Posts tagged: Smart Grid

How Do We Figure This Smart Grid Out? Introducing CADER: Communities for Advanced Distributed Energy Resources

My, but we learn so slow, And heroes, they come and they go And leave us behind, As though we’re supposed to know ~ Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Pretty Maids All in a Row BPoilspillThe recent coal mine collapse and the gulf oil spill has caused the blogoshere to once again heat up with debates about clean energy versus the fossil fuel stuff. Scientists are saying that the Deepwater Oil Disaster could be more than 10 times worse than initial estimates — and the well could keep spewing oil into the Gulf for months before the oil companies figure out how to stop it. Meanwhile, some elected officials who insisted all along that offshore drilling was safe are trying to tell us that we just need better “backup blowout preventers” on offshore oil rigs. Glenn Beck continues to compare Global Warming to Nazi propoganda, but as Lewis Black points out so humorously, Glenn Beck has “Nazi Tourette’s” (you’ve got to see the video ~ I had tears in my eyes laughing so hard). On the other side, I just read a great blog today written by Green Builder Media’s Ron Jones. It’s titled Hostage Situation and makes many great points. This point stood out for me:

Why is it so difficult to get people to admit that we not only have the ability to make intelligent decisions and effect positive change in the way we conduct our lives, but that it is our moral obligation to do so? We know how to reduce the environmental impacts of our industries, our transportation, and our built environment. We are not forced to continue to pass the poison for the sake of profit.”

Getting off the poison and embracing the light, as I’ve written in earlier blogs and articles, is not a simple matter. In fact, it will take the coordination and cooperation of many disciplines to achieve the morally imperative change. At the end of last month we were very fortunate to attend the CADER Conference 2010 at the University of California at San Diego. The venue was spectacular, on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The gathering was even better. Attending were representatives of the California utilities, the Department of Energy, major universities, non-profit advocacy organizations, large and small manufacturers, green builders and green designers, among others. Over the three-day conference there were several threads or themes that emerged. I will blog about them in the weeks and months to come. Most importantly, it is clear that to get from where we are to where we need to be it will take a cooperative effort by the broad range of disciplines representated at CADER 2010. In fact, I got a chuckle recently when someone made me aware of an

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article in Smart Grid News about the Smart Grid’s Most Powerful Men. More likely, an earlier Smart Grid News article on The Networked Grid 100: Movers and Shakers of the Smart Grid probably better captures the essence of our challenge. Many attending the CADER 2010 event were not on this list and clearly should be. And what does all of this mean to the Solar Tribe? Jigar Shah, CEO of The Carbon War Room, founder of SunEdison, and brilliant futurist, put it very well in a recent email:

I think there needs to be a pivot by the solar industry away from solar advocacy towards Distributed Generation (DG) advocacy. This includes DG (solar, CHP, wind, small hydro, geothermal, etc) and, more importantly, aggressive electrical engineering (EE,) targeted storage, and smart grid.

Bringing together stakeholders in these various disiplines is the only way to sort out obstacles and opportunities. As we look around, we can find an unbelievable number of conferences and seminars on Smart Grid. Many organizations are creating forums for wide discussion and debate about where to go with with DG, EE and targeted storage. A quick search of the Internet identified the following gatherings in the very near future: Two Day Smart Grid Conference in Palm Springs, California May 18-19, 2010 Community Energy Roadmap Summit and Workshop Bellevue, Washington June 2-3, 2010 Smart Grid Technology Conference & Expo 2010, San Diego CA, June 2-3, 2010 Smart Grids – China 2010, Shanghai China , June 8-11, 2010 Smart Grid Interoperability Summit, Toronto Ontario, June 15-16, 2010 …and that’s just the next thirty days. In addition, these organizations exist for the purpose of advocating for distributed energy development: World Alliance for Decentralized Energy (WADE) California Energy Commission’s Distributed Energy Resources Guide Distributed Energy – A Journal of Energy Efficiency & Reliability Galvin Electricity Initiative There

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are many more I have not listed. Several blog installments can written on each of these organizations and others. They are necessary for the smart grid dialogues to take place. CADERlogoSo why does CADER have the opportunity to be different from these other conferences and organizations? It’s really quite simple and something of which I had not been previously aware. Communities, or microgrids, are natural innovation zones. They provide opportunities to perfect Smart Grid technologoes because communities have experimentation scalability. These microgrids also provide flexibility. At the community level, utilities can create partnerships with universities, as well as small and large businesses. At the community level, potentially contentious stakeholders are more likely to come together in cooperative efforts to jointly find solutions to the many technical challenges involved in creating a distributed energy smart grid. Perhaps most importantly, at the community level stakeholders can afford the trial-and-error required to acheive optimum cost reduction, without wide-scale public opinion slowing

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down or halting progress. CADER is all about taking a community approach to

