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Microgrids May Provide Distributed Energy

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the will-the-riaa-object dept.

Power 159

jobcello wrote to mention a BBC article discussing a new technique for power distribution that might provide electricity using a series of small "microgrids", in a manner similar to peer-to-peer software. From the article: "'This would save something like 20 to 30% of our emissions with hardly anyone knowing it ... A microgrid is a collection of small generators for a collection of users in close proximity ... It supplies heat through the household, but you already have cables in the ground, so it is easy to construct an electricity network. Then you create some sort of control network.' That network could be made into a smart grid using more sophisticated software and grid computing technologies."

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Another Zonk dupe! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646075)


Hey, Zonk, have you ever considered retirement? I mean, a perfectly competent /.er is sitting around and needs a job, or at least a better one than the admin job he has. He would make an excellent editor: he spends enough time here, and he always tends to point out dupes, at least until he unchecked you on his preferences page. He goes by the username TripMaster Monkey [slashdot.org] .

Also, have you got the message? The Slashdot community doesn't want you. They don't like articles comparing games to female orgasms. They don't like seeing the same story twice while their own interesting and original submissions are rejected. They don't like typos. You can tell this in the majority of comments to your posts.

A Slashdot analogy: the /. effect is to a DoS attack as a Zonkism is to a crapflood.

Is there any wonder why "bonk the Zonk" is now a widely-used phrase? I'm not puzzled. You're a troll disguised as an editor. Either that, or you're secretly working for Antislash.

You should resign before you hurt your reputation further.

--
Bonk the Zonk! TMM for editor!
Trolling all trolls since 2001.

Re:Another Zonk dupe! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646107)

Hey, if TMM is an editor, that means he'll only post on here once every few years. No more ^_^ smileys and ascii art sigs!

TMM FOR EDITOR!!

Re:Another Zonk dupe! (1)

mpontes (878663) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646153)

Considering you got such a long first post, you must be TMM himself. Hiding behind Anonymous Coward to bash an Editor while starting a "TMM for editor!" campaign for yourself? Man. I was going to mod you down, but someone got you before I did. Plus, I just had to point this out.

Re:Another Zonk dupe! (2, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646223)

Where is the dupe? Your post was a dupe to another one from last night. Please consider jumping on an MSN blog site. At this point, I would hate to see TMM get editing if for no other reason then to force you over to MSN.

Re:Another Zonk dupe! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646233)

Your claim that one editor screws up more often is meaningless without statistical figures to back them up.

Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

It's been 10 minutes since you last successfully posted a comment. Even though you've waited this much, Slashdot won't even tell you how much more you need to wait. What a waste of Slashdot server bandwidth, as you have to keep on trying to submit.

Chances are, you're behind a firewall or proxy, or clicked the Back button to accidentally reuse a form, or Slashcode is poorly written. Please try again. If the problem persists, and all other options have been tried, contact the site administrator.

What the... (3, Insightful)

guardiangod (880192) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646245)

Tell you what, why don't you log into your account(be it TTM or whatever) , put your money where your mouth is by presenting justifiable evidences, and get beatdown like a man.

If you refuse, then stop trying to force other drink your special Kool Aids; we don't need idiots who chant the same PR for every story.

..but... (4, Funny)

Abstract_Me (799786) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646081)

the RIAA will never allow it...

Re:..but... (1)

MissingDividends (911755) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646851)

What the RIAA wants to control MORE of my life?! Actually I think there would have to be a new regulatory commision created, so that *certain political figureheads* can give out more important positions as political favors.

Actually... (3, Interesting)

Once&FutureRocketman (148585) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647177)

The utilities will never allow it. Seriously, this is one of their worst nightmares, and one of the major reasons that they consistently oppose programs that promote distributed renewable. They are, for the most part, regulated monopolies. Their political power derives from the fact that, no matter how much they suck, they are the only game in town. Change that, and they start to become superfluous. And they know it.

Re:Actually... (4, Informative)

jcr (53032) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647304)

The utilities will never allow it.

They may fight it, but allowing it isn't up to them. Ever since Travis Price won his first lawsuit against Con Ed over the windmill in New York that was driving his power meter backwards, the utilities have been on the defensive.

-jcr

Lightning (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646085)

Well, it would be nice to have this in that if lightning had struck one of the generators, it would affect a smaller number of people, compared to convention power lines and such.

Re:Lightning (4, Insightful)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646187)

It would not have to. Just because you lose one generator, does not mean that the grid loses electricity. In fact, the neighboring grids would just provide for it.

Re:Lightning (1)

warkda rrior (23694) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646844)

In fact, the neighboring grids would just provide for it.
Yeah, that plan worked so well for the East Coast in 2003.

Re:Lightning (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647142)

Problem was that you have a few large grids seperated by a long distance. In contrast, with a micro grid, you have several neighbors, who are just a short distance away. But still far better to lose just a few places than the eastern seaboard.

Re:Lightning (1)

HermanAB (661181) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647084)

If lightning hit your cheap ass grid, then you will lose all your generators, all the wiring and most of the houses too... Stopping lightning ain't easy d00d.

Re:Lightning (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647217)

who said it was cheap? and stopping lightening is fairly easy. A bit pricey, but overall not too bad. Why would you think that a grid that is shrunk in size equates to less capabilities?

controller softwared exists (4, Funny)

yagu (721525) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646090)

from the post:

Then you create some sort of control network.' That network could be made into a smart grid using more sophisticated software and grid computing technologies.

