Today, electricity flows through a huge, centralized transmission system.

A handful of very large generating plants, usually a long way from population centers, are linked by a high-voltage "grid" of wires and switching stations which carry power to homes and businesses via utilities like Utah Power, PGE or EWEB.

  What's wrong with this picture?

Many of the elements of this system, including the generating components, have been around for a long time. While most have seen constant maintenance or upgrading, in some areas these components need to be improved or completely replaced.

What's more, the system infrastructure, the wires, poles and switching plants, were not designed to meet the current demand for electricity or respond to escalating demands in the energy services and quality specified by a knowledge-based society and global economy. Recent blackouts are evidence of this problem. (See more on the right.) New facilities, especially power lines and substations necessary for urban development, are difficult to site due to environmental and spatial concerns.

The environmental impact of this system was not considered when it was originally developed. Today, an entire industry is required to mitigate the effects of this industry on the world’s environmental health. Global warming, a major concern of students, is said to be directly linked to the generation of power.

Advanced technologies and renewable resources, which could offset both environmental and distribution problems, are difficult to integrate into this system.

This system is unresponsive to market forces created by consumers interested in "green power" or lower-cost "distributed generation technologies." (Green power means power generated from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, geothermal, hydropower and various forms of biomass. A central source on Green Power is The Green Power Network, a service of the U.S. Department of Energy. This site is maintained by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Distributed generation refers to local generation facilities such as backup generators, fuel cells or microturbines.)

Lack of access. There are over one billion people who don't have electricity in their homes. In these countries much of this system is nonexistent and is financially or physically difficult to establish. (Imagine wires running from one end of the Amazon to the other.)

Introducing the Energy Web.

Instead of a linear flow of power from a large generating facility, picture a networked collection of both small and large facilities that equally consume and generate electricity. Households, schools, the neighborhood grocery store, municipalities are all linked with a vast energy marketplace of many, many buyers and sellers.

The Energy Web, like the Internet is a networked technology. The Internet lets people on the network share resources. The Energy Web allows everyone connected by its network to share power as well as the expense of creating that power.

Some time ago, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) described the Energy Web:

"The integration of the utility electrical system, telecommunications system, and the energy market to optimize loads on the electrical network, reduce costs to consumers and utilities, facilitate the integration of renewable resources, increase electrical system reliability and reduce environmental impacts of load growth."

What makes the Energy Web work?

At the center of the Energy Web is a marketplace created by deregulation. (Deregulation is roughly defined as the ability of consumers to choose their energy supplier, and the ability of the energy supplier to market products more competitively.)

This marketplace allows ever smaller and lower-cost distributed generation technologies such as microturbines, fuel cells, biomass generators and others to be incorporated into the grid. (A grid is any interconnected set of nodes such as the electric power network or a communications network. In the Energy Web, the term encompasses both the wires carrying electricity and the control components.)

The connectivity and control of the Energy Web is made possible by the coming-of-age of today’s telecommunications industry. By embedding electric meters (net meters) that measure electricity both used and generated, solid-state power controllers, intelligent agents and wide-area management technologies, the Energy Web can alleviate the potential for outages, power disturbances and operational constraints.

The final component is proper governmental incentives, "including elimination of institutional uncertainties, … urgently needed to ensure timely and sufficient investment in the development and deployment of these innovations." (Electric Power Research Institute, The Electricity Technology Roadmap Initiative. Retrieved February 18, 2003 from the Internet. http://www.epri.com/ corporate/discover_epri/roadmap/ )

Origins of the Energy Web.

According to Mike Hoffman at the BPA, one of the first, if not THE first mention of "energy web" was in an article in Wired Magazine, "Girding Up For the Power Grid" by Steve Silberman, issued June 14, 2001. It is available here.

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