The Grid Optimization Blog

The Quest for Eternal Energy Resources (Energy 2.0)

The quest for eternal energy sources occupies many people, governments and countries. There has been an interest lately in renewable energy, predominately solar and wind, both of course are weather related and in a way site specific. Certain countries, cities have the advantage of the abundance of sun, while others are fortunate for few sunny days during the summer. The availability of wind is even more intriguing.

Global warming, or as now called climate change is another topic that occupies the most; the belief is that renewable energy is one of the key ways in mitigating climate change. We need to think of energy as a market product that is based on supply and demand. The demand is guaranteed; not to only be present, but to constantly increase; however, the issue is that the supply is limited, at least the non-renewable resources. We don’t really know how long the non-renewable resources will last; what we do know is that we cannot survive without energy and that our household usage is on the rise.

Utilities are investing heavily in demand response and energy efficiency measures to reduce the customers’ usage and defer expensive load relief projects. To the public and several engineers, efficiency is a sign of using less real power for performing the same function; basically meters will be spinning less or slower while providing the same function. Another angle that equipment is getting more efficient at is in their reactive power usage, basically withdrawing less reactive power from the grid, or generating their own, whether via built-in capacitors or thru the use of electronics. Variable frequency drive is a device that provides “local” reactive power, thus improving the power factor. A higher power factor means utilities supply less reactive power factor; the highest power factor is 1.0, which is also known as unity power factor, basically supplying no reactive power.

I was involved in investigating why the power factor improved for certain areas in New York. After investigating, we found out that the main reasons for the power factor improvements were:

  • Equipment are getting more efficient (using less real and reactive power)
  • Being that certain utilities enforce penalties for customers who utilize low power factor equipment, certain manufacturers decided to build universal efficient equipment for all their customers worldwide, regardless whether their countries enforce any power factor requirements.
  • More equipment have built-in electronics or capacitors to provide the needed reactive power (or partial) for their large (and now small) equipment, thus not using (or using little) reactive power from the utility. Also variable frequency drives are now used in smaller applications.

So equipment are getting more efficient, using less real and reactive power, yet we are consuming more power than ever before. It is true that air conditioners and fridges are more efficient than before, yet the number of gadgets that each person owns and still buys outweighs the numbers owned several years ago.

The latest major equipment that redefined the energy/utility world was the air conditioner. Nowadays, electronics are changing the way energy is being used. For example, cell phones have broader usage than just being used for making/receiving calls, which resulted in cell phones being charged more often and using more electricity whether at home or at work. Same goes for our tablets and other vital gadgets that we own and used on a daily basis, such as portable gaming devices, digital picture frames, etc... Actually, many of us own two phones instead of one. Our generation did not have any comparable energy usage compared to kids nowadays.

Electricity is no longer a luxury but a necessity that we and our young kids can NOT live without even for a short period of time. Nowadays, electricity is parent’s best relief and best baby sitter, kids are glued to their music players and games allowing their parents to enjoy their meals and quality time; it is amazing how parents ensure all gadgets are fully charged prior to going out or travelling; some kids transform into zombies when their gadgets have no power. God’s gift to parents is the new USB connector available at airplane seats, such that their children could be occupied for the 12 hours or so during the entire flight.

Even our phone landlines are now VOIP (no electricity, no phone). Our biggest concern nowadays is no wifi and no electricity. In NYC, more subway stations now have cell phone service and free wifi (draining the batteries). Even some cigarettes now use electricity (electronic0cigarettes). My TV cable box does not have an off button, so as long as I have this devise, it is constantly using electricity. A lot of us own hard disks to store pictures, videos and files that we may need later. However, nowadays, hard disks are connected to our wifi networks and stays on 24/7 so that we can access our files remotely (again another energy user). Dish signal availability is no longer an issue, since there are many companies that offer satellite channels via cable boxes that are connected via the internet.

The future of electric vehicles is still unclear, there are several EV penetration forecast; the fact is that utilities will have to react to the widespread of EVs does happens.