I believe if you'll check the documentation, that sophisticated smart-grid controller software is part of the new Office 12 release.

Re:controller softwared exists (5, Funny)

timeToy (643583) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646125)

Actually it was already part of Office XP and Office 2003, but people couldn't find it in the complex menu structure, so now it's exposed on the new super fancy icons bar !

Re:controller softwared exists (1)

oc255 (218044) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646137)

I expect a Grid Wizard and a Brown-Out reporting tool that no one says yes to.

IE:
[bzzt]
Power grid crashed unexpectedly. Send error report to Microsoft?
No.
Ok.

More on-topic, do other industries go in a distributed/consolidated cycle like computing? Distributed computing isn't without faults, like centralized computing.

Re:controller softwared exists (4, Funny)

tktk (540564) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646168)

Unfortunately, it's tied into the Office 12 Clippy...

Clippy: It looks like you're trying to create a microgrid control network.

Clippy: Overload Generators?

  • Yes.
  • Yes.
  • Yes. Then send bug report.

Independant Citizens (-1, Troll)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646109)

That wont be allowed to happen. That would undermine the government's control and 'big brother spin'.

Re:Independant Citizens (1)

pdpTrojan (454023) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646291)

Would someone explain how exactly the parent post is supposed to be "Interesting"?

Re:Independant Citizens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646377)

Crack, my friend. Mods on crack.

Re:Independant Citizens (0, Offtopic)

jb.hl.com (782137) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646391)

Indeed, how is it relevant at all to this discussion? I suppose maybe, just possibly, the electricity on government owned grids could possibly be used to power a computer which could possibly have a government keylogger which could possibly be infringing on privacy, but come on...

Re:Independant Citizens (1)

Vraylle (610820) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646400)

It's at least as relevant as the various comments about Microsoft Office, the RIAA, and various individual's dogs. And it's quite a bit more true.

What if... (4, Funny)

keith_nt4 (612247) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646110)

That network could be made into a smart grid using more sophisticated software and grid computing technologies.

...the power goes out?

Re:What if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646179)

You don't have power, when you're out of power. I don't get what you're saying. Peer-to-Peer networks are always designed with nodes leaving the network at any given time in mind. Plus one can use backup generator/battery for critical hardware.

Re:What if... (1)

NaturePhotog (317732) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646485)

Obviously you go and beat up your neighbors for not supporting their part of the grid :-)

Re:What if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647016)

Power is supposed to go OUT. :>

Great, just what we need (4, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646135)

a new technique for power distribution that might provide electricity using a series of small "microgrids", in a manner similar to peer-to-peer software.

And you can bet on countless participants finding ways to not share at a 1:1 ratio, just like on most P2P networks...

Re:Great, just what we need (1)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646750)

And you can bet on countless participants finding ways to not share at a 1:1 ratio, just like on most P2P networks..


Possibly, although probably it wouldn't be as much of a problem since most people have finite electricity needs (e.g. once your air conditioner is running, you don't get any additional benefit from turning on a second air conditioner, or a third. Contrast that with p2p, where doubling your bandwidth will always decrease your download time).


In any case, didn't BitTorrent largely solve the "freeloader problem" by having each client keep track of how much its peers were downloading from it, and adjusting its upload rates to reward sharers and punish freeloaders? Probably something similar could be done for electricity usage (with the added wrinkle that nodes could be allowed to buy electricity from other nodes, in addition to bartering)

Re:Great, just what we need (1)

GoldAnt (899329) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647416)

But the electricity won't be yours, and you won't be sharing it, you'll be merely passing it along...

Re:Great, just what we need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647437)

Commercial customers who have more control over the way they pull power from the grid and send it back may have very sophisticated software to optimise their power load depending on the payment plans they're on. Some of the tricks they do are definitely dodgy.

OMFG! (-1, Troll)

acid06 (917409) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646140)

Communist power supplying!

Re:OMFG! (-1, Troll)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646976)

Anarchist, actually.

wow, they have it all worked out! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646148)

"Then you create some sort of control network."

What sort, exactly; and, will it run Linux?

* * *

Why do sentences like that stick out and yell "inexperienced ding-dongs at work" ??

Re:wow, they have it all worked out! (2, Funny)

Wazukkithemaster (826055) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646350)


will it run Linux?
More importantly, will it run Linux powered solely by dead cats?

This would be cool (5, Interesting)

under_score (65824) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646155)

I've been investigating solar and wind power generation for my home. I'm on an acre and a half, with well and septic. I run some web and mail servers. It would be really nice to be able to have a water supply and electricity supply independent of the grid. If this sort of grid system gets implemented, it may be incentive for me and others to go ahead with local power generation systems so that we can share. I've been reading about in-home control systems that can regulate when and how power is used so that you can immediately get a 15-30% power savings. If this is also done with these micro-grids, a cumulative savings of 50% might be possible. That would be a substantial factor in reducing entropy buildup (emmissions, heat, etc.). Cool stuff!!!

Re:This would be cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646250)

Cool stuff!!!

Is that a pun?

Re:This would be cool (4, Informative)

ergo98 (9391) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646268)

If this sort of grid system gets implemented, it may be incentive for me and others to go ahead with local power generation systems so that we can share.

