An Engineer’s Take On Major Climate Change

1. Climate science is very complicated and very far from being settled.

2. Earth’s climate is overwhelmingly dominated by negative-feedbacks that are currently poorly represented in our Modeling efforts and not sufficiently part of ongoing investigations.

3. Climate warming drives atmospheric CO2 upward as it stimulates all natural sources of CO2 emission. Climate cooling drives atmospheric CO2 downward.

4. Massive yet delayed thermal modulations to the dissolved CO2 content of the oceans is what ultimately drives and dominates the modulations to atmospheric CO2.

5. The current spike in atmospheric CO2 is largely natural (~98%). i.e. Of the 100ppm increase we have seen recently (going from 280 to 380ppm), the move from 280 to 378ppm is natural while the last bit from 378 to 380ppm is rightfully anthropogenic.

6. The current spike in atmospheric CO2 would most likely be larger than now observed if human beings had never evolved. The additional CO2 contribution from insects and microbes (and mammalia for that matter) would most likely have produced a greater current spike in atmospheric CO2.

7. Atmospheric CO2 has a tertiary to non-existent impact on the instigation and amplification of climate change. CO2 is not pivotal. Modulations to atmospheric CO2 are the effect of climate change and not the cause.

Watts Up With That?

Guest essay by Ronald D. Voisin

Let’s examine, at a high and salient level, the positive-feedback Anthropogenic Global Warming, Green-House-Gas Heating Effect (AGW-GHGHE) with its supposed pivotal role for CO2. The thinking is that a small increase in atmospheric CO2 will trigger a large increase in atmospheric Green-House-Gas water vapor. And then the combination of these two enhanced atmospheric constituents will lead to run-away, or at least appreciable and unprecedented – often characterized as catastrophic – global warming.

This theory relies entirely on a powerful positive-feedback and overriding (pivotal) role for CO2. It further assumes that rising atmospheric CO2 is largely or even entirely anthropogenic. Both of these points are individually and fundamentally required at the basis of alarm. Yet neither of them is in evidence whatsoever. And neither of them is even remotely true. CO2 is not only “not pivotal” but it…

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Water Conservation and a Change in Climate Ends California Drought

Water scarcity is becoming a greater problem in our world as human demands for water increases due to population growth, industry, agriculture, and energy production. When the water supply is being pushed beyond its natural limits disaster may occur.  For California residents the end of the drought is good news.  Return of wet weather raises reservoir levels and effectively prevents wildfires.  However, another drought could be around the corner in years to come.  Thus government and water users need to remain vigilant and continue to seek ways to conserve and reduce water use.
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Figure 1. 2017 California Major Water Reservoir Levels
By Bark Gomez and Yasemin Saplakoglu, Bay Area News Group (1)
Friday, April 07, 2017 05:17PM

Gov. Jerry Brown declared an end to California’s historic drought Friday, lifting emergency orders that had forced residents to stop running sprinklers as often and encouraged them to rip out thirsty lawns during the state’s driest four-year period on record.

The drought strained native fish that migrate up rivers and forced farmers in the nation’s leading agricultural state to rely heavily on groundwater, with some tearing out orchards. It also dried up wells, forcing hundreds of families in rural areas to drink bottled water and bathe from buckets.

Brown declared the drought emergency in 2014, and officials later ordered mandatory conservation for the first time in state history. Regulators last year relaxed the rules after a rainfall was close to normal.

But monster storms this winter erased nearly all signs of drought, blanketing the Sierra Nevada with deep snow, California’s key water source, and boosting reservoirs.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” Brown said in a statement. “Conservation must remain a way of life.” (2)



Benchmarking Buildings by Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

There are many metrics and measurements when it comes to evaluating energy as we use it in our daily lives.  In order to compare between different sources or end uses we often have to make conversions in our terms so that our comparisons are equitable.  This may be further complicated as different countries often use different standards of measure, however, we will convert to common units.