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advanced distributed energy. From the beginning to the end of the 2010 conference, attendees heard about progress being made at the microgrid level from a broad range of community spokesmen. We heard different perspectives to common challenges shared by stakeholders. We heard from community leaders in the city of Chula Vista about the real world challenges and accomplishments for turning a decent-sized community green. We heard from representatives of the University of California – Davis about their development of a net zero community. We heard about the development of microgrids in India, Borrego Springs CA, and Canada. All with different challenges and points of view. We heard from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), Sacramento Metropolitan District (SMUD) about the utilities community plans and actions. We heard from the current and former commissioners of the California Energy Commission, as well as the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), the Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) Coalition and World Alliance for Distributed Energy (WADE). We heard panels talk about the critical role that water is playing and will continue to play in the energy-water nexus. We took a tour of UCSDs 30MW microgrid. I’ll cover all of these and more in upcoming blogs and articles. In the meantime, you can find many of the CADER presenters’ powerpoint presentations here. This is important and relevant to all of us, especially the solar tribe. We need more of this. In the past, the CADER Conference has been held bi-annually. Hopefully, it will shift to an annual event and broaden both its attendee base, as well as its media coverage.

Smart Grid: It Isn’t As Simple As You Think

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wp-image-759″ />By now, most of us know that the demand for solar continued to rise during the recession. Demand continues to grow throughout the world. A couple of days ago, the SEIA published The US Solar Industry Year in Review 2009. The opening sentence of the report stated: “Despite the Great Recession of 2009, the U.S. solar energy industry grew— both in new installations and employment.” Reuters reported that the “industry surged on incentives.” In February, Todd Woody provided details of how California and New York utilities are playing a key role in solar growth in the New York Times Green Inc. blog. “Over the past few weeks, some 1,300 megawatts’ worth of distributed solar deals and initiatives have been announced

or approved. At peak output, that is the equivalent of a big nuclear power plant” wrote Woody. Yes, it’s only one big nuclear power plant, certainly not “As Big As Coal” which needs to be the rallying cry of the Solar Revolution, but, nonetheless, in the midst of the financial meltdown, it’s something. So, OK, we are moving in the right direction over the last several weeks…but we’ve got a long way to go. There is so much do to

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on so many levels. As much credit as some will give to the utilities, the truth remains that the Solar Revolution is a grassroots cause. The efforts of the cause as a whole depend on each and every one of us doing what we can to educate and promote the beneits…even the imperitive…of creating solar As Big As Oil. We cannot settle for

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less. Along these lines, in order to be most effective, we’ve all got to understand the magnatude of unresolved issues that stand in the way of our goal. In the Solar Industry Magazine (April 2010, Volume 3, Number 3~it is only available via “deadtree media”) that I recently receved, Michael Coddington, Kate Anderson and Benjamin Kropski did a great job of summarizing a New York City case study assessing grid-level effects of distributed photovoltaics. The article identifies many of the technical issues that stand in the way of rapidly connecting distributive PV to the utility networks. On the front page of the same Solar Industry issue, Bob Powell presents a look at utility-scale financing components. I highly recommend these two front page articles. The NYC Study article describes that utilities use two types of electrical distribution systems. By far the most common is these is the simpler radial system, which is designed for electricity to go just one-way. In such a distribution system, a lot of hardware and software is devoted to detecting and protecting against “reverse power flow,” which is “indicative of an upstream supply feeder fault.” Needless to say, this is not good from a net metering and feed-in-tariff point-of-view. The article also discusses the problems caused by the highly variable nature of solar energy supply and the importance of the development of solutions that will make this source of energy more reliable (such as battery technology or eventually a national or worldwide smartgrid). The front page companion piece reminds us that regulators and legistlators are driving the utilities to do the right thng, “either through mandates such as enacted renewable portfolio standards (RPS)…or via less formal expectations that a utility has in response to climate change.” Failure to meet RPS standards will hit the utilities where it hurts them most: earnings. The challenge for the utility becomes how to finance all the change required to achieve the RPS. There is so much great information is these two Solar Industry Magazine articles. There was also a separate blog by Tom Raftery in the greenmonk blog. First, I want to say, that this blog is one great example of what we each can do to do our part for the Solar Revolution. Tom’s catchy sub-heading says “green from the bottom up; sustainable from the top down.” On April 16, Tom writes about “Are Utility Companies Ready for Full Smart Grids?” Tom takes a look at the IT angle to the new way of doing business. He also has a video interviw with Chris King, the Chief Regulatory Officer of eMeter. Tom writes that he commonly asks “What is a Smart Grid? Almost all the interviewees talk about an infrastructure capable of full end-to-end, two-way communications. That is, communication from utilities down to the appliance level in-home, and from appliances back up to utilities.” Tom probes the challenges that smart grid poses to IT, appliance development and, probably most importantly, consumer education. So, with this kind of perspective, how are we doing so far with our Big as Oil goal? Well, in a recent Greentechmedia research article titled “Can the U.S. or California

Institute a Feed-In Tariff?” Eric Wesoff writes that the RPS in California has failed. “And the U.S. solar market remains thwarted by tight financing, fragmented policies, and spotty permitting, as well as restrictive access to public lands. Arguably, policy trumps technology in matters of energy, and the U.S. has a long way to go in developing a favorable energy and solar policy.” Wescoff’s article covers an April 14 presentation made by Ted Ko of the FIT Coalition. “California’s renewable energy piece was 14 percent of the energy mix in 2003,” cited Ko in his speech to the Silicon Valley Photovoltaics Society, “and actually dropped down to 13 percent in 2008. Further, he asserts that there is little chance that will California achieve its goal of 20 percent in 2010 and 33 percent in 2020.”