Perhaps I'm just totally misunderstanding the article (it seems to talk alternately about electricity, and then about heat, and then about electricity. While they can be converted back and forth with varying efficiency, it did seem confusing), but if you are generating more power than you use, in most areas (at least here in North America) you absolutely can push the power onto the grid [energyvortex.com] (which is a lot of intermeshed small grids), getting paid for your generation (or alternately offsetting your consumption used when there is no wind/sun/uranium/whatever). Several jobs ago I worked at a shop that installed control software for generators, and several of the customers used them as mini-generating stations, pushing lots of power onto the neighbouring grid (and thus eliminating the transmission losses).

Re:This would be cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647395)

In Massachusetts, they have restructured the electricity costs so that only a small portion is called "Supplier Service". The majority is called "Delivery Service". Cynical me thinks they did this to eliminate competition (like from my home state of NC - Duke Power). If I were to put in a generator, do you think they would refund the "delivery service" part too or just the small "supplier service" part?

Best bang for the buck... (3, Informative)

skids (119237) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646302)

...is curently in space heating and hot water. Solar PV will catch up in a few years with low-silicon panels and mini CPV arrays, but other than the panels which will eventually come back down after the shortage ends, the grid-tie components are for the most part incredibly overpriced.

Even with the price gouging that goes on in the home power industry, though, you can still make solar hot water pay back in a few short years... and of course solar air daytime space heating is extremely cheap since DIY is for some weird reason the only real option available. Horizontal geothermal heat/cool banking ("slinky coils") can self-finance on a home equity loan with their power savings, if you are in the right climate... best to have a pro do a site survey before trying to crunch the numbers on a heat pump system, though.

It's astounding how much of the electricity and fuel we use is just turned straight to heat (or cold), and since heat/cold is much easier to collect/store than electricity, that's where the savings are to be had.

(Though a space heater that ran the current through a massive BOINC parrallel computing array might be an interesting way to avoid "wasting" electricity when heating with it.)

Re:This would be cool (1)

Richthofen80 (412488) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646577)

Its very possible to provide half or more of your electrical needs, but the problem is a lot of homeowners don't want to make the (often large) initial investment. There's also maintenence over time. Oftentimes, its simply easier to rely on the large capital investment already made by the utilities. They already have trucks, equipment, manpower, and lines that they all maintain.

However, it would be cool if as new homes are built many are built with the investment already made, so that homeowners see it as an added value. If built at construction, it could be an easier sell.

Electrical and Communications grids behind the tim (2, Interesting)

guildsolutions (707603) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646158)

With such an advanced soceity as we have, its amazing how frail and utterly devistatable our communications and electrical utilies are. With the recent hurricanes, they estimate MONTHS before some places get electricity back. We have the ability to have blackouts the cover entire states.Havnt we learned from google that one huge supercomputer is not better than a million smaller computers? If each city, each neighborhood has a microgrid for power and communications that was burried and belowground, sealed against weather then our communications and electrical infastructure would remain even after huge natrual disasters such as these hurricanes that we have been so blessed with this season.

Re:Electrical and Communications grids behind the (1)

KrancHammer (416371) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646227)

Exactly! I vote for any scheme that's more robust than the current grid. However, I am not sure that anything that cause as much widespread damage as a hurricane is proofable in the slightest.

Re:Electrical and Communications grids behind the (1)

cornelius1729 (857214) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646503)

each neighborhood has a microgrid for power and communications that was burried and belowground

Sure it'll protect from hurricanes if it's underground, but what about earthquakes and underground monsters? [imdb.com]

Re:Electrical and Communications grids behind the (1)

vmcto (833771) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646887)

Your absolutely right!

These electric power companies need to stop messing around and wave their magic wands to rebuild the PHYSICAL infrastructure they have spent a 100 years building up with the lessons learned from a company that's been around for 7 years.

Perhaps IBM can supply them some fairy dust too.

DG and you (2, Insightful)

evillejedi (917683) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646161)

Problem with this is that 1) most DG networks are microturbines or fuels cells, the customer usually picks up the cost of the fuel 2) current natural gas prices make it expenive as heck 3) strong negative NIMBY because usually they are load (both fuel cells and microturbines) 4) high maintinence costs after a few years for membrane replacement and reconditioning of the turbine. 5) you have to hope your neighbors pay their fuel/usage bills... right now its only really practical for large customers like hospitals and factories and for utilities to reduce local overloads of their system while they wait the requisite 2 billion years to site a new substation

Re:DG and you (2, Informative)

evillejedi (917683) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646209)

btw those who say big utilities won't let it happen ==> http://www.plugpower.com/ [plugpower.com] yeah they want a cut, but once it gets reasonable it will happen in a lot of places.

Slightly Related - Fuel Cell Tech (3, Interesting)

deutschemonte (764566) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646172)

I have always thought that the real revolution in fuel cell tech will be with something like this. Either you can have a fuel cell powered generator at one house, or use a larger generator to power several houses.

In either case it would allow for what I believe is the greatest hinderance to this technology, true energy competition.

Think about it, your energy costs would be completely independent of where you live (except for shipping costs). We could build clean energy supply stations where they will be most effective (say the desert for example) and then contain and ship that energy anywhere using fuel cells.

There are a few hurdles to overcome such as local power monopolies and putting protections in place to make sure 1st world countries aren't just importing from poluting energy sources in 3rd world countries.

But when the technology becomes marketable, this will be a real possibility.

Re:Slightly Related - Fuel Cell Tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646336)

And I anonymously agree with you.

