Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ Category

Microgrids and Utilities: Will they innovate?

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Will microgrids play a major part in the future of energy, as this article contends? If so, will utilities innovate to take advantage of the flexibilty and other advantages microgrids offer?

Many pieces will need to fall in to place, and there will need to be a microgrids starting point.

Digital Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

PR Newswire

CHICAGO, Feb. 14, 2014

The emergence of Microgrids for power generation could threaten the dominance of the age-old power distribution system in the U.S. Microgrids have evolved from simple power backup systems to small smart grids. The swift and cost effective installation of Micro grids could help distribute electricity among the masses. These rooftop solar systems meet the energy needs of the customers. In addition, the customers are allowed to sell excess power back to the utilities.

A report from American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that utilities need to spend $763 billion by 2040 to properly modernize and harden the existing grids against natural disasters. We believe that rather than going for a very costly maintenance, it will be economical to develop these Microgrids, which could lend support to the existing system.

Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1738880#ixzz2tpsdqryO

 

Read the entire article here.

Some Pros and Cons of Microgrids

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It’s a little surprising to me that the state of Connecticut is investing in microgrids, though I am happy to see it! I just heard that we lose 1% of GDP annually due to power outages, and not just major outages like those in Connecticut after Hurricane Sandy or in New Orleans after Katrina. Little bumps in power that happen day-to-day, even in grids as robust as in the urban U.S., are very costly to manufacturing, data centers, and other businesses.

Microgrids are able to stand alone in supplying power to a community, business or university campus, military base, island, hospital, etc. Often they are still tied into the grid, but want the back up supply in the case of a power interruption, whether momentary or lasting several days.

The most interest right now comes from islands that would like to add renewables to their grids, saving money over costly diesel generation, while also decreasing air pollution and GHG emissions. The US military is another early adopter, both at domestic bases so that they can operate in the case of an attack or a natural disaster, and at bases abroad where bringing in fuel costs money as well as way too many American lives. Convoys carrying fuel, food, and other supplies are common targets for attack.

The four main advantages for microgrids that I see, is that when they are designed and located properly, they are more reliable, less expensive, cleaner, and more receptive to innovation than current, traditional electricity grids, whether large or small.

A huge challenge for integrating newer energy resources is that our current grid infrastructure is so big that we simply cannot change it, both due to technical difficulties and because of the cost of changing out such large systems. In addition to being smaller, microgrids are designed to integrate multiple sources of energy. With the number of emerging technologies in energy today, this adaptability is yet another huge benefit of microgrids.

Forbes

 

 

 

 

 

David Ferris, Contributor

7/31/2013 @ 8:30AM |3,734 views

Microgrids: Very Expensive, Seriously Necessary

The state of Connecticut announced last week that it would build nine “microgrids” to deliver more reliable power, including at the police station in Bridgeport, the naval submarine base in Groton, the St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, and the campus of Wesleyan University. The cost to taxpayers: $18 million.

Some readers might say: $18 million? For, what, some backup generators? And what is a microgrid anyway?

It is no coincidence that Connecticut is pushing the envelope of power innovation. Last October, Hurricane Sandy knocked power out to 625,000 homes and businesses, revealing how inadequate the the power system is in the face of superstorms.  “Today marks another step forward for how we handle extreme weather,” said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy.

Read the entire article here.

Amory Lovins’ Three Energy Trends to Watch

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Energy efficiency tops Lovins’ list of energy trends to watch, particularly automobile efficiency, which is excellent news. Efficiency is sometimes overlooked because it’s not as sexy as new energy technologies, but in my mind it’s the most important aspect of our energy future. Saving energy means saving money, which should make it an easy sell, as well as resources. Even if we increase renewable energy, those technologies still require resources in one form or another, so decreasing energy use is a more effective way to ensure the availability of essential resources for future generations.

His claim that the steepest increases in efficiency will be in automobiles is especially encouraging due to the resulting decrease in imported petroleum. There is often an odd connection made between renewables such as wind and solar, or even domestic natural gas, and decreased petroleum imports, but this is a fallacy. We use petroleum for less than 1% of our electricity generation (Yergin, 2012). The only ways to decrease petroleum imports are to decrease vehicle miles driven, increase vehicle efficiency, or power automobiles with something other than petroleum, a trend that is increasing, but so far still negligible.

