Increasing The Resolution Of The Electrical Grid

As a society in the USA and other parts of the world, we don’t give much thought to the twisting vines of civilization that entangle our skies and snake beneath our streets. The humming electrical lines on long poles that string our nations together are simply just there. Ever-present and immutable. We expect to flick the switch and power to come on. We only notice the electrical grid when something goes wrong and there is a seemingly myriad number of ways for things to go wrong. Lighting strikes, trees falling on lines, fires, or even too many people trying to crank on the A/C can all cause rolling blackouts. Or as we found out this month, cold weather can take down generation systems that have not been weatherized.

We often hear the electrical grid described as aging and strained. As we look to the future and at the ever-growing pressure on the infrastructure we take for granted, what does the future of the electrical grid look like? Can we move past blackouts and high voltage lines that criss-cross the country?

Our Current Grid

The power we use in our homes is generated by a complex and dynamic mechanism of peaker plants, distribution nodes, and high voltage lines. We’ve written a guide on how power gets to the outlets in your home as well as a guide trying to demystify the grid as a whole. But a quick recap never hurt anyone.

In our current grid, power starts from some sort of generation source. Usually, this is a large facility such as wind turbine time, a nuclear power plant, or a hydroelectric dam. The power output of the grid must match the load, so it is carefully monitored and controlled. At any one given time, different power sources will be connected to handle the demand, or in the case of Texas over the past week, parts of the grid are shut off so that demand falls to match a reduced capacity.

Some power plants are good at spinning up quickly to meet demand (known as peaker plants) while others are able to produce a steady stream of power. However, some power sources such a wind can’t be “started” if the wind simply isn’t blowing. This is something that large-scale storage efforts like the Hornsdale Power Reserve are seeking to address as they can store power to be used when needed, but grid-scale storage remains a rarity.

Power plants benefit from economies of scale and generate huge amounts of power in a localized area. The tricky part then is getting power to everyone who needs it. Transformers boost 10,000’s volts from the generators to 100,000’s of volts for long-distance transmission. Residential substations step back down to tens of thousands of volts and local transformers take this down to the standard 120/240 volts at a socket.

As cities have rapidly grown, they’ve patched and augmented the grid, with demand and population ballooning faster than construction or budgets allowed. Systems wear out and systems never designed to service that sort of load get expanded upon. It’s a difficult job and the wonderful humans that run and build our grid are working with limited resources.

“Smart” Grids

The future of electrical infrastructure is often declared to be smart grids, without much thought on what the phrase actually means. We’ve talked about how smart the grid really is before on Hackaday. Smart meters are already starting to be rolled out in certain areas, allowing for smarter load shedding and more accurate data. Grid-scale batteries and other storage systems are being installed to help smooth loads and reduce reliance on peaker plants. The industry currently doesn’t have any sort of standard to rally behind so most providers are just experimenting by adding to their existing infrastructure, much as we’ve always done. Adding a solar station here, a local large-scale battery there, and struggling to maintain the millions of miles of electrical lines.


As mentioned before, large-scale power plants have made sense by congregating all the power generation into one place, making it cost-effective to produce, manage, and distribute. However, over the last few decades, we’ve seen a relentless push down in cost due to technological advances and manufacturing scale. The price of solar and wind have plunged ever lower as efficiency has slowly crept up. Solar alone has dropped 70% in price over the last decade.

In fact, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) released a dataset in June 2020, suggesting that new solar and wind projects are undercutting the cheapest of existing coal-fired plants. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) in the US released a projected LCOE (levelized cost of energy, the price at which the produced electricity must be sold to break even) for 2025 for different power sources. In that data, solar, wind, and geothermal were the best performing in terms of dollars to megawatt-hours.

