I haven't hidden my love of distributed generation. There's something great about seeing a clear vision for the future and knowing that, while it may take some time, society's progress towards this vision is inevitable. As one of my high school football coaches liked to say to us when we were enjoying the last few moments of cold air conditioning before going out into the sweltering Florida heat, "Get your asses off that bench, there's no point in delaying the inevitable."
That's one of the best things about being in the solar industry. It doesn't matter how much money big oil/gas throws at ads that make solar advocates look like radicals, you simply cannot stop something that makes sense economically and environmentally. People are starting to come around and it will only intensify in the future.
As distributed generation evolves, it's only logical that the future of the utility industry is in localized power management. It happened with computing, it happened with cell phones, it's going to happen with your electricity. Getting your power from one, big, central source that is very far away will become as outdated as landline telephones. Houses are going to be generating their own electricity, storing it to use later and sharing it with their close neighbors when there is excess (and get paid of course). You won't need to worry about the power going off for the entire city because a squirrel chomped on a power line 200 miles away anymore.
In one of my favorite TED talks, Steven Strogatz talks about how we and other animals naturally sync (not the Bluetooth kind of way). In it, he has mesmerizing footage of swarms of birds beautifully moving through the sky together. They look like they're being orchestrated by a single maestro or even central nervous system. But they're not; there's no one leader or director, each bird moves independently but in unison as a group. He says swarms only have 3 simple rules:
1. They can sense what's around them
2. They like to form lines (be ordered)
3. They like to be close to each other but still have some space in between
When predators try to attack a swarm, those in the group don't know exactly what is happening, they just know that they neighbor moved out of the way quickly so they in turn move out of the way. Their neighbor made a sharp left, so they made a sharp left. The predator attacking the middle is left with a mouth full of air because the swarm automatically avoided it, without even knowing what was going on. A single leader's job would be incredibly complicated, instead the swarm knew exactly what to do without even communicating to each other because they just followed those 3 rules.
I bring this up because localized power management will eventually do the same thing, it will act as one swarm but with no single leader. Except in this case the predator is power outages, it could even be clouds. Yes clouds. Shade is the enemy of solar power and clouds passing overhead cause intermittent power fluctuations. Just like anything else, stability and consistency is the name of the game so these variable changes cause problems in power management.
But don't worry, we're just going to take notes from Mother Nature on how to combat this. We won't need a central player or advanced algorithm to predict what will happen and direct the power to different houses depending on its usage. The houses will all communicate with each other, when one needs more power it will be sent some, when another is temporarily shaded it too will be helped by other houses that aren't shaded. Localized power management will act as a swarm, each unit acting independently but the group as a whole will be one efficient system. And it will follow the same 3 rules that birds and fish have been using for millions of years.
"I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority."
- E.B. White
// Edited because the first draft had a couple mistakes