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Posted by: Warren Karlenzig

Smart Grids Will Revolutionize Cities

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The internet, distributed renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy management are ready to coalesce: the impact on cities and our lives will be profound. The US-China Green Energy Conference (sponsored by the US-China Green Energy Council) held Friday in the Silicon Valley took a deep bi-national dive into what smart grids are and what they will mean for so-called smart cities, their wired citizenry and the future of global carbon emissions.

Smart grids specifics are finally starting to emerge from the marketing haze. They will rely heavily on smart buildings, and are a critical solution in making renewable energy more scalable through more efficient energy transmission systems. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa are working with 1,000 residents to test smart grid applications and have reportedly lowered their water use by 6% in early trials with IBM.

Elsewhere, China is testing a four-square kilometer smart grid pilot area in its national urban eco showcase, Tianjin Eco-City. The smart grid includes a 30kw PV solar microgrid on the roof of the Tianjin "Eco-City Business Hall," where residents will be able to charge their electric vehicles while they view virtual reality demonstrations of how the smart grid works, including its "self-healing" capabilities within the Eco-City's network.

In terms of renewable energy, smart grids will be a killer app. Right now, when the wind completely dies in larger areas of wind power generation, such as the West Texas plains, the transmission system supplying electricity to cities, including Austin and Dallas, suffers a "mad scramble," according to Liang Min, of the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In fact, according to Chuck Wells from OSISoft, such power hiccups are currently so disruptive, that 45% more fossil fuel is needed to back up regional energy grids having large-scale wind and solar generation versus regional grids that rely only on fossil fuels.

On the home or business side, people are responsible for about 30% of a typical building's energy system performance, said John Skinner, Managing Director of Intel's Open Energy initiative. The more reliable information people have, the more likely they can make smart decisions about energy use, and the more likely they can pay less for energy than they do with analog meters (the ones with the wheels turning inside them).

Energy transactions will become more transparent through next-generation smart grid transaction languages, such as TeMIX which was presented to the US-China energy conference by Edward Cazalet, CEO of TeMIX. Cazalet's presentation reminded me of how the internet was optimized when TCP/ IP, the unifying data transfer protocols behind the web, were created. The capability for energy systems to use a unified language around energy use and transactions will be critical. This language will allow governments, businesses and residents to better manage their energy consumption. Currently, energy costs can  vary tremendously based on factors including climate, usage and equipment, costing as much as five times or more during peak hours. Few people outside of large businesses realize they can cut energy costs dramatically by changing their behavior, which can be as straightforward as running energy guzzling appliances to during off-peak hours.

None of this means that smart meters are a panacea. In cities throughout California, smart meters have been rolled out clumsily by the utility Pacific Gas and Electric. After four years of replacing residential and business analog meters with wireless smart meters, a vocal and well-organized group of citizens are objecting to the continuous signals they transmit. Others object based on invasion of privacy or fear the new meters would overcharge them. PG&E has finally gotten around to a public education program extolling the benefits of smart meters, which they say are mandatory for their customers. Besides the heavy handedness, even with the new PR campaign, PG&E has not made the case for compelling consumer benefits.

Consolidated Ed of New York City, on the other hand has managed their smart meter pilot program more effectively. Con Ed ran an extensive public education program and transparent opt-out option for those that did not want smart meters (2% did not want them) on their home or business for their New York City pilot program. The utility offered participants in its pilot program rebates of $25-50. Six rate structures with hourly rate changes and a web-based consumer dashboard explained and demonstrated different rates, according to EPRI's Liang Min.

Many companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, General Electric and Google are eyeing the nascent smart grid for its potential not just to make cities more eco-efficient, but for also for lucrative smart-grid revenue streams as they penetrate the last major untapped digital pathway into our lives.

"We are cooperating with many high tech companies," Kai Xie, General Manager of the US Office of the China State Grid told the US-China Energy Conference. "We have also developed some in-house products for our customers, including a dashboard (with Intel) as part of a two-way communication combined smart meter and consumer portal. "

Our information, communications, photographs, entertainment and medical industries are all now increasingly digital, and soon our energy will be digitized, too. Let's hope the planet and our cities will benefit from a smooth and well thought out transformation.



Authored by:

Warren Karlenzig

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current (www.commoncurrent.com), a global consultancy for urban sustainability planning, policy and development. Warren has recently worked with the United Nations / the People's Republic of China (Shanghai Manual for Sustainable Cities); the United States government (US Department of State, White House, US DOE, US EPA); the nation of South Korea ("New ...