But let's get deep, fast, quick. We need a free market value assigned to pollution efficeincy. That's how much pollution is caused when you convert a fuel source into useful form. Why? Because right now, nobody really cares about it, but we all need to. Not just to control pollution, but to separate that market from the energy efficiency market. Separating those two markets is the key to allowing each to operate effectively.

This table has three legs:
1. Pollution Efficiency - the market we need to create
2. Energy Efficiency - the market that regulates itself, because anybody would rather do the same thing for less fuel, and will pay a reasonable price for it too
3. Conservation - Fine for a PR campaign, but do you really want to be told you can't buy that second house because you already have one? That just like saying you can't buy a bigger car if you want to. Here, it's not size that matters, or miles per gallon. It's how cleanly your produce the engine power. And how much engine power you get per fuel unit. Hey, if you want to carry around an extra thousand pounds and pay for the extra fuel, or buy 4 houses to keep warm when you aren't even there, go ahead.

Ceramic Fuel Cells (2, Informative)

Col Bat Guano (633857) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646638)

A company in Australia (http://www.cfcl.com.au/ [cfcl.com.au] ) (and a couple of others) are developing ceramic fuel cells.
Natural gas + O2 = electriicity + high temp waste heat that can heat your water.

Re:Slightly Related - Fuel Cell Tech (1)

cow-orker (311831) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647164)

We could build clean energy supply stations where they will be most effective (say the desert for example) and then contain and ship that energy anywhere using fuel cells.

No, we can't. Fuel cells and electrolysis have finite efficiencies, shipping has it's cost, too. If you envision hydrogen as fuel, purifying and liquefying it doubles its cost in term of energy. If you think of methanol or something, then extracting CO2 from the atmosphere adds to the cost as well.

it would allow for what I believe is the greatest hindrance to this technology, true energy competition.

"There's a huge establishment conspiracy against free energy for everyone!"

Big companies (3, Insightful)

Saiyine (689367) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646174)


People supplying energy for the people? Big electric companies will never allow it.

--
Superb hosting [dreamhost.com] 4800MB Storage, 120GB bandwidth, $7,95.
Picaday!!! [picaday.host.sk] Strange & sexy pictures (Some NSFW!).

Re:Big companies (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646284)

BC Hydro allows this here in Canada. If you produce your own power and install a proper converter BC Hydro will buy your power from you. This makes things like solar power or wind power much better. When it's sunny you build a credit, but at night you spend it rather than needing to store the power in batteries. If you actually produce more power than you consume they'll mail you a cheque at the end of the year!

Sometimes crown (government) corporations can do good things! :)

Not in Germany WAS: Big companies (1)

n01 (693310) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646691)

Actually, in Germany we have laws to support the development of this kind of decentralized power generation. If you've got solar panels on your roof, the electricity company is forced to buy any surplus energy from you at a price that is higher than the one regular customers pay for the electricity.

This is financed by a special tax on all energy called Ökosteuer (Steuer = tax)

I've already wondered if this system couldn't be abused. For example you could store some energy in large accumulators or fuel cells at night, and return them to the grid during the day, pretending it's photovoltaic energy. I'm not sure though, which efficiency you would need to actually profit from this.
----
this post has been generated automatically

Re:Big companies (1)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646753)

Ironically enough, Chicago has electricity provided by Peoples Energy [peoplesenergy.com] . The name sounds more like a socialist throwback, but they are definitely not controlled by the people :-P

Been there, got that (2, Interesting)

rlp (11898) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646175)

My neighborhood has a set of fuel cell generators deployed at a transmssion site up the street. Runs on natural gas. It's an experiment, and probably would not be cost effective w/o state and federal grants.

Re:Been there, got that (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647322)

There are quite a few gas wells around the country that don't produce enough to be worthwhile commercially, but are fine for powering a house or two. I know an elderly couple (old friends of the family) who have an old gas well on their property in the hills in Pennsylvania, and they have mostly gas appliances. They haven't gone ahead and installed a gas-powered generator yet, though.

What's the operating cost of your fuel cells like?

-jcr

...what about the guy down the block? (2, Insightful)

Mister White (892068) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646182)

3 concerns:

1) how much more/less will this cost?
2) is this going to affect, say, the data center that houses 300+ servers, and the guy down the block's electronics? who says the data center can afford the drop in power when he goes to turn on a few high-power units?
3) wouldn't this just make it that much easier for power to be cut as a whole?

Re:...what about the guy down the block? (2, Insightful)

michael_cain (66650) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646381)

Another concern.

Assume that in most places, the existing electricity grid will be used to shuffle power around the neighborhood -- and to allow access to the big-boy power generators who pick up the slack when the microgrids are net consumers. Many states allow individuals to sell power back into the grid. Some even require that the "price" paid for such power is the same retail that the small customer pays, so accounting is simply a matter of spinning the meter backwards. Most of those states, however, require that the small generator monitor the commercial power, and if it fails, to quit pushing power into the grid. The nominal reason is one of safety -- some of the repairs done to the local wiring are danerous if the wires are "live".

Granted, a sufficiently sophisticated distributed control system should be able to handle this. But I'm not sure I'd want to put my repair staff at risk on that basis.

Holy cow (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646219)

When Brian Cohan created BitTorrent, I bet he had no idea that he just singlehandedly save the world!!!
 
/jumping up and down madly chanting "TAKE THAT RIAA!!!!!!!111!!!!11!"

