Electricity decentralization, here we come


#1

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#2

What will be the utility’s role? Will we even need an electric grid?

Clearly there will always be a need for regulation, safety, fair practice, emergency measures, all that sort of stuff. Utilities will of course play much the same role in these fields as they always have.

Personal solar sounds great, but there are still concerns like energy distribution. If your town has inclement weather, where do you get your power? Sure, a proper solar system integrates battery storage to power things at night and whatnot, but what if it stays cloudly all week long? Or what if there’s a localized natural disaster of some sort?

There are always going to be times when you simply cannot meet your own local energy demands without outside help, and that’s why we have energy grids in the first place.

Then there are more human-centric concerns too, like dealing with lazy or negligent or greedy or even just ignorant individuals. Electrical systems are moderately complex, and they can easily cause substantial damage if they fail in various ways, so we of course rely on things like safety codes and inspections to keep systems from blowing up or causing fires or electrocuting people.


#3

Yup to all of this. I think the specifics of how that gets played out, though, are going to be really interesting. There’s a role for the utilities, as you say, but taking on that new role will require a lot of changes to the way they operate now and how they’ve shaped their business plans for the last, well, ever. It’s disruptive and fascinating and I really thought that David Biello did a good job covering the nuance here.


#4

Another twist on the decentralized power grid:
I’m starting to see some companies that offer to install solar power systems for more or less no cost and then they charge the homeowner a low flat rate for electricity. I guess that between the homeowner’s payment and selling excess power to the utility, they can make some $$…


#5

We’ve got a 4kw array, and while I do understand the continued need for power infrastructure, I think the electricity company response needs to move on from protecting the existing model to a distributed grid. This is in Australia, but interestingly the state of play is more or less identical.


#6

Cities and factories are always going to need the grid.

I’d would love to see homes built with a parallel 12v emergency lighting setup.

A solar panel array and batteries with just enough ooomph to power a few LEDs in each room, a cell phone charger, and the refrigerator for a few days would make a home habitable in the face of natural disasters / grid disruption.


#7

You call that living? I’m just going to assemble an array of these 8 kW storage units – I just might want to bake some cookies {(and a pie) and some cake}…

BPS 8000 8-AGM

Edit to add: Ya, a 12 volt system is one of my nice to haves when the time to put in a solar array finally comes – an electrician friend and I will be doing most of the work, so I hope that it will fit in the budget.


#8

The batteries are good on cloudy nights. Too extend battery life, use these on sunny days. Tesla wanted everyone too have free electricity.


#9

Utilities themselves may well take an interest in this, if not now, at solar prices not much lower than todays: Nobody in the utility industry (either generation or distribution side) really likes peak loads. They only occur for part of the day; but electricity doesn’t store well at all, so you basically have to size your distribution system to cope with them and have a bunch of swiftly-variable-power peaking capacity, which tends to burn the more expensive fuels, sitting idle in case it’s needed.

With AC use being one major residential/commercial/low-energy-industrial peak (that conveniently often coincides with nice sunny weather), distributed capacity that isn’t too expensive and allows you to shave the peaks is a bonus for almost everyone.

Expect more adversarial interactions if the plan involves displacing a bunch of (generally long lived and cheap) baseload units, or going mostly off-grid and occasionally taking advantage of grid power, priced to include transmission costs for an all-grid customer, only when it suits you.


#10

Utilities will of course play much the same role in these fields as they always have.

They will? Regulation seems like the last thing you’d want them in charge of.

For example, I wouldn’t want Xcel Energy to regulate itself in Boulder, CO or we wouldn’t be making the gains there right now. More on this here.

Sure, a proper solar system integrates battery storage to power things at night and whatnot, but what if it stays cloudly all week long?

Excerpt from my previous post located here:


… What you apparently don’t know is that top scientists/experts predict that graphene batteries will be used at individual homes and businesses for energy storage beyond vehicles, etc. You seem to be locked into a centralized power paradigm even after I addressed this several times within my previous links (and brief quotes from my links as well).

Graphene will be used for off-grid solar power storage systems in the relatively near future. It’s got a ways to go (currently only 60 Watt-hours per liter). But that also means 1 liter is enough to power a 60 watt, old-fashioned, inefficient light bulb for 1 hour (or 20 watt CFL for 3 hours).

Even with current, nascent graphene technology, that would mean if a family of four kept something the size of an average, underground 1500 gallon (4 graphene liters per gallon) septic tank in their backyard, it could power everything in a 4 bedroom home for over a week and a half (considering graphene batteries currently holds 90% of its charge for 300 hours) just running off the battery alone. And, the nice thing is the graphene isn’t nearly as toxic like traditional batteries are and is being made safer the more it’s studied and altered. It also retains about 90% of its capacitance after 50,000 charge/discharge cycles for christ’s sake.

I’m obviously simplifying this for brevity, but you should now get the idea what I’m talking about when referring to graphene for energy storage …


See same post and other posts within that thread for much more details including sources, numbers, etc.

Also, we went over some of this type of stuff before and that link was in this post


#11

Cities and factories are always going to need the grid.

That’s untrue. See near the bottom of my post here:

The part about Mark Z. Jacobson - Energy Policy, for one… and please sprinkle other stuff from my post there and my other posts within that thread about the decentralization of power with loads of links, sources, etc.

