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The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

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The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Wed 04 Jun 2014, 19:05:40

The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Smart and agile power systems will let every home and business generate, store, and share electricity

By Jean Kumagai
Posted 28 May 2014 | 20:00 GMT

At first glance, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, looks like a sweet anachronism. Beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings beckon from leafy streets. A restored trolley car ding-dings its way along Mountain Avenue. It’s safe and spotless, vibrant and unrushed.

And yet this quaint district is ground zero for one of the most ambitious energy agendas of any municipality in the United States. Fort Collins, population 150 000, is trying to do something that no other community of its size has ever done: transform its downtown into a net-zero-energy district, meaning it will consume no more energy in a given year than it generates. And the city as a whole is aiming to reduce its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2030, on the way to being carbon neutral by midcentury. To make all that happen, engineers there are preparing to aggressively deploy an array of advanced energy technologies, including combined-cycle gas turbines to replace aging coal-fired plants, as well as rooftop solar photovoltaics, community-supported solar gardens, wind turbines, thermal and electricity storage, microgrids, and energy-efficiency schemes.


The full article: http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/the-smarter-grid/the-rise-of-the-personal-power-plant#WhatCouldGoWrong

The most important message may be in the sidebar: WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

The Slow Death of the Grid

Too many off-grid personal power stations will undermine communal infrastructure

The price of photovoltaic cells continues to plummet while their efficiency continues to rise. Batteries and other energy-storage technologies are also getting better, prompting more people to unplug from the grid. If current trends continue, the result could be catastrophic, not just for the utilities but for anyone who wants access to affordable, stable electricity.

Here’s why. “When you have mass defection from the grid, that means many people are overinvesting in individual, unnetworked assets to meet their own peak energy demands,” says James Mandel, a manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute, in Boulder, Colo. “As a result, it leaves those least able to afford a personal power station—low-income customers, those who rent or have bad credit—to pick up the cost of the grid.” And those homeowners and businesses going it alone might find operating and maintaining their own “utility in a box” expensive and time-consuming, he adds. Needless to say, as their revenues erode, grid operators will hardly be viable. “That’s a future we’d rather not see,” Mandel says.

In some places, though, that future is already here. In Hawaii, where electricity rates are typically more than 40 cents a kilowatt-hour, having your own solar PV array with battery storage now makes economic sense for anyone who can afford it. In a recent report, The Economics of Grid Defection, the Rocky Mountain Institute predicted when that “grid parity” tipping point would occur in five U.S. regions. In Los Angeles and in New York’s Westchester County, for example, it could happen as early as 2020. Advances in other local generation options, such as combined heat and power systems that run off hydrogen fuel cells, could encourage even more people to leave the grid.

The report was intended as a wake-up call, Mandel says. “When grid defection becomes viable, it’s not a ‘could happen,’ it’s a ‘will happen.’ ” So six years or maybe a little longer, he says, “is how long we have to figure out a better model.”

The preferred future, according to the report’s authors and many other power experts, is a grid with even greater connectivity and smarts. The worst-case scenario, says Clark Gellings, a fellow at the Electric Power Research Institute, is that “the smart grid isn’t really smart. It’s dumb, and we don’t get the interconnectivity right.” In that bleak future, customers who once had access to relatively cheap and reliable service will face enormous price swings and frequent, chronic blackouts. And without a robust, sustainable grid, the other swell futures envisioned elsewhere in this issue—self-driving cars, household robots, thought-detecting wearable computers, and so on—won’t come to pass either.

“My preferred vision of the future isn’t at all inevitable,” Gellings admits. “That’s why I’m out there every day, traveling around the country, meeting with regulators and utilities, trying to get the message across.” —J.K.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Wed 04 Jun 2014, 19:56:08

Perhaps a bit off topic but I don't get why we haven't made more aggressive moves toward a national HVDC grid. Given current technology it seems low hanging fruit towards energy savings.