His third point, on increasing distributed energy, is also important, and one I’ve written about before on this site. Moving away from large, centralized power plants to smaller units in neighborhoods, at large office parks, and other locations, provides two big benefits, among others. First, it can greatly increase efficiency as electricity travels far shorter distances, spending less time in transmission lines, meaning more of it arrives where it’s used, as opposed to dissipating in those lines. Smaller plants can also adapt much more quickly to changing energy technologies. Centralized plants that are 50 years old are difficult to modify, and too expensive to scrap to accommodate more renewables or different electricity feedstocks.

Amory-4

 

Though Lovins’ hardline conservationist stance is sometimes controversial, from his “Soft Energy Paths” in 1976, through his work with Rocky Mountain Institute, right up to today and this recent article, he’s been an important voice in the energy conversation.

 

Amory’s Angle: Three Major Energy Trends to Watch

By Amory B. Lovins

Popular media and political chatter are abuzz with a cacophony of energy news and opinion. Amid the chaos, some orderly strands can be discerned. Here are three themes that merit attention:

EFFICIENCY IS ACCELERATING

Government forecasts predict U.S. energy intensity (primary energy used per dollar of real GDP) will continue to decline roughly two percent annually through 2040, but that the drop will be steepest in automobiles.

Read the entire article here.

“Flow” Batteries Could Help Energy Storage for Renewables

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As has been discussed before on this website, batteries and energy storage technology are key to increasing renewables in our energy grids. Particularly wind and solar energy have too much variability to work efficiently with the diurnal consistency of current energy usage. Efficient storage of the energy generated during wind gusts or bright sun would allow it to be used when it’s needed. Ideally this would come from private firms rather than taxpayer dollars, but either way it’s good to see progress being made towards these objectives.

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New Battery Design Could Help Solar and Wind Power the Grid

April 24, 2013 – 4:20pm

WASHINGTON – Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have designed a low-cost, long-life “flow” battery that could enable solar and wind energy to become major suppliers to the electrical grid.

Continue reading here.

Written by Jason

May 1st, 2013 at 11:27 am

Navigant to Compare Community vs. Residential Energy Storage

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Distributed energy is the future of our electricity supply. Rather than our electricity coming from centralized providers straight to homes, offices, etc., electricity will be generated and/or stored at various locations closer to the end users. Determining the safest and most energy-efficient and cost-effective ways to do this is an enormous, on-going task. Navigant Consulting is one of many firms working with municipalities to continue development and innovation.

Read more in these two articles:

Smart Grid Today

Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) and Navigant will have a healthy list of the pros and cons of community energy storage (CES) versus residential energy storage (RES) by the time their battery-testing project is finished in September, Jay Paidipati, associate director in Navigant Consulting’s energy practice, told people attending a long-duration, distributed energy-storage project workshop at Storage Week in Austin, Texas, yesterday…

Continue Reading

Navigant Research

Distributed Energy Storage Systems for Voltage Support, Frequency Regulation,
Islanding, and Peak Shaving: Market Analysis and Forecasts

Community and residential energy storage systems are sited at the “end of the line” on the grid. These systems are typically much smaller than utility-scale or bulk energy storage and are either situated at the distribution transformer or at the customer premise. Of the varied application areas for energy storage systems, community and residential storage is one of the newest and least understood applications. Currently, utilities, vendors, and even governments are demonstrating community and residential energy storage systems with a goal of understanding the value of these small, distributed systems sited at the edge of the electrical grid. These groups are testing CRES for the purposes of smoothing peaks in electricity demand, enabling voltage support and frequency regulation, and providing islanding capabilities.

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Cooperation on Biofuels Increasing between Brazil and US

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With the US ending both the tariff on imported ethanol and the tax credit for domestic blenders, cooperation between the US and Brazil on biofuel technology is increasing, as well as efforts to trade renewable fuels on global markets. (See my post at the end of last year)

Yes, we need to be ever vigilant on the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food availability and prices as well as on land use, soil and water quality, and related issues. In my doctoral dissertation, however, I examined these issues in depth and contend that increased production can occur along with protection of ecological health.

The cooperation discussed in the article below can lead to greater efficiency of renewable fuel production, using less land and less water to produce more fuel.

