Harrisburg, Pa utility provider PPL Electric Utilities has its $40 million smart grid pilot program in a fully operational stage. Currently about 60,000 customers are enjoying the benefits of 21st century technology and a more reliable source of electricity. Just in time for those summer heat waves and storms, too.
Anyone interested in finding out what a smart grid can bring a community or county should take a good look at this latest addition.
With a distribution management system (aka "brain") supplied by GE Energy, the PPL smart grid is constantly monitored and the power flow is analyzed in real time. The "body" of the system comprises over 500 switches, relays, sensors and other devices that can gather information and respond to commands from the control center. A series of wireless towers and fiber optic links make up the "nervous system," bringing communication between system operators and substations in the field.
The whole system benefits users by saving money, improving reliability through quick detection of outages and rerouting of power and providing a foundation for the future integration of wind and solar power.
Well done, PPL and the DOE for the $19 million in funds that helped make the system a reality. Let's hope it serves as a positive example of what this technology can bring to homes across the country.
My sister-in-law in San Diego sent me a message late last week after I tried getting in touch with her:
"Hey! We're in the middle of a rolling black out! The power is out in all of SD!…It's been 100 degrees for three days straight…Killed the power…"
The blackout lasted from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning and affected 1.4 million San Diego Gas & Electric customers.
The cause of the blackout was apparently traced back to a substation outage that caused a transmission line to shut off and trigger a cascade of blackouts that hit San Diego and also spread to parts of Arizona and Mexico.
More ammunition for the Smart Grid advocates, I'd say. One of the most important advantages of the Smart Grid is the elimination of these kinds of cascading blackouts. A Smart Grid would not only be "self-healing" but it could better isolate an outage, limiting the number of customers without power. San Diego's blackout, then, would have been avoided as the outage -- which originated in Yuma -- would have been isolated to Yuma.
Perhaps the building of the Smart Grid could be this country's New New Deal: An investment in an aging infrastructure that would position our country as leaders in energy efficiency. It would create jobs, cut down on greenhouse gases, increase national security. What's not to like?
We are Renovate Your World are unabashed supporters of the Smart Grid. (Which, at times, feels the same as saying we are fans of terra forming and a three-party system.) Fewer and shorter blackouts. Green energy. Smart meters and smart appliances that work for you to save on energy bills. What's not to like?
Two of the bigger challenges facing those charged with making the Smart Grid dream a reality include the distributing of harnessed energy over distances and the storage of renewable energy. While theirs may not be The Answer, the micro-grid designed by McPhy Energy for the University of Nottingham intrigued me. Described as a "mid-term storage of renewable energy," the micro-grid solution stores solar, wind and ground-source heat pump energy as solid hydrogen to cover the homes during peak periods, after sundown and during low- or no-wind stretches of time.
The solution will be used in Nottingham University's Creative Energy Homes project, considered by those involved to be the "first in the world to investigate the use of solid hydrogen as a mid-term solution for energy autonomy on a residential micro-grid scale."
I love the concept. I wonder if this kind of solution is feasible (affordable) on a wider scale. I am curious to know how many homes such a system can support.
Read more about MyCphy's solid hydrogen storage solution here.
Here in Vermont we've had nothing but rain for what seems like the past two months straight. I can count the number of cloudless days we've had since Spring began on one finger. It had me thinking about harnessing the sun with photovoltaics and if such a renewable energy source makes sense for this area.
Naturally, solar panels only work if you have an adequate amount of sun throughout the year. Otherwise you're wasting your money. Just how much sun do you get?
I did a little search to figure out. This is the same kind of research any home will need to do to determine if solar panels are a worthwhile investment.
According to www.city-data.com, my city of Burlington, VT sees cloudless days around 10-15 percent of year, depending on the month, with the fewest cloudless days occurring in November and December. Another site, www.worldfactsandfigures.com, claims that Burlington, VT gets 58 "Sunny" days in the year, which does not include Partly Sunny or Partly Cloudy days. 58? That's a little more than the former site would have me believe. It certainly feels like far less during this current grey stretch.
Incidentally, Philadelphia gets 93 days of uninterrupted sunshine per year, despite what the show would have us think. The sunniest city in the U.S.? Yuma, Arizona, which gets 242. Phoenix is right behind it at 211. The city with the least sun is Cold Bay, Alaska. They get a mere 10 days of sunny days every year. I'm guessing the town doesn't offer rebates for solar panel installation.
With all this said, it needs to be noted that solar panels do work on cloudy days, just not as efficiently. Even on a dark, overcast day a panel can still "soak up" enough diffuse light to be operating at 10 percent capacity. But is that enough over the long-term to make up for the cost? That is the question every home needs to ask before making the investment.
The Winner of the 2010 Earth Awards was recently announced, and it's a product that we may see in commercial and residential construction down the road. Called 'Artificial Photosynthetic Foam,' the winning material was inspired by the foam nest made by the Tungara Frog and is "capable of converting the sun's energy at greater efficiencies than living organisms."
Using this artificial photosynthetic material we will be able to capture carbon and produce energy at much more efficient rates--one can see how these material could have enormous benefits for both commercial and residential application.
Here's a great little article from AltEnergyMag.com that all you city-dwellers should check out. The piece poses the following question: for an urban citizen given a small, open space (whether rooftop, patio, or disused building site), is it more beneficial to plant a small garden or to use the space for harvesting solar electricity?
The article examines the question under three lenses: energy, economic and transport energy.
Lest you dismiss it as op/ed, take a moment to read the first section of the article that compares the "energy balance" of the two options. These folks did their homework. There's real math in there.
Of course, what can't be quantified is the spiritual or emotional value of having a garden over solar power or vice versa. This only the reader can determine. Personally, I'd prefer the garden, as it requires getting the hands dirty and forces upon me some meditative time. Others might prefer the less labor-intensive solar panel.
The city of Lancaster in Southern California has a great way to bring affordable solar power to its residents: leased solar panels. Through a recently unanimously passed plan and a partnership with SolarCity, Lancaster residents will have the opportunity to lease solar panels and reap the renewable benefits.
From what I can tell, the leasing of the solar panels will work like this: a company will handle evaluation of the viability of solar panel installation as well as the processing and permitting that follows. It is unclear whether the panels are installed by the company or if this sizable task is left to the homeowner.
Panels for a three or four bedroom home might lease for $110 a month, but electricity savings could amount to hundreds over the year. Apparently SolarCity is guaranteeing a home will save on the cost of their electric bill, even accounting for the cost of the lease, by making up any difference. Sounds like a good deal to me, but I wonder how this affects the lessor's bottom line.
Eligible residents must own their home and have a credit rating above 700 to qualify.
Could this be the business model to usher in widespread adoption of residential solar panels?