Friday, November 21, 2008

The Future or the Past

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
~Albert Einstein

We, America, have a problem. Oil! Our economy and transportation are currently dependant on it. There is a limited supply, most of it is in countries that want to kill us and our way of life.

What thinking should we use to get out of this problem? 'Drill, baby drill' is the same thinking that got into the problem. As Amory Lovins put it, Oil is the only addiction where some people think the cure is more supply.

The cheese has moved and we must adapt.

My daughter stumbled on an old pac-man game of mine. "Daddy, what is this?", she asked.
"That is a game from the 19 hundreds", I replied.

Our current fossil fuel based economy is also from the 1900s. And unlike video games, it has not evolved. We have a choice to make. The way things have been or something else. I propose the Renewable Electron Economy.

The Renewable Electron Economy includes 3 primary components:
  1. A robust coast to coast smart grid that can quickly direct renewable power to where it is needed
  2. A diversified portfolio of renewable energy including geothermal, solar, wind, & wave
  3. A disbursed energy storage system that buffers demand and generation
#1 on this list allows wind power generated in South Dakota to be delivered to delivered to population centers such as Chicago. It also has the ability to inform geothermal and hydro plants to increase or decrease their production at a moment's notice; small quick adjustments to adapt to demands and variability in other supplies. It also has the ability to let all consumers know the state of the supply. So things like your refrigerator, air conditioner, furnace or water heater that are turning on and off all day can shift their demand by a minute or two when demand spikes or supplies momentarily dip.

#2 Solar & Wind power are highly predictable on a annual basis. This is why their investment returns are highly predictable. But on a moment to moment basis, they are at the whim of the weather. Just as it is smart to diversify your investment portfolio with non-correlated funds, it is also smart to have a variety of renewable energy production. When the sun is not out, it is usually windy. Use a variety of locations to cancel out micro-climate impacts.

We can have solar across the southern & southwest states, wind from Texas to Canada (T Boone had that part right), on the coast lines, wave power and wind. The Pacific coast is on the "Ring of Fire" and can provide geothermal, especially with recent geothermal breakthroughs backed by All of these add up to a lot of potential renewable energy across our country that is diverse and plentiful.

#3 on the list is a relatively new idea to me. Since many of the renewable power sources are intermittent, they need to be buffered with an energy storage system. For example, with solar thermal power production, a salty brine is heated and can be used to provide power for up to six hours after the sun sets. With this system, passing clouds do not cause production blips.

Similar to how the cache on your hard drive speeds it up without increasing its storage, energy storage can allow the grid to respond faster without increasing its capacity. Another non-exclusive option is to include an energy storage system in the producer itself. For example, an ultra-capacitor included in a wind turbine. The wind turbine charges the capacitor and power is drawn from the capacitor. This again means that gusts and moments or dead air do not result in production blips. Monitoring the storage totals informs the power company of their reserves.

V2G (or vehicle-to-grid) is one option for disbursed power storage that the grid could call on when needed. This idea is eloquent in that plug-in cars become a benefit to the grid rather than a burden. However, it is not yet worked out and standardized. And some auto manufacturers are reluctant to support it because of the additional demand it will place on the vehicle's batteries.

Another idea is for power companies to create their own power storage warehouses. This could be done by buying batteries on the cheap after their vehicle usable life is over. With the increase in hybrids and plug-ins, this is one way to reuse the batteries.

This is a vision of an achievable renewable powered future. You can be part of making it happen. The answers are simple, but that does not mean that they will be easy.

We don't have an energy crisis, we have only a crisis in education.
~R. Buckminster Fuller


  1. Wind Power Storage

  2. grid storage and stabilization

    Saft and ABB Develop Li-ion Battery System to Enhance Stability of Power Grids.

    The high voltage battery system will provide dynamic energy storage to help respond to disruptions in the grid due to increasing penetration of renewables. The new system combines Saft's 5.2 kV battery with ABB's SVC (Static Var Compensation) Light technology for dynamic voltage control. Potential applications include industries with high short term power demands as well as utility grids fed by a high percentage of variable renewable energy sources, especially wind power.

  3. Storing Solar Generated Electricity in Ultracapacitors

  4. As of now, solar power and solar related devices are expensive. But it may be reduced if most of the people start using it. Let us see the future of solar power.


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