The EIA also noted that in the future, the share of power generated residentially will continue to grow. Already one-third of solar energy produced is from residential rooftops. So in a world of mini-powerplants scattered across rooftops, what does our grid look like? The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy within the Department of Energy (DOE) suggests that a new model might be the way forward. Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and microgrids can come together to form something new. Microgrids can be thought of as a way to further increase the grid size by creating smaller resilient grids within the larger macro grid.

Imagine your neighborhood as a microgrid. Right now, if there was a blackout everyone’s power would be out except for those with a backup generator, solar panels, or some other power solution. With a microgrid, your neighborhood can reconfigure itself and so that any generators or battery packs can power the neighborhood. Even when the macro grid is up and running, your microgrid can lend its power to help smooth power peaks. There’s even the potential of microgrids working together.

The idea seeks to shed the days of massive rolling blackouts when communities can be self-sufficient. By distributing the sources of power across an area rather than congregating them in small clusters, the number of long-distance high-voltage lines could potentially be reduced. Long-distance lines are estimated to cost around $1000 per mega-watt kilometer, so reducing the distance between generation and utilization would lead to significant cost savings for consumers and producers.

Of course, this interconnectivity and two-way coupling between the macro grid and the microgrids creates thousands of new states and edge cases. To help manage a system like this, IEEE has a working proposal for a control scheme for microgrids. While it does take more control out of the hands of large-scale electrical companies and more into the network itself, it provides important features such as prediction and coordination.


Storage and the intermittent nature are the persistent thorns in the sides of solar and wind power. The sun only shines for part of the day and the wind doesn’t always blow. Traditionally, we simply fire up a peaker plant to match the load as needed. With intermittent power, it needs to be stored and load-shedding algorithms and plans need to be in place.

Despite the up-front costs, storing power offers some unique advantages. Battery banks such as the Hornsdale Power Reserve are quite profitable since they can spin up faster than any gas-powered generator (generally around ten minutes for the gas and nearly instantly for the battery). This allows them to command a premium on the Frequency Control Auxiliary Services (FCAS) market compared to traditional peaker plants.

In addition, power storage can help with “black start” processes, which is the initial kick of power required to start up baseline power plants after an extended blackout. Currently, this is a carefully controlled process of gradually starting larger generators while matching load. Providers have been experimenting with adding storage systems to local areas. While scaling to megawatt scales still presents a challenge, there have been experiments with compressed air, gravity storage, flow batteries, hydro-pumped reservoirs, and dozens of other ideas. Some even suggest using excess power on sunny or windy days to synthesize hydrogen or natural gas, which can be used as storage.

DIY 20 kWh power wall built from 18650 cells by [HBPOwerwall]
So far the trend for microgrids is positive. Every year, a great percentage of solar installs include storage systems instead of just pure solar. By and large, the most common storage solution for residential has been batteries. We’ve written up about adding batteries in a modular way to your home. New battery technologies are on the horizon but for now, most other methods of storing power just don’t make sense in a residential setting. A fun challenge to do with fellow engineers or co-workers is to try and design a power storage system that can be built into a house that doesn’t use batteries while still storing enough power for most of a day (10kWh for example).

As more and more homes and local areas have redundant storage, the microgrid becomes more self-sufficient and capable of withstanding peaks or troughs.

What’s Next

For now, the DoE has determined microgrids are a key part of infrastructure in the common decades. Research programs are ongoing across Europe, Japan, Korea, and Canada. In fact, the Office of Electricity keeps a page of the current microgrid projects here in the USA. While there is still quite a bit to flesh out and standardize, the future does look brighter. We can expect more reliable power with fewer blackouts. Despite all the investments and shifts in grid planning that will come over the next decades, not much will change for the average consumer (which is a good thing). The lights will come on, the fridge will stay cold, and the A/C will blow. Which is perhaps the greatest testament to the incredible system we’ve all built and all rely on.

68 thoughts on “Increasing The Resolution Of The Electrical Grid

  1. Hopefully we’ll see a market glut of the current generation of Lithium batteries when solid state Lithium batteries and Lithium-sulfur batteries start being produced. If not, I’m hoping batteries that can be made cheaply make it to market or that the patent for the salt-water batteries expires and gets mass produced.