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September 21, 2011

Ben Edelbrock says:
Thanks Warren for the great article. The thought that "smart grid" will revolutionize the way consumers and businesses consume power I know getting to be a tired mantra for consumers looking warily for benefits. For most utilities supplying power, the initial rollout of smart meters was a subsidized boon to achieve automated meter reading. As a result they received a digital endpoint that supplies granularity of data and in the end consumption patterns, outage information and two-way communication. As we move to the next stage of distribution automation and the integration of renewables, it is important to again focus on consumer education. As an industry we failed miserably with the original AMR (eventual AMI) initiatives. It is important that we not only re-educate consumers but also educate consumers of the tangible benefits of this "revolutionary" future. For more thoughts, please visit my blog at www.infosysblogs.com/smart-utilities Ben Edelbrock, Infosys

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September 11, 2011

A guest says:

I am very much interested in learning how smart grid technology will, if at all, resolve Solar PV-generated electricity's variability problem -- something that can also be addressed if a cost-feasible, electricity storage solution can be found.

I own a 10KW, grid-tied Solar PV array, which can be seen here: https://sites.google.com/site/freemarketsolarpower/home/if-we-must-have-...

That's also an essay on why subsidizing Solar PV is the wrong way to go, especially since utilities don't find it attractive enough (because it's too variable, hence, we need a solution) to buy, much less from small fish like me (they only buy it because Fed/State law forces them to, and at a deliberately vague  "avoided cost" rate).

If anyone has research showing a "variability" solution anywhere in site, please send it to me at freemarketsolar@juno.com



In terms of renewable energy, smart grids will be a killer app. Right now, when the wind completely dies in larger areas of wind power generation, such as the West Texas plains, the transmission system supplying electricity to cities, including Austin and Dallas, suffers a "mad scramble," according to Liang Min, of the US Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). In fact, according to Chuck Wells from OSISoft, such power hiccups are currently so disruptive, that 45% more fossil fuel is needed to back up regional energy grids having large-scale wind and solar generation versus regional grids that rely only on fossil fuels.

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September 4, 2011

Inside Nine says:

Yes, there will be revolution. Unprecedented levels of illness from continual pulsed microwave radiation will lead the way. These grids can be set up with wired networks. The word is out already that people are getting sick from it. I hope our decision makers care enough to correct this huge problem or their overaggressive approach will come back to bite us all.

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September 3, 2011

Nathan Wilson says:

The real-world benefits of smartgrid technology are yet to be demonstrated.

As a consumer, I consider most of my energy use to be high priority, and thus, will continue regardless of the instantaneous cost of electricity. Much of my use is during peak times too. When my family gets home in the evenings, the kitchen powers up for meal preparation, the refrigerator motor comes on (because the door is opened repeatedly), the lights come on, the timer/thermostat activated airconditioner comes on, the home entertainment system comes on.

I suppose my teenaged son is doing his part to reduce on-peak use by napping after school and using the computer at night.

My city is rolling out smart meters this year, but I don't expect to reduce my energy usage, nor see any reduction in my bill.

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September 3, 2011

A guest says:

Nathan,

You have probably achieved most of the low investment potential benefits of smart grid for your family by using an automatic setback thermostat on a regular basis. If nobody is home during the day on weekdays, your energy use during the utility's peak is probably on the order of 1 kW or less. That would continue until the thermostat begins the process of recovering set point, prior to your return home.

You could achieve more, with significant investment, by incorporating an ice storage system into your cooling system, which would make ice at night at very low rates and relatively high efficiency for use during the shoulder periods of the utility's demand curve. However, the payback period would likely exceed 10 years, which is beyond the typical homeowner's planning horizon.

A seven day timer installed on an electric water heater could also keep it offline during the utility's peak, but anticipate your return home to reheat the stored water.

However, the key to any of these potential savings is real time pricing, which utility commissions have been loathe to even consider, no less test. Also, I agree that the financial incentive for rescheduling electric use has to exceed the perceived cost of the inconvenience. That is a very subjective measure, but the cost is definitely non-zero.

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September 3, 2011

Nathan Wilson says:

I'm still a smart-grid skeptic Ed. 

Note that ice storage system you mentioned must increase overall energy use, since pumping a Watt-hour out of an ice tank at 28F is in inherently less efficient that pumping that same Watt-hour out of room air at 75F. 

Also, my thermostat timer comes on right in the middle of the utility peak, not after it! (I work days).