My only explanation is that we really don't give a damn.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Simon_R » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 06:29:06

I remember back in the 70's in the UK my father was interested in generating electricity for us. He was told way back then that
he would have to pay a tax, essentially equivalent to buying from the grid.
Please dont ask details I can only remember the ranting, rather than the detail.
However this is a concern that here (in france) I could see the government easily adding a tax to any solar installation wether grid tied or not, if solar starts to upset GDF.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby baha » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 07:42:59

There are very simple answers to these problems.

Let third party providers like Solar City install systems where the "low-income" owner pays a monthly bill just like now. Except he's paying for clean power and in 20 years he will own it. In NC this is not allowed by law. Duke Energy has a total monopoly on selling power.

Make the utilities develop the smart grid as a distribution network for small producers and give up power generation. If I have a 10Kw PV system, I can power at least one neighbor and probably more at certain times of the day.

Centralized power was a bad idea from the beginning. 30-50% of the power generated is lost on the transmission lines.
A solar PV system is designed for no more than 2% wire loss.

HVDC is incredibly dangerous, and transformers don't work on DC so that high voltage would come straight to your outlet.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby vtsnowedin » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 09:19:17

baha wrote:
HVDC is incredibly dangerous, and transformers don't work on DC so that high voltage would come straight to your outlet.

:roll: I think you misunderstand what he is talking about. HVDC is for major transmission lines and many are already in use. A major line runs through my state bringing hydo power from Canada's La Grand projects on James bay to the Boston grid. And they certainly can run it through transformers and convert it to the AC distribution grid.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec_%E2 ... ansmission
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby BobInget » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 10:56:47

Agreeing with BaHa on everything else,
I didn't quite understand BaHa's last sentence either.

For a year I've been planning a 1.5 Megawatt PV solar 'farm' on what would become duel use pasture land. (grazing cuts down on mowing needed for fire protection)

Living in a semi-rural suburb, homes are not concentrated. Not wishing to compete with my utility for distant customers, grid-tie seems the only solution. Time is also a major consideration. I won't be around
longer then 'my' PV generating field. PV's degrade over time and will either need to be replaced or additional units (strings) added to supplement contracted power.
In the current environment of raising rates due to uncertain hydro and fuel cost PV SOLAR seems an attractive investment for my heirs. Pacific Power, my utility, seems co-operative buying my solar power.

Not being sarcastic now: What could go wrong?

Of course, if a major grid cat-ass-trophy happens, we are all in trouble.

We have had a good six year experience with an eight KW array that serves our house... except-- when the grid goes down, because we have no battery back-up, we cannot access our own power even on the sunniest days. So far, no new DC to AC inverters on the market seem to get around this problem (legally).

I did a small work-around using so called micro inverters on each panel for emergency daylight power.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 11:06:44

Bob,

Sounds like you have put some thought into this so I cautiously offer this advice suspecting you have considered it already.

The "normal" way to do this would be to have a UPS system whereby you use the solar to charge the batteries. The batteries then run an inverter which provides the AC to your house. You can have an auto switch between the solar charger and a charger hooked to the grid so that you can use either source to charge the batteries.

Without batteries you are kinda screwed unless you have some other form of energy storage. But all I know of are physically huge and expensive. Elevated water, compressed air, etc.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby GHung » Thu 05 Jun 2014, 11:46:40

Bob:
"So far, no new DC to AC inverters on the market seem to get around this problem (legally).


The Outback Radian inverters are designed for this very purpose (Outbackpower.com). In most cases I've seen, the issue is folks charging their batteries at off-peak rates and selling back at peak. I would contact Outback to see how they deal with this. I began switching over to Outback equipment about ten years ago and have nothing but praise for their products and service.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Surf » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 00:46:29

Perhaps a bit off topic but I don't get why we haven't made more aggressive moves toward a national HVDC grid. Given current technology it seems low hanging fruit towards energy savings.


