• By Jeffrey Voacolo

The start of distributed generation


I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Hermann Scheer in Manila during the Asian Development Bank’s Solar Energy Conference in 2009. Dr. Scheer was the president of Eurosolar and general chairman of the World Council for Renewable Energy.

In 1999, Scheer was awarded the Right Livelihood Award for his "indefatigable work for the promotion of solar energy worldwide.”

At ADB’s Solar Energy Conference, Dr. Scheer gave a presentation on solar energy while I delivered a side lecture on a small project that our company completed in a small resort island called Heron Island, located 50 miles northeast of Gladstone, Australia. The entire Island was powered off-grid with a 60KW generator and 240KW of solar energy with very limited lead-acid gel batteries.

It was my first taste of what can be done with no baseload generation, stabilizing frequencies, and running the generator only when necessary. Trying to sequence this was a feat but manageable.

The industry has come a long way since 2009. Today, the generator has been replaced by 100 percent storage capacity and the resort powers away totally off-grid, with happy spending tourists in a sustainable environment.

Although a lot smaller than Guam, the resort island’s success with generating power off-grid proved it can be done. Dr. Scheer believed this then. I know he would be ecstatic about technology advancements and some geographical areas that really embrace renewables, but he would be disappointed in areas where solar penetration could have improved but didn’t move forward.

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Dr. Scheer believed that the continuation of current patterns of conventional fossil fuel energy supply and use would be environmentally, socially, economically, and politically damaging, with renewable energy being the only realistic alternative.

Dr. Scheer concluded that it is technically and environmentally feasible to harness enough solar radiation to achieve a total replacement of the fossil energy system by a global renewable energy economy. The main obstacle to such a change is seen to be political, not technical or economic.

In 1999, Dr. Scheer was one of the initiators of the German feed-in tariffs, which gave rise to renewable energies in Germany during the following years. He was a leader, an innovator, an advocate, a lobbyist, and a brilliant human being who believed that the main generator that comes up every morning, sets every night, and gives off more energy in one hour than the world uses in a year could cleanly, sustainably, and economically power this planet.

Dr. Scheer also believed, as I do, that when this future transformation comes between conventional and solar energy with the advancement of battery storage and artificial intelligence, there will be no more need to try and conserve energy. What a change in mindset that would be.

I am sure every one of us over 30 years of age has been told our entire life to conserve energy. With our power generator everyday powering up the planet, we will be able to use as much energy as we want, whenever we want. This day, believe it or not, is here and the politics of conventional generation and the burning of fossil fuel need to get out of its way.

Dr. Scheer died on Oct. 14, 2010. That day, Germany lost its most active advocate for solar energy and the world lost a man who was responsible for the start of distributed generation as we know it today. One of his most cherished sayings from Victor Hugo was “Nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.” I believe he was right and solar energy time has come.

Jeffrey Voacolo is the vice president and chief operations officer of Micronesia Renewable Energy. Send feedback to jvoacolo@micronesiarenewableenergy.com

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