How Local & Community Energy Systems Will Disrupt the Global Power Industry

Bill Nussey, CEO of Freeing Energy and Solar Inventions, has more than 30 years of experience running venture capital-backed tech companies. His career started with a graphics software company he co-founded in high school and culminated in his current positions, in which he works to facilitate and accelerate the transition to clean energy.

Besides his various leadership roles, he has published a book called “Freeing Energy: How Innovators are Using Local Scale Solar and Batteries to Disrupt the Global Energy System from the Outside.” The book is also the subject of a popular podcast which was ranked the #1 podcast in renewable energy. While the regulated monopoly system of energy we currently have is both outdated and dangerously vulnerable to floods, wildfires, and violent weather patterns, unfortunately the federal government is not doing anything to accelerate the transition to clean energy Nussey argues. The challenge as he sees it is that we need more transmission lines to connect utility-scale solar and wind energy systems.

Given that the IPCC has made it clear that we must cut our carbon emissions by half by the end of the decade and the fact that new transmission lines take about a decade to become operational, Nussey believes that nurturing and enhancing small-scale local energy systems is the best approach. “Solar and wind are now the least expensive forms of energy,” said Nussey, “And nuclear and coal are the most expensive. Nuclear and coal also have serious environmental impacts for which there are no good solutions.” For a variety of reasons, Nussey says local energy systems are the best way to accelerate the transition to clean energy, as they are the cheapest, the quickest to implement, and the most equitable. This includes community energy programs that allow residents to subscribe to high percentages of renewable energy, rooftop solar, and micro grids and batteries. In addition, local energy shifts solar profits from corporations to families and communities, and the price of solar continues to drop every year. Local energy also creates ten times more jobs, said Nussey, compared to traditional energy systems.

Unlike some solar advocates who think electric utilities should be abolished, Nussey doesn’t believe this is desirable. “I respect utilities and believe they should play a role in our transition to clean energy,” said Nussey. “However, there is no doubt that they are also part of the problem. Utilities have both the largest lobbying budgets while investing less than 1 percent on research and development. This stifles innovation and choice, and serves to preserve the system we have. The problem is the system for electricity that was invented in the 1920’s is virtually the same as it was then. It has not changed with the times,” said Nussey.

The other significant problem with our existing electricity grid, said Nussey, is it is a ripe target for cyberattack. Microgrids are inherently less susceptible to cyberattacks. “There is more security with a greater level of diversity in grids. Thousands or even millions of small grids are not the target that a dozen are,” said Nussey. While the economic viability of batteries has been discussed as a factor in transitioning to clean energy, Nussey said that long term storage costs for solar batteries are continuing to drop. “The cost has dropped ten times since 2010,” said Nussey. “Furthermore, Bloomberg predicts that battery prices will reach $58/kwh by 2030.” While local energy costs are becoming irresistible, said Nussey, there is an unfortunate disconnect: only 4 per cent of American homeowners currently have rooftop solar. A new solar app—NREL—streamlines and automates the entire process for solar installation but only 16 U.S. municipalities have adopted it. Nussey is optimistic, however, as some 400 jurisdictions are considering it. He urged everyone to contact their city to urge them to adopt the app system.

Recent articles about the disposal of solar panels have been distorted, according to Nussey. All the solar panels installed over the last decade amount to only 1/10th of total e-waste generated, he says. In addition, 80-95% of solar panels are in fact recyclable. Exactly how does he expect the big utilities to be disrupted? Nussey anticipates a scenario similar to AT&T’s downward trajectory. AT&T was once one of the largest monopolies in the world, but now, the company is merely a competitor among many. Nussey predicts that our current energy systems will be revolutionized over the next 20 years, and that Silicon Valley will play a key role in that disruption. He also believes that it is this transition to more diverse and cheaper clean energy is our best shot in terms of innovating out of the climate change problem. For more information on Bill Nussey’s efforts to accelerate the transition to clean energy visit: https://www.freeing To watch the video of Bill Nussey’s talk, visit NCCCA’s YouTube Channel.