Benchmarking is the practice of comparing the measured performance of a device, process, facility, or organization to itself, its peers, or established norms, with the goal of informing and motivating performance improvement. When applied to building energy use, benchmarking serves as a mechanism to measure energy performance of a single building over time, relative to other similar buildings, or to modeled simulations of a reference building built to a specific standard (such as an energy code). (1)

Benchmarking is a common practice in buildings to establish existing consumption rates and to identify areas that require improvement and to help prioritize improvement projects.  These benchmarks can be established for a building, system within a building, or even a larger campus, facility or power source.  Usually an energy or facility manager will determine energy consumption over a fixed period of time, 1 to 3 years, and compare it to similar facilities.  Normalized by gross square footage of the building the EUI is usually expressed as kBtu/sf per year.

Energy Intensity (EI) of a Country

Figure 1:  Energy Intensity of different economies The graph shows the amount of energy it takes to produce a US $ of GNP for selected countries. (2)

Not to be confused with Energy Use Intensity, Energy Intensity is an economic measure of energy use normalized by the GDP of a country and is considered a measure of a Nation’s Energy Efficiency.  Countries with a high EI have a higher cost to convert energy into GDP, whereas countries with low EI have lower costs of converting energy into GDP.  Many factors contribute to the EI value, including climate, energy sources and  economic productivity. (2)

Energy Use Intensity (EUI)

The EUI of a building includes the electrical power use and heating fuel consumption for heating and hot water generation.  Many facilities require different loads according to their primary use or function, including cooling and refrigeration.  For the comfort of occupants electricity is needed for lighting and plug loads to meet the functioning needs of the equipment in the facility.  Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) may require electricity or another fuel such as natural gas.  Hot water may be generated with electricity or a fuel.  A site may also have solar PV or hot water, wind power, and daylighting programs.  There are also many strategies which may be employed by building operators to reduce loads and energy consumption including controls, storage, micro-grid, purchasing offsets, etc.

When comparing buildings, people not only talk about total energy demands, but also talk about “energy use intensity” (EUI).  Energy intensiveness is simply energy demand per unit area of the building’s floorplan, usually in square meters or square feet. This allows you to compare the energy demand of buildings that are different sizes, so you can see which performs better.

EUI is a particularly useful metric for setting energy use benchmarks and goals. The EUI usually varies quite a bit based on the building program, the climate, and the building size. (3)

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Figure 2.  Typical EUI for selected buildings.  This graph is based on research EPA conducted on more than 100,000 buildings (4)

Site Energy vs Source Energy

As we go forward into the future, it is rather unclear how current events will affect the international agreements on reducing carbon consumption.  However, generally speaking, renewable energy sources are seen to becoming more economic for power production.  For many facilities this means that supplementing existing grid sources for power with on-site power production is making economic sense.  Future building improvements may include sub-systems, batteries and energy storage schemes, renewable sources or automated or advanced control systems to reduce reliance on grid sourced power.

The energy intensity values in the tables above only consider the amount of electricity and fuel that are used on-site (“secondary” or “site” energy). They do not consider the fuel consumed to generate that heat or electricity. Many building codes and some tabulations of EUI attempt to capture the total impact of delivering energy to a building by defining the term  “primary” or “source” energy which includes the fuel used to generate power on-site or at a power plant far away.

When measuring energy used to provide thermal or visual comfort, site energy is the most useful measurement. But when measuring total energy usage to determine environmental impacts, the source energy is the more accurate measurement.

Sometimes low on-site energy use actually causes more energy use upstream.  For example, 2 kWh of natural gas burned on-site for heat might seem worse than 1 kWh of electricity used on-site to provide the same heating with a heat pump.  However, 1 kWh of site electricity from the average US electrical grid is equal to 3.3 kWh of source energy, because of inefficiencies in power plants that burn fuel for electricity, and because of small losses in transmission lines.  So in fact the 2 kWh of natural gas burned on site is better for heating. The table below provides the conversion factors assumed by the US Environmental Protection Agency for converting between site and source energy. (3)






Aluminum Metal Advancements in Sustainability

Can the idea of sustainability be determined by metrics?  The answer is “Of course”, as any type of improvement can be measured. We understand it is far more efficient to recycle aluminum than it is to produce it the first time, which we call this value embodied energy.  However, since refining represents a significant proportion of manufactured costs there becomes a premium on recycling used aluminum.  Not only are the savings in energy, they are also in emissions of GHG’s.

