Energy Monitoring Revamped

by Sagarika Gami

Mark Chung, an electrical engineer trained by Stanford University, began his venture butting heads with climate change seven years ago. It is widely thought that in order to combat the worst impacts of climate change, global carbon emissions must be cut by 40 to 70% by mid-century. Chung’s company, Verdigris, seeks to aid the process by providing a solution to inefficient energy monitoring and usage. Verdigris came about as a response to “smart meters,” which track where energy is being used in houses, buildings, hospitals, etc. The “smart meters,” unlike Verdigris’ software, are unable to create electrical maps on a large scale to monitor appliances, machinery, lights, and more, and are thus unable to pinpoint the exact sources of energy usage. Continue reading

Long Range Power Transmission

by Matt Johnson

One of the problems that has grappled electrical engineers over the last few decades is the long-distance transmission of power. As the shift towards renewable energy continues, we are finding more and more electricity being generated farther and farther away from consumers. With an unavoidable power loss directly related to transmission distances, engineers have found themselves in a tough situation. The Economist (2017) dives into one technology, ultra-high-voltage direct-current connectors, as a particularly promising solution. Electric power grids were standardized on alternating current (AC) in the late 1880s and 1890s, and have stayed that way ever since. Alternating current travels like a wave: the energy shimmies back and forth through a conducting medium. As the distances of transmission increase, it takes more and more energy to push this wave through. Inherently, the more energy you put in, the more that is lost. Direct current on the other hand is a steady flow of energy, there is no oscillation. Therefore, over transcontinental distances, direct current power lines are much more efficient. The power lines are cheaper to build, because a smaller wire can carry more power: reducing weight and cost. Whereas the transformers for AC are relatively cheap, the comparable thyristors for voltage conversion in DC are pricy; but these prices are justified by increased transmission efficiency, especially over long distances. Continue reading

Revamping of Energy Grids by the University of Toledo

by Sagarika Gami

The University of Toledo, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, is making leaps in the realm of energy grids, shifting to transaction-based energy management. With climate change finally accruing noise in the media, more and more university towns are seeking to bolster the efficiency and reliability of their energy grids. The current grid system is very simple – the power companies match their production to the demand of homes and businesses and deliver based on these numbers. However, to keep up with demands for change in sources of power and its output, the grid system will likely become more complex. Continue reading

Rise of the Supergrid

by Emil Morhardt

To get electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed requires transmission lines, which inevitably lose some of the power along the way. Using high voltages and transmitting with direct current (DC) rather than alternating current (AC) help. Doing both is best, and with the ultimate goal of being able to move electricity long distances from isolated renewable sources, ultra high voltage direct current (UHVDC) transmission lines are in planning stages or under construction. The first in the US will be a 700-mile long cable from Oklahoma’s wind farms to Tennessee to connect with the Tennessee Valley Authority grid. Similar initiatives are under way in China, Europe, and Brazil. Some lower voltage DC lines have been operating for years; one transmits power along the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains from the massive hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon to Los Angeles. Others connect oceanic islands; across the English Channel and between New Zealand’s North and South Islands, for example, where AC is impractical because of the losses from interaction of its alternating magnetic fields with ions in salt water. Continue reading

Future of Energy Lies in Unscaling Energy

by Sharon Ha

In this TechCrunch article, Hemant Taneja, founder of Advanced Energy Economy, and Managing Director at investment firm General Catalyst, predicts that solving climate change and the energy crises lies in unscaling energy; creating alternatives to large power plants. He asserts that the government and energy companies need to support and incentivize entrepreneurs to rethink existing energy markets; less than 2% of the Federal Research & Development budget was spent on energy and big energy companies spend only 0.3% of their revenue on energy R&D. However, energy must become more of a priority because not only will unscaling energy allow for more creative and accessible solutions and prevent further climate change, it will also help the job market and lead to economic growth. Taneja predicts that new technology and entrepreneurship in energy will reinvigorate the market and consumer transactions, much like the inventors of Uber or Skype did to the transportation and communications markets. Continue reading

What California’s NEM 2.0 Decision Means

by Deedee Chao

On January 28, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to pass NEM 2.0, a net energy metering decision for solar that updated how rates would be monitored for solar customers (those who own solar energy systems to generate energy for their own use). Net energy metering (NEM) is a method through which solar system owners are credited for their surplus energy that they feed to the grid, which subtracts from the costs incurred when they use energy from other sources (for example, on cloudy days or at nighttime), so they are only billed for their “net” energy consumption. Continue reading

Microgrid Micromanagement

by Briton Lee

One of the issues with the integration of alternative energy, such as solar and wind power, into the electricity grid is their volatile load swings. Automation and microgrids seek to address this issue of fluctuating energy and make renewables more amenable to integration. Solar and wind power are unpredictable, and fluctuations occur simply when a cloud passes over a solar grid. Another problem is that solar energy is generally produced during the day and not during the night, whereas human electricity use peaks in the evening. Generally, humans have to manually monitor and balance energy production and consumption in order to manage the electrical loads. The entire grid is tightly monitored, and the formulas used to keep the grid in check are thrown off when renewables are included. Renewables are unpredictable because it’s unclear when the energy will come in, since energy is not stored but rather threaded directly into the grid. Continue reading

Norway Plans Deep Sea Cables to Germany, England

by Trevor Smith

Norway is in the process of finalizing plans to build massive submarine power cables to link its power grid to England’s and Germany’s grids. The move is being praised as a win for clean energy, as the cable will allow for exporting excess hydroelectric energy from Norway to England and Germany. The cable to Germany is set to be completed by 2018, while the cable to England will be finished by 2020 (Reuters 2015). Continue reading

Smart Grid Policy Support will Reduce European Carbon Emissions

by Stephanie Oehler

Carbon emissions are greenhouse gases and are often targeted for reductions in order to slow the progression of climate change. The energy sector, in particular, is seen as an area with significant potential for minimizing emissions since it is responsible for such a high percentage of society’s atmospheric carbon contribution. In Europe, a plethora of smart grid technologies has been installed and more are being designed in order to increase efficiency of electricity production and transmission. Darby et al. (2013) examined six national energy markets in the European Union (EU) in order to determine how carbon emission reductions occurred with the implementation of technologies and policies, market characteristics that were conducive to reductions, the areas with the greatest potential of achieving emission reductions, and the areas in which the new systems would be most effective. They collected a variety of quantitative and qualitative data from the German, Austrian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and British markets in order to predict the emission reductions produced under three conditions: no smart grid implementation, smart grid technology implemented without legal or economic support for users, and smart grid technologies installed and supportive legislation and market conditions adopted. Continue reading

Maximizing Flexible Electricity Use by Load Balancing of Smart Grids

by Stephanie Oehler

The electricity supply has traditionally been dictated by consumers. Consumers demand varying amounts of energy depending on their instantaneous needs and suppliers are left to use whatever resources are necessary to meet their demands. As populations grow and electricity demands per capita increase, the discrepancy between demand and sustainable supply levels continues to widen. The smart grid may have the potential to mediate the conflicting objectives of consumers, who prefer supply levels that correspond with high levels of convenience for them according to their preferences, and suppliers, who would benefit from producing at a more constant rate. Hassan et al. (2013) explore the plausibility of load balancing, which has been enabled by smart grid technologies, as a method of balancing demand to more closely align with reasonable supply levels. Continue reading