Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Power shifts as off-grid options spread worldwide

April 13, 2012, San Francisco Chronicle/Bloomberg

An electricity revolution [is] sweeping through power markets and threatening traditional utilities' dominance of the world's supply. From the poorest parts of Africa and Asia to the most-developed regions in the United States and Europe, solar units ... and small-scale wind and biomass generators promise to extend access to power to more people than ever before. In the developing world, they're slashing costs in the process. Across India and Africa, startups and mobile phone companies are developing what are called called microgrids, in which stand-alone generators power clusters of homes and businesses in places where electric utilities have never operated. In Europe, cooperatives are building their own generators and selling power back to the national or regional grid. The revolution is just beginning, says Jeremy Rifkin, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of "The Third Industrial Revolution."

Disruptive to the economic status quo, the transformation opens up huge opportunities to consumers who may find themselves trading power in the future much as they swap information over the Internet today, he says. "This is power to the people." Within a decade, installing photovoltaic panels may be cheaper for many families than buying power from national grids in much of the world, including the United States, Japan, Brazil and the United Kingdom, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
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