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The challenge of electric grids

by EdCar (writer), , October 25, 2013

No matter how energy will be produced in the future, there is no doubt that the demand for it will boom in the future. Such a trend makes it necessary to rethink the way we produce, deliver and consum

A paradoxical trend

Just like cars, electrical devices are increasingly energy-efficient and need less power to work normally. A modern fridge needs a lot less electricity than its ancestor from the 1950’s. Yet the list of domestic appliances is much longer today than it used to be 60 years ago. Fridge, oven, micro wave, television, computers, smartphones, video game console and so forth. The amount of power required by all house appliances nowadays has nothing in common with the standards that prevailed only two decades ago. This microeconomic trend is of course confirmed in developed countries. In such countries, demand follows quite a linear perspective, growing steadily by roughly 1.1% per years in the OECD. In developing countries however, demand is actually growing much quicker. Outside of the OECD, the need for electrical power is expected to triple within the next 30 years. According to the US Energy Information Administration, “non-OECD nations consumed 49 percent of the world's total electricity supply in 2010, and their share of world consumption is expected to increase over the projection period. In 2040, non-OECD nations account for 64 percent of world electricity use”. In other words, electricity production is expected to grow by 3.6% per year in Asia, including China and India.

Coal and renewables to meet the demand

Japan just shut down its last nuclear power plant for an indefinite period of time. It is the second time in 40 years that Japan has to stop using nuclear power to produce electricity. The decision might please anti-nuclear lobbies, but it is also responsible for a major oil and gas price rise. Before the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, Japan drew 30% of its electricity from nuclear power. It is far away behind France which draws 80% of its electricity from the same source of energy for instance. And yet it is enough to have a durable impact on the global markets and even stronger consequences on Japan’s energy bill and Japanese people’s everyday life.

The problem today is that the soar of global demand for energy is not followed by supply increase. Power plants goes old and are not necessarily renewed because of the uncertainty regarding fossil fuel prices. Coal is actually the only source of fossil fuel investors do not doubt about. “Coal currently supplies with more than 40 % of the world electricity consumption and it essential input of around 70 % of world steel production, representing around 30 % of the world primary energy supply. This is because coal is cheap, abundant, accessible, widely distributed and easy energy to transport, store and use. For these features, coal is projected to be intensively used in the future”, the IEA says. Unfortunately, coal is also the most CO²-emitting source of energy. As a consequence of sustainability considerations, renewables also develop at a fast pace. Their share in the energy mix is vowed to grow but renewables are still not ready to replace all other sources of energy. In addition, renewables raise some problem regarding existing facilities.

Much renewable generation, like wind and solar, is intermittent, non-dispatchable and weather dependent”, Terry Boston explains. According to the president of GO 15 group, “That adds uncertainty to the forecast of how much generation will be available. In addition, renewable generation is not necessarily available at the time it is needed. And the location of renewable generation does not necessarily coincide with location of the population centers, which makes having an adequate, resilient transmission system even more important”. Renewables bring a new challenge on the table. How is energy going to be stored during a cloudy and windless winter for instance? Solutions have to be found to ensure power production, to provide heating when required, to allow electric cars to run.

The opportunity lies in storage

“Storing electricity will be a key ability for the power industry in the future. It will make a difference between successful firms and others throughout the energy transition”, Gilles Ramzeyer from Forsee Power Solutions says. According to the Energy Storage Division’s Director of this expert firm in battery systems, “energy storage is necessary for developing off-grid technology which includes renewables”. Beyond all technical considerations, energy storage capacity also determine a project’s economic interest. Demand for energy needs storage solution to make sure the price of energy will remain affordable. “Today, it is generally cheaper to produce power than to store it for later use because of the cost and inefficiency involved in large scale storage”, chief operating officer at UtiliPoint Bob Bellemare recalls.

Continuous technological improvement along with energy price rise might speed up the shift towards smart grids and decentralized energy production. It is actually a condition for renewable to become profitable, generalize and therefore complete the energy shift. “Our society rests on energy. And energy mix to come depends on storage solutions”, Gilles Ramzeyer says. The challenge of the century is now clear. Now it has to be taken up.

About the Writer

EdCar is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on The challenge of electric grids

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By Credo on October 25, 2013 at 07:49 pm

With so many alternative energy technologies available, it will eventually become increasingly essential that we junk the oil and gas. The huge economical cost of oil and gas is a massive drain on the country.

Another progressive article..


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By riginal on October 25, 2013 at 09:37 pm

Nice article. It's a bit like the modern car. 'Self parking' 'accident avoidance' inbuilt technology. But the unstoppable production of the cars that ate paris and 99 per cent of other major cities cannot keep up the highway infrastructure to serve the purpose of unimpeeded traffic flow. In Australia they are going to construct an east west tunnel bottleneck leading to nowhere in Melbourne. A $14 billion dollar 'quick fix' that will entail a compulsory buy up of houses people have spent their whole lives- an expected to die in-or fall off replacing a roofing tile. An existing tunnel's (under a river and constantly being patched up) fans can't keep up with the fumes.How many more cars can the world co-exist with let alone find alternative fuel sources for? Watched with interest a doco i think from near Canada where they used 'steam pressure' pockets underground to power a city,but it ran out, i think they resumed with new technology better advanced extraction when another company took over. I believe there's an inexhaustible supply of hot air pockets within Congress which could drive people not only round the bend but quite a ways up route 66. The operative being rooted,as in neglecting future planning to ease the constant uprooting/digging refineing of shale oil etc. Old style power generation ideas which will eventually run their course. As Credo and your good self point out. I acknowledge that the latest fridge will cut power usage compared to old style fridges to bits. But i'm sure i won't get an argument about longevity comparison. When you see a 60 year-old copper backed fridge banging and clacking away merrily after its owner has passed into that Frigid aire beyond it is a stark reminder albeit a 'no star' power rateing jigger.I believe that one of the greatest power generators available freely on this planet today (hardly used) is 'people power.' The power to demand/force even by unbridled unselfish protest for- the boffins that be- to provide a more planet friendly solution. Maybe sooner than later? I rest my fridge. A bit of humor. Had a 22 year-old galvanized hot water heater which finally went to rusted rest galvanized heaven. Purchased a new rotund heater with an insert of blow- moulded u beaut 'state of the art' internals. Blew out after three weeks. Replaced under warranty. Asked the hot and cold installer the life expectancy of this gleaming powdercoated missile- shaped wonder. "Bout 5 years mate...if you're lucky." Will outlast me and perhaps it was 'tongue- in- cheek' rhetoric. Or was it? cheers.Sorry bout the spellcheck. Can't wait for the 'thought' lap top processor auto spell check with its 'clip on head' plastic inducer 'bad spell' eraser to be invented? Or has it already been done? Along with the inventive Chinese 'long life' light globes that last about two days before they expire...usually when you're in the middle of eating a meal. I had 2 years long service out of an older type globe. Been in the original packet that long...only expired after my missus dropped a plate on it where it was resting in the plastic 'never crack' long life draw that jammed one hot day after the 'never fail' 'back up' air con expired. Kidding. The air con only requires power which i'm currently saving for. Buy now. While they're on smashall/special.

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By EdCar on October 28, 2013 at 05:13 am

Thanks for your encouraging words !

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By riginal on October 28, 2013 at 08:34 am

:>) thank you for the post. Someone out there has a propulsion answer.

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