Clean Tech Disruption—Transforming The Grid
We frequently describe clean tech as being transformative or disruptive because it generally saves money, while improving the quality of life with enhanced environmental benefits. By offering cheaper, more efficient solutions, clean tech is also often disruptive and a threat to incumbent industries. A timely and relevant example of such a disruptive clean technology is the rapidly changing electrical grid. The incumbent electric grid has been roughly unchanged for over 100 years. The outdated legacy model is for electric utilities to build thermal coal-fired power plants that are sited on waterways, because coal-fired utilities require massive amounts of water for coal preparation, combustion and electricity generation. The plants are massive, ugly, and cause environmental degradation given water use and the air pollution associated with the process, from cancer-causing particulates to greenhouse gases. I took this photo from the Long Island ferry entering Bridgeport Harbor in the spring of 2018, and find it speaks volumes about the shortfalls of centralized energy production.
Our electrical grid has been in the process of a transformation over the past several years, to a system of electricity management that is no longer solely dependent on centralized, obsolete coal-fired generation. The antiquated system is either on or off, relying on electricity delivery that cannot easily adapt to peak energy demands. For periods of high demand, expensive and centralized “peaker” plants have been constructed, compounding the costs and problems of our legacy grid as they are expensive assets that are used intermittently.
The disruptive and new smart grid is transforming electricity generation and usage, and this new grid requires fewer centralized generation resources because it relies on an equally important clean tech trend: greater energy efficiency.