How Distributed Energy and EV’s could add jobs, increase energy security and lower CO2 emissions

by John Brian Shannon

Solar rooftop installations
Can ‘Distributed Solar’ power add useful electrical power to electrical grids without affordable in-home batteries, allowing the solar energy collected throughout the day, to be saved for night-time use?

The Solar Future

The Royal Dutch Shell report, NEW LENS SCENARIOS is predicting that solar energy will be the main energy source by mid-century — including, not incidentally, the main source of energy for transportation. Shell has solar surpassing all other forms of energy including coal, nuclear, petroleum and natural gas, and sees it as a process already underway.

Batteries get More Fans

Therefore, unknown to the vast majority of people, we are presently ramping-up to solar being the by-far largest source of energy by 2070, according to the report. Ergo, we need batteries. And it’s going to be a huge business once it gets going.

Pumped Storage

There are many battery systems in use in the world today, some old and some new. For example, pumped storage at hydro-electric dams is one type of battery which has augmented the reliable power that dams supply, although conventional PS can be costly. Nevertheless, some conventional pumped storage sites have won prestigious awards for providing reliable power with minimal resources over decades of time. See; Ludington, Michigan Pumped Storage Plant.

Other exciting battery storage solutions are being explored and major investors such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet know that solar is the future of energy, that it will require huge R&D, a large infrastructure, and has the potential to pay magnificent returns, à la Microsoft or Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Distributed Energy

Although distributed energy is not an energy storage solution (a battery) it is another exciting way of using energy, and shows enormous potential. If an average of 10 solar panels were placed on the rooftop or garage of every home, commercial office space, and factory, it would significantly alter the energy equation in North America.

Again, because we only have the Sun for part of the day, we need energy storage solutions.

With the recent convergence of low-cost solar panels, sophisticated net metering systems, concerns surrounding our continental CO2 emissions, toxic gases and soot emitted from fossil fuel power plants impacting citizen health and climate change, some pieces of the puzzle could serendipitously fall into place.

GigaWatts of Distributed Solar power plus One Battery per Household

Millions of photovoltaic solar panels on homeowner/businesses rooftops across the country could collect vast amounts of sunlight and through the mechanism of Distributed Energy, add huge amounts of power to grid during the daytime when electricity demand is highest. But with an affordable battery, energy could also be directed to one battery at nearly every address in the nation.

GigaWatts of Distributed Solar marrying One Battery per Household, and the battery is located in an EV parked in the driveway!

Think of an arrangement whereby the Electric Vehicle is continuously plugged-in whenever it is not being driven, and electricity from the grid charges the car battery — but with this arrangement (net metering) the electricity could be fed back into the grid from the Electric Vehicle batteries. The U.S. presently has 62 million cars and light trucks (of all kinds) that are registered. Every day, more EV’s are added to the nations vehicle fleet.

Think of a future day when 62 million EV batteries are fully charged and on-tap for electrical utilities, especially at night when the big light bulb in the sky moves to the other side of the planet. This has all been discussed in the past and was found to be impractical, from an economic standpoint. But not a technical one.

Tesla_charging_station_with_solar_collector_trimmed
Tesla Charging Station, California. The solar panels on the roof are connected to the grid, and are not directly connected to the car chargers. Image courtesy of: TESLA

The question now is, should this decision be revisited due to breakthroughs in solar panel costs and net metering/distributed energy technology? Not to mention advances in EV batteries and lower EV purchase costs.

Here are some questions we should ask ourselves:

  • Is it impractical (and frankly a waste of resources) to have a battery in every home to store solar energy for overnight use AND have a battery in every car?
  • Why should we have millions of home batteries AND millions of car batteries, when one big battery in the car (and everyone else’s car that is plugged in overnight) could dramatically contribute to the energy storage pool if required.
  • Many vehicle fleets move only occasionally, but must be kept ready for almost instant use. FEMA vehicles, military vehicle fleets, city and municipal police and other vehicle fleets, snowploughs, graders, farm implements, semi-trailers and car rental fleets, to say nothing of used car lots and road paving equipment — and many more examples. All these vehicles may be parked for comparatively long periods of time, and if continuously plugged into a net metering connection could accumulate and store energy all day, and release (for example) up to 30% of their storage capacity, still leaving a 70% charge in the battery, allowing the vehicle to be driven a reasonable distance in the morning. (Say, to work, where another charger or regular electrical plug-in is located)
  • Some drivers may opt-out as needed, by merely pressing a ‘Full charge’ button on the charger unit as they may require a full charge for the next day.
  • Of course, the other setting is the ‘Contribute to the grid’ setting (leaving 70% or more) charge in the car battery.

