Well, that was fast.
I no sooner mentioned the possibility of decentralized power in my previous post then I open last month's Wired Magazine to find that very idea in their Fix The Grid series of articles.
I've been thinking about it for some time, now, and I think it's not only a good idea, it's our only idea. Repairing the infrastructure is something we won't do until it's literally on fire. We're not a very proactive species (just look at petroleum), but small-scale problems, like large price increases in electricity, could be enough to motivate us to small changes in our way of life.
I think that a nationwide distribution of small-scale solar, wind, and tidal generation could be done for a cost measured in billions, as opposed to the trillions probably required for a revamp of the grid and all its plants. It could also be deployed faster. A grid revamp would, again, be measured in tens of years, whereas the small-scale project could be measured in mere years.
Obviously, wind, solar, and tidal won't solve all our power woes. We will still need to invest heavily into new plants, I vote nuclear, but this plan would likely take enough strain off of the primary plants and grid to make repairs to them something we could do over decades with no worries.
As such, distributed production is our only viable option.
(UPDATE: 15 Minutes Later) NPR has a fantastic interactive map showing how and from where our power comes.
The capacity of power plants is signified by the size of the dot on screen that represents the plant. Well, we hear wind and solar advocates frequently discussing new plants and installations capable of generating MEGAWATTS (oooooooh). This map reminds me how many of our plants are measured in gigawatts, with a "g". Almost all of them are either nuclear or coal, with the Grand Coulee Dam being one notable exception, which I think is our largest plant... just checked Wiki, it is.
It's obvious that centralized solar and wind is hopeless as a primary form of power. We have two choices on this map, coal and nuclear. So which is worse, a small chance of a core meltdown, or a guarantee of shit being pumped into the air?
I'd take the former.
Power to the People: 7 Ways to Fix the Grid, Now (Wired.com)
Power Hungry: Visualizing the Grid (NPR.org)