It’s interesting to me that the same people who seem to be outraged by the supposed chokehold applied by “Big Oil” to the prostrate American consumer are silent about its replacement: Bigger Electricity.
Their silence about this is proof to me that their outrage over Big Oil was feigned.
It’s difficult to conceive anything more centralized and consolidated and more “big” than the grid. There are just a few regional ones (Texas comes to mind), which are controlled by a handful of state-permitted utilities that will have and already have the ability to meter the power we’re permitted to have and the power to charge us what they determine to be a “fair” price for it.
That price is adjustable at their whim and can be turned on, turned off, or turned down.
When demand becomes too high, the utilities can (and do) decrease supply. Or raise the cost, which achieves the same result.
There is no (as in zero) free market for electricity.
It is a wholly state-corporate partnership–the actual thing these keeners accused Big Oil.
With electricity, you get what’s provided, according to the terms and conditions of the single-source provider (the utility which serves your area), and you pay whatever it says you will pay. There is no option to pay less.
You can stop patronizing the Exxon station down the road in favor of Speedway a couple of blocks farther down the same road if you don’t like the pricing or service.
There is competition. There are alternatives.
You cannot seek better/cheaper electricity service. You are plugged in like Neo within his Matrix, without alternatives.
Big Electricity is much more amenable to centralization than Big Oil, for several physical reasons. Chief among them is that the mechanism of distribution is necessarily centralized.
A utility plant generates electricity, which is then transmitted via a network of cables and substations to each individual user (residential and commercial). Everyone is connected to the same source of generating capacity, over which you have no control and no alternative.
In many areas, you don’t even have the option to disconnect from the grid. Local building codes require you to keep a meter hooked up, which keeps their hooks in you.
Gasoline and diesel are refined at centralized facilities, too, but their distribution is decentralized. Tanker trucks bring the energy to wherever there is demand at a price the market will bear.
You do not have to buy gas or diesel from one provider, as you do electricity. There is a choice and competition, which imposes some restraint on what each distributor/retailer can charge, and an impetus to provide the energy for less rather than more than the other place.
Gas is also physical and fungible in a way that electricity isn’t. Once you buy a tank of gas, it’s yours in the same way that the car, itself, is yours.
Electricity can be stored like gas but in a less fungible way. You cannot easily pour the kilowatt-hour equivalent of five gallons of gas from a jug in your shed to your discharged electric car, which cannot be recharged right now because the utility company decided to meter down the account due to peak demand.
But what about solar energy at my house? Will I be able to charge my electric car that way and be free of the control grid?
Electric cars require voltages (think of this in terms of pressure) comparable to the water pressure needed to keep the water flowing in a whole neighborhood of homes, which requires large diameter piping from the water source to handle the necessary volume of water.
A solar array capable of generating the kind of voltage necessary to keep an EV charged up, let alone “fast” charged up, could easily require a personal investment in infrastructure comparable to the cost of the EV, itself.
And even then, it’s only physically feasible if you have the necessary square footage to spread out your array to catch the necessary rays. Apartment-dwellers will not have this option, even assuming they had the dollars. Most single-family subdivision homes haven’t got the necessary real estate to catch sufficient rays, either.
That means most people will be tied to Big Electric, and to Big Government, which controls Big Electric.
With Big Electric, there are no alternatives. In places like Russia and China where energy distribution is a state-run enterprise, you get exactly what you’re told you’ll pay for, if you even get that.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.