There are a lot of HVDC transmission lines:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_HVDC_projects

Yes HVDC lines have lower loss. But they also cost more to purchase, maintain, and operate. So depending on the specifics of a project AC might be a better option: http://www05.abb.com/global/scot/scot221.nsf/veritydisplay/56aef360ec16ff59c1256fda004aeaec/$file/04mp0274%20rev.%2000.pdf


Centralized power was a bad idea from the beginning. 30-50% of the power generated is lost on the transmission lines.


For the entire US power grid, which is mostly AC, losses are estimated at only 6%:
http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=105&t=3

Clearly there is not a large power loss in the US grid. Spending a lot of money converting our AC grid to DC is not going to make a big difference in terms of efficiency or CO2 emissions. However replacing inefficient light bulbs and appliances with more efficient light bulbs will have a big impact. Adding PV to your home have an even bigger impact.


A solar PV system is designed for no more than 2% wire loss.


There are two ways to reduce losses in a PV system. Use thicker copper wire. Unfortunately thick copper wires is expensive. The second way to reduce losses is to increase the voltage by wiring the PV panels in series. Manufactures of DC to AC converters have been gradually increasing the input DC voltage. Today you can buy converters that can be connected to 1000V Pv arrays

[url]HVDC is incredibly dangerous, and transformers don't work on DC so that high voltage would come straight to your outlet.[/url]

Working with any electrical systems is inherently hazardous. It doesn't matter what the voltage, power, or current is. If you don't treat any form of energy with respect you can be killed or seriously injured.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Simon_R » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 05:22:10

Baha

Whilst what you say is possible in the suburbs this will not work in a large city, where there is shared roof space between lots of families and no gardens, how would these people be dealt with ?
My fear is that society is essentially controlled for the benefit of the largest population groups (cities), so if this started to impact cities, then the government would be pressured into 'disincentivising' solar and wind PV
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 07:00:56

Simon_R wrote:Baha

Whilst what you say is possible in the suburbs this will not work in a large city, where there is shared roof space between lots of families and no gardens, how would these people be dealt with ?
My fear is that society is essentially controlled for the benefit of the largest population groups (cities), so if this started to impact cities, then the government would be pressured into 'disincentivising' solar and wind PV


Simon, it seems a fairly large % of posters here are not urbanites! thus there is a slant toward urban or rural sensibilities. But also I find a lack of understanding or empathy for the urban dweller, especially the poor.

My guess is that, if you did the demographics, you would find us a bunch of older middle age white guys. Our attitudes and solutions reflect that.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 07:09:12

Surf,
There are lots of projects, bits and pieces. There is no national movement towards conversion. Also, yes the converter stations are expensive. On the other hand we seem to have lost the capability to produce HVAC transformers. This reached main stream media earlier this epyear when some cranks took shots at a substation in SoCal but has been widely recognized in the industry for a long time.

The national grid is aging, old, poorly maintained, and thus not in great shape and needs major rework already. Perhaps the only thing keeping us from more brown outs has been a unpredicted reduction in usage related to the recession.

The NERC used to put out some pretty good reliability reports, but they seem to have been water down to useless.

As to the losses, 6% seems a bit low, but even using that figure it is a significant amount. And it is something we know how to do today. It is not the only thing we should be doing, but it is something the government CAN do, should it care to. Damn site better than spending billions on expanding the double lane portions of the NJ Turnpike.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Simon_R » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 08:13:51

Hi Newfie

I suspect you are correct, don't know about colour, but I suspect the demographics are as you said, although that could be because people posting here are aware of what could be coming.