Re: BitTorrent Creator (2, Informative)

KURAAKU Deibiddo (740939) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646322)

Actually, BitTorrent was created by Bram Cohen (not Brian). You can find his website here [bitconjurer.org] .

Connecting small generators... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646236)

It's really difficult to connect small generators together to form a power network. As any self respecting /. nerd knows, gnerators generate AC power... unlike connecting DC batteries together to form a more powerful source of power, generators have to be synched up exactly in phase. Only the more expensive generators have this capability, which usually requires them to synch up. If one generator puts out slightly more power then the other, the weaker one would act like a motor and suck the power from the stronger one. Getting them to match up and balance the load can be tricky

Mod parent -1, Ignorant (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646724)

It's not difficult to sync generation to the grid. A pair of A/D channels and a microcontroller can do it for a physical alternator, and it's even easier to do with an inverter. You can buy grid-synchronous inverters for both solar and wind systems off the shelf.


Google for "Sunny Boy inverter" and "Windy Boy inverter" if you want confirmation.

Re:Connecting small generators... (3, Informative)

njh (24312) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647527)

I have a little box under my house that plugs into the wall socket, it takes 24V DC and puts out the 240V in phase and everything. It cost me $1000. And it's not a mass produced device yet - if everyone had one I bet they would be cheaper than UPSs.

The technical term is "Grid interactive inverter" - google it.

Skeptical eyebrow raise... (5, Insightful)

banzaimonkey (917475) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646252)

This seems somewhat far-fetched to me.

From what I remember of physics in highschool, the production and transport of electricity is much more efficient when it is done in high volume with high voltages. In a small grid, you'd lose the benefits of that efficiency. It would also require separate maintenance crews, hardware, etc.

It would also raise concerns about standardization. Will the product I just purchased work on a grid down the street? Would you have to replace your appliances when you moved? The biggest benefit of consolitation is, imo, that you don't have to ask these questions. The systems are large enough to span areas well beyond the majority of general user's environments and thus there are few, if any compatability issues (i.e. Currently, if you leave the country, you might need to change your plug type / voltage, but anywhere in the country it should be the same).

Interruption also raises an issue. I'm inclined to think that a larger factility is easier to keep in operation because it's consolidated and more easily accessed by technicians / engineers / etc.

There are some benefits.

Solar power is made feasible, at least partially, in this case. I've always wondered why we don't all just have solar panels on our houses and batteries in the basements. I suppose that living in Southern California gives me a bit of a bias in terms of estimating the feasibility of such a system, but it certainly seems more reasonable than burning copious amounts of fossil fuels.

There are also other "alternative" power sources listed in the article, although it seems to me that large-scale, consolidated power production is still superior, given that the production facilities are clean.

Having grids separated increases security of those facilities in a disaster as there is no single facility whose compromise would cause a power loss to an entire large grid. With small grids, even if your grid goes down, surrounding grids should still be operational. That does, however, raise concerns about maintenance and repair--who's doing it and when?

Why not nuclear?

Nuclear energy is some of the cleanest and most efficient energy production available. Even with the waste being very toxic, its concentration levels are high. It is arguably easier to control the pollution from nuclear by-products than from a coal power plant. In a well-maintained and operated plant, there is virtually no risk of a meltdown, and I'm sure modern technology can be used to further increase the safety of nuclear power.

Chernobyl is the bloody poster-child of anti-nuclear groups, but that's certainly not par for the course in terms of nuclear power. San Onofre [sce.com] is down here in SoCal, and I dare say we have any mutated sea bass or deathclaw walking around. ;)

My vote is for nuclear, hydroelectic, and other efficient, clean, large-scale power sources, or for solar panels on my roof. It'll be interesting to see how this issue plays out.

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (1)

Mechcozmo (871146) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646357)

The Gonenator was going to equip a million homes with solar power-- give major discounts to the people that did it, etc. But at the last second the unions stuck a sentence that said that only union employees could do the installation. Arnold killed it. Pity... it would have been the equivalent of having built a new nuclear power plant.

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646576)

From what I remember of physics in highschool, the production and transport of electricity is much more efficient when it is done in high volume with high voltages. In a small grid, you'd lose the benefits of that efficiency. It would also require separate maintenance crews, hardware, etc.

We're not talking about new grids, new wires. Sure, the 'Highway' electrical distribution is the most efficient per mile, but it still has to get to your house. The 'last mile' is still there, we're just talking about making it so that your local neighborhood can power itself. No extra maintenance crews, not a lot of extra mile, and hopefully the extra hardware is bought by the small energy producer. IE I purchase and place solar cells on my roof. I put extra on, so that I produce more than I use during the day. I also go ahead a get the equipment needed to push it onto the grid, thus getting a rebate on my nighttime electricity use.

It would also raise concerns about standardization. Will the product I just purchased work on a grid down the street? Would you have to replace your appliances when you moved? The biggest benefit of consolitation is, imo, that you don't have to ask these questions. The systems are large enough to span areas well beyond the majority of general user's environments and thus there are few, if any compatability issues (i.e. Currently, if you leave the country, you might need to change your plug type / voltage, but anywhere in the country it should be the same).

As long as you're getting standard 110/220 power at 60 hertz, it won't matter.

Solar power is made feasible, at least partially, in this case. I've always wondered why we don't all just have solar panels on our houses and batteries in the basements. I suppose that living in Southern California gives me a bit of a bias in terms of estimating the feasibility of such a system, but it certainly seems more reasonable than burning copious amounts of fossil fuels.

