Tag Archives: electricity

Grid2.0 – electricity as commodity

electricity pylonsMuch attention is currently (arf!) focussed on making our energy grids cheaper and more efficient, with lots of new ideas being batted around. Here’s a proposal which already appears to be working in one region: start treating electricity as a commodity as well as a utility.

Treat electricity like a commodity—something for which you can gauge demand and set a price in advance. That’s what New England’s independent system operator started doing last year. In its Forward Capacity Market, the ISO projects how much power the region will need three years ahead and then runs a descending-clock auction for the right to provide it. The ISO doesn’t care whether it gets its power from increased production of megawatts or from efficiencies added to the system, so-called negawatts. The agency simply sets the starting price.

Result: money saved in power plants and wires, more stable electricity bills, and a homegrown incubator for getting bright green ideas off the drawing board.

Anything that can prevent my quarterly electricty bill from doubling in cost as it did over the winter just past sounds like a good plan to me, though I’m never astonishingly keen on introducing middleman agencies into an already costly system.

Furthermore, I’m not sure how much protection the commodity trading of electricity would grant us from the civilisation-smashing power of solar weather[image by aloshbennett]

Nuclear in China

chinese_workerContracts have been signed for the building of the first batch of Sanmen AP1000 nuclear reactors in China:

An engineering contract was signed last week towards building the Sanmen AP1000s. Real construction work should begin within one month on the nuclear power reactors.

The result will be the first Westinghouse-designed AP1000 pressurized water reactors in the world, ahead of the others at Haiyang in Shandong province and more expected in the UK and the USA.

The Chinese government is also helpfully developing pebble bed nuclear reactors as well.

[via Next Big Future][image from Saad.Akhtar on flickr]

What the hell is a ‘smart grid’, anyway?

electricity pylonOne of President Obama’s first actions has been to announce his intentions to build a ‘smart grid’ for the US energy infrastructure. WorldChanging explains the concepts behind the buzzphrase, and I’ll paraphrase their five broad categories here:

  • End-user smart metering to use energy more efficiently
  • Systems to integrate electricity generation with electricity storage
  • A communications network that shares data on performance, demand and availability of power
  • An ‘application platform’ that allows third-party utilities to connect the above systems together in useful ways
  • Monitoring and controlling systems that allow the grid to respond to service interruptions in a self-healing manner

In other words, it’s a lot like an internet for power, if you will – not to mention a far cry from the crude lacework of cables and substations we have at the present time. There’s a lot of work to be done, but the benefits of investing the time and money promise to be immense. I wonder what our lot in Whitehall are doing about the UK grid at the moment? [image by C P Storm]

If you’re interested in seeing the sixty odd discreet technologies that break down into the five groups above, the US Department of Energy has made a big old PDF report on smart grids.

Water power 2.0

Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed a new method for generating energy from water flows:

The new device, which has been inspired by the way fish swim, consists of a system of cylinders positioned horizontal to the water flow and attached to springs.

As water flows past, the cylinder creates vortices, which push and pull the cylinder up and down. The mechanical energy in the vibrations is then converted into electricity.

Cylinders arranged over a cubic metre of the sea or river bed in a flow of three knots can produce 51 watts. This is more efficient than similar-sized turbines or wave generators, and the amount of power produced can increase sharply if the flow is faster or if more cylinders are added.

More about this VIVACE (Vortex Induced Vibrations Aquatic Clean Energy) technology can be found here.

[via Jon Taplin’s blog][image from Jon Taplin’s blog]

Conducting bacteria that feed off garbage to produce power

Is rubbish going to become too valuable to be piled up like this?Whilst some of first generation biofuels like corn and soy based ethanol are proving to be more trouble than their worth, scientists are working hard on second and third generation alternatives that should add to our energy mix without damaging our food supply. One new development is microbial fuel cells (MFCs) – bacteria that breaks down garbage and conducts electricity. Scientists think by digesting our waste these cells could replace up to 25% of the fuels we currently use.

In a microbial fuel cell, the bacteria acts on the anode of the circuit, breaking down waste with oxidation. As a byproduct they produce electrons. Normally a bacteria would transfer these electrons to a nearby oxygen molecule but if the fuel cell has no oxygen in it, the microbe must move these electrons elsewhere and an MFC uses this to drive an electrical current.

Researchers are beginning to make headway in creating self-contained microbial fuel cells. Biofilms are bacteria that create matrices of material to attach themselves to the anode. This mix of sugars, proteins and cells is thought to contain tiny conducting nanowires that help move the electrons into the electrical circuit, making the whole clump of bacteria act like a big living anode. If this works, people aren’t going to be leaving their litter on the streets any longer. It’ll be too valuable!

[via Daily Galaxy, picture by Alan Stanton]