Decentralised electricity is on its way in, like it or not. Networks managed by “smart” technology, supplied by renewable sources and other small-scale power stations, can only expand.
Systems centred on ever-larger coal-, gas- or nuclear-fired power stations, completely dominant fifty years ago, will decline in many countries from now on – although they will not go quietly.
Social and labour movements had better take notice. If we don’t make this technological change work for people, energy corporations will make it work for profit.
And those corporations are paying close attention. “The centralised model of power production is dying”, Mark Boillot, a senior vice president of Électricité de France, one of Europe’s largest electricity
companies, said recently. It will be “replaced by local solar and wind, supplemented by batteries and intelligent management of supply and demand”.
Labour Party policy
In the UK, the Labour party conference last week called for a Green New Deal; rapid expansion of renewables generation, and taking the “big six” energy companies into public ownership, would be key elements.
This cuts across current Labour electricity policy, set out in the Bringing Energy Home document published earlier this year: to extend public ownership only to the transmission (high-voltage) and distribution (low-voltage) electricity networks, plus networks that supply gas to homes for cooking and heating. Generation of electricity (power stations, wind farms, and so on), and supply (the marketing of the electricity to users) will stay in private hands.
The conference’s stance, if translated into policy, would potentially be much better suited to making electricity decentralisation work for us all.
In Bringing Energy Home, Labour acknowledged that decentralisation is “inevitable”, but warned: “decentralisation within a liberalised framework risks exacerbating inequalities”. It continued:
Though decentralisation may create some initial space for community-run cooperatives, it risks primarily expanding the private sector and strengthening the dominant market logic, creating the conditions to squeeze out community-owned companies.
Data-focused companies such as Amazon and Google are moving into energy, the document warned, and “a decentralisation process dominated by tech giants will leave both workers and communities disempowered”. This disempowerment is a very real threat, to which co-operatives and other Read the rest of this entry »