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Published on May 17th, 2017 | by Tina Casey

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US Energy Dept. Wants You To Use Electricity Like Facebook, Or Something

May 17th, 2017 by  

How much damage can one image do? We may find out soon enough. US President Trump’s own Department of Energy is circulating an infographic that wipes the floor with the President’s pro-coal message, pitches wind and solar, and makes mincemeat out of the entire Trump Administration energy policy.

Seriously, what is going on over at DOE? Energy Secretary Rick Perry keeps playing along with President Trump’s pro-coal rhetoric, but all the while he has been taking one poke after another at the beleaguered President — and he keeps getting away with it.

The Energy Department Wants “Prosumer” To Happen

In a nutshell, the new DOE infographic makes a bottom line case for creating a safe space for distributed wind and solar in the electricity grid of the future.

Here’s the full infographic:

That’s pretty straightforward, right? The sad guy on the left is still paying electricity bills, just like consumers have done for over a century. For that matter, he seems to have stepped out of a 19th century catalog for men’s clothing.

The happy lady on the right is, well, happy. And modern (you can tell by the mini skirt). And, she’s probably on Facebook or YouTube, or both.

DOE is betting that consumers who use social media will get the idea behind distributed generation:

“Think of it like a Facebook feed or YouTube page. Most users don’t just read or watch content – they also create their own and actively add to the conversation on social media.”

That’s how you get to this thing called “prosumer:”

“Prosumers are growing in the energy space as more Americans generate their own power from distributed energy resources. This is most often accomplished through rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles.”

Let’s hear it for wind and solar! DOE also drops a hint that conventional grid technology is going the way of the horse and buggy:

“Gone are the days when electricity consumption was a one-way street. Today’s electric grid is blurring the lines between power generation and consumption.”

As for whether or not “prosumer” will happen, the Regina Georges of the world are most likely rooting for no.

However, they are a little late to the party. Distributed energy generation is already mainstreaming, and it’s getting a huge push from the growing small-scale energy storage sector.

What About That Grid Reliability Memo?

So, here’s where it gets interesting. Last month, Secretary Perry ordered up a grid reliability study that seems hardwired to tout coal and other conventional sources at the expense of wind and solar.

Perry’s own memo ordering the study set off alarm bells among cleantech fans, and rightfully so. He argues that baseload (aka conventional) power is “necessary to a well-functioning electric grid,” which is true as far as conventional grid design goes, but then he toes the line on the Trump Administration pro-coal message with a rundown of issues, including this one:

“… regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation. Such policies have destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future.”

However, the coal argument is out of character for Perry, to say the least. As the longest-serving governor in Texas history, he helped shepherd the explosive growth of that state’s wind industry, and as head of DOE, he has been relentlessly trolling the rest of the Trump Administration with his vociferous advocacy for renewables and cleantech (he still gets the stinkeye on women’s health issues, but whatever).

In addition, Perry has the Department of Defense at his back when it comes to distributed generation and he recently replaced Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.

Just a wild guess, but it looks like the White House had a hand or two in writing that memo, and it’s unlikely that Perry or anyone else will take the new grid study seriously.

In Your Face, President Trump

With that in mind, let’s look at that infographic again. It popped up on the blog of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy on May 11.

Aside from the bottom line pitch for wind and solar, DOE rammed home some points against coal:

“The rise of prosumers highlights one of the most exciting trends in renewable energy. These emerging technologies can help preserve the natural environment, drive economic development, and provide Americans more energy choices – spurring even greater competition and innovation in the energy sector.”

Ouch!

The blog post also touted distributed wind and solar in the context of DOE’s own Grid Modernization Initiative, a comprehensive, public-private effort that predates the new reliability study. GMI does this:

“… supports critical research and development in advanced storage systems, clean energy integration, and a number of other key grid modernization areas to ensure all prosumers have additional options and flexibility with their electricity.”

Check out the GMI main page and you’ll see that it encompasses whole sections on wind and solar integration.

What was that grid reliability study again?

So … This Is Weird

Recall that this whole thing about GMI, distributed wind and solar, and prosumers came out of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and you may have spotted something weird.

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration appointed noted coal lobbyist Daniel Simmons to head up EERE, a move that apparently took place while Perry was making arrangements for his father’s memorial service.

The Simmons appointment didn’t stop Perry from pumping out the good news about renewables, and the new blog post is a case in point.

It’s almost like Simmons doesn’t exist. His official bio is on the DOE website but there’s no welcoming message from Perry or from the agency.

Perry frequently updates his @SecretaryPerry Twitter account but he never did tweet a welcome to Simmons (if you’ve found something, drop us a note in the comment thread).

The radio silence on Simmons is all the more notable because just yesterday Perry tweeted out a message of support for another Daniel, Dan Brouillette.

Brouillette’s name was floated as Deputy Secretary for DOE all the way back in January, but there hasn’t been a peep out of Perry until now.

What gives?

Brouillette does have a background in fossil energy, but considering his military background, Perry may be anticipating that Brouillette will be a willing ally in the fight for renewables, further neutralizing whatever it was that the White House tasked Simmons to accomplish.

The nomination requires confirmation in the Senate, so going by Perry’s tweet, it looks like Brouillette could be up for a vote soon.

Stay tuned.

Images (top one is cropped) via US DOE


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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