Novelis reports.

“Recycling aluminum produces 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and requires 95 percent less energy than primary aluminum production, enabling Novelis to achieve lower GHG emissions despite increasing global production capacity.” (1)

Novelis also reports improvements in Energy Intensity and Water Intensity metrics.

Significant gains were also made in fiscal 2016 as it relates to water and energy intensity. Novelis achieved a 22 percent reduction in water intensity and a 24 percent reduction in energy intensity for the 2007-2009 baseline.  (1)

Novelis Core Business

Novelis produces close to 20 percent of the world’s rolled aluminum products and we are strategically located on the four continents where aluminum demand is the greatest: North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Our dedication, innovation and leadership have made us the number one producer of rolled aluminum in Europe and South America, and the number two producer in North America and Asia. We also are the world’s largest recycler of used beverage cans, which comprise a critical input to our operations. Quite simply, recycling is a core element of our manufacturing process.  (2)

Figure 1:  Novelis Opens World’s Largest Aluminium Recycling Facility (3)

Novelis has officially opened the “world’s largest” aluminium recycling centre located adjacent to the company’s rolling mill in Nachterstedt, Germany and costing over £155m.

The recycling centre will process up to 400,000 metric tons of aluminium scrap annually, turning it back into high-value aluminium ingots to feed the company’s European manufacturing network.

“The Nachterstedt Recycling Centre is a significant step toward our goal to be the world’s low-carbon aluminium sheet producer, shifting our business model from a traditional linear approach to an increasingly closed-loop model,” said Phil Martens, president and chief executive officer of Novelis.  (3)





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Embodied Energy

Energy Efficiency


Aluminum, a Quantum Leap in Renewable Energy Storage

The future for the metal aluminum has never looked better, for the great investment it represents as a multi-faceted energy efficiency lending material, electrical energy storage medium (battery), and for the advancement of renewable energy sources.  These are spectacular claims, and yet in 1855 aluminum was so scarce it sold for about 1200 $/Kg (1) until metallurgists Hall & Heroult invented the modern smelting process over 100 years ago (2).

Image result for aluminum electrolysis

Figure 1.  Schematic of Hall Heroult Aluminum Reduction Cell (3)


Aluminum is an energy intensive production process.  High temperatures are required to melt aluminum to the molten state.  Carbon electrodes are used to melt an alchemical mixture of alumina with molten cryolite, a naturally occurring mineral.  The cryolite acts as an electrolyte to the carbon anode and cathodes.  Alumina (Al2O3) also known as aluminum oxide or Bauxite is fed into the cell and dissolved into the cryolite, over-voltages reduce the Al2O3 into molten aluminum which pools at the bottom of the cell and is tapped out for further refining.

Aluminum Smelting Process as a Battery

The smelting of Aluminum is a reversible electrolytic reaction, and with modifications to current plant design it is possible to convert the process to provide energy storage which can  be tapped and supplied to the electrical grid when required.  According to the research the biggest challenge to this conversion process is to maintain heat balances of the pots when discharging energy to prevent freeze-up of the cells.  Trimet Aluminum has overcome this problem by incorporating shell heat-exchange technology to the sides of the cell to maintain operating temperatures.  Trial runs with this technology have been positive where plans are to push the technology to +/- 25% energy input/output.  If this technology is applied to all 3 Trimet plants in Germany, it is claimed that up to 7700 MWh of electrical storage is possible (4).

Trimet Aluminum SE, Germany’s largest producer of the metal, is experimenting with using vast pools of molten aluminum as virtual batteries. The company is turning aluminum oxide into aluminum by way of electrolysis in a chemical process that uses an electric current to separate the aluminum from oxygen. The negative and positive electrodes, in combination with the liquid metal that settles at the bottom of the tank and the oxygen above, form an enormous battery.

