Thursday, August 26, 2010

Renewable problems

A small element of my job as "Buildings Standards Initiatives Leader" that sounds like fun but isn't involves reading all sorts of newsletters. It wasn't bad when the issue was pretty much just BACnet and building automation, but energy-efficient buildings and the Smart Grid effort have expanded the scope and volume considerably. Sometimes there are interesting, even useful, articles that I file away for reference later, but I have to skim fast: just today I received ASHRAE's "HVAC&R Industry," "Greener Buildings News," "CABA Newsbrief," "Public Utilities Fortnightly," "Building Operation Management Direct" and "Maintenance Solutions."

One of the utility-related newsletters I started receiving this summer, "Public Utilities Fortnightly", has been an eye-opener. From the "buildings" perspective it sounds so simple: just crank out electricity and put it on the wires that lead to the meter on your building. Of course it's not, but while developing the Smart Grid it helps to understand issues on the other side of the meter.

In my energy-related talks a few years ago I noted some of the problems with renewable energy sources: some technical, some political. An example of the former occurred a couple of years ago here, with a sudden conflict between hydroelectric and wind generation. (Interestingly, the overall problem was noted somewhat a month earlier, in "Northwest power managers struggle with electricity surplus".)

Nevertheless I figured that the increased integration of the grid via the Smart Grid would allow better control and balancing of energy sources. Three points this month set me back for a few days.

The first was a recent Smart Grid teleconference where somebody from the utilities noted a problem with buildings equipped with solar arrays: they decrease the utilities' ability to forecast demand so the utilities can determine how many and which generators to have online at any time.

The second was a WSJ Opinion page article Tuesday 8/24, p.A15, Wind Power Won't Cool Down the Planet.

The third came in today's newsletter from "Public Utilities Fortnightly" in an Op-Ed article titled "Green Blackouts?" in which a case I've not seen before is made for "increasing renewable generation threatens [grid] reliability."

If only we had good batteries. Hm, perhaps these items above say why the utilities are looking so hopefully at electric vehicles -- a lot of battery capacity that can be drawn upon short-term for makeup electricity for the grid. If so, the utilities should illustrate the solution as clearly and in detail as they have the problems, instead of leaving it to others to puzzle out -- IF the others even get the necessary information, and who has the time for that?

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