Following electric utility deregulation in the 1970s, the jobs of generating electricity, transmitting it over long distances, and distributing it around localized regions have increasingly been done by different entities.
This is happening now, outside of the shift toward alternative energy, but as we generate electricity using more renewable resources–as generation becomes increasingly distributed, to match the locations of inherently local sources of energy–that trend will only accelerate. The day may come when no electric utility generates anything. Instead, it might simply coordinate the movement of electricity between generators and customers. Rather than making and selling electricity, utilities like the municipal utility in Gainesville, Florida, could someday find itself selling the service of making sure that all of the solar panels in town work together in a reliable way, alongside storage systems and mid-size power plants.
If there’s one lesson you should pick up from this story, it’s that alternative energy isn’t only about changing what we put in our fuel tanks or how our electricity is made. Alternative energy is going to alter entire business plans and change who we are, what our responsibilities are, and how we think about ourselves.