Because our electricity infrastructure is hard-wired for nonrenewable energy. The power grid of a large nation such as the United States is incredibly complex, consisting of three main components: power generation, transmission and distribution of electric power. Electricity is generated by utilities, most of them local, and then fed into the system for almost immediate consumption. Right now most of the power plants we have generate energy through the use of fossil fuels, although hydroelectric power is a significant component. One of the main issues is that electricity is consumed almost immediately after it’s generated. It’s not like there is a “storehouse” of power somewhere that we can dip into when we need it–if a plant in Peoria generates a watt of electricity, chances are it’s going to be flowing to a light bulb in Chicago as fast as it can travel over the power lines. Taking one plant off line increases the load on the rest of the system, which could lead to cascading failures and widespread power outages. Consequently there’s an incentive to keep generating with existing technology. Bringing a new renewable power plant online to retire an older nonrenewable one is a significant investment, and it will take time before it’s profitable.
Also, our power system is currently tooled for power that’s generated in central sources and then transmitted to users from a distance. Much renewable energy is generated on-site–like solar cells on a house. The paradigm for renewable energy is a little different. For some exotic forms of energy, like wave farms, the power can’t be transmitted immediately to end users; it has to be stored somehow and then tapped later. The system we have now, built on instant generation satisfying instant demand, is simply outdated. While it’s not a case of tearing out the whole system and replacing it from the ground up, significant changes to our infrastructure will have to be made before renewable energy becomes a major source of commercial and residential electricity.
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