    Lots of possible futures but they all point to being much cheaper to go off-grid.

    1. What do batteries do for a couple weeks of sub-freezing weather with ice and snow storms that load up your windmill and cover your solar panels? Serious question. Personally, a wood stove and oil lamps will get me through. Maybe a Sterling engine that sits on the stove for charging the Eneloops and Kindle and the Starlink.

      1. Same problem as with lead-acids.
        Reduce charge/discharge capacity, but if there’s a possibility of excess power while the batteries are freezing, then they should be designed with a heating system to keep them warm enough to maintain ideal operating temperature.
        Same with cooling them so they don’t essentially boil and die prematurely.
        Battery banks are sadly not set-and-forget, they need some degree of monitoring.

        Buuut Texas didn’t weatherize their grid and systems, so maybe this’ll be a lesson to not eat up the climate change deniers spiel raw.

        1. Re: climate change

          Ah, but, you’re forgetting: climate change had nothing to do with this. It was a government weather modification conspiracy…. If less than reputable/knowledgeable twitter posts are to be believed.

      2. For starters if you have batteries in cold you have it done wrong. Sure you haven’t done that and know that. The good thing is that the sun comes up every day even though it may be cloudy, it comes up. Wind power is a logical means if you have resource levels high enough to be practical. Even on a cloudy day solar will produce power, much less than you would like but it’s not a perfect world in any sense. The goal is to produce enough to supply a high % of needed power and if possible, more than average to offset peak. Net zero. If you can make more than average and store for times when issues come around you are doing it right. Those little Lipo batteries are awesome. They can store massive amounts of power and take up a very minimum amount of space and power walls are KOOL. No floor space wasted on them. And they deal with cold much better than Lead Acids.

        1. Even Lipo batteries aren’t very good for bulk energy storage.
          Even if you get a terrific deal on them, say $300/kWh, they’re only good for 300 full cycles or so, or $1/kWh.

          You can baby them and run them only between 30-80% state of charge, and eke maybe 1000 cycles out of them. Yipee, it’s only $0.60/kWh.

          Not awesome at all.

          For comparison, the Tesla Powerwall specs come out to $0.17/kWh. Which at ~3000 cycles still seems aspirational, even for its 21700 cells.

          1. A Watt of solar power produces about a kilowatt-hour per year in the average location. It goes between 0.5-1.5 kWh/a depending on your latitude from Alaska to California.

            If a Watt of solar power installed costs $1.50 and it runs for 30 years, your power price is going to be 5 c/kWh which is approximately the wholesale price of electricity on the grid before you add transmission fees and taxes. In comparison, the cheapest gas power goes from 2-4 cents but the peaking plants and load following makes it more expensive (thanks to solar power). Add 5 cents to 17 through your battery and you get 23 cents per kWh stored, minus efficiency losses – let’s say 20% off – which makes it 28.8 c/kWh.

            Now the issue with solar power is the peak-to-average production ratio which is very high, between 8:1 to 10:1 which means for an installation that meets the energy demands of a house, the power output will regularly exceed the house demand by a large margin and most of the energy has to be captured for later use.

            Without any sort of subsidies, the power companies would only pay you the going market rate, which will become less than 5 cents when all the solar panels are producing at the same time (see “duck curve”). You couldn’t make any profit selling it, and you largely can’t use it for yourself because of the high peak ratio, yet storing it in batteries would cost you way more than what you can buy from the grid at retail prices.

            This is why net metering is a thing: it’s a virtual battery that costs “nothing” because the cost of dealing with the load variation is spread among all electricity users while the benefits go to those rich enough to own homes and install solar panels. Yet it solves nothing – it just enables companies to sell you imported solar panels.