Now, if you’re saying they are going to need the grid for a long time from now, I agree. But, eventually everything will be unchained from incredibly inefficient, centralized power down the road. Too far down the road because industry is currently able to overwhelm the Internet (and corporate media is a given) with loads of propaganda to protect their current infrastructure until it rots. But, eventually the information threshold will overtake them.


#12

Cowicide, your scenario may be the case in the ill-defined future, but for the next decade or three, the grid will be what prevents most of the population from freezing in the dark at the wrong time of year.

The real challenge is it becomes very expensive to provide a grid that is needed only 5% of the time, and yet just taking the total cost of supporting the grid and dividing it by number of customers won’t sit too well, either.

Of course, the land-line telephone companies are facing that problem, with people getting enraged because the companies would love to just close down the grid in certain spots.


#13

Cowicide, your scenario may be the case in the ill-defined future, but for the next decade or three, the grid will be what prevents most of the population from freezing in the dark at the wrong time of year.

Yes, of course, for the most part. We’re probably talking 20 years at minimum best. But, somewhere between 20-40 years is more likely according to the Mark Z. Jacobson Energy Policy that’s in that link above.

The real challenge is it becomes very expensive to provide a grid that is needed only 5% of the time, and yet just taking the total cost of supporting the grid and dividing it by number of customers won’t sit too well, either.

Like a single payer system for energy distribution or something like that?


#14

The pieces are coming together:

  • Electric cars: Ever more viable and a potential piece of decentralized power (hybrid gas-electrics could double as home back-up generators)
  • More cost effective renewable energy options
  • Better electrical storage options

Weighed against:

  • An aging and increasingly vulnerable infrastructure
  • Legacy power sources that damage health and ecosystem

Its a matter of when.

Someone, someday, is going to be faced with rebuilding a town’s infrastructure after (insert your favorite natural disaster) and do the math.


#15

Sign me up.

I’m all for certain essential services (for ex: healthcare, water, waste management, power) being completely taken off the “free-market” table.


#16

I completely agree that the basics for life should not be for-profit. Socialism isn’t the diabolical scheme to enslave us all to Satan that it’s painted to be by a certain corner of the media world.


#17

I had Vivint stop by. Their model is “you pay X per kilowatt hour from us, which we guarantee is lower than it would be from the utility”.

However, their was enough fluff language in the contract that they could increase X anytime they wanted, and the contract had to be signed before they would present you with all the amendments of the contract. In other words, they could charge you whatever in the future, and you were signing a contract, portions sight-unseen.

Much happier with the Sungevity model. They have an option of “Pay us Y, here’s your solar panels. Enjoy!” For complicated tax reasons, a pre-paid 20 year lease was half the cost of buying the panels from Sungevity, too.


#18

Interesting questions to reflect upon. I just recently went down the solar road and installed a 8.4Kw system on my new home. I’m going to list out a few things I’ve learned, which you may already know or not already know!

What I have learned since joining this group of electricity generators is this:

  1. Although I live in the middle of the desert (Las Vegas) there is far less solar generation happening here than I thought. Yes I know that just down the 15 across State Line are the Ivanpah generators, however those are in CA, and also mirror generators.

  2. There are a few, read: Maybe 3? home builders in Las Vegas/N. Las Vegas/Henderson who are selling homes with the option of adding solar.

  3. NV Energy will not allow you to build a system that produces what they would consider an excess of power based on either your previous usage or the size of your home. In my case, because my home was new construction they only allowed a system up to 8.4Kw.

  4. I am bound by a contractual agreement with NV energy to shut off my system should there be a power outage. So if the neighborhood is black, I too must go black with them - even if I am still producing electricity!

  5. I was told by the company that sold and installed my system (Sol-Up Las Vegas, a STAND UP organization and fantastic product) that I should keep a log of my generating meter and my NV Energy meter each month as they may not always match up to what the company says they are.

  6. I am producing FAR more than I am using, which I am very proud of and which feels really good!

  7. I also will start earning SREC credits which turn into income each year just from owning the system, Here is some info on that: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Renewable_Energy_Certificate

Finally, what I had to chuckle about is that it feels now like I am a competitor or a disruptor of the NV Energy business model. Every month in my bill a rate increase pamphlet is included, to which I really don’t need to concern myself with… however there is a part of me that feels like I am partially responsible for this (in a teensy way).

I received a letter back from NV Energy recently, which was my interconnection agreement. In it they said: " NV Energy is pleased that you have invested in a renewable energy system. Your investment provides substantial benefits to the electric utility’s power-generating system, the economy, and the environment."

I think the tone would be far different if I were not in the smallest of minorities here in Las Vegas…

…now to get a Tesla and really wean off of the fossil fuels!


#19

I looked into this, however you are still paying something to someone each month for your electricity. I prefered the “I fully own this” scenario. In addition you also give up access to your REC credits, which turn into cash to offset (and eventually pay for) your system.

Here is a link on a little bit of the disadvantage of leasing:

http://solarleasedisadvantages.com/


#20

A couple points about turning off your solar system when there is a power outage. This is a good thing.

  1. Power supplied by solar fluctuates a lot. You don’t want various items of your house getting not quite enough power on a regular basis (like on a cloudy day). This is especially true for your AC system.

  2. If your house is generating solar power, and you’re not using it 100% of the power, you’re feeding into the grid. If there are downed power lines, you are potentially making them unexpectedly live lines.