Energy systems 2.0

The concept of Energy 2.0 is defined by two main parameters. The first is low energy expenditure, resulting from a reduction in use and an increase in efficiency. The latter can be achieved by installing combined power plants, whereby energy is linked to a centralized system to note production and usage, but is produced at various sites. One form of production can be through microgeneration, allowing individuals or companies to produce energy within their own homes or business for their own use. Microgeneration also reduces the distance energy must travel from producer to consumer, limiting waste and cost. Slightly more complicated, but even more efficient, is the idea of a smart grid, a sort of personalization of electricity to cater to the individual’s lifestyle and patterns of consumption. A detailed review of smart network implementation in Europe is available in the Towards Smart Power Networks brochure.

The second component of this new take on energy is low carbon emissions. This will be accomplished, of course, by reducing use, but also by abandoning conventional sources of energy, like coal and fuel, for the renewable power of hydro, wind, and solar energy. The sun alone provides 120,000 terawatts of energy every moment, delivering enough energy in an hour to fuel the human use for a whole year. The installation of solar panels can eliminate the production of harmful greenhouse gases, and if installed on personal property, can also be included in the category of microgeneration. Dell recently adopted this concept when they created parking lot roofs out of solar panels in Round Rock, Texas, panels which will supply power back to the building and to charge electric cars for Dell employees.

While the Dell example demonstrates a sustainable approach at a small scale, much larger changes are necessary to alter our current energy situation. These changes must also function in a multidirectional mode, instigated at all levels of living, from the individual to the industry. It is this latter category that can create the most impact, and there are instances of successful companies who have traditionally relied on non-renewable or non-sustainable resources to fuel their productivity changing their focus to meet today’s conditions. From the automotive industry, Volkswagen has teamed up with LichtBlick to create home power plants, power supplies that can be installed in and supply power to residential properties. The product ties into the concept of microgeneration listed above, but more poignantly, it is the result of a company that creates cars looking to the future and seeing no perspective for their current product. This market shift adds intelligence to sustainability, fostering a new trade, influencing or inspiring competitors, and promoting consciousness. To continue the trend, we must question the accepted method of power supply and begin to qualify new ways to harness available resources with augmented efficacy.

This post is based on a presentation given by Dr. Stefan Gara, managing director and owner of ETA, a leading consulting company targeting sustainable development and environmental management, based in Vienna, Austria. The lecture was given as part of a series during the Youth Encounter on Sustainability 2009 program in Braunwald, Switzerland.

Also read my first post: A Youth Encounter on Sustainability Program participant’s view on sustainable living and development.

Until this week, I had no idea that the World Wide Web that I am accustomed to is called “Web 2.0”, a second wave in the development of our most important medium for communication. Web 2.0 can be thought of as inspiring a shift in the role of the user, from receiver to creator, allowing participants to become “core developers”). The Web became a two-way street, constantly changing at the hands of the public (for a detailed description of Web 2.0 and its development, click here). As hard as it is to imagine the Web without its interactivity, Web 2.0 only came about in reaction to the dot-com bust, when the unidirectional Web 1.0 was in a crisis. The response, a rethinking and reworking of the existing system, introduced the world to many of the most successful applications and websites in use today, from MySpace to YouTube to Facebook.

In a similar sense, we are currently in an energy crisis, yet continuing to rely on old, out-of-date systems of provision that are no longer viable, economically or ecologically. Energy is distributed from power plants to consumers in a top-down fashion that leaves all the control in the hands of large corporations. Additionally, power stations produce massive amounts of waste and CO2 emissions, illuminating the need for a radical transformation in the way that energy is produced and distributed. What must occur, to follow the above analogy, is a shift to Energy 2.0.

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