By controlling the rate of electrolysis, Trimet has been able to experiment with both electricity consumption and storage.  By slowing down the electrolysis process, the plant is able to adjust its energy consumption up and down by roughly 25 percent.  This allows the plant to store power from the grid when energy is cheap and abundant and resell power when demand is high and supply is scarce. (5)

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Figure 2. TRIMET Aluminium SE Hamburg with emission control technology (6)


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Figure 3.  Rio Tinto Alcan inaugurates new AP60 aluminum smelter in Quebec (7)

Aluminum as a Material and it’s Energy Efficiency Properties

Aluminum and it’s alloys generally have high strength-to-weight ratio’s and are often specified in the aircraft industry where weight reduction is critical.  A plane made of steel would require more energy to fly,  as the metal is heavier for a given strength.  For marine vessels, an aluminum hull structure, built to the same standards, weighs roughly 35% to 45% less than the same hull in steel (8). Weight reduction directly converts to energy savings as more energy would be required to propel the aircraft.

Other modes of transportation, including automobiles, trucking, and rail transport may similarly also benefit from being constructed of lighter materials, such as aluminum.  Indeed this would continue the long-standing trend of weight reduction in the design of vehicles.  The recent emergence of electric vehicles (EV’s) have required weight reduction to offset the high weight of batteries which are necessary for their operations.  The weight reduction translates into longer range and better handling.

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Figure 4.  Tesla Model S (9)


In the 1960s, aluminium was used in the niche market for cog railways. Then, in the 1980s, aluminium emerged as the metal of choice for suburban transportation and high-speed trains, which benefited from lower running costs and improved acceleration. In 1996, the TGV Duplex train was introduced, combining the concept of high speed with that of optimal capacity, transporting 40% more passengers while weighing 12% less than the single deck version, all thanks to its aluminium structure.

Today, aluminium metros and trams operate in many countries. Canada’s LRC, France’s TGV Duplex trains and Japan’s Hikari Rail Star, the newest version of the Shinkansen Bullet train, all utilize large amounts of aluminium.  (10)

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Figure 5.   Image of Japanese Bullet Train  (11)

Aluminum For Renewable Energy

One of the biggest criticisms against renewable technologies, such as solar and wind has been that they are intermittent, and not always available when demand demand for energy is high.  Even in traditional grid type fossil fuel plants it has been necessary to operate “peaker plants” which provide energy during peak times and seasons.

In California, recent technological breakthroughs in battery technology have been seen as a means of providing storage options to replace power plants for peak operation. However, there remains skepticism that battery solutions will be able to provide the necessary storage capacity needed during these times (12).  The aluminum smelter as an energy provider during these high demand times may be the optimum solution needed in a new age renewables economy.

The EnPot technology has the potential to make the aluminium smelting industry not only more competitive, but also more responsive to the wider community and environment around it, especially as nations try to increase the percentage of power generated from renewable sources.

The flexibility EnPot offers smelter operators can allow the aluminium industry to be part of the solution of accommodating increased intermittency.  (13)





(4)  The ‘Virtual Battery‘ – Operating an Aluminium Smelter with Flexible Energy Input.










Transitioning Oil & Gas Wells to Renewable Geothermal Energy

Infinity Turbine 2016 ROT IT50

Figure 1:  Radial Outflow Turbine Generator – Organic Rankine Cycle – ORC Turbine (1)

Existing oil and gas wells offer access to untapped sources of heat which can be converted to electricity or used for other energy intensive purposes.  This includes many abandoned wells, which can be reactivated as power sources.  These wells, in many cases “stranded assets” have been drilled, explored, and have roads built for access.  This makes re-utilization of existing infrastructure cost-effective while minimizing harm to the environment associated with exploration.

In a recently published article in Alberta Oil, an oil & gas industry magazine they point out many of the benefits of converting existing and abandoned wells to geothermal energy.

