GENI has a powerful wish

If it comes true, energy grid would circle the world

By Frank Green, staff writer, Saturday August 5, 2000

San Diego Union Tribune

The world is a glittering starship, aglow from an oversized, intercontinental extension cord delivering power to all points under the sun. Energy is abundant, blackouts are unknown, and the electricity rates charged by SDG&E and other utilities are relatively miniscule.

In Peter Meisen's dreams.

But the longtime advocate of a global energy grid believes that villagers and city dwellers alike one day will read by the light of the same pulsating planetary current.

"It (will) be a great circle extending for 25,000 miles," says Meisen, president of the Global Energy network Institute, or GENI, in San Diego. "What I'm doing is working on a macro problem."

Alternative energy currently is a high-voltage topic in San Diego County, where deregulation has many consumers wilting from escalating power bills.

"Everybody could see this crisis coming years ago," says Meisen, an engineering graduate from the University of California San Diego. He's been promoting his idea for a worldwide power line for 15 years.

Meisen says deregulation eventually will bring stable prices as more companies enter the industry, spurring competition and pushing down rates.

But the ultimate solution, he believes, is the single communal electrical wire extending virtually everywhere.

GENI already can see the outlines of that vast hookup in the regional, cross-border energy pacts in place between the United States and Mexico—SDG&E, for example, imports some power from a geothermal plant in Mexico.

"We have untapped renewable energy sources in Mongolia - an enormous breadbasket of wind energy- and, in the Gobi desert, a major potential source of solar power," Meisen says "We have 1,000 times more renewable energy than we could ever use on the planet."

Meisen acknowledges that GENI's massive project would cost an estimated $1 million a mile to implement.

Nonetheless, GENI has gained endorsements for it's plan from an eclectic group of world of the world statesman and celebrities, including former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and former-CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

"The opportunities for cooperation and increasing international understanding through the establishment of an international power grid would be substantial," says the Rev. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace laureate, in a letter of support of the GENI energy model.

The other day, form GENI's wind cooled office at the World Trade Center in downtown San Diego, Meisen paid tribute to his primary influence, the late R. Buckminster Fuller, and recounted his extensive globe-trotting to numerous energy conferences over the years to plead his case.

Within the last year, he has appeared at three such gathering at invitation of the Department of Energy, focusing on energy issues in Africa, South America, and Asia. The latter meeting was held in San Diego in May.

GENI, a nonprofit organization founded by Meisen in 1986, works on a shoe string budget-$100,000 or so a year-raised from monthly donations by about 250 adherents.

Meisen is GENI's sole full-time employee, with some of the group's projects performed by student interns.

The seeds of the GENI plan can be traced to a lecture by Fuller that Meisen and his father attended in the early-1970s at MiraCosta College in Oceanside.

Meisen says he was struck even then by Fuller's quest to solve the problem of providing a decent, environmentally stable standard of living for everyone on the planet. One of the components of Fuller's system was the creation of a worldwide and renewable energy grid.

Fuller's theories stuck with Meisen while attending UCSD — he graduated in 1975 with degrees in engineering sciences and applied mechanics- and later while working as a book, computer, and clothes salesman.

Meisen's altruism surfaced publicly in 1983 when he co-founded Share San Diego, which distributed packages of food to families at discounted prices. By the late-1980s, the program had been re-named Share USA was serving 240,000 families in 16 cities.

It wasn't until he read Fuller's "Critical Path" in the mid-1980s that Meisen found his calling as an advocate for renewable energy.

Meisen contends that a voltage-rich cable snaking it's way across the American continent and through Africa and Asia would benefit people who presently use about 1,700 kilowatts per capita in the United States.

In Mexico alone there 25,000 villages with 1,000 people or less without consistent access to electricity, he says.

"The world is a lot like the nervous system of the human body," Meisen says. "When the left arm atrophies, the rest of the body suffers. In Africa, for example, there is atrophy from deforestation and HIV... I'm suggesting that the number one enabling technology essential to the world's infrastructure is the electricity grid."