Solar panels are expensive. The gear needed to push power(safely) onto the grid is expensive. Large capacity, deep cycle batteries are expensive(and toxic). Southern California receives alot of sunlight and has relativly expensive electricity, so you're talking about the best case scenario. Take me, living in (un)sunny North Dakota, land of cheap electricity(7.3 cents/kWh). I'd never break even on the cost of solar panels. Even in your area, you're talking about taking a decade or more to break even, assuming no unexpected maintenance/breakage of the panels or equipment, and a fairly steep increase in electricity rates.

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646728)

First, no one is talking about taking away the power grid. These systems would be *part of* the power grid, so your concerns about compatibility and reliability are not terribly relevant -- reliability could even go up due to an increased number of generation sources and routing paths.

Second, while high voltages are useful in overcoming I^2 losses, that's only important with respect to transmission. For a 1-2 block radius transmission losses are not terribly important. That and, since the system is part of the grid, it would presumably operate at the same voltage as whatever transmission lines were in the area, so the losses wouldn't be any worse than the existing system.

As for solar panels on your home -- I'm all for the plan if you can afford it, I want them myself -- but keep in mind that most of the country can't produce more than about 1.1 kW hours per month per square foot of south-facing 30-degree-inclined panels. So even if you've got the $30,000+ it takes to get a 1000 square-foot system, you can still only produce about 1.5 kW of power (as a monthly average). That might be enough for your average load, but it's no where near your peak needs, and it certainly doesn't leave much extra. Finally since solar power is unreliable it does exactly zilch to reduce the required, reliable peak production, as after 3 days or rain no one has any solar power to use, stored or otherwise. In short, solar power is great, and I'm all for it, but doesn't really reduce the number or size of power plants unless we're willing to stop using electricity when it rains.

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (1)

horza (87255) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646855)

Everything is a trade-off. You may be able to get some economy of scale in generating centrally, but you lose an awful lot in transmission. Maintainance costs may increase, but as you say it's insurance against one line being cut and thousands of homes going without electricity (eg from a hurricane). You can also go hybrid, where a few solar panels or small wind turbine can keep the house ticking over during the day whilst you are at work but draw off the grid when you get home and fire up the kettle/tv/computer/etc.

It does makes sense for everyone to have solar panels on roof, and many companies are working hard to make solar panels cheap enough so that the time taken for it to pay for itself is short enough for mass acceptance. For example solar cells you can spray onto plastic [berkeley.edu] . Let's hope funding increases for alternative energy, at both the government and the venture capital level.

Phillip.

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646971)

Why not nuclear? Nuclear energy is some of the cleanest and most efficient energy production available.

It's not as clean as some people seem to think.

Nuclear fuels need to be mined and refined. So much so that you create roughly the same amount of pollution preparing nuclear fuels as you do preparing coal. While it's true that actually generating the power is cleaner, nuclear energy is still significantly more polluting than truly "green" energy such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydro.

I think the most important lesson is that while we're talking about cleaner power, we should not neglect using the energy that we already have more efficiently. Wouldn't it be great if you could redirect the heat being generated by your server farm into heating offices and water?

Re:Skeptical eyebrow raise... (1)

muggz1250 (885083) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647273)

I have seen these comments about the "external" carbon costs of nuclear power plants -- the claims are never supported. The last claim I read, a published letter in New Scientist magazine, put the number at so many hundreds of millions of pounds of CO2 per day which, when annualized and matched against total output of the United States, exceeded that total output. Imagine a server farm with a little hot water heater on each CPU like a watercooled box. One may as well claim that the failure to recapture the amount of heat loss by men pissing in the toilet is a national disgrace.

buckminster fuller (1)

drfrog (145882) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646267)

suggested this oh quite a while ago....

hope it's 'open' (2, Interesting)

fak3r (917687) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646272)

an open system would follow an open society and *all* could benefit - wouldn't that be a nice/new way to look at rebuilding of places like NO, and other inner city places. hopeful perhaps, but it'd be a nice application and solve may of society's (current) ills.

Sort of (2, Funny)

Trailwalker (648636) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646321)

Then you create some sort of control network.
Just as soon as I finish writing some sort of article.

Distributed vs Centralized (2, Interesting)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646370)

Aren't a couple of the main benefits of centralized power centralized pollution control and centralized upgrades?

I keep hearing that 1 large electric plant is better to power transportation than a million tiny gasoline powered generators. In fact, I hear that in here quite regularly.

Why the dichotomy?

Re:Distributed vs Centralized (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647254)

If you read between the lines, they aren't talking about generators. They're talking about renewable energy.

We are getting closer and closer to the point at which commercial power cannot compete with renewable energy. In fact, we may already be at that point. Power companies are already investing in RE to hedge against rising fuel costs, and to provide peak loads.

The problem is: sunlight exists everywhere, wind exists everywhere. RE power technologies are reliable and low-maintenance. There is very little value that power companies can add. In fact, centralized generation may only add losses and unreliability.

If fossil fuels prices stay high, carbon controls will deal a crushing blow to commercial power companies. For US producers, coal mining is quickly becoming political nightmare. CHP, or co-generation, is also a rising threat. Centralization simply can't compete.

The only market commercial power operators will find in the new renewable power economy is managing and consulting for power that other people produce. Basically, systems like these will be competing with lead-acid batteries. Maybe they can do it. Personally, I think we'd be better-off scrapping the power lines for their aluminum and putting a windmill on every pole, but that's just me.