A recent Continental Resources-University of North Dakota project in the Williston Basin is producing 250 kW of power from two water source wells. The units fit into two shipping containers, and costs US$250,000. This type of micro-generation is prospective in Alberta, and a handful of areas also have potential for multi-MW baseload power production.

In addition to producing power, we can use heat for farming, greenhouses, pasteurization, vegetable drying, brewing and curing engineered hardwood. Imagine what Alberta’s famously innovative farmers and landowners would accomplish if they were given the option to use heat produced from old wells on their properties. Northern communities, where a great many oil and gas wells are drilled nearby, can perhaps reap the most benefits of all. Geothermal can reduce reliance on diesel fuel, and provide food security via wellhead-sourced, geothermally heated, local greenhouse produce. (2)

Water can be recirculated by pumps to extract heat from the earth, and through heat exchangers be used as a source of energy for various forms of machines designed to convert low grade waste heat into electricity.  The Stirling Cycle engine is one such mechanical device which can be operated with low grade heat.  However recent developments in the Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) engine seem to hold the greatest promise for conversion of heat to electricity in these installations.

In a “boom or bust” industry subject to the cycles of supply and demand coupling a new source of renewable energy to resource extraction makes sense on many fronts.  It could be an economic stimulus not only to the province of Alberta, but throughout the world where oil and gas infrastructure exists, offering new jobs and alternative local power sources readily available.




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Low Coal Prices Fuel Demand as Trading Volumes Soar 46%


Image Source:  Power Plant Men

Coal leads surge in European energy exchange trading in first half 2016 -study

Wholesale trading of coal on the exchanges soared 46 percent from a year earlier to 3.5 billion tonnes

FRANKFURT: Coal lead a surge in trading volumes on west European energy exchanges in the first half of this year as traders took advantage of low commodity prices, research company Prospex said on Monday.

Wholesale trading of coal on the exchanges soared 46 percent from a year earlier to 3.5 billion tonnes, according to Prospex.

“Low coal prices mean a fixed amount of trading capital will buy higher volumes than it did in the past,” said Prospex Research director Ben Tait.

“In fact, many traders seeking to hit absolute profit targets have indeed ramped up volumes,” he said.

Prospex’s data covers volumes on what traders call the paper market, where two parties agree deals in the over-the-counter (OTC) market and have them cleared by an exchange.

In coal, this type of business accounts for 98 percent of volumes changing hands in Europe.

Prospex said commodity trading houses remain keen on coal, with some holding extensive physical coal interests that play out on the dominant Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp (ARA) region of ports that serve Europe’s power stations and steelmakers with raw material.  Read more:  Full Article


Thermoelectric Materials: Converting Heat to Electricity

When we think of using electricity one of the prevalent uses is to provide a heat source.  We see this in our everyday lives as ranges and ovens, microwaves, kettles, hot water tanks, baseboard heaters, as well as other applications.  So how about reversing the process and capturing heat and directly converting to electricity, is this possible?  As it happens there is a classification of materials which have a property called a thermoelectric effect.

Boosting energy efficiency is an important element of the transition to a sustainable energy system. There are big savings to be made. For example, less than half the energy content of diesel is actually used to power a diesel truck. The rest is lost, mostly in the form of heat. Many industrial processes also deal with the problem of excessive .

That’s why many research teams are working to develop that can convert waste heat into energy. But it’s no easy task. To efficiently convert heat to electricity, the materials need to be good at conducting electricity, but at the same time poor at conducting heat. For many materials, that’s a contradiction in terms.

“One particular challenge is creating thermoelectric materials that are so stable that they work well at high temperatures,” says Anders Palmqvist, professor of materials chemistry, who is conducting research on thermoelectric materials. (1)


Image 1:  The enlarged illustration (in the circle) shows a 2D electron gas on the surface of a zinc oxide semiconductor. When exposed to a temperature difference, the 2D region exhibits a significantly higher thermoelectric performance compared to that of bulk zinc oxide. The bottom figure shows that the electronic density of states distribution is quantized for 2D and continuous for 3D materials. Credit: Shimizu et al. ©2016 PNAS

The thermoelectric effect is not as efficient as converting electricity to heat, which is generally 100% efficient.  However, with waste energy streams even a small conversion rate may return a significant flow of usable electricity which would normally go up a stack or out a tailpipe.

