In the not-too-distant future, everyone could be an electric company, selling power into the grid just like the owners of giant generating plants.
The idea of powering the electric grid from a multitude of sources is called distributed generation. Homeowners can already buy solar generators and furnaces that simultaneously produce heat and electricity. On the horizon are home battery systems that could let homeowners store solar power generated during the day for use at night.
Distributed generation isn’t pie-in-the sky — the know-how exists to build these systems. But the technology is held back by cost and by regulations that don’t allow for tiny contributions to the power grid. Federal energy experts figure costs will drop and regulatory issues will be overcome, and that the amount of electricity homes and businesses produce through distributed generation could roughly double over the next 25 years. That’s not enough to replace big generating plants, but enough to have a big impact.
Here’s a rundown of the three main distributed generation technologies.