Re:Distributed vs Centralized (1)

YrWrstNtmr (564987) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647318)

I used the term 'generators' as a generic, not specifically and solely car engines or house generators.

The same scale holds true, though. Which is more efficient? A large windmill farm or hydroelectric generator, where the wind actually blows constantly, or a million small windmills, of unreliable and inconstant efficiency?

Personally, I think a combination of both is needed.

Re:Distributed vs Centralized (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647661)

The problem is: sunlight exists everywhere, wind exists everywhere. RE power technologies are reliable and low-maintenance.

The problem is that neither sunlight or wind are available 24/7/365 so until someone comes up with much more effecient methods of storage and conversion these technologies are not going to be effecient for base loads. If you ever price out a solar system for your home (assuming you're planning to be completely off grid) you'll quickly find out that it's need to overproduce when possible and store for later that really drives the costs up.

Reliability of an electric network? Ha! (2, Funny)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646394)

Microgrids cannot get very big unless the infrastructure gets much better. The great blackout of August 2003 was caused by one power plant screwing up and then all the other plants powering down to protect their networks. These are huge power plants we are talking about. Imagine one guy who didn't maintain his generator wiping out the microgrid every day!

Will never happen (2, Interesting)

MerlynEmrys67 (583469) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646405)

This completely violates the "Banana" doctrine - which of course states:
Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone
Why do you think they put the large powerplants out in the middle of nowhere, so that only poor people are near them, because if you tried to get a permit to build a small generator in the middle of a populated area - the enviroNazi's would shoot it down in a pile of lawsuits and environmental impact statements.

Nice idea - I have heard that transmission takes about 20-30% of our electrical output (especially when California gets its electricity from the Northern Oregon border, if not even farther away) - so anything to move the generation plant closer to the people that actually use the electricity would be a huge benefit.

Re:Will never happen (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646741)

Hur hur hur "aenviroNazi" hur hur hur. You funny. Environmentalists = Nazis. Hur hur hur

Re:Will never happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646790)

Wow... I don't think that he meant to say that all enviromentalists are Nazis or that Nazis are enviromentalists. He was mearly refernecing the fact that many enviromentalists have very forceful opinions that are often a tad overbearing.

Re:Will never happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647170)

very forceful opinions that are often a tad overbearing.

That's how I've always defined nazi.

What the hell is an environazi anyway. Someone who kills jews using solar power? Hydrogen powered cattle cars?

sigh

Re:Will never happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647313)

How about someone that won't let you build a bigger better powerplant so you can shutdown a decrpid old one because the NEW plant might have an effect on the environment (even though if you combine it with removing the old one it would be a net possitive). How about the protesters that get in the way of ANY business development. How about the "anti imigrant" wing of the sierra club.

The list can go on...

Re:Will never happen (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647562)

Environmentalists = Nazis
You moron, you just assigned Nazis to Environmentalists!

Re:Will never happen (1)

njh (24312) | more than 8 years ago | (#13647387)

We already do this on a suburban block using solar panels. And our neighbours all think it's a great idea (they even bought their own panels and use our inverter to match into the grid). I can only assume you live in a really unfriendly area. Perhaps when you hear generator you're thinking of one of those silly petrol powered noise makers? That's not what the article is talking about - most CHP systems are as noisy as a new fridge and live in the basement.

Re:Will never happen (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13647561)

Frankly a couple solar panels are cute. What needs to happen is some serious megawattage gets put onto the grid much closer to where it will be ultimately used.

I believe just simply putting electricty generation inside city limits rather than dragging it from 100s of miles away will significantly save on the amount of generation capacity that will be needed by not having all of the resistance in the wire

Distributed Networks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646433)

what is up with this distributed server thing . . windows vista . . power companies . .

Oh well . . I guess individuality is over-rated anyway.

Resistance is futile.

Economies of Scale (4, Insightful)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646468)

A microgrid is a collection of small generators for a collection of users in close proximity

I thought the reason we built big power plants was that:

1: By putting all your eggs in one basket and Watching That Basket, reliability was increased.

2: Many small generators would cost more and not be as efficient as one big generator, even allowing for larger transmission line losses.

Lower losses, greater net efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#13646807)

There are flip sides to both of those:
  1. Reliability doesn't mean that when your 750 MW plant goes down, you are not minus 750 MW all at once. Ten thousand small generators are very unlikely to all go down at the same time.
  2. Many solar roofs are little worse than one big PV farm, and they eliminate not just the transmission losses but the cost of the infrastructure.

It's true that a small generator is never going to get close to the 57% efficiency you can achieve with a gas-fired combined-cycle powerplant. It's also true that there are literally millions of things out there which are turning fuel into heat for the sake of the heat, and any electricity they might generate is gravy. Even 20% efficiency (about what the Climate Energy LLC. home cogeneration unit is supposed to get, and a long way from the best possible) is 20% more than a gas furnace gets.

If you can combine this efficiency with smart management which is e.g. able to keep isolated islands of the grid powered when there are widespread failures (think 8/14/03, and you'll need some frequency-adjustment command and control to resync before reconnecting to the grid), you can achieve greater efficiency and far higher net reliability than we "enjoy" today.

