Monday, February 22, 2010

Bye Bye Gridie: Distributed Power

Check out this video about a new fuel cell company trying to put power generation in the home.

This is a shift away from the centralized grid which relies on large power plants to power generated in the home or for communities of homes.

One of the larger themes I've been thinking about for a while now is the coming shift from centralized to distributed thinking. When the world industrialized, we gained immense efficiencies by centralizing everything, from the production of goods to agriculture, to computer systems and even tourism. In fact I would even say this is true for hierarchical corporate structures and even how our government works. Of course, now we are paying the price as we realize that this system has some tradeoffs, namely:

This has gotten a lot of attention recently. With the focus on fuel economy, it does seem a bit ridiculous to ship your fruit from across the world when it could be grown in your backyard. I see the local farming movement as not all that different from shifting off the grid. After all, there are significant transmission losses (9.5% according to this article) in the electric grid. Plus, all that infrastructure is expensive to maintain.

Again, all that infrastructure is expensive. It is easy to over or under build infrastructure as it is hard to predict where the needs will arise. More importantly, the grid needs to constantly balance power demand and power supply. A centralized system is generally slower to adapt, especially to local needs.

I imagine that distributed power (many corporations already supply their own power) will increase, but the national grid won't really disappear. Instead, perhaps distributed power will offer a way to balance out the increase in power needs, allowing the current grid to operate without upgrades.

Of course the Bloom Box system mentioned here will still require some fuel source. But if you can tie it to your natural gas line and get you electricity at half the cost, then it sounds promising. What do you think?

FYI, if you're interested, I think this page has a lot of good info on the grid.

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