Energy is fundamental to economic growth, and as countries in Latin America and Africa increase their ability to produce renewable energy domestically, they create more jobs and better the lives of their people in ways that will improve economic as well as environmental conditions for generations. These are undoubtedly positive.

It is a fascinating time to be alive.

Insight: U.S. and Brazil – At last, friends on ethanol

A gas station worker fills a car's tank with ethanol in Rio de Janeiro April 30, 2008. Brazil is the world's largest producer and exporter of ethanol. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

By Brian Winter

BRASILIA | Fri Sep 14, 2012 11:21pm IST

(Reuters) – After years at each other’s throats, Brazil and the United States are working together to promote the use of ethanol in a collaboration that could revolutionize global markets and the makeup of the biofuel itself.

The breakthrough came in January when Washington allowed a three-decade-old subsidy for U.S. ethanol producers to expire and ended a steep tariff on foreign biofuels. The tariff, in particular, had poisoned diplomatic relations between the world’s top two ethanol-producing countries for years.

Continue reading this article here.

Algae May Be the Future of Biofuels, but it’s a Distant Future

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This is promising. Whatever we may say about Monsanto (read more here), there are some smart people working there, and their investment in technology to use algae for biofuels shows there is some real promise in those efforts. The innovation needed to make this technology energy efficient and cost effective, however, is a long way off.

Cellulosic biofuels from crops with which we have great experience, such as corn and grasses, continues to face considerable barriers. First, while we have known for millennia how to ferment 6 carbon sugars such as glucose,we lack the experience and an efficient method to ferment the diverse, 5 and 6 carbon sugars in cellulose. To complicate matters further, unlike the sugars in cane or in the carbohydrates in corn, the sugars in cellulose are mixed in with lignin, the stiff, woody parts of plants that give them their structure.

Sapphire energy, the company discussed in the article below, will not likely ferment the sugars for fuels like ethanol, but will extract the oil to make diesel fuel. This process still faces barriers as formidable as those I discuss above, plus the added disadvantage that we don’t have proven methods to grow, harvest, and process algae efficiently.

You might be thinking, ‘the pond near our backyard grows tons of algae and we don’t even want it, how hard can it be?’ When we’re trying to grow enough to be used to power cars and planes, and in a small space with limited inputs of water and other form energy, it gets trickier.

It will take time to develop the methods to do all of this. It can be done, but let’s not figure that developments such as this give us license to continue using fossil fuels with our present, reckless abandon.

Innovation, yes, efficiency always.

Monsanto Backs Algae Startup Sapphire Energy

content by earth2tech

By Katie Fehrenbacher at Earth2Tech

Tue Mar 8, 2011 11:07am EST

Agriculture and genetics giant Monsanto has made its bet on algae. On Tuesday Monsanto announced that it has made an equity investment in, and developed a partnership with, algae startup Sapphire Energy.

Founded in 2007, Sapphire Energy uses synthetic biology to make a green crude out of algae that can be turned into gas, diesel or jet fuel. Monsanto wants access to Sapphire’s genetic research technology to use it for its own agricultural development. Using Sapphire’s genetic technology, Monsanto can isolate traits in algae (like high yields and stress traits) that could be used to tweak other crops. Monsanto’s CTO Robb Fraley said in a release that algae is an “excellent discovery tool,” for agricultural genetic research.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

March 20th, 2011 at 10:52 am

Efficiency, Innovation, Natural Gas are Keys to Energy Security

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Former Presidents Bush and Clinton are walking a fine line, balancing between taking advantage of the cost effective resources we have now, such as oil and gas, and the need to protect our energy security and natural environment for generations to come.

Two former presidents share many energy views

By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY and TOM FOWLER
HOUSTON CHRONICLE

March 12, 2011, 2:28AM

Oil will be essential for fueling the U.S. for decades to come, but low-emission natural gas and improved efficiency will bridge the transition to cleaner alternative fuels, business leaders, two former presidents and energy analysts said Friday.

Former President George W. Bush told a packed ballroom of energy executives at the CERAWeek conference that while the U.S. has a vision of new technologies to power our homes and propel our cars, the nation needs to be prosperous to afford them. And that prosperity, Bush said, is tied to oil and natural gas.

Although they have been political adversaries, Bush and former President Bill Clinton agreed that the U.S. should do more to harness the promise of natural gas, which produces fewer emissions than coal and oil.

