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Posts Tagged ‘centralised

Security boon from distributed power generation

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hackersA postscript to this post from a little while ago about distributed power generation: the press recently reported that foreign spies had compromised the security of the US electric grid.

Two things emerge from this. First, I would argue that any move toward decentralising power generation inevitably increases the security of the system. Wind turbines on city streets and solar cells on residential and business roofs will manifestly reduce the load on our presently centralised power generation infrastructure. There are a plethora of ways in which this power generation infrastructure can be radically decentralised, as I’ve previously touched on, which I think will impact positively on our energy security.

Secondly, the article suggests that smart grids, which are a clean technology, increase the risk in the system by opened up more nodes for malevolent actors to infiltrate. I want to qualify this suggestion. While it is certainly true for the current, centralised system that smart grids increase the security risks, it is probably far less true for a more decentralised system. At the present time, if the grid fails in any particular region, all power is lost. However, should we decouple each local council area, even partially, from the main grid – that is, should we reduce our local reliance on the power generated by distant energy generation stations – we reduce the risks that attach to smart grid technology.

It’s my belief that eventually, clean energy technology will allow us to build multiple redundancies into the system. For instance, if your local urban wind turbines run into trouble, backup energy generated by wind farms or other technologies will be available from a broader grid. And vice versa. If the grid goes down in your area, you may still be able to use locally- or individually-generated and stored power – and a smart system may be able to allocate that power on a priority basis until the main grid comes back online. Ultimately, then,  I see cleantech as a potent tool for increasing our energy security.


Written by Gabriel Sassoon

April 12, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Bleeding edge ideas for distributed power generation

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CleanTechnica posted a story yesterday about an MIT professor who argues that, even in the best case scenario, we will still be unable to meet our energy needs by 2050 using the centralised model of today. His solution, according to CleanTechnica:

Nocera said that MIT will announce its patent next week of a cheap, efficient, manufacturable electrolyzer made from cobalt and potassium phosphate. This technology, powered by a 6 meter by 5 meter photovoltaic array on the roof, is capable of powering an entire house’s power needs plus a fuel cell good for 500 km of travel, with just 5 liters of water.

Glass of water

The new electrolyzer works at room temperature (”It would work in this water glass right here”) to efficiently produce hydrogen and oxygen gases from water in a simple manner, which will enable a return to using sunlight for our primary energy source.

These sorts of technologies offer the hope for a kind of radical decentralisation of the power supply. It is also the sort of opportunity that is ripe for venture capitalist involvement (hence MIT’s patent announcement) because it does not require large-scale government funding and won’t face the kinds of bureaucracy that, say, building a new wind farm entails (development consent, NIMBY opposition, and so forth).


Urban wind power

Everybody is thinking about what the energy infrastructure of the future is going to look like. In the medium-term, we are going to see a partial decentralisation of the power supply alongside a significant increase in traditional, centralised renewable energy generation. While in the long-term (10-20 years from now) we will be aiming for fully renewable baseload power generation, in the medium-term baseload power will continue to be generated primarily, in Australia, by dirty coal. Nevertheless, while the broader transition to renewables gathers pace (a trend that I expect will result in not merely exponential but explosive displacement of fossil fuels with clean energy sources), it is entirely possible for peak power generation to be subsumed by, say, local councils using, say, urban wind turbines on main traffic arteries.

This week’s cleantech forum in Melbourne will be a welcome opportunity to hear where Australia’s cleantech industry sees the local energy sector going over the next few years. Watch this space.

Written by Gabriel Sassoon

March 29, 2009 at 10:35 am