America and the world stand on the brink of a revolution. That revolution—in how the world creates, trades, and consumes energy—has the potential not only to aid the environment but also to lower the risk of war, create wealth, democratize energy, and empower people everywhere as never before. While this revolution is generally associated with the term ‘clean energy’, the issue is deeper: How to reinvent the energy network and democratize global energy.
Many fuel sources make up the world’s energy supply, but at its heart lies one network—the electricity network. Electricity forms the backbone of the world’s wider system of energy exchange because it is electricity that links other networks, such as oil shipments, gas pipelines, and coal trains. It is electricity that converts the energy captured in prehistoric plants, rushing rivers, and the atom into flowing electrons and enables that energy to move not at the speed of a tanker or truck but virtually instantaneously. It is thus unique in allowing falling water in one time zone, for example, to light up a city in another.
Like other networks—the telecom network, the network of roads and rails, and commercial networks—the electricity network or ‘grid’ creates value by linking people. However, heavily regulated, undersized, short on intelligence, and long on red tape, today’s grid has become a barrier to the clean and efficient flow of energy.
While the network has many physical deficits, its real problem is not physical at all. Its real problem is systemic: It is supported by a system that, rather than encouraging change and innovation actively thwarts them. Many problems afflict the current system, including bias against new clean technologies and renewable power. But all such problems share a common solution: Tear down the walls to the energy network.
To understand why progress in the United States has been so elusive, NDN and the New Policy Institute embarked upon an extensive study of the implementation of clean power and technology in America. Our findings suggest that the slow progress to date is not due to a lack of will or money but, rather, to a central and pervasive problem—the structure of the power industry in the United States.
Our research suggests that key structural roadblocks are blocking progress. These roadblocks stem from the extraordinarily complex structure of the American power industry, and they are blocking the uptake of clean technology and the deployment of renewable resources.