The answer, according to Ko, is getting a feed-in tariff imposed in California and in the U.S. Ko defined the feed-in tariff as a predefined, pre-approved PPA between renewable energy generators and utilities. He called it “the most effective policy in the world for getting cost-effective renewable energy online. It’s simple, fair and effective.”

As they say, “the Devil’s in the details.” There are so many details to research and understand. We need to continue to feed one another with newly developing information and ideas. Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are great communication tools for this. So are invididual, company and public blogs. Write your own; subscribe to this one and others. WholeSolar will be starting a blog list. Let’s all share what we’re discovering and believing. Find a solar or renewable energy meetup group in your area. If you can’t find one, start one. Please be a part of Vote Solar and other similar organizations, where our numbers create “power to change power.” And please encourage other

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to join you in signing the Solar Bill of Rights. Most importantly, take action (if you have not yet) and increase your action (if you have).

Can Smart Grid Outsmart all the Obstacles?

smartgrid1Yesterday, we attended a sold-out Smart Grid event that was sponsored by CommNexus-San Diego, a non profit network of communication and defense industry companies. While the event itself lasted 90 minutes, you had the feeling that everyone in attendance would have stayed a couple more hours to have all their questions answered. The fascinating thing is that the development of the Smart Grid is essential, while at the same time being confronted with maddening obstacles. Logic-be-damned politics is at the center of many of these obstacles, posing the question: Will we have the political will to overcome them all? There is so much that can be said about the Smart Grid. It has so many components and aspects. For now, I’ll try to keep it simple. First off, from a very high point-of-view, the Smart Grid is simply about consumer empowerment. The more a consumer knows about his or her own consumption, the more likely he or she will be willing to alter behavior to save money. More importantly, without a Smart Grid the power distribution system will be unable to sustain the projected growth in energy demand. Using a Smart Grid, consumers will be charged premium rates for energy usage during peak-demand time periods and lower, discounted rates during low-usage periods. Existing energy grids are old and antiquated.They must be built to accommodate the highest required volumes for peak-usage periods. Put in other words, the capacity of the existing energy grid is largely unused because consumer usage varies widely throughout a day and in different seasons of the year. The introduction and wide-scale adoption of

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electric vehicles (EV) will further challenge the capacity of existing energy grids. A single EV requires more than 6 kW over a 3 hour period to re-charge. This

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is more energy consumption than than the average-sized home. Imagine what effect a mass migration from gas service stations to plug-in electric re-chargers could have on an already maxed-out grid. As has been the case in the wireless industry, there are no Smart Grid industry standards. We heard that San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) uses Zigbee and Z-Wave for their in-house wireless network, but the panel of experts agreed that there likely will ever be any such industry standards. Will this slow down the Smart Grid development? Incorporating renewable energy that is generated withing the grid itself seems to be the biggest no-brainer of all in the discussion about Smart Grid development. When I think of in-grid renewable energy, I see photovoltiac panels on the roofs of an entire community. I see these solar panels funded by PACE programs (California AB811), companies like SunRun or by the utilities themselves. If we increase the capacity of energy

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generation closest to the point of usage, we significantly reduce the cost of building infrastructure – a major savings to consumers. But I was shocked and amazed to hear that in the state of California the renewable energy program DOES NOT INCLUDE residential roof-top or ground-mount solar when calculating how much of a utility’s energy is green and how much is fossil-based. In other words, there is no incentive for the utilities in California to vigorously pursue the development distributive solar energy generation. While there seems to be strong legislative consensus that renewable energy is the way to go, there are other similar legislative obstacles to getting there. I’ve written about some already at this blog site: a solar bill of rights, innovative financing, national net metering, grassroots advocacy and, probably most importantly, general consumer ignorance and apathy. If you add to this list feed-in-tariffs and shifting government subsidies

from fossil fuels to renewables, we’re really talking about a uniform national energy program that would be essential for national security. Such an ambitious concept brings up the age-old debate of states rights (and autonomy) versus Federal rights. At the event yesterday, this point was driven home clearly. Tom Blialek, Chief Smart Grid Engineer for SDG&E, stated that the California PUC program to create more green energy would result in 150MW of wind power being created in the Imperial Valley of California. Since wind energy is generally created at night and energy storage technology is still being developed, it will be necessary to order these windmills to be shut down, as is the current practice in Europe. This raised the question: why not sell excess energy across state lines rather than shut the windmills down? The answer was symbolic of the whole area of Smart Grid and renewable energy development: while the question makes a lot of logical and practical sense, from a political stand-point, there are too many issues to get sorted out before a national or world-wide smart grid will be able to happen. This is why we must build the solar tribe. This is why we must have meetups in our areas. This why we need to do what we can to get our communities involved. This why we need to blog, tweet and use social media to inform and involve others. The power to outsmart the obstacles is in our hands. It’s an exciting time to be alive.