Renewable Grid Augmentation, a solution for long-distance transmission leakage?

by John Brian Shannon

Electrical grids perform two main functions. They carry electrical current from the power producer to the end-user and they regulate the electrical current that is being transported through the lines.

On one end of the line, the electrical current might be generated by a hydro-electric dam, coal, nuclear power, or a renewable energy power plant such as wind or solar power. At the other end of the line, the homeowner, business, industry, or government, receives all the AC electricity (Alternating Current) they need at exactly the right voltage (Volts) and cycles per second (Hertz). In North America, this usually works out to 110 (or 120) Volts AC power @ 60 Hertz.

Along the route, through the hundreds or even thousands of miles of high tension lines and towers (called ‘pylons’) significant but naturally-occurringelectrical current losses of up to one-third of the original output are experienced — which must be covered by 1) sending more current than is needed to ensure the required amount reaches the city after the losses are factored in 2) the installation of costly substations, with their hugely expensive transformer systems to recover and re-modulate the current.

Illustration below depicts just one example of the many kinds of current leakage found in all electrical grids, worldwide.

479px-Fluorescent_tube_under_electric_line
A fluorescent tube glows in the electromagnetic field under high tension lines, from so called “navigated voltage” which happens near energized High Voltage wires. Image courtesy of Wikipedia (BaronAlaric).

There are more substations in North America than you can possibly imagine, and these help to regulate the electrical current and manage leakage. Even the tiniest substations cost several million dollars, have an appreciable land footprint, are often located on expensive land next to residential or commercial/industrial areas, and they are hazardous locations for pets and kids who may ‘jump the fence to take a look around.’ I know this, because in my youth this was a favourite pastime, and my friends and I ‘inspected’ entire substations wondering what role each component performed. After lightning storms, we always looked around for pieces of fried metal that we could proudly take home to show Mom.

SOLAR POWER GRID AUGMENTATION

Small-scale solar installations placed along high tension line routes could compensate for current leakages, and add surplus solar power to the grid as the current flows towards the end users.

The land required for such installations would be tiny, and in fact, that land is already bought and paid for (or leased) and this land is known as electrical power transmission company ‘right-of-ways’ wherever the high tension wires and the pylons which support the wires high above the ground, crisscross the countryside.

The next logical step for power producers and their partners the power transmission companies (now that solar panel costs have hit all-time lows) should be the installation of 1MW solar arrays every 50 or 100 miles along high tension wire right-of-ways to compensate for the electrical current that is lost in transit. A tiny substation at each solar array along the routes could transmit the solar generated power directly to the lines in real time, to make up for the electrical current that is normally lost in transit.

As most electricity demand occurs during the daylight hours, solar panels would add power to the grid exactly when it is experiencing its highest rate of electricity demand and leakage.

WIND POWER GRID AUGMENTATION

In Northern latitudes, wind power might be the preferred Grid Augmentation method. Installing a 1MW wind turbine every 50 miles along high tension wire routes would cover existing electrical current leakages, as well as adding surplus power to the grid.

New and sophisticated vertical axis wind turbines could be installed close to existing high-tension lines with no danger of them ever hitting the wires or pylons.

MAKE MINE A MODULAR!

By employing a modular approach to such installations, results could be seen right away, as a new design/engineering/construction method would not required for each installation. We can simply decide to add a 1MW block of solar or wind power every 50 miles (or whatever is required to cover the average current loss per 50 miles) and start pouring the concrete bases to mount the panels or turbines. This is not rocket science, this can be done.

Electrical leakage results in a huge cost to electrical producers, electrical power transmission companies, and especially to end-users. It is a well understood factor in the course of moving electrical power over long distances and merely adding electrical current to the grid at regular intervals — of a kind which has no fuel cost, no production cost, and is not operator-assisted — will solve the problem, completely.

I look forward to new and innovative uses for renewable energy which complement electrical power producers — instead of competing with them. Using renewable energy in this way could make our grids and the huge, otherwise empty tracts of land they occupy, 30% more efficient in less than two years, if we immediately begin to deploy Modular, Renewable, Grid Augmentation.

