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Should we rely on the grid?

The need for electricity and the means of how we supply it is a constant discussing point on TED. There are hundreds if not thousands of talks on should generate electricity. As we advance in solar power (which seems easiest for home use) and our devices become more efficient, homes are well capable of generating their own power. Where I live our solar panels will have paid for themselves over the time period of six years. (not counting the dropping cost of solar panels and the rising cost of electricity)

But I am not a solar panel fan. I much prefer more efficient means of producing renewable energy like wind farms and geothermal and so on, but this energy needs to reach millions of homes.

So I have a few sub-questions:
Should we just use these power stations for factories and industry?
Can we remove houses from the grid and have them rely on their own source of energy?
Is it more efficient for every household to generate their own power or to have renewable power stations providing for everyone?
Any talks that already relate to this?

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    Jun 27 2012: I think that the only reason to rely on the grid is that many of us do not have the knowledge or technological skills to do otherwise.............yet.
  • Jun 2 2012: Hi Myles: Great topic! I love the idea of wind because it is both tremendously inexpensive and very very clean! Wind is fantastic. The problem can arise with wind often is that many areas simply do not have enough, and I happen to live in one, Georgia in the United States. I have watched demonstration turbines sit idle here for days on end. Many places are great for wind. This is not one. This is where solar may come in; but I do think it helps answer your question. Solar is perhaps more ubiquitous in that barring areas of excessive cloud cover, it can quite successfully cover electrical needs. Many homes have roof space handy; and the space is often more than enough to cover the home's need if the home faces the right direction. Germany managed to add up to 23 GW aggregate solar in just a few years and generate 3.5% of its power last year from solar - for a population of 80 million. That number is huge and is an important marker for the entire world to note...because Germany lies at a latitude of more than 1,600 kilometers north of where I live! And Australia: Wow! you get some of the greatest sun on the planet! My main point here: Sun tends to be more broadly available than other renewables and despite claims about low sun the United States is having tremendous success with it in places like New York and Chicago. But if you get good wind that is fantastic! Use it!!
    In my mind, the key is not necessarily getting off grid entirely but in moving toward distributed power. To use another example: in our state we will be adding a 1,200 GW nuclear reactor in 2016. Not my first choice. In order to reach recipiants in Atlanta, that power will need to traverse distances of 200 miles or more which means special infrastructure to cover transmission. The advantage of renewables becomes scalability: pwr sources can be almost as small as you want them to be. Then we redirect infrastructure $ from fat grid to smart grid and share with ea other.
  • Jun 7 2012: I am no luddite. I worked with computers for over thirty years, and I look forward to the time when computers blend into our daily lives so completely that the word computer will fade from our conversations.

    But.

    The more I read about the smart grid, the more reasons I find to distrust it. The technologies that are being proposed for the specific purpose of making the grid more reliable will, in my opinion, have the opposite effect. We will eventually come up with a method of sustainable, clean power, and that method will certainly be determined by price. I just hope it will be such that residents and small businesses can have their own power sources, backed up by a power storage method (molten batteries perhaps) that will allow all of us to have completely reliable power.

    I do not think that reliability is being taken seriously enough. In our planning, we should consider only one level of reliability as acceptable:: 100%. More and more, our daily lives require constant power, and more and more of it. Perhaps you do not see it yet. Perhaps you can get by without power for a day, and it is only a minor inconvenience. This will change. As electrical devices become more sophisticated, one day you will bring one into your home, and without planning on it, without even realizing it, you will be relying on it. You will need it available all the time, and any outage will cause you serious harm (possibly medical, possibly 'just' economic). Sooner or later, we will all realize that power outages can no longer be tolerated. If we don't plan for it now, we will pay a huge price later.

    As for removing houses from the grid, probably not. The best home system will still have rare outages (perhaps just for scheduled maintenance) and then you will have to draw on the grid.
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      Jun 7 2012: Constant supply is becoming more and more important. The need even stops you turning things off when not in use as we are encouraged to do. for example I have a surround sound system that resets to the factory settings every time the power goes out. Its not critical but it is annoying. Also as we all do business over the net more and more, power outages are going to become expensive.
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    May 31 2012: It is of course feasible for any home to generate all its own power using solar, however it ia far from practical. Your own solar system will only pay for itself in six years because of subsidies. To convert your system to an off grid system would require a further investment of around $50 000 on a battery bank that would only have a 10 year life expectancy. On site energy use can be reduced very simply with good design. Solar hot water is an obvious one, but local geo-thermal is also practical. Unless you live somewhere very hot or very cold the water that comes out of your cold tap is always 21 degrees C. A heat exchanger between a radiator in your house and pipes buried under it with a small pump would cool your house in summer and warm it in winter for the cost of running a 10 watt pump. All new construction should have this system. As well as double glazing. Of course the major consumer of electricity is industry, and that goes 24/7 in many cases. This is the baseline that renewables are always going to struggle with.
    • Jun 1 2012: There were no subsidies.
      I agree with the importance of design to create a more efficient home.
      What do you mean by local geothermal power?
      We use a similar geo-thermal system in our house.
      And like you mentioned industry is very dependent on electricity and I can't imagine each business relying on its own source of energy. Though in terms of residents, what is your opinion on electrically independent housing?
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        Jun 3 2012: Regarding local geothermal, the ground is warm almost everywhere you don't need to be near a volcano. The Earth's crust is about 20C at the surface and increases by about 3 degrees for every hundred metres you go down, thats why artesian water is always warm. The most practical use in the city is to regulate the temperature of your house but out west where towns use artesian water, the heat is wasted, that energy could be harvested as the water cools for domestic use. Regarding the subsidies I assumed your solar is a grid linked rooftop installation where you sell your excess back to the power company at double the domestic rate, also the company that sells the units receives a subsidy that allows them to reduce the price. But if you installed your own system independantly these wouldn't apply.
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    May 29 2012: In the UK solar panels are not so efficient due to our cloudy climate, but every little helps and they are becoming popular. Solar water panels are also useful since heating water is expensive - even a small temperature boost saves money.

    In the UK we have on-shore and off-shore wind farms but I'm not a fan due to the hit and miss nature of wind and the distance from the end users of these wind farms. The further electricity has to travel along power lines to the end user the greater the power loss - so it is more efficient to generate power close to where it is needed.

    I'd like the UK to invest in tidal power and river flow generators. This means of electricity generation is predictable and constant. Australia, like the UK, would suit this form of electricity generation since most people live by the coast.