I believe that among other reasons for the energy usage increase this year was due to political reasons. Certain countries are hot-spots for tourists, especially for people from the Gulf area, such as Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Greece. Due to the recent political events in those countries, they are no longer the prime destination for tourism. Basically, there are fewer options for tourists; many targeted USA and London as well as other countries for vacation. Tourists target summer months because school is out. The main difference between Arab tourists and others is that they don’t travel light, at all. Each adult member and child has an iphone or an android and a blackberry for using black-berry messenger, a music player, a portable gaming system, a DVD player and a tablet. The load diversity that was first calculated when the hotels’ load letter was first being prepared do not apply with those tourists.

Some envision that in few years most customers will have their own distributed generation and will not rely on their utility except for emergencies or may be totally islanded from the utility; with the decrease in solar panel and battery cost, there is a possibility that in the future customers will rely heavily on solar/batteries and not rely on the utility, except for net-metering. Till that time when solar/battery combo is cost effective to attract many customers, utilities have to find cost effective measures to mitigate the increase in loads.

It is vital to understand different factors impacting load forecast and to educate customers about the importance of saving energy and the environmental impact. This is very crucial because the new generation does not save energy, as a matter a fact, they are energy guzzlers.

On a side note, it is interesting that several movies, such as Superman, Chain Reaction, Watchmen, Iron Man as well as many others were based on the idea of fighting over eternal energy sources.

It is still not clear how long the non-renewable resources will last; some believe that oil is here to stay, while others believe that renewable is the place to go. The critical path (after the cost) for renewable energy is the weather; wind stop blowing, or areas famous for solar energy becoming more cloudy, which result in the investment being obsolete or diminishing value. Regardless of your belief in global warming, climate change, whether earth is getting hotter or colder, the fact is that the weather pattern as we know it, or seasons, or expected temperatures no longer follow the historical pattern (it snowed in Cairo for the first time in 100 years, others countries skipped certain seasons in the same year, etc.).

I remember back in the days, electricity was mainly used for: certain lightning, watching TV, doing the laundry, desktop computer, air conditioner/fans, etc...

Nowadays:

  • Laundromats are equipped with computers providing tips for efficient washing and for recharging laundry cards.
  • Gas stations are equipped with computers at the gas pumps for advertisement and checking the weather while you are pumping gas.
  • Cars service centers now have computers, tablets and tons of TV screens to entertain us while we wait for our cars.
  • Restaurants, especially those providing junk food replaced all their paper menus with TV screens; same goes for movie theatres.
  • Waiters now use tablets and smart phones to take your orders.
  • Some barbers have tablets to entertain customers while they wait for a haircut.
  • It is true that TVs now are more efficient than old TVs; however, the old 29 inch TVs are being replaced with 65 inch LED TVs.
  • Billboards have been replaced with massive screens along the highway; even subway entrances now have large screen TVs for advertisements.
  • A wrist health tracker is the new trend; however, like everything nowadays, this also need to get charged.

The above were few examples of how electricity changed the basic functionality of things. In 2014 we are expecting smart glasses, smart watches and possibly smart contact lenses, all will have to be charged, thus extra load to be supplied by the generators, transmission and distribution systems.

As mentioned prior, when the cost to own an air conditioner was reduced dramatically, there was a mass purchase and a shock to the electric grid; nowadays, technology is advancing at a rapid pace resulting in equipment/gadgets getting cheaper and introducing to the market new gadgets they never thought about prior; that relies on electricity.

We can’t really predict the weather pattern changes for the next year, so the future is not looking clear, what is obvious is that the usage will increase exponentially and the equipment will continue to be more efficient. Developed countries have to be prepared for the increased usage and new gadgets, while developing countries have to be prepared for the same phenomena together with the load increase as a result of the electrification of neighborhoods that never had electricity prior. We need to educate the new generation about the importance of conserving energy and continue to promote efficiency. Electricity is the center of life, we are not sure when non-renewable resources will dry out (even oil rich countries have started lately in investing in solar energy) or whether weather pattern will result in certain wind farms and solar panels becoming obsolete; we must in fact continue to search for the eternal energy sources/renewable resources and ways to meet customers’ load without investing heavily in the electric grid.

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