A smarter grid, courtesy of renewable energy!

 

Related Information is courtesy of Wikipedia:

US Uses 11 Times More Energy Than UK (with Only 5 Times More People)

Originally published on Outlier (Opower’s blog) by Barry Fischer

Last week, we called attention to America’s massive energy inefficiency problem. The amount of energy wasted by the US economy in 2012, we noted, could power the United Kingdom for 7 years.

UK Energy Flow Chart for 2012
UK Energy Flow Chart for 2012. Image courtesy of UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (July 2013)

But of course the United Kingdom is more than just a reference point. It’s an interesting energy case study itself.

The UK is Europe’s largest oil producer, the country’s renewable electricity use has quadrupled since 2000, and last year the UK was crowned the world’s most energy-efficient major economy. Not to mention its capital city is home to Opower’s European headquarters.

us energy efficiency uk energy efficiency
U.S. energy efficiency vs. UK energy efficiency

Given our company’s inclination to make insightful energy usage comparisons, we’d love to be able to present a side-by-side comparison of total energy waste in the US and UK. Unfortunately, each country takes a distinct methodological approach to evaluating economy-wide energy efficiency  – making it unfeasible to do a clean apples-to-apples comparison (see Author’s Note).

But, based on our knowledge of the energy economy in the US and UK, and equipped with their recently published Energy Flowcharts for 2012, we can still draw some meaningful conclusions:

  • In 2012, the US’s primary energy demand was 11 times bigger than the UK’s
  • The efficiency of electric power generation and transmission is roughly 35% in both countries
  • The average American household uses 2.7 times more electricity and 1.3 times more natural gas than a British household
  • Transportation, dominated by petroleum in both countries, is also their largest energy end-use
  • The countries’ electricity generation portfolios in 2012 were uncannily similar (Coal ~40%, Gas ~30%, Nuclear ~20%, Renewables ~10%).

The first point above, regarding the sizable divergence in per-capita energy use between the US (313.9 million people) and the UK (63.2 million people), may be the juiciest tidbit of all.

Why does the average American consume twice as much energy as the average Brit?

The answer is multifaceted and complex, but we can begin to identify a few key drivers.

First, consider transportation — the largest energy end-use in both countries. The average fuel economy of UK cars is currently 65% better than US cars. Americans also drive almost twice as many miles per year than Brits. More gasoline per mile, combined with lots of miles, is the perfect recipe for a bloated energy flowchart.

Second, compare a typical home near London, England with one in New London, Connecticut. You’ll see some clear energy-related differences: the UK home will neither have an air-conditioner nor a swimming pool (both are exceedingly rare there, largely due to a milder climate); they’re also far more likely to be hang-drying their laundry. These kinds of factors add up.

Third, UK energy efficiency policies have become increasingly ambitious. Last November, the UK Government unveiled a national Energy Efficiency Strategy, that included a £39 million investment in research on how to empower consumers and businesses to adopt more energy-efficient behaviour over time. And starting soon, the UK will join other European countries in a regional effort to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020.

While the US has also made strides in boosting energy efficiency in recent years, especially at the state level and through innovative utility programs, the UK’s concerted nationwide initiatives to cut energy use have positioned the country as a leader…as evidenced by its #1 ranking in ACEEE’s 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. And these efforts are borne out by the 2012 data: as shown below, the UK’s weather-adjusted primary energy consumption inched downward for its 7th straight year.

The UK’s primary energy consumption (weather-adjusted) has declined for seven straight years (Source: UK Digest of Energy Statistics, 2013)
The UK’s primary energy consumption (weather-adjusted) has declined for seven straight years Source: UK Digest of Energy Statistics, 2013

For its part, the US has also seen a general downward trend in total and per-capita energy use in recent years, but it hasn’t trickled down quite as consistently as in the UK.

