NH Dartmouth professors seek to revolutionize the energy grid

Dec 11, 2017

hampshire

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Dartmouth Professors Plan New Renewable Energy Grid

Two Dartmouth professors are researching how to put excess power back into the energy grid. This would increase energy efficiency, promote renewable energy sources, and save consumers money.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority contacted Geoffrey Parker and Amro Farid in 2015 and asked them to find a way to increase the efficiency of the state’s energy system. The professors worked with experts from Tabors, Caramanis, and Rudkevich, an energy and economics consulting firm. They focused on power plants as well as smaller energy sources, including:

  • Tesla batteries
  • Photovoltaic solar cells
  • Microgenerators

There are thousands of these small energy sources throughout New York, and the professors want to create a network that allows energy sources of all sizes to coordinate.

A Stable Energy Grid

According to Parker and Farid, there are three types of power on the grid:

1. Real energy
2. Reactive power, which balances out fluctuations in the grid
3. Reserve power, which is only used when the real energy supply is low

Reserve power is the most important aspect of renewable energy. Fossil-fuel energy production can happen at any time, but renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, is at the mercy of the weather. Parker says, “If a cloud comes through or the wind dies, we saw in Texas a 3 gigawatt drop in generation over the course of an hour- that’s the equivalent of losing six natural gas combined cycle plants.”

The vast majority of large power systems use complex and expensive machinery. Farid developed a formula that calculates how much reserve energy would be needed to keep the grid operating. He and Parker want to create a network that allows systems in need of reserve power to obtain this power from resources with extra energy. This extra energy could come from a big building or an individual household with high-energy appliances like heating or air conditioning.

This way, large and expensive machines wouldn’t have to respond to fluctuations in energy generation. They could just tap into the reserve energy supply coming from smaller sources. In addition to promoting renewable energy, this is also more cost-effective.

Parker explains, “If the wind dies off, you can tell them to back off a little bit. That 20 or 30 minutes might be all you need to get some larger equipment going or reduce demand in other parts of the system.”

How Households Can Be Involved

The plan will incentivize members of the grid to give back any power they don’t use. Turning off air conditioning in one building or home for 30 minutes probably won’t affect the temperature. However, if hundreds or thousands of buildings did this, it could stabilize the grid and compensate for wind or solar disruptions that reduce energy production. For companies that own large buildings, sharing their reserve energy could bring a significant amount of extra revenue.

The professors compared their plan to Uber. Like how Uber connects available drivers to passengers, the grid would connect reserve energy sources with sources that need energy when there’s a disruption in wind or solar power. Uber also has surge prices during times of extra demand, and the energy grid could offer higher incentives during high-demand times. The compensation for sharing extra energy could also vary by location. For example, power might be worth more in cities because it costs more to produce, but those who live near a power plant may have cheaper energy.

Farid and Parker suggest that third-party vendors could control the changes in the energy grid. They could turn on and off the different sources depending on supply and demand. When they use reserve power from one building or home, they’ll give the supplier the compensation after taking a cut.

Automatic Functions to Sell Extra Energy

The professors even imagine that some functions in this system could work automatically. For example, a thermostat could have a controller that detects changes in energy levels in the grid. Then, it could shut off when there’s a demand for energy, sending its energy to the grid instead of using it to heat the home. The homeowners would be compensated for “selling” their extra energy. Once the home’s temperature lowers to a certain point, the thermostat will turn back on.

This could also work with appliances like dishwashers or washing machines. Homeowners could set their appliances to automatically run in the middle of the night instead of in the afternoon or evening. There’s less demand for energy in the middle of the night, and running their appliances during the less demanding hours will save energy that can then be used by other sources.

Benefits of the Plan

The most important benefit of the plan is the increase in use of renewable energy. This may be a way for everyone to use renewable energy while avoiding loss of power during wind or solar fluctuations. The plan will also save consumers money because they’ll be rewarded for sharing their reserve energy.

Power outages will be less of an issue during storms that damage power lines. The grid could send energy to consumers around the knocked out power lines, so people won’t have to wait for lines to be restored.

If this plan successfully increases the use of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, it will also create jobs. More wind and solar power plants will need to be constructed, which will require hundreds or thousands of workers.

Parker and Farid both have high hopes for their plan. Although traditional energy companies may not want to change the current system, there are many benefits to adopting the grid the professors suggest. It will increase renewable energy usage, make the energy grid more stable, create jobs, and save money for consumers.

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