Sunday, December 1, 2019

Keep The Lights On: Part 4

                                                                                            written 24 November 2019
                                                                                          published 1 December 2019

            After several weeks of discussing the idea of power down resilience, "Keeping The Lights On" in Ukiah, it is time to summarize, and look to the future.
            To avoid ruinous economic losses from ongoing power shutdowns, the city could build a solar power collection and battery storage micro-grid.  One general solution, with the maximum bang for the buck, would be one large array and one large battery designed to power the entire city during the winter solar minimum.  Benefiting from volume discounts, this would cost about $300M (depending on land costs), 2/3 for the array and 1/3 for the battery.  The primary advantage is that none of the existing power system within the city would have to be rewired, but the primary difficulty is finding 200 acres of land for the array.
            The other general solution would produce about 50% of our normal power consumption during power down emergencies, which would keep the lights on and allow businesses to operate on a reduced basis.  The primary advantage is that it could be started incrementally and could be built entirely within the city limits.  The primary disadvantage is that thousands of small arrays on every appropriate roof and parking lot, with battery storage installed in every home and business, will increase system management complexity.  Further, the rewiring involved at each location, the increased array installation expenses, and the loss of volume discounts, makes the 50% solution cost more than $450M (about 1/2 array and 1/2 battery).  
            In either case, funding for arrays could be finance at low, long term, fixed rates, because they produce marketable power for decades.  Funding for batteries would require more ingenuity. They should be considered the cost of not bankrupting our economy due to complete power outages.  Every level of government is beginning to look at this issue, and grant money is becoming available.  Even PG&E is mentioning micro-grids as part of the solution.  For comparison, the recently completed purple pipe project was funded with a $45M grant.
            Considering the future, a single system designed to provide full power in the winter will produce 300MWh per day excess power during the summer months, helping fund the whole project.  This power could be sold wholesale, or it could power value added projects for local economic development.  It could be stored as hydrogen, which has industrial value, or can be converted back to electricity through fuel cells.  Another chemical storage form is ammonia, which can be used by industry, converted back to electricity, or used agriculturally as fertilizer.  Energy intensive industries could be invited to Ukiah, understanding that the energy surplus is seasonal.  Perhaps the surplus could be used to promote electric vehicle tourism.  These are just a few possibilities for handling the overproduction during the summer from a single large array.
            There are economic advantages from the 50% solution as well.  Even though we won't have a summer energy surplus, we will have to create a large workforce of skilled installers to get the job done in a timely manner.  Ukiah area could become a training center for 21st century, good paying jobs.  The shift to renewable power is gaining speed, and will become the new normal everywhere in the world.  
            To maximize distributed power and storage, we will have to get more energy efficient and build creative systems that will be of value everywhere.  For example, traffic lights go dead with a power outage.  Power resilient LED traffic lights could have solar collection and batteries as stand-alone systems, requiring no wiring to the grid, reducing installation costs. Cell towers died during the outage because of limited batteries, or limited generator fuel.  Every site should have stand-alone solar collection and batteries, without need for grid connection.  These systems could be designed and manufactured here, for sale everywhere. 
            If you would like to "Keep The Lights On" in Ukiah during a power outage, share these ideas with friends, and email your support to the City Council members below.
            There is no single way to accomplish this, and we need a series of workshops to pull together ideas from every part of the community.  If we show there is popular support for the basic concept, the Council will make it happen.