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The Grid, Gretchen Bakke

Thoughts on The Grid
*This post has very little editing, is constructed to reinforce my new knowledge, and therefore not that valuable to the public. I publish it to start a habit of reflection that I hope becomes valuable to more than just me.

  1. The Grid is an inquiry into the electrical system
  2. Energy is ephemeral. It’s synonymous with data. It is also instant. This collision of concepts creates an illusion of stability and constant in the minds of users. It was difficult for me to conceive of the energy powering the light above me was being generated at that very instant. Energy, electricity is not like water. It travels to the least resistant path which could be thousands of kilometers but still arrive almost instantaneously. Power is made to specifications of how much is estimated to be used. This can cause shortfalls when technology usage like AC is underestimated due to poor weather forecasting.
  3. Appropriate to comment on the Finkel Review, which proposed solutions for Australia’s energy.
    1. Most alarming, or most notable is the onus on the user and the protection of the utility.
    2. Utilities will reward customers for managin their electricity demand. How does a customer better manage their electricity. One way is they use less energy. But that’s not enough, as The Grid hammers, peak use is between 6-10, if you can manage your usage then, then everyone will be happy. But that’s difficult. Managing your electricity means utilitising electricity across the day not in one chunk. This is the advantage of IOT devices where users will be able to conduct chores like washing remotely. Or cool the house down with AC before you arrive home. The 5 – 10 is the period after the labour market ends. Air Con is here to stay and to propose users manage their electricity is asking for too much. Unbeknowest to me is the fridges large energy surplus. It sucks up 20% of the energy produced. Plus during the peak period it is opened on average 5- 10 times to it demands more. Better technology is needed.
    3. The comment on cyber security is important but not that important. Wildlife and trees causes the majority of damage, then natural disasters, then people, then cyber threats. Cyber threats is likely to increase with greater reliance on server run facilities. But at this stage it is hyperbole.
    4. Future reliability. Our generators are old. Real old. They not only need to be replaced but non-renewable energy and a focus on energy storage is key. Odd that Finkel did not mention this. It only suggested to replace with more efficient generators – energy source not mentioned.
    5. Lower emissions, a very PC term to support the utilities attempts at transitioning. Lower emissions does not mean renewable energy. It seems pathetic to only state lower – not even by what margin – instead of stating that there needs to be little to no emmisions. We have the capacity to transition to renewables but the huge, old industries that invested in coal and gas don’t wont their profits to be cut off yet.
  4. The increase in solar panels and the mirco/nano grid. Places like Hawaii are covered with solar panels. There has been a clear ideological transition from democratic, to environmental, to economic appreciation of self-generated power. The once off-grid weirdo is now the high-life power generator. Before the development of the grid most energy production was onsite in elite estates or private corporations. It was not developed for the masses, it was not conceived as viable for the masses. Now it has come full circle, people are generating solar energy which assists the grid producing ‘negawatts’ which can be subsidized. In Australia 2008 14000 small-scale solar photovoltaic units, to 2017 there are almost 1.7 million units. This is not only important for future planning of the grid, but highlights the downturn of the grid. The grid is not as needed. Except when the sun doesn’t come out it is needed.
  5. The grid needs to be able to deliver energy 24/7 otherwise they will start to lose money. This is why fuel based energy like coal, gas and nuclear is sustainable and preferred because it provides a stable output of energy. Compared to solar or wind that can generate too much or not enough, both outcomes can render the grid inoperable. This is representative of South Australia energy debate that had wind energy criticised for its statewide blackouts. The problem is not the energy source,  the infrastructure has not been improved to meet the new demands i.e. battery storage. This is which Tesla is installing a large battery farm to support the surplus of energy production.
  6. Electricity has some cool properties. It is best conceptually thought of as sentient electrons that want to return to their polar opposite. Electrons are dispelled with energy from their bonds which causes them to surge towards the path of least resistance. Electricity does not escape our power outlets because air has a very high resistance. Metal is very low.
  7. Powerlines are made of different metals depending on the length and voltage of the line. The compacitors or resistors all have a analogue capacity to shut off power supply if it gets too high.
  8. There is no baseload. It is important to think of energy usage on a continuum. It is not uncommon for generators to be turned on to meet increasing demand during the day, and turned off at night.
  9. A difficult factor in improving our grid is the grid is made up of many different stakeholders who all want to earn a profit for their investors. This can lead to issues where renewable energy generators will not be turned off, even if the infrastructure transporting the energy can’t handle the load and requests it be switched off. Seconds of no power generation can quickly amount to large profit losses.
  10. The complexity of the grid is frustrating due to the seriousness of electricity. Access to electricity has become a right. It is crucial for many lifestyles. It’s urgency in providing clean power to all is similar to water – corporations are often the first barrier to access.
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