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On Will the World's Emerging Economies Shape the Future of the Electric Grid?

Capt D,

Thanks for reading and commenting. As stated in my blog post, I am optimistic that renewable energy will increasingly be the source of choice for a sustainable future.

October 13, 2013    View Comment    

On Will the World's Emerging Economies Shape the Future of the Electric Grid?

SteveK9, thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

I, too, believe that nuclear will play in important role in our energy future, both in developed and developing economies. However, conventional central station nuclear power plants pose some thorny issues:

1. Burn and dump paradigm - while carbon free, today's nuclear technology is about burning something, in this case nuclear fuel, and rejecting the waste back into the ground (and hopefully not into the water or air). Nuclear fission is not a renewable energy source.

2. Adverse environmental impact - while carbon free, nuclear fission results in harmful, even deadly waste that lasts for millenia. And this waste is piling up around the world, not being reprocessed to recover still useable fuel and minimize radioactive waste. Perhaps breeder reactor technology will help address this issue?

3. Risk of adverse events - the larger the central station power plant, the more people are adversely effected in an event (natural or manmade) that takes it out of service. And an event that causes the nuclear fuel or waste to be emitted into the ground, water or air (e.g., Chernobyl, Three MIle Island, Fukushima) is all the more severe. Perhaps smaller, modularized nuclear plants could reduce the risk?

4. Cost - Economies of scale are less, even non-existent, having been swamped by risk, environmental impact constraints, and global competition for raw materials, finished goods, fuel, labor.  Every new central station nuclear power plant will cost significantly more than the average cost of power of the utility that brings it into service. This means rate increases for existing customers or prohibitively high energy costs for new customers. Several nuclear plants in the USA are bein shuttered because they are too expensive to operate and maintain compared to other options.

5. Public opinion - The general public, whether out of concern for the adverse effects describe above or preference for sustainable, renewable energy technologies, are no longer as supportive nuclear power.

October 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Electricity Utilities Must Evolve or Die: Are They Up to the Task?

Bob, 

As we learned in 1929 and afterwards, electric utilities and electric utility holding companies going out of business does not mean that the lights will go out. The grid transcends the business viability of individual and collective owners of the equity and profits (or losses). The current cost-plus monopoloy, centrallly planned / monitored / controlled, giant power plants sending power one-way to distant load centers business model is being supplanted by a new decentralized, market-driven, two-way power flow model. The companies that adapt soon enough and profoundly enough can remain in business, but those who won't will go out of business. That's the way capitalism works.

August 20, 2013    View Comment    

On Electricity Utilities Must Evolve or Die: Are They Up to the Task?

Jesse, 

My comments (perhaps a bit too vigorous) were in response to the statement, "wind and solar which need to evolve into something that's competitive, minus subsidies, minus fossil fuel backup." Plus, I meant to mention that every single fossil fuel or nuclear fueled generator on the grid also has fossil fuel and nuclear fuel and even renewable fuel backup for the times that it is out of service for planned maintenance or an unplanned outage.

Excellent post on your part, by the way. And your reply comments are excellent as well.

Steve

August 20, 2013    View Comment    

On Electricity Utilities Must Evolve or Die: Are They Up to the Task?

And, of course new technologies and new market models distrupt industries and lay waste to incumbent participants. The steam engine did that to human and animal powered transportation and then the steam engine industry was wiped out by gasoline and diesel engine innovations. The telegraph industry was wiped out by the telephone business. The gas lighting industry was destroyed by the electric industry. Who hated it? The incumbents in the obsoleted industry. Who loved it? Consumers!

August 20, 2013    View Comment    

On Electricity Utilities Must Evolve or Die: Are They Up to the Task?

Sheesh, more moaning and groaning about federal subsidies for renewable energy! Nobody seems to recall that, thanks to Ed Teller and all the other scientist who were horrified by the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, the nuclear generation industry, via a "swords into plowshares" initiative was heavily subsidized by the federal government. Every participant in the energy business benefits from federal tax credits, special grants and subsidies, R&D programs, etc. And think of all the industry participants who lined up for ARRA Smart Grid Grants. The federal government funds many things for the public good from education to highways to national defense. Why not support something as critically important to our environment, our energy future, even our national security, as energy sustainability through renewable resources?

August 20, 2013    View Comment    

On Was Edison Right After All? Reconsidering DC Power

Vladimir,

Thanks for taking the time to read my post and respond.

I completely agree with you that this is not binary, not either-or, not black and white. There will be a mixture of DC and AC (and perhaps other forms of energy transfer that we haven't had before?) energy generation, transmission and distribution. I believe that the DC part will increase substantially as do a number of other people in the industry. And DC, like AC, has disadvantages as well as advantages, but on the whole, for the applications that I describe, I believe that DC has an advantage over AC.

June 25, 2013    View Comment    

On DC Power Microgrids: Self-Sufficiency for Utility Customers

Egypt4ever abolnour,

Thanks for taking the time to read and resond to my blog post. 

More and more customers believe that backup generation is essential. Ask any consumer or business that suffers through the increasingly frequent and prolonged grid outages resulting from severe weather events and natural / man-made disasters, utility operator errors or equipment malfunctions / failures or utility generation inadequate to meet peak loads. And we are hearing more and more about the susceptibility of the grid to cyber or physical attacks by vandals, terrorists or others.

And in the developing economies that make up the overwhelming majority of the population of the world but only a small plurality of global electric energy use there is not a monolithic, centralized AC grid to depend on . . . nor an irreversible investment in same. Distributed generation and microgrids may be the only way that they can produce the electric energy that they need to match the quality of life and productivity of business of the developed economies.