I also don't have much sympathy (not just for urbanites, its a pretty catholic lack of sympathy ;)

My concern is that historically whenever things get bad for the cities, they lean on the gov. and pass legislation over rural dwellers that benefits themselves, I believe it is called the tyranny of the majority. For this reason I can see solar power starting nicely for people, however if for a second it inconveniences city dwellers then all benefits will be withdrawn and a tax put in place to 'maintain the grid' which would effectively make solar all but useless personally.
My own solution is a few sneaky panels in the field, powering a battery bank for electric tools (pumps / chainsaws etc)
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 13:30:59

Simon, much in common here. While we are still maintaining an apartment in the city we also have our sailboat which we live on half time. That can be pretty energy self sufficient, if we were to move it to a warmer clime. Heat is a tough one. I know some here think we can heat with renewables, I just don't think it is possible. Food preparation is second, electricity for cooling the reefer and kero for cooking.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby baha » Fri 06 Jun 2014, 20:59:33

My wife and I were just talking about how people would garden in the cities. She said where she used to live they had a park where you could rent a plot. Basically a community garden. Solar can work the same way. Build a solar field right outside town to power the condos with no roof space. Someone (the govt?) has to build the field and then everyone just pays the monthly bill. There is an article on the home page right now about investors choosing solar over FF. I helped build a 3 Mw array outside Raleigh. And the wire loss is only 2 miles instead of the 35 miles it is to the local nuclear plant.

As far as line loss goes it depends on how far it goes:) It's easy to size PV wire for a few hundred feet of loss, no so for a few hundred miles. You have to raise the voltage and then things get really dangerous.

Transformers do not work with DC voltage. You have to change the DC to AC with an inverter and then transform the voltage. That's what a solar inverter does. BTW - SMA inverters are now making an inverter with a seperate 240 plug that works whenever the sun is shining. You use it like you would a generator, by plugging into it directly so no power can go out onto the grid. The reason grid tied inverters don't work when the power is down is to protect the lineman repairing the grid.

And yes, DC is more dangerous than AC at the same voltage. DC carries more power since it is continuous and not pulsing at 60 Hz. DC has a greater tendency to arc and therefore insulators have to be larger. And the arc is much hotter than AC. Why do you think the professionals use DC welders.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Newfie » Sat 07 Jun 2014, 06:31:24

Baha,

Yes,for small personal plants, on a limited basis.

But all you arguments go to hell when you scale up.

Cruisers are pretty damn adept at personal power plants, not a lot new here when you are talking one off units.

It gets interesting when you start to tie the grid.

Power storage is an issue no matter the case.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Subjectivist » Tue 29 Nov 2016, 10:14:08

So will you be installing this in your Wisconsin smart home?
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby KaiserJeep » Tue 29 Nov 2016, 15:46:53

Not sure if "smart home" is the proper term, because that term has connotations of a high level of automation. What I hope to build and live in is a highly energy-efficient structure called a passive house. These structures meet a number of standards but the most significant is that due to super-insulation, carefully selected appliances, passive solar glazing, and heat recovery ventilation, they annually consume 10% of the energy in a typical code-compliant residence, and 25% of the energy in today's "Energy Star" buildings.

Once your basic energy consumption is very low, it is practical and desirable to have a 100% electric home, heated and cooled without burning any hydrocarbons, including wood. Typical HVAC needs can be met by small efficient heat pumps called "ductless mini-splits", and if your residence is rural - or even if you have a large urban lot - totally "off grid" is easily achieved.

In Wisconsin at the moment, wind turbines have high levels of government subsidy and are actually cheaper than solar PV. On the other hand, wind energy has the reputation of needing mechanical tinkering by the owner, which solar PV does not. Still lots of details to be planned, and a number of prior steps such as selling the current home and buying a few acres of lakefront.
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby baha » Thu 01 Dec 2016, 07:28:59

I ordered my Tesla Powerwall 2.0 yesterday. I will be installing PV at the same time. 15 kW-hr of storage and 5 kW of PV production will make me grid independent. Duke power can then shove all their power plants up their coal ash.

I feel better:)
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Re: The Rise of the Personal Power Plant

Unread postby Shaved Monkey » Fri 02 Dec 2016, 08:52:47

Tesla Powerwall 2.0 is $10g in Australia
My power bills are $600 to $800 a year
I have solar panels
So far it doesnt make sense to buy one
If my costs go up and its price comes down I will consider it.
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