Monday, 19 August 2013

Energy Democracy

A distributed model revolutionized the way industrial-scale computing was delivered. Is it possible that something similar could be achieved for energy production?  (Alternative Energy eMagazine)

 A new structure of energy production is slowly taking hold. Distributed energy production, based on the p2p model of the internet, is coming together with energy produced through renewables. Jeremy Rifkin describes how this is happening in his book The Third Industrial Revolution. The significance of distributed energy production in the context of social structure may not be readily apparent. Rifkin spells out some of the implications of empowering people to control their own energy production, and the profound transformation that a distributed energy system would have in democratising the social structure in education, health, commerce, and our relationship to the biosphere.

The EU has already endorsed the Third Industrial Revolution (TIR) in 2007, and several European cities have invited the TIR team to plan the transition to a post carbon economy, eg Rome, Utrecht, Nord-pas de Calais, even Kazakhstan. Africa and China have also shown some interest. In the US the growth of renewables is beginning to worry the big utilities. 'The spread of renewable, distributed generation is happening so fast that utilities are now calling rooftop solar “an existential threat” to their business model'. In the UK community energy installations are being supported by the Cooperative Society among others, so that those unable to afford to install renewables themselves can participate. This is a movement which should interest all sectors of the population. It is an area of growth which is tackling climate change, not adding to it, and can also provide the millions of jobs unions are asking for.

The Trade Unions for Energy Democracy 'a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy', is defining their own vision for energy democracy. 'A transfer of resources, capital and infrastructure from private hands to a democratically controlled public sector will need to occur in order to ensure that a truly sustainable energy system is developed in the decades ahead. ' The emphasis on the public sector taking responsibility for energy introduces the idea of reclaiming energy as a commons, which is the ultimate goal but may take longer to develop.

This new structure of distributed energy production needs to be widely publicised so that popular demand can hasten the process of what is already happening, and so that it can be monitored to ensure that big business does not find a way to take control. There will be strong resistance from those who want to maintain the centralised structure of the military industrial system, but here is a way capitalism can be undermined without the need for violent confrontation.

Many of those struggling against injustice in the West are not the poorest, most deprived in society, contrary to how Marx envisaged the proletarian revolution, and for that reason they are often accused of 'reformism' rather than a desire to overthrow the capitalist system. True, many would not relish reducing their standard of living, even when they are conscious that it is achieved on the backs of exploiting working classes in their own and other countries. Nevertheless the desire for a more just and equitable society is genuine. With increasing world-wide communication our concern for the human family and the whole biosphere is emerging. This understanding sees in the current crises the possibility of a new consciousness breaking through old habits of thought and patterns of behaviour, to an awareness of ourselves as integral to the human family and the web of life.

It is clear that this is the future, if we have a future. But it is a race against time. Whether renewables can take over from fossil fuels quickly enough to stem the growth of carbon emissions is anyone's guess. There will be objections from those who demand an end to the capitalist system as the precondition for any progress, and from those on the 'left' for whom the working class has to be in the forefront of any anti-capitalist revolution. Some may see using the market system to take us in the direction we want to go, as 'fraternising with the enemy' but I see it rather like the jujitsu method of manipulating the opponent's force against himself rather than confronting it with one's own force.

Many questions remain and certainly this is no panacea. But it opens a path from here to there which I previously was only able to visualise as a miracle. It may be that evolution is on our side and working in unpredictable ways to give us back the dignity John Holloway talks about in The Politics of Dignity and the Politics of Poverty. 'Dignity is the push towards social self-determination against-and-beyond a world that is built on the negation of self-determination.'

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