The motivation for backup or supplemental generation increasingly goes beyond just the desire for grid backup. Some customers want to get some or all of their energy needs from renewable resources or at least avoid getting them from burning carbon or uranium. As utility costs continue to rise, others will want to get some or all of their power from cheaper sources.

Finally, in the long run, there will be great benefit to eliminating the inefficiencies of DC to AC to DC conversion for PV, fuel cell and battery output as well as AC to DC conversion for the rapidly increasing porportion of customer energy consumption that is represented by electronics devices whose internal workings are exclusively DC. 

Thanks again for participating in the discussion.

Steve C

June 11, 2013    View Comment    

On DC Power Microgrids: Self-Sufficiency for Utility Customers

Paul,

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and especially for sharing your thoughts.

It is clear that you and I have dramatically different viewpoints on the necessity and nature of a smarter grid. I am not of the opinion that we are in the midst of a crisis in our legacy AC grid, but I absolutely believe that one is looming and sooner then most folks think. I am not alone in this viewpoint. For example, the Electric Advisory Committee, in its January 2009 report, "Keeping the Lights on in the New World," reports: 

“. . . the current electric power delivery system infrastructure . . . will be unable to ensure a reliable, cost-effective, secure, and environmentally sustainable supply of electricity for the next two decades . . . Much of the electricity supply and delivery infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life.”

http://energy.gov/oe/downloads/electricity-advisory-committee-eac-2009-keeping-lights-new-world

The members of the EAC are not romantics, extremists or naive. Nor are they acedemics, policy wonks, bureaucrats or politicians. They are the leaders of the electric utility industry, the folks who are responsible for the planning, construction, operation, maintenance and management of the grid. To ignore their informed and expert opinion would be foolhardy. That is why the industry has been investing billions upon billions of dollars in measures to move to a new kind of grid . . . renewable energy resources, demand response programs, automated distribution automation systems, and many more.

I am not suggesting that our legacy AC grid should or even could be retrofitted to be a DC grid, much less replaced by one. However, I do believe that there will be DC microgrids and nanogrids that augment the AC grid for all of the reasons that I set forth in my blog post. DC transmission connections are already used in a few places in the US and much more widely in other parts of the world. Customers already use DC microgrids daily . . . they are parked in their driveways, docked at marinas, waiting for them to board at airports, used by them at KOA campgrounds, etc. And data centers all over the US operate DC microgrids that are simultaneously connected to the grid so long as the grid is providing service. Nearly every commercial building in the US uses tiny DC nanogrids to provide battery operated emergency backup lighting in offices and stairwells in the event of grid outages. Pretty much every electronic device in my home and office is a DC nanogrid that gets its power from the AC grid, and several of them get power from a DC battery powerd UPS when the grid is down.

Finally, on a more idealogical note, an increasing number of consumers in our country and the rest of the world have real motivations to "dump the utilities" because they are dissatisfied with their price, reliability, sustainability, adverse environmental impact, etc.

Thanks again for participating in the discussion.

Steve C

June 11, 2013    View Comment    

On Was Edison Right After All? Reconsidering DC Power

I just learned about an interesting company that is pursuing DC technology for the smart grid. You can learn more about NexTek Power Systems at http://www.nextekpower.com and you can follow them on Twitter as @nextekpower.

There is even an industry association, the EMerge Alliance, to develop industry standards. Learn more at http://www.emergyalliance.org.

An open industry association

leading the rapid adoption of safe DC power distribution in commercial buildings through the development of EMerge Alliance standards 

May 10, 2013    View Comment    

On Was Edison Right After All? Reconsidering DC Power

James,

Thanks for reading and commenting.

You are spot on! Now think of supplying some or all of your DC subsystem with rooftop solar and some electric storage.

This principle can apply to commercial and industrial facilities as well. And it is not limited to DC subsystems.

 

May 6, 2013    View Comment    

On Was Edison Right After All? Reconsidering DC Power

Nathan,

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. 

I guess that we disagree fairly categorically across the board? 

I don't think that "it is somehow noble and empowering to be off the grid." I do think that the realities of the grid now and into the future (e.g., increasing costs, declining reliability, inadequate physical security, lack of environmental sustainability, etc.) will cause an increasing number of residential, commercial and industrial customers to take some or all of their needs "off the grid." Even in the unlikely event that none do, the grid of the future will be far different than that of the past.

I am quite confident that continuing revolutionary advances in electronics, telecommunications, information, energy and materials technologies will make it possible not just for us to operate a century old grid better, but will enable us to do things with power production, distribution and utilization that we were never able to be before. Perhaps more importantly, as has already proven to be the case in telecommunications, they will enable us to do things that we never thought of before. I definitely fall in the camp of Peter Diamindis (the X Prize sponsor) and Steven Kotler in their book "Abundance."

I also agree with the conclusion of the Electric Advisory Council (not bureaucrats, regulators, academics, etc. but rather the very folks who manage the grid in this country) as communicated to the US DOE in their 2009 report:

“Keeping the Lights On in a New World,” January 2009 

http://energy.gov/oe/downloads/electricity-advisory-committee-eac-2009-keeping-lights-new-world

that ". . . the current electric power delivery system infrastructure . . . will be unable to ensure a reliable, cost-effective, secure, and environmentally sustainable supply of electricity for the next two decades . . . Much of the electricity supply and delivery infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life."

 

May 6, 2013    View Comment