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Why New Daedalus?

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.

Building Intelligence meets the Intelligent Building. The Intelligent Building negotiates with the Intelligent Grid. How will this transform how we interact with the physical world?

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« Cargo Cult Energy | Standards Roadmap for the Smart Grid (SGIX) (v2) »
Saturday
Mar142009

What if the Smart Grid had Reliable Generation

Most of today’s conversations about smart energy have at their core recognition that new energy is inherently unreliable. That unreliability will flow throughout the grid, and those that rely on the grid (homes, buildings, industry, vehicles) will need to consider that unreliability. The requirements reach beyond the operation of transmission and distribution (T&D) to intelligent end-points, able to adjust energy requirements, store energy locally, and even supply energy back to the grid. This requires two-way symmetric communications.

But what if new technology provides us with rock solid reliable power? A couple reports this week have turned my thoughts to the problems of the smart grid given perfect reliability of generation

In the last week, I have read reports of working prototypes for traveling-wave reactors, able to rely on minimally processed fuel, and to consume their own waste, running for a couple hundred years without refueling. I have also read of small package nuclear power plants, completely sealed in stainless steel, to be delivered for local generation. When five years are up, the entire unit would be swapped out, the old unit taken away for maintenance and refueling.

I make no argument here about whether these technologies will be here soon, or are even technically feasible. I make no argument here about waste disposal or transit, although the travelling-wave reactor appears to address many of those issues before they arise. I am instead exploring the requirements of the smart grid with reliable power.

One of the oddest characteristics of energy markets today stems from the most reliable energy sources. Wholesale markets in energy regularly go negative for brief periods. If you have, say, a nuclear plant, you have a fire-hose of energy, one that cannot be scaled up or down easily or quickly. Too much energy on the grid at one time leads to spectacularly bad outcomes (except if you think explosions are pretty). If you operate such a plant, you pay other plants to go off-line during times of low demand.

So I began wondering, what if most of the energy on the grid came from such sources. What if no one was willing to accept an offer to reduce production because they too have difficulty scaling production up or down? How would we want to design the smart grid in those circumstances…

In this new reality, generators and grid operators would want to offer incentives for increasing energy use during off-peak hours. Smart homes and Buildings would want to install storage capabilities to transfer energy uses to these times when power was, at last, “to cheap to meter”. These end nodes would use this stored energy not only for their own use, but perhaps sell it back to meet the peak loads of their neighbors in this future time without expensive dirty peaking generators.

Buildings would choose different energy storage strategies based on storing energy for internal or external use. Thermal storage a can be a good solution for shifting load where heating or cooling is important. Kinetic, potential, or chemical storage might be better if the energy is intended for resale. Industry would want to consider, as it sometimes does now, changing its schedule to use energy when it is plentiful.

These use cases would require market operations to offer incentives for storage and resale to buildings and homes. We would need a model for time-sensitive prices to align use with scarcity and abundance. We would need symmetric negotiations to support returning of power to the grid without hierarchical control.

The smart grid requirements if we assume reliable power are much the same as if we don’t, and they would need participation from all parts of the market. Any node might be sometimes a supplier, sometimes a purchaser.

 

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