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Myles Horton

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Should we rely on the grid?

The need for electricity and the means of how we supply it is a constant discussing point on TED. There are hundreds if not thousands of talks on should generate electricity. As we advance in solar power (which seems easiest for home use) and our devices become more efficient, homes are well capable of generating their own power. Where I live our solar panels will have paid for themselves over the time period of six years. (not counting the dropping cost of solar panels and the rising cost of electricity)

But I am not a solar panel fan. I much prefer more efficient means of producing renewable energy like wind farms and geothermal and so on, but this energy needs to reach millions of homes.

So I have a few sub-questions:
Should we just use these power stations for factories and industry?
Can we remove houses from the grid and have them rely on their own source of energy?
Is it more efficient for every household to generate their own power or to have renewable power stations providing for everyone?
Any talks that already relate to this?

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  • Jun 2 2012: Hi Myles: Great topic! I love the idea of wind because it is both tremendously inexpensive and very very clean! Wind is fantastic. The problem can arise with wind often is that many areas simply do not have enough, and I happen to live in one, Georgia in the United States. I have watched demonstration turbines sit idle here for days on end. Many places are great for wind. This is not one. This is where solar may come in; but I do think it helps answer your question. Solar is perhaps more ubiquitous in that barring areas of excessive cloud cover, it can quite successfully cover electrical needs. Many homes have roof space handy; and the space is often more than enough to cover the home's need if the home faces the right direction. Germany managed to add up to 23 GW aggregate solar in just a few years and generate 3.5% of its power last year from solar - for a population of 80 million. That number is huge and is an important marker for the entire world to note...because Germany lies at a latitude of more than 1,600 kilometers north of where I live! And Australia: Wow! you get some of the greatest sun on the planet! My main point here: Sun tends to be more broadly available than other renewables and despite claims about low sun the United States is having tremendous success with it in places like New York and Chicago. But if you get good wind that is fantastic! Use it!!
    In my mind, the key is not necessarily getting off grid entirely but in moving toward distributed power. To use another example: in our state we will be adding a 1,200 GW nuclear reactor in 2016. Not my first choice. In order to reach recipiants in Atlanta, that power will need to traverse distances of 200 miles or more which means special infrastructure to cover transmission. The advantage of renewables becomes scalability: pwr sources can be almost as small as you want them to be. Then we redirect infrastructure $ from fat grid to smart grid and share with ea other.

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