Smart Grid Proof?

Mike O'Dell mo at
Sun May 2 22:40:13 CDT 2010

On 5/2/10 9:37 PM, Bob Bruninga wrote:
>> Yes Bob, I've heard that story more than a few times
>> the last several years from companies trying to raise
>> investment dollars.
> while I agree that there are far more crooks and scammers trying to make a quick buck on the ignorance of the consumer, the fact remains, that our grid is over a century old and just as old in its billing systems.  I guess we will have to agree to disagree.
>> What you reference is called "demand
>> response control." ...about residential
>> usage, nor can it impact usage very much.
> I disagree completely.  It may not impact much for people unwilling to change, but over the years, we must change from our wanton wastful consumption of energy.

We *can* stop wasting energy. in fact, as I point out in the
next paragraph, there's no reason to wait for *anything*
because you can get 90% of the benefit WITHOUT complex

that means that the complex technology has to be justified based on
only making a 10-15% improvement over what you can do without it.

think about that carefully and then think about how many
billions you are willing to spend getting the last 10% of
the consumer impact (which is probably 30% or so at most anyway).
you need the cooperation of everyone anyway, remember.

the huge win is in changing the structure of the power grid
down to the MV regional distribution. the most important thing
to do is reduce the size of the AC-interconnected regions
and move to DC interconnects between smaller regionalized AC nets.
that will do huge things for stability. and the other thing
to do is build an actual long-haul transit network for moving
power long distances without making it cross the regional
transmission fabrics. there are plans circulating for that
which use SHV DC and modern data network technology for
command and control. Once that's in place, and the 3 big
networks are regionalized, then moving to distributed generation
and massive storage (to take advantage of diurnal loads) can
be pushed down to the MV distribution substations and
that part of the network can safely become more responsive.

>> it's been shown several times now that *NO*
>> instrumentation is needed to impact residential
>> consumption... if they simply include a page in
>> the bill that shows how your household does
>> relative to other households "like yours",
>> people get within 10-15% of the maximum difference
>> they could make (with perfect knowledge, smart
>> appliances, etc, etc)with no other information.
> SO true, but not at all an argument to do nothing towards real-time cost feedback and control.

large-scale technology is an economic optimization problem,
not a technology problem. (the technology must work or you don't
have a conversation at all) the question is not whether realtime
cost feedback will have an impact - the question is whether the
impact is large enough to justify the costs of implementing it,
especially compared with other things the money could be use for
towards the same macro endpoint.

it's easy to show that the single best thing that could be done
for the US total energy footprint is to take money the size
of the stimulus package and replace every window in every
residential home and building with windows rated at R-10 or R-15
instead of the R-2 hole-in-the-wall that passes for windows now.
the best windows you could buy before Serious Materials did their
windows are rated at R-2. that's why putting R-30 in exterior walls
is a waste. If you put R-10 or R-15 windows in, you can easily
half the energy loss for the typical house (assuming it's insulated
R-15 exterior walls).

>> Lemme repeat this: they can do almost EVERYTHING
>> hat can be done for residential consumption
>> without doing ANYTHING except installing
>> some additional billing software,...
> BUT ONLY IN THE CASE OF OUR CURRENT FIXED PRICE STRUCTURE.  Throw in the additional information of when electricity is 2 to 3 times higher, or 3 to 5 times lower, and cost conscious users can get a HUGE additional savings.  Old people stuck-in their ways will not see savings, and will pay more... as they should.

NO! I'm talking about assuming completely flexible minute-by-minute
pricing with feedback to your smart appliances which can take all
that into consideration.
A more subtle issue is at play here which i will regret bringing up,
but here it is. if you COULD make a big difference doing that,
it's unlikely utilities would want that to happen because of the
stability implications for the grid. it's well-understood that
coupling lots of lightly-damped feedback loops together will
create behavior you don't understand, and *really* might not like
what happens. the "complete knowledge" case you suggest is dangerously
analogous to what happens in "delay-based routing". that is dynamically
unstable and it sloshed violently. it's not hard to see how resonances
could be created causing similar sloshing. such system are known to
exhibit "self-synchronizing" behavior, and people are keenly aware that
one can make things worse.

this is the load-side version equivalent of "dispatch reliability."
for every megawatt of wind or solar, a megawatt of combustion must
be deployed because the wind and solar cannot be counted upon to be
there when needed. this is why grid-scale storage is so critical.
if you pair big storage with a wind farm system, you can engineer
around those problems.

>> so while this all sounds great in theory
>> the difference between theory and practice
>> in theory is greater than the difference
>> between theory and practice in practice
> but you are also ignoring the huge impact of the future electrical transportation system.  The grid in just 2 years is going to be seeing loads it has never seen before at times it has not seen befor as every carm MFR on the planet is bringing out electric cars as fast as they can make them.   Ignoring the potential for using managing the leveling of the grid through the energy storage available in 350 million electic cars to the grid's benefit is not something to blindly ignore based on past ideas.

Bob, I understand your enthusiasm and respect it very much,
but at the moment, your 2-year estimate is off by at least
half a zero. people are looking at the issues, but any time
soon pure-EVs have the same dispatch reliability problem
when seen from the utility's point of view. that doesn't
mean that companies won't be offering products to allow
local exploitation for the brave early adopters. but the
distance between installing a dedicated 240VAC charger supply
and a bi-directional grid-tied inverter system in the average
home is *immense*. the CTO of Duke Power is a friend
and his house has *all* the goodies he has been able to find,
and they are even going to do some trial installations to
start understanding what's really involved with socializing
all this. they are going to do a few hundred houses over
the next several years.

the other issue not considered in this discussion is the
impact of the first lithium-ion battery fire in an EV or hybrid.
in particular, an Lion fire in a vehicle with a gas tank
is going to be particularly problematic. that will
not be good, but it's hard to say yet how bad it might be.

Bob, we don't disagree at all about the general sense
of where we must be heading, but after being in the
belly of the beast, i've learned these things take a long
time because there are a zillion moving pieces and few
of them are naturally predisposed to moving the direction
you want them to move.

I wrote the investing thesis for my day job which started
NEA's investing in energy technology. the title of my
presentation was "60 Hertz Must DIE!"  as a result,
we've invested several hundred million in projects ranging from
EVs to PVs of many kinds to Serious Materials to Bloom Energy
to flow batteries to wind turbines to a company
with a radical architecture for the generator in wind turbines,
(made using PCB technology).

so Bob, we *really* are on the same side, even if we
can find something to disagree about. (grin)


> So I guess we will just have to agree to disagree.
> Bob, Wb4APR

"Of course it's hard!
If it was easy, we'd be buying it from somebody else!"

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