The large amount of waste heat produced by power plants and automobile engines can be converted into electricity due to the thermoelectric effect, a physics effect that converts temperature differences into electrical energy. Now in a new study, researchers have confirmed theoretical predictions that two-dimensional (2D) materials—those that are as thin as a single nanometer—exhibit a significantly higher thermoelectric effect than three-dimensional (3D) materials, which are typically used for these applications.

The study, which is published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Sunao Shimizu et al., could provide a way to improve the recycling of into useful energy.

Previous research has predicted that 2D materials should have better thermoelectric properties than 3D materials because the electrons in 2D materials are more tightly confined in a much smaller space. This confinement effect changes the way that the electrons can arrange themselves. In 3D materials, this arrangement (called the density of states distribution) is continuous, but in 2D materials, this distribution becomes quantized—only certain values are allowed. At certain densities, the quantization means that less energy is required to move electrons around, which in turn increases the efficiency with which the material can convert heat into . (2)


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Flow Batteries: Developments in Energy Storage Systems (ESS)

The need for large scale storage solutions come to the forefront as a means to adjust supply to demand on the electrical grid.  Energy storage systems can adjust time of delivery to eliminate the need for peaker plants, allow for the addition of intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, or allow for large users to reduce facility operating costs by using a storage system to supplement energy supply reducing peak demand, most notably for summer A/C loads in buildings.


Out of engineering research laboratories in materials science and electro-chemistry  are coming new energy storage systems designed for the future to solve these issues meanwhile opening up new enterprises and industry.  The characteristics of an ideal flow battery would include:  a long service life, modularity and scalability, no standby losses, chargeability, low maintenance, and safe.  In addition a flow battery will have to be economic compared to other systems which will need to be determined using LCOE analysis.

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The Smart Grid – Modern Electrical Infrastructure

When we talk about the emerging Smart Grid there comes with the topic an array of exciting and new technologies; Micro-Grids, Distributed Generation, Smart Meters, Load Shifting, Demand Response, Electric Vehicles with Battery Storage for Demand Response, and more.  Recent development in Renewable Energy sources has been driven by concerns over Climate Change, allowing for unprecedented growth in residential and commercial PV Solar Panel installations.


Figure 1:  Redwood High School in Larkspur, CA installed a 705kW SunPower system that’s projected to save $250,000 annually. The carports include EV charging stations for four cars. (1)

Climate Change and burning of fossil fuels are hot topics in the world. Most recently the city of San Francisco has mandated the installation of solar panels on all new buildings constructed under 10 storeys, which will come into effect in 2017 as a measure to reduce carbon emissions.  Currently all new buildings in California are required to set aside 15% of roof area for solar. (2)

“Under existing state law, California’s Title 24 Energy Standards require 15% of roof area on new small and mid-sized buildings to be “solar ready,” which means the roof is unshaded by the proposed building itself, and free of obtrusions. This state law applies to all new residential and commercial buildings of 10 floors or less.

Supervisor Wiener’s ordinance builds on this state law by requiring this 15% of “solar ready” roof area to have solar actually installed. This can take the form of either solar photovoltaic or solar water panels, both of which supply 100% renewable energy.” (3)

Weather and Aging Infrastructure:

Despite an increasing abundance of energy-efficient buildings and other measures, electricity demand has risen by around 10% over the last decade, partly driven by the massive growth of digital device usage and the expanding demand for air conditioning, as summers continue to get hotter in many states.

According to 2013 data from the Department of Energy (DOE), US power grid outages have risen by 285% since records on blackouts began in 1984, for the most part driven by the grid’s vulnerability to unusual and extreme weather events – such as the devastating Hurricane Sandy in 2012 that caused extensive power outages across the East Coast – which are becoming less unusual as the years roll on.