I'm waiting for an estimate of what percentage of the total electrical load can be rescheduled using real-time pricing systems. I can't image offices or factories have much dispatchable loads either. I've only heard of the occasional water pump or irrigation system cited as examples.

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September 4, 2011

A guest says:

So am I, Nathan.

If your automatic thermostat resets to occupied conditions at about 4 pm, you would have avoided the period during which very high peak rates might be in effect in a real time pricing scenario, though you would still be in the peak period in an on-peak/off-peak rate scenario. That is one of the reasons why real time pricing is critical to smart grid.

The evaporator coil in a typical residential air conditioner operates at just above freezing to assure effective dehumidification. Therefore, the evaporator temperature does not need to be reduced by more than ~10oF to make ice. The controlling condition on air conditioner efficiency is the delta T between the evaporator and condenser temperatures. The potential savings from ice storage result from the opportunity to make ice during a period when the condenser temperature can be lower because of the lower night outdoor ambient temperature and the real time electric rates are lower due to reduced system demand; and, the opportunity to use the "coolth" stored in the ice to reduce air conditioner operation during the peak demand period, when condenser temperatures would have to be higher and electric rates are highest.

The data you are waiting for is not readily available because most smart grid demonstrations to date have not included real time pricing and have been of such short duration that customers could not justify making permanent changes. It is not possible to demonstrate the potential of one scenario by testing another scenario.

Some additional information here: http://www.calmac.com/benefits/general.pdf

 

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September 5, 2011

Nathan Wilson says:

The ice storage system from Calmac is intertesting.  It might make sense for commercial applications, but probably not for residential use.

I don't buy the claim that residential smart grid benefits can't be demonstrated in tests before widespread roll-outs.  All of the home efficiency technology is demonstrated one house at a time (see Passive Haus or ask Amory Lovins).  The equipment upgrades for such a demonstration is usually funded by the goverment, equipment maker, or a utility, not the homeowner.

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September 1, 2011

Rick Engebretson says:

Perhaps I missed it. But why no mention of DC for centralized (urban) power distribution? Instead of "smart metering," promote simplification and efficiency.

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September 3, 2011

Nathan Wilson says:

Rick, economics will always favor AC distribution for distances between 100 feet and 100 miles.  This is because so many voltage changes are needed along the way, and because voltage changing is so easy and cheap with AC transformers (the efficiency isn't too bad either).

We must have low voltages (120V or less) for household safety (and in fact most electronic devices only need 5V or so, which is lousy for distances over a few feet or powers about a few Watts).  But after a few hundred feet at kiloWatt scale, the copper wire is too expensive, so pole mounted transformer boost the voltage to 10kV or so (which proportionately reduces current, and copper requirement).  After a few miles at megaWatt scale, it becomes cheaper to raise the voltage again to 135kV or higher (750kV is preferred for GigaWatt scale and 100 miles).

High Voltage DC (400-800kV) provide lower loss than similar AC lines (no reactive power) and can use smaller & less obtrusive towers and lines.  But due the the cost of AC-DC and DC-AC conversion equipment, doesn't become cost preferred until a few hundred miles, at 5 GWatts or so.

The one except is for villages that wish to continue a state of energy poverty.  In this case, a hut-mounted 12V solar panel would be a great way for the kids to power their toys while mom gathers wood for a cooking fire.

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September 3, 2011

Rick Engebretson says:

Nathan, you are probably right.

The first house I wired I used the white wire for hot and black wire for neutral. It made sense to me that the dangerous wire was the most visible. But, of course, the wiring inspector differed. I'm glad DC is consistent with my thinking.

And Europe has a different AC standard.

And aluminum rivals copper for conductivity so buss bars with storage capacitors can keep many devices running without each having independent power converters. Let's recycle those soda pop cans. I made a point over the years to purchase computer power supplies with quiet fans.

Apparently, many of the power poles in the twin cities are now rotten underground. When they upgraded our underground line the installers bemoaned how urban areas were difficult to install underground. Do we still have enought of those trees?

The grid and baseload power will remain critical. But 10 Watts of LEDs sure beats candles when the grid isn't available. And with DC, if the smart meter turns me off, please at least keep the essentials going.

If urban areas want 120v/60Hz/15A every few feet that is their choice. I prefer a different approach.

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September 1, 2011

A guest says:

Rick,

A partial answer to your question. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_Power_Plant

Also, DC is not a very high potential wind or concentrating solar site - too little wind and too many clouds.