If the U.S. was a socialist country, the President would order a ‘trillion’ dollars be made available to make it happen. And it would happen.

China will be constrained to do this or something like it, once it becomes feasible for their unique situation. It will simply be in the Chinese best interest to install millions of solar panels on rooftops across the country to collect the maximum amount of solar power possible and store it in one large battery per household (in an EV) — instead of two large batteries per household (one in the home and another one in an EV). The population of China is 1.35 billion. One battery vs. two batteries per household makes a big difference in cost to citizens and in national resources.

Doing so, would dramatically lower emissions, add stability to the power grid, add to national energy security while creating many thousands of solar panel manufacturing and installation jobs, many thousands of Electric Vehicle and battery manufacturing jobs, and demonstrate that China is indeed a world leader in distributed energy and environmental stewardship.

If China could do all that, why can’t we?

A precedent for such a bold project already exists in the United States. The Interstate highway system was created by the federal government, ostensibly to help the U.S. military to rapidly deploy personnel, matériel, and equipment throughout the continent in the event of Soviet invasion.

What actually happened with that, is that there was never any Soviet invasion — but there was a huge economic leap for the country caused in large part by the sheer scale of the construction project and later, the ability to economically transport people and commercial goods quickly and over long distances.

How legitimate are the reasons which would allow China to beat us to a combined Distributed Energy/EV battery infrastructure future, which would add more energy security, more jobs, and better environmental stewardship?

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checked by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US President (1901-09)

Though the Interstate Highway system at the time was seen as a project fraught with massive risk and cost, complete with huge engineering hurdles to overcome, making it an unprecedented challenge even for the United States to undertake (just as it was when the U.S. sent men to the Moon), so it may be another massive challenge to add distributed solar energy to the existing grid, which is connected to EV batteries parked in every driveway.

Respectfully President Obama, it is time for America to again, “dare mighty things” and reap the rewards thereof.

America’s Updated Energy Strategy

by John Brian Shannon

President Obama visited the Argonne National Laboratory today in Argonne, Illinois, to give a major speech on the future of American energy. A new, USD $2 billion dollar program called the energy security trust was announced which gives focus to the administration’s plans for more renewable energy and proposes lower subsidies for fossil fuels.

Much of the resulting policy statement is based upon information supplied to the administration by the nonpartisan, Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) which represents senior business and former military leaders on both ends of the American political spectrum.

Here are the main points of the energy security trust – more detailed information is available by clicking here and here. And you can read the transcript of the President’s speech today in Argonne, Illinois, as compiled by the Chicago Sun-Times here.

By 2020, the President and Energy Secretary Steven Chu want the US;

  • To double the present level of U.S. renewable electricity generation
  • To double American energy productivity (by 2030)
  • To cut energy waste in the U.S. by half over the next twenty years
  • To invest in technology promoting energy efficiency & reduced waste
  • To cut net oil imports in half by the end of the decade
  • To enable safer production & cleaner electricity from natural gas
  • To promote safe & responsible oil and natural gas development
  • To assist the Nation’s truck fleets to adopt natural gas & alternative fuels
  • To improve energy efficiency through the Better Buildings Challenge program
  • To help U.S. states cut energy waste, improve efficiency & modernize grids
  • To streamline Interior Department regulations for faster project permitting
  • To work with the G20 & other fora to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies worldwide
  • To work with the IEA & others to strengthen energy security
  • To promote energy efficiency & development & deployment of clean energy via Clean Energy Ministerial & other international fora
  • To promote safe & secure nuclear power in nations pursuing nuclear energy
  • To design a responsible nuclear waste strategy for the U.S.

As the President continues to pursue his ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy, it should be noted that significant progress has been made. As President Obama stated in his speech today,

“We produce more oil than we have in 15 years. We import less oil than we have in 20 years. We’ve doubled the amount of renewable energy that we generate from sources like wind and solar. We have tens of thousands of good jobs to show for it.

We’re producing more natural gas than we ever have before with hundreds of thousands of good jobs to show for it. We supported the first new nuclear power plant in America since the 1970’s. And we’re sending less carbon pollution into the environment than we have in nearly 20 years. So we’re making real progress across the board.” – President Barack Obama

All of this is adding up to huge changes in the American energy sector and for the producers, consumers and investors of energy, the energy map in 2020 will bear scant resemblance to our present-day energy model. And that means that seven years from now, the air in and around large U.S. cities will be the cleaner for it.