“We used to have two to five major weather events per year from the 50s to the 80s,” said University of Minnesota Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Massoud Amin in a 2014 interview with the International Business Times.

“Between 2008 and 2012, major outages caused by weather increased to 70 to 130 outages per year. Weather used to account for about 17% to 21% of all root causes. Now, in the last five years, it’s accounting for 68% to 73% of all major outages.” (4)

How is the Smart Grid so different from the traditional electrical grid?

The established model of providing power to consumers involves the supply of electricity generated from a distant source and transmitted at high voltage to sub-stations local to the consumer, refer to Figure 2.  The power plants that generate the electricity are mostly thermo-electric (coal, gas and nuclear power), with some hydro-electric sources (dams and reservoirs) and most recently wind farms and large solar installations.

“The national power grid that keeps America’s lights on is a massive and immensely valuable asset. Built in the decades after the Second World War and valued today at around $876bn, the country’s grid system as a whole connects electricity from thousands of power plants to 150 million customers through more than five million miles of power lines and around 3,300 utility companies.” (4)

power_fig1 Old Grid Model.gif

Figure 2:  Existing Transmission and Distribution Grid Structure within the Power Industry (5)

The (Transmission & Distribution) market supplies equipment, services and production systems for energy markets. The initial stage in the process is converting power from a generation source (coal, nuclear, wind, etc.) into a high voltage electrical format that can be transported using the power grid, either overhead or underground. This “transformation” occurs very close to the source of the power generation.

The second stage occurs when this high-voltage power is “stepped-down” by the use of switching gears and then controlled by using circuit breakers and arresters to protect against surges. This medium voltage electrical power can then be safely distributed to urban or populated areas.

The final stage involves stepping the power down to useable voltage for the commercial or residential customer.  In short, while power generation relates to the installed capacity to produce energy from an organic or natural resource, the T&D space involves the follow up “post-power generation production” as systems and grids are put in place to transport this power to end users. (5)

The Smart Grid is an evolution in multiple technologies which in cases is overlaying or emerging from the existing grid.  New generating facilities such as wind power or solar installations which may be small or local to a municipal or industrial user are being tied into the existing grid infra-structure.  In some cases residential PV Solar systems are being tied into the Grid with some form of agreement to purchase excess energy, in some cases at rates favorable to the installer, depending on the utility and region.

Another characteristic of the evolving Smart Grid is in communication technology and scalability.  Use of wifi protocols for communication between parts of the system allow for new processes and access to resources which were previously unavailable.  Ability to control systems to defer demand to non-peak hours within a building as one example.

Microgrids, smaller autonomous systems servicing a campus of buildings or larger industry,  may plug into a larger City-wide Smart Grid in a modular manner.  In the event of a catastrophic event such as a hurricane or earthquake the Smart Grid offers users resiliency through multiple sources of energy supply.

Distributed Generation includes a number of different and smaller scale energy sources into the mix.  The newer, small scale Renewable Energy projects which are being tied to the electrical grid as well as other technologies such as Co-Generation, Waste To Energy facilities, Landfill Gas Systems, Geothermal and the like.  As growth continues there needs to be ways to control and manage these multiple energy sources into the grid.  Also increased needs to maintain privacy, isolate and control systems, and prevent unauthorized access and control.  This is leading to growth in  Energy Management and Security Systems.


Figure 3:  An artist’s rendering of the massive rail used in the ARES power storage project to store renewable energy as gravitational potential energy. Source: ARES North America (6)

Energy Storage is emerging as necessary in the Smart Grid due to fluctuations in source supply of energy, especially Solar and Wind Power, and the intermittent and cyclical nature of user demand.   The existing grid does not have the need for energy storage systems as energy sources were traditionally large power stations which generally responded to anticipated need during the course of the day.

As more Renewable Energy systems go online the need for storage will grow.  Energy Storage in its various forms will also enable Load Shifting or Peak Shaving strategies for economic gains in user operations.  These strategies are already becoming commercially available for buildings to save the facility operators rate charges by limiting demand during peak periods at higher utility rates.


