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Daedalus was the mythical great architect and artificer of the classical world. Today, embedded intelligence is enabling the most profound changes in the way we create and use buildings since his day.

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Tuesday
Jan132009

Natural Gas and Perfect Power

We are misusing natural gas in our power plants. Guided by strong emotions and the search for the quick fix, we are reducing the long term reliability and sustainability of our energy infrastructure. When well meant but bad decisions reduce the common good, we call it the tragedy of the commons. Technology and modern public interest groups let us recreate the tragedy of the commons on a larger scale.

Perfect Power is what Kurt Yeager and the Galvin Electricity Initiative call their version of the smart grid. Perfect Power assumes that the national power grid will not and cannot be made reliable enough for the digital world. Attempts to make the grid reliable cost a lot of money and waste a lot of power. Attempts to make the grid reliable interfere with the grid being the most efficient market place of energy possible, and able to accept innovation, diversity, and change. Perfect power reliability starts in the home and building, which must be responsible for their own reliability and quality. Groups of homes and buildings can band together in microgrids to enhance that reliability and provide each other with robustness. These microgrids can then buy from the grid when their needs and desires warrant, and when the prices are good. The grid, freed from the mandate to do what it cannot, will become easier and less expensive to operate.

Net Zero Energy and Distributed Generation are different perspectives on the perfect power vision. Buildings that are able to store, generate, recycle, and convert energy, can buy when they want, can sell when they can, and are reliable whatever the grid provides. Microgrids expand the options for energy storage, recycling and re-use even we add distributed generation. Distributed generation can get us past the restrictions of the regulated “natural monopoly” of power.

I have written before that I wanted my home heating system to see gas as well as electrical prices. Regular readers know that I recently installed a hybrid system that switches from heat pump to gas furnace based upon outdoor air temperature. This automatic cut-over is based on computed heat-pump efficiency. The cut-over should be based upon the current price of each energy source, factored by each system’s internal performance diagnostics.

At my annual Caroling Party, conversations naturally turned to the new purchase, who installed it, and was I satisfied. One party-goer was concerned that the high efficiency furnace was still producing greenhouse gases. I mused that even if the power company was better than the 95% condensing furnace, the local fuel did not suffer from the inefficiencies of converting heat to electricity, and of then transmitting it for many miles, and then converting it back to heat. Local efficiency numbers, from local energy use, are simpler and easier to understand.

Another guest, a long time gas company engineer, pointed out that natural gas has its own Demand-Response system. Demand-Response refers to the approaches and technology used by the electrical providers to manage peak capacity by seasonal, daily, and emergency communications with its customers. During periods of peak use, the pressure in the natural gas distribution system can drop to low levels. If it drops too far, pressure valves automatically shut off in homes and businesses. These brown-outs are much more expensive to recover from than electrical black-outs. Utility employees must turn off each gas meter before a local loop can be restored lest appliances with pilot lights become explosion hazards. Gas companies handles these low pressure incidents by calling large industrial customers and negotiating reduced use.

All of the same AMI/AMR conversations of the power grid apply naturally to natural gas distribution. The costs savings and efficiencies of automated cut-off of service can offer even greater benefits, when needed, to the gas company than they do to the electrical company. Gas distribution can benefit from dynamic pricing for capacity management just as does electrical distribution. If I had dynamic pricing, then I could factor it automatically, along with electrical pricing, into my home heating operations.

All of the concepts above apply to generation as well. Perfect power and E-tech will include conventional generation as well as exotic technologies such as gas-based fuel cells. Natural Gas will need many of the same service interfaces as electricity.

Stability and robustness in ecosystems comes from diversity of species. Stability and robustness of energy in the home and office will come best from diversity of energy sources, including those from outside the building as well as those generated internally. There are few sources of energy that are easy to transmit to each site of final use. We should not waste them all in central generation plants. We should use them to expand the robustness and diversity of energy in each building and in each microgrid.

 

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  • Response
    Anybody that lives in the 36 States where water shortages are expected over the next 5 years, should consider some type of hot water heating system. Whether it’ s Solar, Tankless, or other types, it is important to consider water conservation for the near future. There are two sites that explain ...

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