Reducing carbon without the government

Mark Pesce has a rant against the government, and says we can do without it.

I differ with him on this topic, but nevertheless, the editorial contains a great example of what a self-aggregated community could do in terms of distributed energy, without any assistance from the state.

Mark Pesce:

An example will help to explain what I mean. Let’s say that I want to have my electricity generated via a 100% renewable resource – sunlight. Solar thermal electric generation costs in the range of 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (and coming down) when provided by a company like AUSRA (which, two years ago, moved headquarters from Sydney to Silicon Valley because of the profound indifference of the Commonwealth and NSW governments).

A promising young entrepreneur offers to build a plant, using AUSRA technology, to provide enough electricity to power 5,000 homes, if he can get guaranteed multi-year purchase contracts from 5000 buyers. (Like a mobile contract, but for electricity.)

With these contracts in hand, he can secure the financing from a CBA or Macquarie Bank to build the plant, plug into the grid and provide that clean green power. All of this can be managed using nothing more than a website and the goodwill of Australians who want to do something – anything – to slow down global warming.

What’s more, these customers, flush with their clean, green power, connect to one another, using the website to trade their best tips for cutting energy usage. Since solar power is generated during the daytime, the normal restrictions about running energy-intensive appliances during the day would be abandoned.

They’d use an electric space heater, not gas, and an electric water heater, set to heat the tank during the day, letting it cool during the evenings. They will have fancy energy-monitors installed in their households – paying for them in installments, along with their electric bill – optimizing their usage around the availability of power.

They will form a buyer’s cooperative (like a private eBay) to negotiate wholesale prices on LED lighting (highly efficient), or plug-in hybrid cars (available in 2010), or almost anything else that helps their investment go further.

In very short order, 5000 Australian households will cut their carbon emissions dramatically, and guarantee themselves a stable, consistently priced source of energy – something that no fossil fuel-based electricity generator can promise. And all of this without any intervention from any governmental authority.

None of this is rocket science; it’s economics and technology working hand-in-hand with the power of ‘the human network’ – our incredible ability to share the best of ourselves with one another – amplified by our ‘hyperconnectivity’.

Once it’s proven to work well, such an idea will spread like wildfire – as the fossil-fueled generators struggle to get into the game, spending their own resources to build solar thermal, geothermal and wind generation systems (wind is even more economic than solar thermal), and, in perhaps a decade’s time, Australia will have abandoned its carbon-intensive economy for one which looks almost exactly the same to the consumer, but which runs almost entirely on renewable resources.

At no point would the government be involved in this transformation. No tax credits are required, nor massive and pointless investments in carbon capture and sequestration research – although the clean electricity generators could easily earn extra revenue from a carbon trading scheme. It all happens because Australians want it to happen – and because government is actually meaningless in driving this change.

But we have to want it. We have to be willing to raise our hands to pay the few extra dollars a month in the short term to secure a stable future for ourselves, our children, and our nation.”

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