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But he cautioned that the nation needs to make sure that the hydraulic fracturing process, used to unlock vast stores of gas in shale formations, doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies or create an accident that shuts down the industry the way last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill stopped most offshore drilling.

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‘We’ve got to take action’

Big energy consumers said they are scrambling to offset spikes in crude prices and eke out more per barrel by boosting efficiency.

Read the entire article here.

Obama Pursues a Moderate, Pragmatic Approach During Energy Woes

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Of course times are tough. I tend to drive my car until the gas light comes on so I have to fill up less often, but then kick myself for driving so much as I watch the cost climb past $40 a tank. These are minor pains compared to the ones some folks are feeling, but even this light irritation is enough to make me want a fast change to whatever it is we’re doing, or not doing, in terms of making energy more affordable.

Patience is key. Jumping in to more drilling without taking the time to make sure it’s safe and efficient could cause as many problems, and increase total costs, as much as launching scads of new and often inefficient wind or solar projects.

Energy is expensive. Our government has helped it to be artificially cheap since early in the last century. This has lead to great advantages in our country, such as the great access most people in the U.S. have to everyday conveniences such as lights, heat, cars, buses, and airplanes. In most countries these aren’t nearly as accessible to people on, say, the bottom half of the socio-economic strata.

As Obama weathers the criticism from the right that we need to expand our use of fossil fuels, and from the left that more needs to be done to move us to alternative forms of energy, I hope that he and Secretary Chu continue their pragmatic approach, leaving the door open to more fossil fuels so long as they are safe, while also encouraging innovation and investment in alternatives.

More fence sitting, I know, but I believe this middle path is the best one.*

Obama Faces Bipartisan Criticism on Energy Policies

By Jim Angle

Published March 05, 2011

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are questioning the Obama administration's energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy. (AP)

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy. (AP)

With energy prices rising in part because of turmoil in the Middle East, lawmakers from both parties are questioning the Obama administration’s energy policies and arguing more should be done to develop domestic sources of energy.

“I don’t think the president’s position on oil and gas is as strong as it should be,” said Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, where the oil industry plays a large role in the local economy. “Oil and gas is an important industry in the United States today and it will be in the next decades.”

Many in the administration emphasize alternative forms of energy and some, including the president, have openly talked of the need for higher prices on oil and coal to make alternatives such as wind and solar more price-competitive.

Read the entire article here.

* I hope my post is fair and balanced. Not like the Fox version, but truly fair and truly balanced.

Petroleum’s Centrality, Volatility, Damage World Economies

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Processes such as innovation and competition are vital to enhancing world economies, but both of these are stifled in the world of petroleum. Either a place has oil, or it doesn’t, so there’s little place for either one.

True, there can be innovation in terms of the technology used to extract oil from hard to reach places such as the tar sands of Alberta or the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. But this is nothing like the innovation that is taking place in the competition to produce technologies that provide domestic, renewable, cost effective energy.

The article below highlights the pitfalls of our economies’ current dependence on an energy resource that is so subject to the swings we saw in 2008, when oil went from over $140 per barrel in August to only $40 in December. Petroleum’s centrality, its concentration in few places, such as North Africa and the Middle East, are further problems that should continue motivating us to find ways to reduce this reliance on a non-renewable resource.

Oil and the economy

The 2011 oil shock

More of a threat to the world economy than investors seem to think

Mar 3rd 2011 | From The Economist print edition

THE price of oil has had an unnerving ability to blow up the world economy, and the Middle East has often provided the spark. The Arab oil embargo of 1973, the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 are all painful reminders of how the region’s combustible mix of geopolitics and geology can wreak havoc. With protests cascading across Arabia, is the world in for another oil shock?

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Even without a disruption to supply, prices are under pressure from a second source: the gradual dwindling of spare capacity. With the world economy growing strongly, oil demand is far outpacing increases in readily available supply. So any jitters from the Middle East will accelerate and exaggerate a price rise that was already on the way.

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By contrast, the biggest risk in the emerging world is inaction. Dearer oil will stoke inflation, especially through higher food prices—and food still accounts for a large part of people’s spending in countries like China, Brazil and India. True, central banks have been raising interest rates, but they have tended to be tardy. Monetary conditions are still too loose, and inflation expectations have risen.

Read the entire article here.