Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Distributed Energy Canard

One of the most common arguments anti-nukes use against nuclear energy concerns the fact that a nuclear power plant is a "centralized" source of energy that can be controlled by big, bad corporate interests. In contrast, the thinking goes, renewables like wind and solar support a model of "distributed" generation that would free consumers from evil corporate utilities.

Today over at Daily Kos, N. Nadir takes a shot at that contention.

1 comment:

DV8 said...

Retasking the electrical distribution system is a non-trivial problem and in many instances this critical issue is breezed over in discussions of distributed energy. This is a mistake. This system is huge and complex, with a bewildering number of control nodes and operates under protocols that been less designed then they have accumulated. It has not been built for two-way traffic, and even in cases where bi-directional flow is physically possible it is often achieved only by overriding system fail-safes, and potentially compromising product integrity. Refitting to allow for this, while certainly doable from the engineering standpoint, would be horrendously expensive, and in some cases would require that large chunks of the network go offline or isolate for extended periods of time and in most cases this factor alone makes conversion unfeasible.

Integrating small generators into the grid like an energy internet also requires each node, whether a gigawatt natural gas power station or a single solar photovoltaic panel has to be controlled and the necessary number of combined control tasks multiply as devices multiply. Accurate information on the state of the network and coordination between local control centers and the generators is essential. However an inherent risk of interconnected networks is a domino effect - that is a system failure in one part of the network can quickly spread. Therefore the active network needs appropriate design standards, fast acting protection mechanisms and also automatic reconfiguration equipment to address potentially higher fault levels. On top of which most of the proposed systems require intelligent loads as well, adding to network complexity and cost. These changes are not cheap or easy.