Distributed Energy Generation and National Security

Global warming and climate change clearly threaten the United States and for that matter the world around. In addition to a warming climate, arctic sea ice and glaciers are melting so sea levels are rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, storms are becoming more intense and disease vectors are spreading. The obvious response to all these threats should be obvious- stop burning stuff.

Global warming is a direct result of the combustion of fossil fuels. For the most part it has served us well but we have to recognize that the party is or should be over. We now know there is a dark and dangerous side to burning fossil fuels.

If this were all the threats our current power systems posed, it would be enough, but there’s more. It has recently come to light that Iranian hackers have been attempting via the internet, to gain access to the communication and control systems of our electrical grid. Our current energy systems not only threaten the environment and economy, but now have become a national security issue.

The cyber attacks, apparently sanctioned by the Iranian government have so far only been attempting to gather information as to how our systems work but the threat is clear. Their ability to remotely control nuclear reactors, or even conventional coal powered plants could result in disaster. One way to mitigate the risk of catastrophic failures of power plants is to rely more on distributed energy systems. Lots and lots of little power stations present a bigger problem for hackers to overcome.

Energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal are not only cleaner and sustainable but also less prone to attack because they can be much more widely distributed. If every home was contributing to electrical energy production, then a cyber attack becomes a near impossible task. If we generated our electricity via millions of solar homes instead of scores of nuclear power plants we will be that much the safer for it.

So how do we get to a more widely distributed energy supply? We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just follow the lead of others who are on that path already. Germany has adopted an energy plan “Energiekonzept” to power their economy via solar and wind. Additionally they are phasing out nuclear power. They have already shut down one third of their nuclear power plants, eleven reactors in the past couple of years. This even in the light, no pun intended, of the fact that January was the darkest in sixty years, with only 22.5 hours of sunlight.

The people of Germany have decided that clean, sustainable, and widely distributed energy systems are valuable and the energy from them should be priced accordingly. They are installing wind and solar faster than any other country on the planet. Funding for the conversion comes from additional taxes assessed on unsustainable, dirtier fuels.

Now we see that national security is an unanticipated benefit to their approach to cleaner sustainable energy supplies. Can we agree that our national security must keep pace with the changing realities of the twenty first century?

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