FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghof | Photo courtesy FERC
A segment based on this story was produced for KCET's award-winning TV show "SoCal Connected." Watch it here now. The Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) says that the nations' electrical future may well belong to distributed generation such as rooftop solar rather than central power stations and generators far from demand, such as public lands solar and wind.
FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghof made the remarks yesterday at a media event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. "It's going to be a race between the two types of renewable resources," Wellinghof said at the event, hosted by The Energy Daily. "Right now, I'd put my money on distributed resources."
Explained: Understanding Distributed Generation
What is...? The Grid
FERC is the federal agency that oversees interstate electrical power transmission and sales, and a range of other interstate energy commerce issues. Wellinghof pointed out that distributed generation, largely in the form of photovoltaic panel installations, accounts for several gigawatts nationwide of new power generating capacity installed in 2011 alone, and that installations are climbing by 40% a year. "If that keeps accelerating," Wellinghof told Jonathan Crawford at SNL Energy Company Research, "then that's going to diminish the amount of central station-type renewables we need, and diminish the amount of transmission we need."
Reducing the country's dependence on centralized power generation and transmission is a bit of a hot button issue for Wellinghof, who has repeatedly criticized the vulnerability of the grid he oversees to sabotage and terrorist attack. Zack Colman at The Hill reports that the grid's cybersecurity was on Wellinghof's mind at the National Press Club event. "Nobody has adequate authority with respect to both the electric and the gas infrastructure in this country regarding known vulnerabilities," Colman quotes Wellinghoff as saying. "If I had a cyber threat that was revealed to me in a letter tomorrow, there is little I could do the next day to ensure that that threat was mitigated effectively by the utilities that were targeted."
Distributed generation reduces the grid's vulnerability by reducing the potential number of single points of failure that would affect wide areas, a vulnerability of which Southern Californians may well recall a recent example. The more small power sources the grid possesses, and the fewer single-link transmission lines it relies on, the more resistant it will be to disruption either accidental or deliberate.