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“Patch work is great for quilts … not so great for a 21st century Electric Utility system”

November 26th, 2012 · No Comments

JamesS had an interesting"it's electric!" turn of phrase amid a discussion of the need for a national smart grid with significant change to management of our electrical system.

Patch work is great for quilts and old jeans — not so great for a 21st century Electric Utility system.

This caught my attention, the word paints a strong imagery that does reflect the patch work nature of the nation’s electrical grid.

However, the analogy is off in some ways when we consider ‘resiliency’ and smart grid elements.

We want a mix of patchwork that is strongly stitched together — but which provides value when the patch is cut off from the rest.

We should have connected islanding — on national, regional, and local levels.

While there are serious value streams to be had from a national (and even international — a la TREC) gridding, there is also tremendous resiliency value from a distributed power system which enables resiliency in the face of disaster (natural or manmade).  Lets say that every NYC building were required to have onsite power generation for some portion of its use and (and) a requirement to be able to self-sustain some level of emergency power services. Imagine, for example, apartment buildings that had enough onsite CHP, solar, urban wind to be able to maintain one elevator, pumped water, emergency lighting (include some LED lighting in each residence), and perhaps electricity to 1 kitchen out of each 20 residences.  How would that have changed the impact of Sandy on New York?

This can be taken to larger / shifted scales. While you are strong against nuclear power, lets say that SMRs (small nuclear reactors) truly end up developing and start getting deployed.  What if there were SMRs (as batteries) that were spread through the city, 20 megawatts of power each.  When the power lines came down and the waters flooded in, would this have kept the lights on for much of the city?

And, the “smart grid” enables through rapid reaction to changing grid connections / otherwise to, for example, shift a building (business, home, school, etc ..) from ‘standard’ power to ‘reduced power’ to ’emergency power’.  And, as the grid / power lines restore, the smart grid would enable ramping back up to ‘normal’ operations.

There are reasons for improved national grid (being able to move power around (whether stranded renewables (wind, solar, etc …) or for power storage (hydro) or to even out loading/costs), etc), but this should be done along with distributed power generation and management.  E.g., ‘smart patchwork’ has a role to play in the overall smart grid design / system.

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Tags: electricity · Energy