There are many interesting insights to be drawn from recent energy trends in the States and the Kingdom — including how the Super Bowl and the birth of little Prince George exerted a surprisingly similar effect on national energy use. To dive deeper into the data from both sides of the pond, check out the 2013 Digest of UK Energy Statistics and the most recent US Energy Flowchart Analysis from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Author’s note: The UK’s Energy Flow analysis is constructed on a “primary fuel input basis,” which differs slightly from the “useful energy basis” adopted by the US version. Interested readers can read more details about the UK’s flowchart calculations here and US calculations here.

Special thanks to Nate Kaufman and Ashley Sudney.

Follow @OpowerOutlier on Twitter

This article, US Uses 11 Times More Energy Than UK (with Only 5 Times More People), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

A time to catch the Sun

by John Brian Shannon

“To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven”

The Byrds

And so it is time — as a number of energy variables have changed.
Only 3% of America’s existing 80,000 dams, presently have electrical generators attached to them. Yes, you read right!
What could be better than 100% of America’s dams producing clean electricity — instead of only 3% — thereby adding 77,600 more dams to the U.S. hydroelectric power grid?
Run of river dam
Bonneville Dam, Oregon, Washington, Columbia River (Photo credit: photolibrarian)

Here are some other factors that you may want to consider.

  1. The 80% price drop for solar panels over the past 30 months. (Solar power is now priced comparably to other electricity)
  2. The dramatic fall of wind turbine prices.
  3. Two new laws signed by U.S. President Obama which will allow most of America’s hydro-electric dam operators to add electrical power generation equipment to existing dams.
  4. Run-of-River(small-scale) dams to be built, to produce electrical power in rivers which have yet to be tapped for power. These dams essentially section off some of the water running down the river, using a berm to sequester some of the flow, to direct it to turbines and electrical generators. Meanwhile, the rest of the river continues flowing unaffected. Think of a berm which directs 1/3rd of the river water off to the side, which then runs down through pipes and turbines to produce electrical power.
  5. Pumped Storage simplified. Think of a regular hydroelectric dam — the water flows down through the dam, the generator in the dam produces electricity. Simple enough. But with pumped storage, a water collection system below the turbines pumps the water back uphill behind the dam for reuse at a later time. Up ’till now, it has been hideously expensive to do that, as the cost to pump a million gallons of water uphill each day, was more than the dollars generated by the water as it ran downhill through the turbines in the first place! But now that solar power and wind power have become so competitively-priced, it is natural that they should be installed beside hydro-electric dams to provide power for pumped storage. If much of the water that spills over the dam produces electrical power — then pumping it back up behind the dam cheaply, means it can be used again and again to produce power. Solar panels (during the daylight hours) and wind turbines (at night) can provide the low-cost electricity to send the water back uphill into the reservoir.

Ready for some GigaWatt math?
a) Add electrical power generation to the 77,600 American dams that presently do not produce any electrical energy.
b) Add Pumped Storage units to ALL 80,000 of America’s dams.
c) Add Run of River electrical power generation complete with Pumped Storage to the country’s rivers. The potential number of R-of-R electrical power generation sites could be as high as 50,000.
If you add up all the potential power generation capacity of a, b, and c, it becomes a very large calculation, and you might find it is your “Turn, Turn, Turn” to buy a larger calculator!
By taking this clear and logical path, the U.S.A. would take a huge forward leap in its clean energy production and thereby allow some deteriorating coal and nuclear power plants to be quietly retired.
If you are a clean energy advocate and want to write to your member of Congress, tell them you want;
  • Electrical power generators ADDED to all existing 80,000 U.S. dams — which is 77,600 more than today
  • Pumped Storage ADDED to all 80,000 American dam sites
  • RUN OF RIVER hydroelectric power plants with Pumped Storage built right into new R-of-R plants
JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

To follow John Brian Shannon on social media – place a check-mark beside your choice of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn: FullyFollowMe/johnbrianshannon

Energy & Climate: The regulatory climate is changing too!

by John Brian Shannon

For several decades, U.S. environmental regulators have been the tall, silent type.

These highly-educated people worked for the government, but alongside industry, to craft energy regulations reflecting the ecological notions of their particular era. For most of the 20th century politicians favoured regulations which worked to promote the rapid growth of the economy and to advance the use of energy – particularly fossil-fuel energy.

