A New Look at the Way We Distribute Energy

There is a new trend taking place with energy transmission and storage. Microgrids have a new take on how we can generate, store, and distribute our energy. This concept is making us all take another look at our mass centralized generation and distribution system.

Most of our electricity today comes from large coal or natural gas fired power plants. From this central power plant the electricity can travel hundreds of miles along transmission lines before it gets to your house. There are definitely some benefits to using this method of energy production. For one you can gain a lot of efficiency and cost saving by having one or two large turbines and generators. But there are also some problems with the current model. One problem that has always existed with form of distribution is that there are large costs associated with building and maintaining the transmission lines. Another problem is that when you transmit electricity over long distances of power lines, you can lose up to 3% of it in the form of heat and electromagnetic energy.  A problem that is only recently being realized with this process is that traditional grids are not really designed to handle large swings in generation. Historically this was not a problem, but with all of the new solar and wind energy entering the grid, it is becoming more and more of an issue.brief3_Figure1v2

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A microgrid is a small localized grid that can be used to power a community or even a college campus. Microgrids usually consist of some method of producing their own energy, and usually have a method of storing the energy for later use. Often the source of energy for these microgrids is some form of renewable energy such as wind or solar. There are some microgrids that generate electricity by burning one thing or another, but typically with these systems, they are able to capture the waste heat and use it for heating other buildings in the community.  By using the waste heat, they are able to significantly increase the efficiency of the system. There are downsides if these types of grids just like with anything else. If you have multiple microgrids covering multiple areas there will be a lot of redundant equipment and therefore wasted resources.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think about microgrids.

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Not In My Backyard

I think a lot of us get kind of hypocritical when it comes to renewable energy. Most people are coming around to the idea that having renewable energy is a good idea. People can see that we are going to have to embrace this sometime in the near future. The problem is that nobody wants it in their back yard. I mean there are some people who are really dedicated to renewable energy such as the house I mentioned in my last post that installed wind turbines literally in their back yard. But it seems like a lot of people want renewable energy generation to be nowhere near them.

Wind-farm

This is not only a problem for small scale home generation, but it also applies to industrial generation as well. Often when an industrial wind farm starts in its planning phase there will be a lot of opposition by the people in the surrounding area. They claim that “it is an eye sore”, and that “it will reduce their property value.” These same protests can be heard about industrial solar projects as well. So it seems like people want this kind of clean energy, they just don’t want to have to see it.

There are a few possible things that can be done to overcome this problem. First, developers can plan these large generation facilities in the middle of nowhere. Being from Nevada, I know that we have a whole bunch of “middle of nowhere”. This is a good solution on the surface, but you run into the inevitable problem of “Transmission is Expensive.” Another thing that could be done is to have a massive PR campaign to start changing the public’s perception of renewable energy and its requirements. The final solution I can see for this problem is a technological one. We have to develop new and better methods for generating power. I can see a future where we can utilize new technologies which can generate power from sources that blend in with their surroundings. One great current example of this is SolarCity’s new roof tile solar panels. They look just like any normal roof tiles. I believe these technological solutions are the best answer.

If you have any ideas for how to solve the “not in my backyard” problem, please let me know about them in the comments below.

Lead Photo Credit: http://kickofjoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/nimbyfeature.jpg

Wind farm Photo Credit: http://teachnuclear.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Wind-farm.jpg

Transmission is Expensive

The problem with electricity is that we can only get it from place to place by having it flow over a conductive material. Usually this means that the electricity will flow or transmit over a conductive wire. It is true that electricity flowing through a wire moves at close to the speed of light, the hard part is that industrial power plants are often hundreds of miles away from populations that will use the electricity.transmission-description

Photo Credit: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/electric_power/images/typical_transmission_structures.gif

A 230 KV Single Circuit transmission line cost about $1,000,000 per mile to construct in 2014. That’s a major project killer right there. Even if your renewable energy source is only five miles away from an existing transmission line, that’s an additional $5 Mil that gets tacked on to the project cost.  Unfortunately for us, a lot of the locations in the U.S. with a renewable energy source and enough land to support industrial power generation are not located in metropolitan areas.  It would be pretty easy and cheap to put a bunch of solar panels in the middle of nowhere Nevada we just wouldn’t be able to get the electricity over to Las Vegas where they need it.

The cost of transmitting electricity is a large hurtle that must be overcome before we can start seeing larger percentages of our power generation coming from renewable sources. There are two possible solutions to this problem. First, we can develop new methods for transmitting large quantities of energy over long distances without physical wire. Second, we can switch our paradigm of electricity generation from massive centralized power plants to smaller localized generation. An example of the second method would be having all of the homes in a community supply their own power from solar PV.

If you or someone you know is using local renewable energy generation, please leave a comment below and let me know how it is working out for you.

Photo Credit: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/tGQPZzFbLPE/maxresdefault.jpg