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JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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President Obama: Restoring the Dream

by John Brian Shannon

President Obama advertised that he would bring “Hope and Change” to the U.S.A. when he campaigned for president first time around and he did, in fact, bring about momentous change during his first term.

I know this, because in my area of specialty — earth-shaking change has occurred. Change that by some accounts, was too much to hope for in an entire lifetime!

Sometime after his 2009 inauguration, the 44th President of the United States laid out his (then-controversial) positions on energy, energy security and sustainable energy as they related to the United States.

In fact, he wrote me a letter back in March 2012 outlining his energy plans. It is a profound document and is available at: johnbrianshannon.com

At the time, these seemed like grand but unreachable goals. But not now — less than a year later! In hindsight, it is now obvious that President Obama had a strong, overriding vision of a self-sufficient and energy-secure America. For an overview, visit: The Biggest Energy Story of 2012

It is also enlightening to read the Reuters report on what the IEA has said about President Obama’s startlingly successful energy, energy security and sustainable energy policies: U.S. to overtake Saudi as top oil producer: IEA

“(Reuters) – The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer by 2017, the West’s energy agency said on Monday, predicting Washington will come very close to achieving a previously unthinkable energy self-sufficiency.” (Reuters excerpt)

President Obama promised positive change in America’s energy future — and he delivered unprecedented positive change! Energy industry experts are still reeling.

Which gives me hope.

Hope that with some cooperation from U.S. politicians and from America’s allies, this President and his administration can overcome the economic damage that has threatened the ongoing success story that is our Western society.

How to do that over the long term? And how to do it without throwing billions of dollars at temporary solutions and then ending up in a similar position 10 or 15 years later.

Many Americans and America’s well-wishers around the globe are unhappy with increasing inequality in the U.S.

Initially the U.S. became great on account of the opportunities to citizens (first) and immigrants (second) and its trading partners around the world (third). What built America was the hopes and aspirations of several generations who saw the opportunities offered to those who worked smart and hard, and who also invested their time and resources well.

Millions of people were self-incentivized to be productive, to contribute to the betterment of the nation and to add value to their lives and to their communities. Having the opportunity to succeed — allowed and created all of the success that citizens and trading partners of the U.S.A. have enjoyed over the past hundred years or more.

For those who can be honest about it, those opportunities have dissipated alarmingly in recent decades.

Rarely can one finish their education, begin a career at one level and years later, finish their career as a CEO or owner of a large and prosperous business. People have little upward mobility and for those born into poverty situations, the vast majority of them continue to live in poverty until they pass out of this world — no matter how great their work ethic.

This has been well-documented elsewhere, so I won’t go on about it at length here.

But if anything is going to help restore citizens faith in the American dream, and restore the faith well-wishers of the United States around the world, it will be a healthier and better-educated American society.

One of the best ways to improve peoples economic standing, (according the the UN and other organizations expert in governance and human development) are by society-wide improvements to health and education.

It needn’t cost a trillion dollars — but it does need direction.

The same sort of direction that President Obama used to take his country from a nation perilously addicted to foreign oil and turn it into an net exporter of oil and gas — in the process making it an almost energy self-sufficient nation and a nation on the forefront of sustainable energy worldwide. All accomplished during a time of unprecedented worldwide economic upheaval. By any standard, a monumental accomplishment! Congratulations are in order, Mr. President.

So, where are we now and what could we hope for?

  • An energy-secure America. Done. Check.
  • A uniformly healthy America. In progress, gaining momentum.
  • A uniform minimum education of ‘one-college-level-degree’ or ‘one-vocational-certification’  for all Americans. Let’s hope.

If this President’s first term accomplishments are remembered as making America energy secure combined with a well-begun universal health-care plan — then let us hope that his second term will be remembered by a “Done. Check.” on a uniformly healthy society and a college or vocational education plan for all American citizens — so that all citizens can become part of America’s overall economic success.

Good health, a good education and plenty of career opportunities for citizens, will thereby and effectively remove present inequality, restore the hope of opportunity for success to the American people and improve the nations economic health. These are not new ideas. These have worked before, and profoundly, are what made America great from its beginning.

Let’s restore the American Dream, but this time let it be a Sustainable American Dream and one that will work for all U.S. citizens — not just the wealthy.

JOHN BRIAN SHANNON

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