It has never been easier to reconfigure our world of electric power for a sustainable planet
Updated: Jan 6
PART 3 OF A 3-PART SERIES
In this final part of our three-part series we will discuss grid-edge solutions in the new age of the three D’s – dematerialize, decarbonize and decentralize. When designed expressly with the guiding principle of doing more with less, we are not held back by insufficient adaptations. Instead, a world full of possibilities presents itself. The opportunity to reconfigure the centralized electric power system for our sustainable future becomes a reality. But first, let’s revisit the two previous parts with a quick synopsis.
PSPS – PUBLIC SAFETY POWER SHUTOFF
In recent years, numerous devastating fires have caused the tragic loss of human lives and properties in the Golden State. Many families will never be made whole again. The cause of these wildfires was mostly utility power lines unprepared for extreme hot, arid conditions. Californian power companies are forced to regularly shutoff their power to prevent wildfires under a program called Public Safety Power Shutoff. With unabating climatic conditions PSPS may be a regular occurrence for the next decade with central power plants becoming ‘stranded assets’. Arguably, a more descriptive name may be ‘Global Warming Power Shutoff’. Call it whatever we may, Nature has exposed and continues to lay bare the fragility of the centralized powering system in the context of global warming. The astonishing resource underutilization, wastage and incalculable human suffering is indisputable. Yet we remain tunnel-visioned with utility-scale PV power plants when they also seem to contribute to increasing electricity rates for consumers. Incredibly, we are now in a mad rush to deploy utility-scale energy storage plants, which fails to eradicate the inherent fragility of the centralized platform.
INVEST MORE ON DECENTRALIZATION
Nature will always have the final say. Eliminating the fragility of the system demands resilient operation with or without transmission lines.
Renewables deployed on the bulk power systems fail to dematerialize and aggressively decarbonize. As described below, grid edge systems can have minimal material content and almost no physical footprint. The reconfigured grid platform will be inherently distributed. It will deliver on all mandates: deeply embedded resiliency, unfailing reliability delivered universally – affordably and sustainably. And they can be fully scalable adapting themselves for future demand on the electricity network.
However, we will need investment with purpose and urgency. Energy reforming visions are necessary but hardly sufficient. Regulatory policies that have teeth in steering the industry incumbents to make fundamental advancements will be required. Technology already exists for 21st century powering that stiffen the grid edges, deliver energy/power flexibility benefits to the grid and coexist on the traditional platform.
It is time to seriously do more with less…to decentralize in order to dematerialize and decarbonize.
TRANSPORTATION IN A DECARBONIZED WORLD
Today’s EV infrastructure platforms are also on a collision course with the objectives of dematerialization and decarbonization
The sheer material wastage associated with storage for fast chargers and the fast chargers themselves is mind-boggling. The International Energy Agency’s New Policies Scenario estimates an EV stock of 135 million vehicles in 2030 consuming 640 TWh of electricity. While 640 TWh is a daunting electricity demand about twice that energy can be supplied solely by available US roof surfaces if installed with PV…even on Seattle’s annual solar insolation profile. Consider also that a typical passenger EV – estimated at 60% of the total EV stock – remains parked for over 96% of their lifetime utilizing less than 10% of the vehicle’s battery capacity for daily driving. They alone can serve a storage capacity of 1,110 TWh assuming a daily nominal 30% capacity allocation for energy storage and delivery.
As projected for 2030, passenger light duty EVs alone, when plugged in at home or at the workplace, can sufficiently store and supply almost twice the annual electricity demand of the entire EV stock of the terrestrial transportation sector on less than a third of its battery capacity.
Nature demands doing more with less in a dematerialized world. Failing to enable high-power bidirectionality of EVs is unconscionable. They can be made high-power, bidirectional power flow and fast charge-capable at no additional cost to the vehicle and the electric infrastructure. With million-mile batteries on the horizon, there is simply no excuse not to do so.
WORRY LESS ABOUT UPSETTING APPLE CARTS
The integration of intermittent renewables generation into our electric grid remains a significant challenge. Large utility-scale solar power plants require grid-scale energy storage and/or peaker power plants. Inconceivably, everyone settles for sustaining the existing platform, while the planet clamors for change. Billionaire philanthropists and their many venture efforts continue to pursue projects and technologies that sustain the status quo of the centralized platform. Unfortunately, they also do not fulfill on all mandates and glaringly ignore the fragility of the centralized infrastructure. They are meant to not upset the applecart. Ironically, disruptive solutions will eventually need to be adopted by the industry – utilities, utility equipment vendors, automotive OEMs – to facilitate the innovation required and usher in fundamental progress. We should worry less about upsetting the apple cart(s) and worry more about heeding Nature’s call for real change with zeal.
Nothing supersedes the planet’s clarion call. Nature has spoken. We should listen.
Fortifying the transmission lines alone does not guarantee safe 24/7 electricity anymore. Neither do we accelerate the electric grid’s decarbonization when we overemphasize utility-scale solar, central storage and/or peaker power plants. Pervasive and daunting losses persist and will only increase many folds in all aspects of the centralized platform.
Without concerted dematerialization and bottom-up decentralization, it’s inconceivable to aggressively speed up the power grid’s decarbonization. Platforms that only scale linearly and never even attempt to dematerialize and decentralize will always remain fragile and unprepared for the extreme climatic changes.
We can indeed do more with less. We have the technology. Let us resolve to address the core powering and grid coupling challenges for a new paradigm. Cost competitive, highly efficient building rooftops and vehicles as localized power sources can deliver exponential scaling to mitigate climate change. We can simultaneously decentralize, significantly dematerialize and decarbonize the grid with extreme speed.
It’s never been easier to reconfigure our world of electric power for a sustainable planet. It’s time for us to earnestly decentralize the grid to dematerialize and decarbonize. It’s time for us to listen to a planet clamoring for change.
This article appears at Zpryme.com and was published on August 4, 2020.