Connecticut is recovering from the onslaught of two storms that delivered us the proverbial kick in the pants. Tropical Storm Irene and pre-Halloween storm ushered in jobs—hundreds of them—for arborists and landscapers, electricians and generator installers, and handymen of all stripes. Let alone the sale of hundreds of chain saws and related supplies. Folks working long hours seven days a week, sometimes beyond their seasonal expectations, have earned money that would have taken much longer. And that money is revenue for families, towns, state and businesses.
The aftermath of these storms has spilled a veritable flood of ink directed at state, supplier, and fellow citizens in the form of advice, threats and admonitions. These vary from the anger of households and businesses, affected by a week and more of loss of power, to advice on how to be tough and resilient as we experienced a nineteenth century lifestyle at the start of the twenty-first. Then there is the threat to solve the whole problem by cutting down hundreds of thousands of Connecticut trees.
But what about the revealed potential of jobs that cannot be outsourced? Barring the extremes mentioned, we need to take the long term view to enhance and protect our quality of life, and re-configure the underlying electric service. There’s no single approach to resolving this issue. Now is the time to review all relevant technologies and promote advances in those that show promise. Investment in these ventures by the private sector with assistance from local, state and federal governments is timely. Indeed even foreign governments and investors could become partners since the issue of reliable electrical energy is a global one.
A panel commissioned under the department of economic development can be formed with representation from companies with ongoing efforts in energy technologies to identify efforts both near term (1-3 years) and long term (5-10 years) along with estimated investments needed. The governor and chief executives of these companies could meet briefly and set investment goals as partners to jointly own the efforts.
Technologies deserving consideration include:
· An underground distribution system, exploiting the knowledge and experience of other utilities (natural gas, water, cable, sewage).
· Fuel cell systems serving Coca-Cola, Mohegan Sun, Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and several schools, generate clean power and heat (space heating and domestic hot water) with extremely low emissions at about thrice the efficiency of centralized systems. While current products do not service typical households, courageous and strategic investment in R&D may help prod leadership in this technology area. United Technologies Fuel Cells in our own backyard is a leading manufacturer.
· Individual utilities for each town (micro-grids) that can focus on local problems promptly and efficiently. Decentralization is the key.
· More solar panels on roofs with a southern exposure. The Courant story of a pizza place in Colchester using solar power to obtain hot water shows how small business can think modern.
· Wind turbines. Optiwind, a Connecticut company, is scheduled to build a wind turbine to supply all energy needs at the Torrington UConn campus.
· Generators that are automatically triggered upon failure of electrical service.
· Sensors to monitor the distribution system 24/7 and commission appropriate action.
· On-going tree pruning and maintenance near transmission lines.
Cost is a major driver in any of these systems. But the problem we face is not unlike that of serious illness in a family. It is fair to say that families will exert every effort to make sure the loved one gets proper care no matter the expense. The new ventures will create jobs: a dire need now and in the foreseeable future. Cost considerations must include total costs over years. For example, when we estimate costs of cutting trees should we not include the cost impact of unabsorbed carbon dioxide?
Should the joint venture among industry, private sector, academia and government, including foreign participation, take shape, Connecticut will lead the nation in implementing innovative approaches to electrical service and setting a new standard for a higher quality of life. Political will, courage, and a cooperative attitude among all concerned can make it happen.
Dr. Srinivasan served on the board of directors of Connecticut Innovations and is an emeritus member of the Glastonbury Democratic Town Committee.