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September 1, 2011

Rick Engebretson says:

Thanks, Ed, for reading my cryptic comment. I worried I should have written Direct Current instead of DC. I shoot my mouth off too much as it is, so I truly appreciate your intervention.

My point was, since most consumer electric consumption is now semiconductor based Direct Current, we can save a lot of energy with DC distributed to the consumer. Perhaps half the current load consumed is one transformer winding to another transformer winding. The consumer is paying a lot of money just heating up iron in transformer hysteresis.

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September 1, 2011

A guest says:

Rick,

The losses in utility distribution grids are ~7-8% on average, though peak losses may be twice as high in some systems.

Arguably, the losses are probably greater in the individual half-wave rectifiers which are used to convert the utility AC power into DC for use in electronic devices. Some residential appliances are also using DC motors, which make adaptive variable speed operation more efficient.

The electronic inverters used to convert the DC output of solar PV and wind turbines are very efficient (90+%).

The huge losses in the current electricity supply system are generation losses, accounting for ~63% of the primary energy consumed to produce electricity.

http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/sec8_3.pdf

 

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September 1, 2011

Rick Engebretson says:

Thanks Ed. You've presented that chart before. It is a very good loss chart, even for those of us unfamiliar with the format.

When you see kids running around with pocket tele-computers, don't you think that chart's electric system efficiency data can be improved on? That's all I'm saying; before we push "smart meters" we have a lot of systemic re-design work to do.

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September 3, 2011

A guest says:

Rick,

In a lot of ways, I think it is all a package. We stand a far better chance of doing it right if we do it all together.

Rick,

The generators feeding the grid all work most efficiently at steady state. The grid is least efficient at peak, since I2R losses are the greatest. The generators used at peak conditions are the least efficient generators in the fleet.The flexibility of the current system comes at the price of reduced efficiency.

The US grid has an average load factor of ~40%; that is, it's capacity is ~2.5 times as large as would be necessary if the load were constant. The greatest potential advantage of the smart grid, in my opinion, is leveling the load on the grid, which would both increase average generation efficiency and reduce grid losses. The primary drivers necessary to achieve this result are real time pricing of electricity and consumer awareness of real time electricity prices. It is also essential that consumers be able to automatically respond to increasing prices using pre-selected decision criteria. I don't believe we will ever approach a 100% load factor, but starting at ~40% leaves lots of room for improvement.

There are also lots of things which could be done with the thermal energy currently rejected by the generation process. Today's combined cycle gas turbine power plants are one step in that direction. They increase turbine generator efficiency from ~25-30% to ~55% by using the recovered thermal energy to generate steam for use in a steam turbine generator. Similar and greater efficiencies are possible using systems which cogenerate both power and thermal energy for use in on-site or local thermal processes. However, it is far easier and more effective to design such systems from the ground up than to retrofit them in existing facilities. The recovered thermal energy can be used for water and space heating, space cooling and dehumidification, and as hot water or steam for process heating applications.

 

 

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September 1, 2011

Paul O says:

Would said power be generated locally as well?

DC looses far more power over Loooonnnnngggg transmission lines than does AC. Doesn't it?

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September 1, 2011

Rick Engebretson says:

You are a very smart man, Paul. So don't believe anything I say, but I'll say it anyway.

The concern for lo..ong transmission is electrical current and line resistance. IIRC my power from western N. Dak. to central Minnesota is over a DC transmission line. So high voltage is "transmitted" instead. IIRC my EM physics prof. had no believers when he said the actual power was transmitted by a "Poynting Vector'" EXH. So clearly, I'm not a transmission line expert. And I'm just encouraging consideration of local DC.

Further, the big Tesla-Edison dispute is often awarded Tesla for ultimately prevailing in AC transmission. But Edison and GE made money on vacuum tubes derived from incandescent light bulbs, to make rectifier circuits and amplifiers with DC.

There is a huge industry now built upon DC. Generation, storage, lighting, even stepper motor controls. Automobiles are evolving with electric power trains. It seems a lot easier to make AC when and where you need it than the reverse. AC has 3 challenging variables; frequency, amplitude (voltage), and phase. DC has one variable, so it is much more friendly and tolerant.

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September 1, 2011

Paul O says:

I am nowhere as smart as you are Rick. My question was a simple one. Is it your point that energy transmission losses now favor DC over AC?

Or are you (accademically) suggesting a future of locally produced and distributed DC power ? I am very unskilled at guessing the intent of a speaker over their simply expressed words and I don't do sarcassm well.

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