Monday, May 03, 2010

The Agnostic Energy Grid


I want President Obama to treat the British Petroleum oil platform disaster in the Gulf of Mexico the same way Dubya treated 9/11.

This should be a game changer. I want to see an effort on the par of the Manhattan Project or Apollo Project to pry America's lip from the petroleum tit.

Let me start by defining the term "agnostic" for the purposes of this discussion.

It has NOTHING TO DO with religion.

"A system agnostic computing technology (or person, in the case of system administrators and programmers) is one that does not depend entirely on the ideology of another technology, as in "OS agnostic" or "editor agnostic."


What that means for this post is that agnostic electricity is electricity no matter how or where it was generated.

America doesn't have a national power grid. We have these little local power grids controlled by local Public Utility Commissions who contract with power generating companies to generate and distribute power within their jurisdiction. It is an incredibly fragmented system.

There is a better way.

What we need is a national, agnostic power grid that will accept input from any source at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based compensation, feed that electricity into the grid where it is distributed as needed at a standard, pro-rated, kilowatt-based pricing system.

There are so many ways to generate electricity that with a distributed generation strategy and a unified grid, we can have all the power we need without depending on fossil fuels.

WIND POWER

There are parts of the United States that are typically very windy. The Great Plains. Coastal areas. By building wind farms in those areas, they can feed into the national power grid.

TIDAL POWER

If you've ever been to the beach, you know that the tides rise and fall. You can harness this energy through buoys attached to turbines that can capture energy no matter which way the water is moving. Buoy farms can feed into the national power grid.

GEO-THERMAL ELECTRICITY

"The heat from the earth's own molten core can be converted into electricity. This core consists primarily of extremely high temperature liquid rock known as magma. This "geothermal" heat circulates within the rock or is transferred to underground reservoirs of water, which also circulate under the earth's crust. Because of the near limitless ability of the earth to produce magma, and the continuous transfer of heat between subsurface rock and water, geothermal energy is considered a renewable resource."

Yellowstone is the Saudi Arabia of geo-thermal power. Yellowstone can feed into the national power grid.

SOLAR ELECTRIC POWER

Sunlight can be converted into electricity using solar cells. This is particularly effective in places like Arizona, New Mexico and Death Valley. Solar electric farms can feed into the national power grid.

NEXT GEN NUCLEAR POWER

We've been doing nuclear power wrong. We've been building nuclear plants the same way we used to build huge, coal-fired plants designed to generate power for the largest possible geographical area.

The U.S. Navy has been doing nuclear power right for decades Small, safe, compact nuclear power plants designed to power aircraft carriers and submarines that are the equivalent of medium size cities.

That's the new direction for nuclear. Small, affordable, Naval-style, plug and play nuclear power plants can feed into the national power grid.

FUEL CELLS

A fuel cell combines hydrogen with oxygen to produce electricity and the only byproduct is water. Imagine a refrigerator size fuel cell in your basement. You feed it hydrogen and oxygen, it produces electricity and water. It can supply all the electricity your home needs. Produce more than you need and you can sell the surplus to the grid. Combine your fuel cell with solar electric, wind, tidal, geo-thermal (depending on where you live) and you can have all the power you need and maybe even turn a profit.

With a national, agnostic power grid, we can be independent of fossil fuel and spur a new domestic energy market.

If the winds in New England are strong, they can be making a profit by supplying power to Oregon when it's cloudy.

When it's 120 degrees in Death Valley, they can be making a profit by supplying power to New England if the winds are calm.

If the fuel cell in my basement is generating more power than I need because I insulated my attic, I can make a profit by supplying power to my neighbor because he's inefficient.

Just because I live in Independence, MO, there is no technological reason why I can't be harvesting energy from New England, Death Valley and Florida and paying a fair, pro-rated price per kilowatt.

This national energy grid approach also eliminates the scenario where a local tornado knocks out a transformer and thousands are left without power for days.

Power is just rerouted from places that still have power. Electricity, like water, would find it's own level and automatically fill any gaps.

Nothing I've just described requires any new technology. Except maybe a USB-like interface to link the isolated energy infrastructures into a unified grid. That's nothing.

We can do this if we want to.

6 comments:

Joe said...

Your idea is one of the most interesting things I've read in a while. Not to blow smoke up your ass or anything.

Bull E. Vard said...

Umm, I'm pretty sure your system would create a whole bunch of coal burning electrical plants all over the US. Coal is the cheapest energy alternative and would be the most profitable.

The second part of your plan would have to be a carbon tax. This will never happen, instead insiders will lobby to have their version of power subsidized and whichever party in charge will bow to them, give them a ton of cash and that will be our favored electricity provider. It already happens, to a certain extent, with oil (it's also really cheap) but solar or wind could easily become the favored energy source.

I think the only solution is a carbon tax and our political system will never make it happen. R's will oppose taxes and D's won't reduce other taxes to make it revenue neutral.

Logtar said...

One of the most surprising things to come out of my trip to Colombia a couple of years ago is that in less than a decade Colombia went from having most cars be either diesel or gas, to be retrofited for natural gas. There are fill up stations all over and most public transportation now runs on natural gas... after digging a little more Brazil has done a similar thing... cheaper, cleaner, more readily available... but we cannot do it here? its pretty weird.

Hyperblogal said...

....but, in the meantime, let's require offshore platforms to have a remote controlled shutoff valve... like every other country does....

emawkc said...

I personally think its a matter of national security to get our country weaned from dependence on foreign oil. The only reason we even give the middle east a second though is because they own the oil spigot. Ditto for parts of Africa and South America.

If we didn't need their oil (yes, even AlGore and the Jeep-driving Hip Suburban White Guy), we could leave the MidEast alone to fight amongst themselves.

May said...

good post!