On September 2, I met with Jennifer McIntosh, Head of Secretariat at the International Solar Energy Society (ISES). ISES is a global membership organization of researchers that, as stated on its website, “works to achieve 100% renewable energy for all, used efficiently and wisely, by providing the global renewable energy community with a collective, scientifically credible voice and up-to-date information gathered and synthesized by its talented members.” I met Ms. McIntosh at the organization’s headquarters in Freiburg.
Ms. McIntosh told me that ISES is just starting to bring Smart Grids into its fold, since Smart Grids become important as renewables scale up. In order to advance the global transition to a 100% renewable energy world, Smart Grids are an important area of focus. In particular, smaller grids can play an important role in not only increasing energy access but creating efficient and reliable networks of decentralized renewable energy. While many emphasize the necessity of building large scale “renewable energy highways” of power lines running from north to south, local approaches that give power to the people are already feasible and working. Community-owned renewable energy brings in stakeholders beyond the big energy companies and minimizes the losses that come with transporting power long distances. For these approaches, Smart Homes, storage, power-to-gas techniques, and other large infrastructural changes become necessary. Ms. McIntosh pointed out that we’ve gone through such large infrastructural changes before — specifically, when transitioning from buggies to combustion engine-driven transport — so we can do it again.
Ms. McIntosh also pointed out that it’s important to consider efficiency, heat, and transport in the context of Smart Grids and energy planning. A major pillar to reach 100% renewable energy will be reducing overall energy consumption. Therefore, we need passive houses and appliances that need fewer hours of charging. We need to use heat efficiently, for instance by transferring the heat removed when cooling server rooms to someplace else it’s needed. We need to create products that last longer and stop buying so many gadgets. We need to meet people’s need for independence while creating sustainable transport methods. We need to change both technology and mindsets, the latter of which is harder.
Large economies like Germany, Ms. McIntosh said, need to take the lead in these efforts. These economies need to show it’s possible to create Smart Grids and run on 100% renewable energy. As leading countries take more steps, other countries will become convinced to do the same.
(Note: The interviewee reviewed the above writeup before its publication.)