Just imagine... (1)

foniksonik (573572) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646476)

...a Beowulf cluster of... oh wait, this is a Beowulf cluster ;-p

what about warm climates? (1)

adrianmonk (890071) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646492)

Sounds interesting, but the idea in the article seems to be moving electric generation to houses so that they can take advantage of the waste heat that electric generation always entails. Problem is, where I live, it's 104F (40C) outside today (September 25). So tell me again why I'd want waste heat?

Around here, the peak power usage is in the summer, at which time this technology would do more harm than good. Power plants have to be built to handle the peak power usage, so the electric company would have to build just the same capacity as they do now, and electricity prices would remain the same.

I could use a system like this in the winter, and it would be efficient then, but given that I could probably only use it like 4 months out of the year, it seems like a large investment for not very much return. So, it would probalby be marginally better for the environment, but it's going to be a lot more expensive. I would probably be much better off financially if I were to just get a wood stove or something that makes it more efficient to heat the house during the few short months when I actually need to worry about it.

Re:what about warm climates? (1)

Question Mark (22135) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646654)

Google "tri-generation." Hot water can be used for cooling as well as heating.

Heat of Summer, cold of Winter (1)

Mixel (723232) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646579)

This is all well and good, but how do you deal with situations when all nodes demand power, NOW? Like during winter for heating, or during summer for aircon? Power distribution companies have learned to anticipate demand for things like big sports games (tv) and everyone using their kettles in the morning. Will a p2p network be able to deal with such challenges as well?

Just call it a RAIG.... (2, Insightful)

cdhowe (738664) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646667)

Clearly, this is an attempt to create a Redundant Array of Inexpensive Generators. Anyone know where I can find a RAIG controller? Cheap?

Seriously, that seems to be the key here. You will need controllers to synchronize all the generation, but once you do that, then each generator is just like the disks in a RAID array. They can be inexpensive and not super reliable, thereby reducing costs.

The efficiency issues I believe are being overemphasized. Yes, you want high voltage for long distances. But the whole idea here is that you are doing mostly local generation of power, so running power to a few of your neighbor's houses doesn't incur nearly the penalty that you'd get from running the same power many miles. And people often forget that even your efficient power company puts the transformer on a local pole or box in your neighborhood. So the idea actually makes a lot of sense.

50-odd comments... (2, Funny)

BluhDeBluh (805090) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646677)

Yet none have used to term "Peer-to-Power". I'm ashamed of you Slashdotters, and your lack of obvious punnery.

Indeed, microgrids aren't efficient (4, Interesting)

suitepotato (863945) | more than 8 years ago | (#13646746)

The reasons are many and varied and mostly center on physics. If you look at best case scenarios with current off the shelf technology and the efficiencies as you scale up, there's a sweet spot where the size versus distribution versus etc. all reaches an optimum level. Our present system is much closer to that sweet spot than microgrids or the other end of the spectrum, one giant planet-wide power station.

We could use high temperature superconductors, fission reactors and with fusion later when they get it to work, and a lot of clearing of the way by the federal government for deployment which is now held up by people using the environment as a smokescreen when what it comes down to is a lot of NIMBY and more to the point a bountiful opportunity for pitiful and pathetic unimportant people to make themselves feel important.

I live in a state where every highway project takes years longer and millions more because the enviros hold up everything *after* the damage is already done until they've milked out the publicity for themselves and finally it gets done in the end and there was no change and nothing saved in terms of environment and plenty of time and money wasted. All for their inane ego festivals.

Right now those same imbeciles are doing everything they can to keep the power transmission companies from fixing outdated and antiquated transmission lines and equipment which first keeps efficiency low and cost of the power transmission high, second it keeps jacking up the danger of massive local outages every year, third it increases the danger to the workers who maintain the system, fourth it increases the chance of creating a regional chain reaction outage, and fifth it increases the chance of a catastrophic failure on one of the big circuits going through the woods and starting a fire.

They are also trying everything they can do to prevent us from tying into regional grids through the west side of CT into New York and across the sound to Long Island. And lastly doing all they can to stand in the way of a gas tanker and pipeline facility. The sanity of putting liquid natural gas ships more than ten miles offshore is obvious in this new age of mega-terrorism and conversely the insanity of making the tankers put into ports near population centers equally obvious. They just don't care. It's all about them.

The best thing we can do with our end of things as consumers is insulate, make efficient use of what we consumer, and use solar electric, thermal, and hydro *where* economical and efficient on our homes. When superconductive storage systems finally come around, we can store the energy compactly that way onsite and until then, unless we want to deal with the danger of poisonous battery chemicals and five thousand pounds of them per home, we're better off simply having a system where we use the energy we generate first and the main grid's power secondly.

But generators aren't going to cut it. We're going from a few hundred stations to a few million and with less efficiency and more pollution and no inspection. Tack on inspection and you can add the psycho enviro leftists to the far right terrorist under every bed paranoids as one more group pushing us closer to a police state; no way would they let fossil fuel generators increase like that without mandating mandatory inspections on your property at any time for any or no reason with no prior notice and reserve the right to shut you down whenever they felt like it.

I don't see a need to create a massive new intrusion on our rights. Like I said, insulate, make efficient use, be efficient in generation where it is fitting to generate it yourself.

Fittingly a lot of the enviros of today were the Mother Earth News types of twenty-five years ago advocating that we all use wood and coal stoves, forge and smelt our own metals, and operate pig farms to feed methane stills. Their former zeal for old low tech is utterly incompatible with their stated beliefs of today. Much like the pictures of them in mullets, gold chains, and neon orange leisure suits were twenty-five years ago.
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