or the lateral power concept from Rifkin’s TIR or the initiative from Energy Democracy TV). I’d like to post my “vote” for energy democracy and explain why it is an inevitable transition and an ongoing innovation, from dependent to empowered (literally) prosumers.
Increased energy independence of a country normally refers to a reduction of oil imports, mainly benefitial to trade balance, but it is not so straight-forward how an individual benefits of this country’s independence. If, for example, the change reduces his gas or electricity bill, he will be, but if the energy he purchases is still from the same utility at the same price, is he any more independent?
Another way of understanding energy independence concept is the “off-grid-ing”, islanding both from the network and utilities, through renewables plus storage and/or electric vehicle, for example. I’m relatively against this as it is opposed to the networked economy, where interdependence and cooperation benefits all stakeholders. It also is economically inefficient as there has to be additional generation&storage dimensioned for off-grid availability. The same self-sufficient user interconnected, even in peer-to-peer networks or communities, needs less investment, can have additional income from selling power, and has more security of supply from other generators.
This brings us back to the point of energy democracy, on who generates power and who has access to it? There lies the innovation on energy democratization. On the following video from innovation and market we can have a look at innovation process:
As with media content, from monopolic power generation without universal access (1 to many), the market evolved to increased power generation competition (Many to many) and universal access (Many to anyone). Actual innovation gaps in the market are small producers generating their own power (one to one) as with autogeneration. The following phase is for microgrids to generate for many as part of the grid (many to many) and for anyone to generate and be part of the market (anyone to anyone). Based on this scheme of innovation, also other concepts can be envisioned.
In short, there is a need to scale up democratization and universal access (economical and social sustainability) and 100% renewable (environmental sustainability) power generation and it is an ongoing innovation. In fact 2012 was the year of sustainable energy for all, but access to sustainable energy didn’t grow as much as it could have, the positive side is decreasing renewable costs make it easier, without breakthrough technological innovations but maybe in the business models, to move in the democratic direction.