When we flip on a light switch in our homes, few of us think about the ramifications. Electricity is relatively cheap, so we don’t think of the cost. Most of the time it’s available on demand, so we don’t think about reliability or distribution, and since we don’t see the pollution that resulted from its production, we don’t usually think about the environment. We just flip on the switch, and there’s light.
But at times, we’re all aware of some of the problems and pitfalls in lighting and heating our homes. We experience power outages, usually attributable to extreme weather. We gripe about our electricity bills, especially during the summer months when our air conditioners run non-stop. We see the environmental cost with dirty air from coal-burning plants and the ever-present threat of a Three Mile Island or Fukushima Daiiachi disaster in our back yard.
The paradigms about the generation and distribution of electrical power in New Jersey are shifting. It’s not just the move from reliance on dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources. We also must take into account the need for energy storage to account for the time difference between when renewable energy is available (like solar during daylight hours) and when it is consumed (for example, at night or during overcast days.) We need to recognize that the generation of renewable energy is not done at a few large capital-intensive power plants, but is more of a geographically distributed entity, one which our transmission systems and regulations may not be optimized for. And we need to look into the future where electric vehicles will become more prevalent, resulting in more consumer demand for power in the home, and access to power-hungry recharging stations along the state’s thoroughfares. The cost of solar power is becoming lower than that of nuclear, and with the closing of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in 2019, a large chunk of the state’s indigenous generation capacity will need to be replaced. And a new player, geothermal energy, is becoming a viable way to heat and cool our homes (for more on geothermal, go to the 4:00 mark in the Chivukula video, below.)