Columnists: Hans Nilsson, Fourfact

Published on: 21 Oct 2013

If I had a hammer

If I had a hammer... it would not be of much use. When I built our terrace some 30 years ago, I used hammer and nails. It was perfect. This summer I had to build a new terrace and the building shop provided me with good material. Impregnated wood and… screws! My hammer had to remain in the toolbox and I had to get one of these new electric screwdrivers. It worked wonderfully. If I had tried the hammer I would just have (forgive the pun) …screwed up.

When I am reading yet again one of those articles about how renewable fuels mess up the traditional energy system, spoil the pricing system, increase the risk of blackouts, require expensive back-up, put strain on grid and transmission lines… I get a distinct feeling that several analysts try to use hammers on screws. Of course it makes them frustrated! The old tools are not useful on new devices. Rethink! Get a new tool!

We are now entering a new era, an era where we will have distributed energy resources! (Admittedly, some sea-based wind farms are pretty large and centralised. But they still represent a new type of power supply with different conditions than the old fuel-based base-load power plants.) Not only distributed generation but also demand side applications are available to change the demand. The user has the power to shift the use of energy over time and to use less energy. The users of energy have all these new resources at their disposal.

And even worse! The energy users are themselves resources! They are more resourceful in terms of knowledge about the consequences of energy use and in terms of power – they are empowered with knowledge and will.

The old energy system was built on the exploitation of resources in a central power station with mainly fossil fuels. The power was distributed to users who were unable to do anything but accept (and pay) for the energy provided. The fuels used could be stored and output was predictable.

The new energy system is different. It will to a great extent be built upon distributed resources, technical and human. Therefore we are in desperate need of tools that can handle this – not discussions about how the old system worked.

The saying is that if you only have a hammer all problems will look like a nail, but when it actually is a screw then do as I have done. Put the hammer to rest and show it to the grandchildren as an artefact. Use screws to build the new terrace and use distributed energy resources to build the new sustainable energy system.

Note: This version is a slightly amended version compared as of 21 Oct 16.34 CET compared to the version published earlier the same day.

Other columns by Hans Nilsson