Big Energy

Can a new wave of Big Energy stem the rising-tide of electricity prices…?

tide power plant
M3 Wave Energy Systems says they can overcome most problems of above-water and below-surface solutions  …image IEEE Spectrum

Lower electricity prices from renewables technology has proven elusive for most people. But as solar approaches the conversion efficiency experienced by legacy power plants the cost of electricity at the premise will fall. It’s interesting to note that a solar installation at the premise resembles a small grid. And the emerging electric power architecture at the enterprise level looks like millions of small power plants attached to premise-grids integrated with legacy distribution grids. This is the raison d’être of smartgrid in the near term. But people will be able to reap the benefits of solar with or without smartgrid. In other words whether the grid can take the excess generation or not.

Strangely, there is no shortage of ‘big energy’ concepts in the renewables space that involve a large centralized plant feeding electrons intravenously to a challenged legacy grid. Wind farms are infamous examples of big energy thinking. Massive hard-steel industrial farms wreaking havoc on every ecosystem they occupy. From the microbial level in the soil to the delicate balance of insects, birds, and plants for miles around. The Central Valley in California is a textbook case. The drought has played the dominant role but where there are wind farms, the ecosystem will not return with the rains. And in West Texas where there is no ecosystem to speak of…wind farms are off-line on any given day due to the inability of the grid to accept the power. Big Energy suffers from big problems wherever it’s tried.

Wind farm Central Valley California
Wind farm – Central Valley California where cattle have been reduced to eating dirt and are now being sold-off to Texas ranchers who have centuries of experience raising cattle in arid environments  …Photo/nick noecker 09/2013

There are many big energy solutions in the renewables space…harvesting energy from waves, tides, wind, even massive “solar utility” plants. But every single one of these big energy paradigms suffers from the very environmental problems experienced by fossil fuels. M3 Wave Energy Systems has a fascinating design for a massive power plant that sits on the bottom of the ocean and harvests energy from currents. But it’s worth remembering that no one predicted the environmental ravaging that resulted from wind turbines.

Concept: High Energy Costs
Britain says the cost of subsidizing renewable energy will cause electricity prices to rise another 33% by 2020, 41% by 2030 … image IEEE Spectrum

Economics determine outcomes in spite of our grand illusions. No matter how much we resist, real economics eventually overwhelms fake economics every time. But we can buy time for a little while and in some situations it pays. That is what happened with solar. The real big energy solution could well be massively-distributed small-scale solar power generation. Advances in local storage technologies are hastening the process. The arrival of this nascent system model will no doubt overwhelm us when it hits.

It makes you wonder… are Big Energy solutions doomed to end-up like cattle ranches in the Central Valley?

Cattle ranch in Central Valley
Cattle Ranch in Central Valley California where the drought has ravaged the land and where Wind Farms are ensuring it will stay that way  …photo © 09/2013 nick noecker

Links:
M3 Wave Energy
Britain Energy Prices To Rise

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