Wired: Now, the digital networks will be called upon to remake the grid in their own image. By embedding sensors, solid-state controllers, and intelligent agents throughout this new supply chain, the meter and the monthly bill will be swapped out for something more robust, adaptive, interconnected, and alive: a humming, real-time, interactive energy marketplace.
the last 3 years we have seen a flowering of sensors but in reality I would
guess they have touched less than 4% of the commercial and industrial buildings
We’ve always had a plethora of sensing and control systems – I can’t think of a commercial building that doesn’t have a series of systems in fact, and if you consider a thermostat a sensing and control system, you could say all homes are “wired” too.
The issue is that there isn’t a lot of communication going on. The utility still sends you a price signal, in the form of a bill, once a month rather than delivering a variable price signal in real time. As far as an “interactive energy marketplace”, I think that calls for at least context and clarity,
Most energy markets have pretty long time horizons – utilities don’t buy too much power on the short-term spot market. So I expect that a lot of “marketplace” activity, whether it’s buying solar generation from customers or agreed-to demand response, will be under long-term agreements that mean transactions are automatic and essentially invisible.
It’s for GE or another manufacturer to embed a chip in the refrigerator that knows what time it is, and locks out defrost from two to six every summer afternoon, saving the homeowner on energy costs and reducing peak demand. can you rewrite for data centers?
DG: Mark: I had an evil little chuckle when I read this paragraph below because it has taken until this month to see evidence of fuel cells running data centers in PG&E territory, certainly among the most progressive globally. Was it the technology or the regulation that took this long?
Wired: The micropower/cogen technology with the most commercial potential - and some of the greatest environmental benefits - is the fuel cell. When hooked up to water electrolyzers - like fuel cells run in reverse - they can also store electricity as hydrogen, for energy that can be poured back into the system during times of high demand. When photovoltaic panels and gas turbines are networked with fuel cells, their efficiency and reliability soar. After a one-hour outage crashed the First National Bank of Omaha's data network at a cost of $6 million, the bank put in stacks of fuel cells to power its computer center.MJB: You chuckle, and dare I say it, I smirk. There is only one data center that I know if in all of California using a fuel cell for a data center, and the company makes fuel cells. Look, fuel cells have been “just around the corner” for at least twenty years. In the broader class of self-generation technologies like internal combustion or turbine co-generation systems, there really isn’t much we don’t know how to build. In other words, technology hasn’t held anyone back. The rub is and always has been economics – there are simply only a very limited set of customers that can effectively implement self-generation, a smaller set where it is economic, and an even smaller set who are interested in taking on the risk. I’m going to write a white paper summarizing the potential use of self-generation at data centers: yes, they have the right electric use profile; no, they have no need for the heat recovered from the generation; and no, no, no, they don’t want a more complicated power delivery system. There is not a data center that I know of that doesn’t rely on the two- or three-nines reliability of their local utility service. You simply cannot beat that with your own power plant. Just to add a coda, the utilities in California essentially can’t give away incentives for self-generation systems – they’ve transferred the money into rebate programs for solar, because that is where the demand is. If you can’t make self-gen work with high retail power rates, reasonable fuel (natural gas) prices, and subsidies, where in the country do you think it is going to work?
DG: And how many years are we still going to have to wait for this?
Wired: None of these
appliances and sensors would have to be very intelligent on their own, and few
of the transactions would have to go through a central authority, such as the
utility, for the performance and resilience of the whole system to improve. But
every node in the network would have to be awake, responsive, flexible, and,
most important, interconnected with everything else. A distributed network. An
MJB: There is a growing consensus in the smart grid industry that the stuff at the edge – appliances and simple controls, don’t necessarily have to communicate with some central control system. A lot of the information traffic will be one-way. My refrigerator example is extreme, but in other cases some equipment and controls just need to know when power is expensive, and they can tailor their operations from there. The meter and bill will reflect that it worked, and that’s what customers want at the end of the day.
DG: finally Mark, now that you are free to express your opinions, would you agree with this paragraph below? What is your prediction for the next 10 years?
Wired: Like the infrastructure itself, the failure of support for long-range R&D transcends national borders. Ironically, as the global economy becomes increasingly dependent on the digital networks made possible by electricity, public funding worldwide for tapping new, cleaner power sources and evolving our infrastructure is tanking. The US spent one-third less on energy R&D in 1995 than it did in 1985. Germany, Italy, and the UK spent two-thirds less. Venture capital and private investment in energy research almost never address systemwide issues. The grid itself is falling through the cracks.MJB: I don’t know much about R&D funding over time, but I do know that utilities aren’t doing much. Regulators simply say no to budget requests for this kind of activity, asking why consumers/ratepayers should support it. This is a minor example of how utility regulation isn’t really working, but it is a minor one in the scheme of things.
We still have broad swaths of the industry that are living in the “more you sell, the more you profit” regulatory scheme, so you find utilities paying companies to locate large loads in their areas. It’s more important to figure out a regulatory model that rewards utilities for doing the right things – promoting conservation and efficiency, managing demand, supporting renewable and distributed generation – than to see to it that they fund pure R&D.
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People don't realize, adds John
Michael Greer, "that when a plane full of tourists flies from LA to
Cairo so they can visit the Great Pyramid, that one flight uses as much
energy as it took to build the Great Pyramid".
Air movement is a big enterprise. In the United States alone, companies directly involved with airflow and air conditioning are nine times larger than the movie business and sixteen times bigger than the recording industry, yet they are rarely discussed and little known. Source: Pax Scientific. Have a green day!