Figure 4:  Effect of Peak Shaving using Energy Storage  (6) 

Peak-load shifting is the process of mitigating the effects of large energy load blocks during a period of time by advancing or delaying their effects until the power supply system can readily accept additional load. The traditional intent behind this process is to minimize generation capacity requirements by regulating load flow. If the loads themselves cannot be regulated, this must be accomplished by implementing energy storage systems (ESSs) to shift the load profile as seen by the generators (see Figure 4).

Depending on the application, peak-load shifting can be referred to as “peak shaving” or “peak smoothing.” The ESS is charged while the electrical supply system is powering minimal load and the cost of electric usage is reduced, such as at night. It is then discharged to provide additional power during periods of increased loading, while costs for using electricity are increased. This technique can be employed to mitigate utility bills. It also effectively shifts the impact of the load on the system, minimizing the generation capacity required. (6)

Challenges with chemical storage systems such as batteries are scale and cost.  Currently pumped hydro is the predominant method of storing energy from intermittent sources providing 99% of global energy storage. (7)


Figure 5:  Actual Savings accrued due to Demand Response Program  (8) 

Demand Response (DR) is another technology getting traction in the Smart Grid economy. As previously mentioned Energy Management and Security Systems are “…converging with Energy Storage technology to make DR a hot topic.  First, the tools necessary to determine where energy is being stored, where it is needed and when to deliver it is have developed over decades in the telecommunications sector.  Secondly, the more recent rush of advanced battery research is making it possible to store energy and provide the flexibility necessary for demand response to really work. Mix that with the growing ability to generate energy on premises through solar, wind and other methods (Distributed Generation) and a potent new distributed structure is created.” (9)

Demand response programs provide financial incentives to reduce energy consumption during peak periods of energy demand. As utilities and independent system operators (ISOs) are pressured to keep costs down and find ways to get as many miles as they can out of every kilowatt, demand response programs have gained popularity. (8)


Figure 6:  The Demonstration Project 2’s Virtual Power Plant (10) 

Virtual Power Plant: When an increasing share of energy is produced by renewable sources such as solar and wind, electricity production can fluctuate significantly. In the future there will be a need for services which can help balance power systems in excess of what conventional assets will be able to provide. Virtual power plants (VPPs) are one of the most promising new technologies that can deliver the necessary stabilising services.  (11)

In the VPP model an energy aggregator gathers a portfolio of smaller generators and operates them as a unified and flexible resource on the energy market or sells their power as system reserve.

VPPs are designed to maximize asset owners’ profits while also balancing the grid. They can match load fluctuations through forecasting, advance metering and computerized control, and can perform real-time optimization of energy resources.

“Virtual power plants essentially represent an ‘Internet of Energy,’ tapping existing grid networks to tailor electricity supply and demand services for a customer,” said Navigant senior analyst Peter Asmus in a market report. The VPP market will grow from less than US $1 billion per year in 2013 to $3.6 billion per year by 2020, according to Navigant’s research — and one reason is that with more variable renewables on the grid flexibility and demand response are becoming more crucial.  (12)


Figure 7:   Example of a Microgrid System With Loads, Generation, Storage and Coupling to a Utility Grid (13)

Microgrids:  Microgrids are localized grids that can disconnect from the traditional grid to operate autonomously and help mitigate grid disturbances to strengthen grid resilience (14).  The structure of a microgrid is a smaller version of the smart grid formed in a recursive  hierarchy where multiple local microgrids may interconnect to form the larger smart grid which services a region or community.


The convergence of aging existing infrastructure, continued growth in populations and electrical demand and concerns over climate change have lead to the emerging smart grid and it’s array of new technologies.  This trend is expected to continue as new growth and replacement will be necessary for an aging electrical grid system, from the larger scope transmission systems and utilities, to smaller scale microgrids.  These systems will become integrated and modular, almost plug-and-play, with inter-connectivity and control through wireless internet protocols.



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