Can energy change at the speed of technology?

We are all familiar with trends. Trends come and go, some faster than others.   We wonder if we should jump on the bandwagon and be an early adopter or play it safe and wait until it is common among our peers.  Also, we wonder how this new trend, whether technology or new product, will change our life. Is this something that will change our lives temporarily, or will this change the lives of future generations?

Oftentimes we think about the items that cause radical changes in our ways of thinking and our economy as “things” or new technologies.  In the book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin talks about the Internet of Things that will drive changes in our economy. We can all relate to how the smart phone has changed our lives and many of us can’t imagine how we lived without it.  How did we communicate plans? How did we figure out directions from Point A to Point B? How did we keep up with our friends’ lives before Facebook?  These technology advances have significantly shaped our society and it doesn’t stop here.  Who knows where we will be 5 years, 10 years into the future as technology continues to advance.

However, there is one item that we don’t always think about from a radical viewpoint. Energy. It is a constant – it is (almost) always there when we need it and, prior to the smart grid transformation, the utility model remained largely unchanged since its inception. The electric grid was the one constant in a world of change. As this Forbe’s article points out, “falling solar costs are poised to reshape the world’s economy.” The price of solar has been decreasing over the past decade and continues to decrease exponentially. Last fall, PV-Magazine posted an article that solar PV system costs have decreased by an average of 40% since early 2011. Joining this trend seems inevitable.  The question “Should I join this trend?” becomes “When do I join this trend?”

I have paid attention to decreasing energy costs and realize the cost of solar installations is decreasing (maybe in the near future I’ll be able to install solar panels on my own home), but I haven’t thought about the bigger impacts to the economy.  Utilities will need to change their business model to support solar installations on the grid and how they distribute power to their customers. Customers may become energy independent, meaning they do not rely on the grid for their power, but generate their complete power needs through self-generation with renewable energy sources such as solar.  Is our economy ready for this change? And if we continue to see prices decrease exponentially, will we be able to quickly adapt to the changing energy demands?

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