But now, a new generation of regulators are actively contributing to the debate and they are doing so in significant ways. So much has changed and with little media coverage considering the scope of the changes which are now becoming apparent.

Such are the recent regulatory changes in the U.S.A. that people are now openly wondering if another coal-fired powerplant will ever be built in the United States!

Coal, which produced a majority of America’s electrical energy in 1997,  has since dropped to 36% of total electrical energy production.

The average share of electricity generated from coal in the US has dropped from 52.8% in 1997 to 45.0% in 2009.[1] In the first quarter of 2012, the use of coal for electricity generation has declined substantially more, declining 21% from 2011 levels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 27 gigawatts of capacity from coal-fired generators [are] to be retired from 175 coal-fired power plants between 2012 and 2016.[8] Coal’s share of electricity generation dropped to just over 36%. – Wikipedia

The explanation for this sea-change is both simple and complicated. EPA regulators attempted to enforce the new for 2011 Cross-State Air Pollution Rule regulations (read other important CSAPR information here) due to go into effect on 7/7/11, but that act was struck down in appeals court on 21/8/12 for contravening another set of regulations called The Clean Air Act. Happily, another act (but with lower standards) called the Clean Air Interstate Rule automatically resumed as the prevailing regulatory framework until the CSAPR could be re-written so as not to contravene The Clean Air Act.

In the meantime, EPA bureaucrats set to work on changing the regulations for natural gas extraction, including fracking, which helped to make electricity produced by natural gas much cheaper than electricity produced by coal — and as a result, coal-fired plants are closing down far faster than if the CSAPR had been enacted and not struck down. (Moral: Never argue with the bureaucrats).

Yet more changes lay ahead due to upcoming proposed regulatory changes. A good example of this is Tina Casey’s post “Texas Wind Power Up, Nukes Down” which describes how the nuclear powerplant operator Exelon is shifting away from nuclear to wind energy.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last week, the CEO of energy giant Exelon, Christopher Crane predicted that the influx of low cost wind power would lead the company to start shuttering its nuclear plants.

Though wind and other renewables only account for about three percent of the company’s capacity now, that could change pretty fast.

Exelon’s first commercial wind farm only started operating in January 2012, and the company already has 44 wind projects operating in 10 different states. Tina Casey (Cleantechnica.com)

Coal is now being undercut by lower priced natural gas-fired electricity — and nuclear power is being undercut by lower priced wind-powered electricity, causing a historic shift in America’s energy makeup. We are just at the beginning of that road.

What happens if regulators decide to drop the huge subsidies the government pays to both the coal industry and the nuclear industry?

Even if regulators decided to bring subsidy levels for sustainable energy up to the same levels that coal and nuclear now enjoy – the changes we have seen thus far will seem microscopic.

fossil-fuel-subsidies

In the U.S.A., Oil and Gas receives 13 times more in historical subsidies than clean energy.

Over the first 15 years of these energy sources’ subsidies, oil and gas got 5 times what renewables got (in 2010 dollars) and nuclear energy got 10 times as much.

“Nuclear spent an average of about $3.3 billion a year, oil and gas about $1.8 billion, and renewable energy just under half a billion,” DBL Investors Managing Partner Nancy Pfund and Ben Healey recently wrote in “What would Jefferson do?” – Cleantechnica

energy-subsidies-percentages

The energy regulatory climate is changing in the U.S.A., and we have only seen the beginning of these changes. By 2020, America’s energy regulations will have changed significantly to reflect what a large percentage of voters want. Clean energy, delivered on a (subsidy) level playing field.

us_fuel_subsidies

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JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

To follow John Brian Shannon on social media – place a check-mark beside your choice of Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn: FullyFollowMe/johnbrianshannon

Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2 Including 19 Charts & Graphs — Reblogged from Cleantechnica


Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2 (Including 19 Charts & Graphs) (via Clean Technica)

Continuing on from yesterday’s “Renewable Energy Big Pic” post, here’s Renewable Energy Big Pic: Part 2. As noted yesterday, this two-post series is basically a presentation I gave to a class of renewable energy graduate students this week…

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