San Diego Business Journal
A Powerful Plan To Energize Whole World
San Diego non-profit advocates global grid to distribute energy
By Meredith R. Vezina, Special
to the Business Journal
While politicians in Washington, D.C., are working overtime to promote the commercial benefits of trade agreements such as NAFTA and GATT, San Diegan Peter Meisen is intent on selling a much bolder economic plan, one that he believes will open markets worldwide.
Since founding Global Energy Network International (GENI) as a non-profit research education company in 1991, Meisen has been traveling around the world advocating the economic advantages of connecting regional power grids operated by local power companies into large networks that will deliver energy across continents.
"It's really Buckminster Fuller's idea," said Meisen from his B Street office downtown. After reading Fuller's book, "Critical Path," Meisen became fascinated by the notion of a world energy grid.
"Everything is the function of an electron going through a wire. We(developed nations) have a lot of it(energy), and 2 billion people have none.
"We have the technology today to efficiently transmit high-voltage power 4,000 miles. We need to transcend artificial(political) boundaries and interconnect developed with underdeveloped areas," said Meisen, who believes that American companies would benefit economically.
According to Meisen, the United States has sufficient energy capacity to meet all its needs and sell energy to Mexico and Central America, where some cities have to shut down for part of the day because there is not enough power to supply the demand.
"You can't operate sewing machines or manufacture anything without power; because of energy shortages, the economic losses are enormous," said Meisen, who has a degree in applied mechanics and engineering sciences from UCSD.
After graduating in 1974, Meisen rejected a career in the defense industry and took nearly a decade to find himself selling computer systems, men's clothing and books in the interim.
In 1983, he co-founded Project Share, a non-profit organization that buys bulk foods and sells it at reduced rates to people who perform community service.
"There are now 22 Share warehouses around North America, including Mexico and Guatemala. It's proof of what can be done without any government money," said Meisen.
He left the organization in 1989 to start GENI and is now working out of a two-story brick building above what used to be the B Street Cafe.
Most of GENI's funding comes from individuals committed to Meisen's ideals.
"We have several hundred people around the world who contribute regularly from $20, $50, to $ 500 every month. I guess you could say we have a few angels," said Meisen.
GENI's 1994 budget was $250,000. Meisen makes $30,000 a year, up from $18,000 a year and a half ago, and the organization now has a full-time marketing director.
The organization has satellite offices in Russia, Alaska, New Zealand, Germany and Australia, all staffed by volunteers.
"We mail our newsletter to every president and prime minister in the world," said Meisen.
He believes NAFTA will help out tremendously in bringing about the changes he is advancing.
"Right now, SDG&E is getting half its energy supplies from other utilities. People in San Diego don't care where it comes from as long as the lights stay on, and it's as cheap as possible," said Meisen. "We even get power from Mexico. It comes from a geothermal plant about 200 miles down in Baja."
According to Gretchen Griswold, a communications account executive for SDG&E, the local utility company produces only about 45 percent of the power it sells to its sutomers. "We purchase the rest on the open market from surrounding states because it's cheaper to do that than produce it ourselves," she said. "We also have a contract with Mexico to buy some power from them." This includes geothermal energy and diesel-oil generated energy.
Meisen also advocates renewable power as the key to the worl'd energy problems.
"Right now in the United States we have plenty of capacity. But in the next several decades there will be a growing wedge in our ability to generate power.
"Power plants will definitely have to be replaced because they will be too old or too polluting. The key is how to replace them economically and still meet the clean air requirements," said Meisen, who in his international travels advocates a shift to renewable energy supplies such as solar and geothermal.
In 1992, Meisen attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Sponsored by the United Nations, the 12-day event attracted 10,000 environmentalists and 118 heads of state. Last year, GENI has a booth at the United Nations-sponsored Cairo Conference on Population and Development in Egypt.
"By the year 2020, we'll have 8 billion people in the world. How are we going to meet the increased energy demands of all the people living in undeveleped countries? How do we keep them from cutting down all the trees?" asked Meisen.
"If you're trying to survive, you're certainly not an environmentalist."
Meisen said the key to solving the world's energy and population problems is through interconnection, or linking geographic regions.
He points to recent events in Asia as evidence his ideas are taking hold.
Last July, in a letter to Vice President Al Gore, Meisen suggested that South Korea sell electricty to North Korea, On Aug. 19, Gore wrote back to Meisen, thanking him for his suggestion. Just two days later, South Korea said it was willing to supply North Korea with surplus electricity.
Said Meisen, "It's probably just coincidental."
Nonetheless, he is glad the GENI is getting out of the bottle.
Vezina is a free-lance writer based in San Diego