          2. When you think about it from the power co. side, net metering is a huge loss. They have to give you power that costs them 4-6 cents a kWh plus transmission, and they gain back electricity which is nowadays worth 2-3 cents according to the PPA prices from industrial solar producers.

            So who pays the difference? Other utility customers of course.

            The PPA is the agreed bulk rate that the utility pays the solar producer, who in turn is subsidized by the state and the federal government for the remainder. They’re selling way under what it really costs to produce because otherwise nobody would take the power.

            The whole renewable system is a house of cards that is supported by one thing only: subsidies. Ironically then, the subsidy structure is competing with electric energy storage solutions because it is designed to do away with the requirement to store energy – hide the problem.

            The technical need still exists, but the economics and the incentive to develop energy storage are not there until the subsidies go away. Meanwhile, as long as there are no economical ways to store renewable energy, the system must be kept up by subsidies. The planners and social engineers really painted themselves in the corner with this one.

        2. >Even on a cloudy day solar will produce power

          Overcast solar makes about 0.1% of what it would in direct sunlight, and the passing of clouds over areas of solar panels produces annoying power fluctuations because the load on the grid is constantly shifting from branch to branch and substation to substation on a minute time span.

          1. I can tell you what the weather was like on each day by reviewing my solar panel output for each day (I have 4 x 300 watt panels installed just for “fun”).

            Just this week there was a 6x difference between the best and worst days.
            So yeah,

            I made power on Feb 26. But it was a whole 1/2 KWh.

      3. Well, I wasn’t clear. I am asking what good are batteries if your charging system doesn’t work for a couple weeks. And the extent of grid failure and this winterizing thing will take quite a while to work out. I was talking to someone in Cisco last week (between Ft. Worth and Abilene) with no power failures or water or fuel problems at all and it was still about 6 deg F. Interwebs info takes a couple weeks to settle down after the click-farming news sources loose interest. Then maybe a year or two of analysis will turn up something worth reading.

  2. I totally agree that 100% of the solutions are available today. We need grids that are tolerant to weather. We just need to make this a national priority. Microgrids, “smart” power utility transformers, underground utility or CAT 5 storm tolerant overhead unility power.

  3. ” A fun challenge to do with fellow engineers or co-workers is to try and design a power storage system that can be built into a house that doesn’t use batteries while still storing enough power for most of a day (10kWh for example).”

    When I retire to a country pile, or a couple of bush acres and a trailer or something. I want to try getting a pit wheel from a mine, ballasting it with concrete, mounting it horizontal, running it as a flywheel with Faraday motor/dynamo input and output. Would have “serious” wind and solar capacity (i.e. capable of full household kW requirement on each) but also might stick a Savonius rotor or eggbeater type with a direct drive CVT on top of it, for light breeze friction compensation. That would probably be supplemented by a “low density, high weight but who cares” array of nickel-iron batteries made out of rubber maid totes. Additionally, I’d be looking to screw around with some kind of syn-fuel liquid or gaseous, that can capture carbon, and run in some kind of genny or radiant heater in the dark of winter.

          1. Right, so instead of having a constant 300N of lopsided force on the bearing, I get a constant force equal to around the weight pushing down on one side of it and up the other.

      1. Mount it vertically with the axis pointing North, that will reduce the enormous strain (and friction) on your bearings due to sweeping the angular momentum around as the Earth turns.

        (Meaning: the wheel is at rt angles to the surface, as a car wheel, with the axis pointing North.)

          1. If I understand the situation, the ecliptic is the path the Earth takes around the sun, and North is angled about 23 degrees from the ecliptic. The angle of North is the same around the Earth’s orbit, so that wouldn’t affect the wheel (the angle is towards the sun on one side, and away from the sun on the other side, but it’s still the same angle to the celestial fixed stars, which is where the wheel axis will point).

            Torque on a spinning disk = (moment-of-inertia) * (disk-angular-velocity) * (angular-velocity-of-axis).

            Moment of inertia of a disk is 1/2*M*(R**2), disk angular velocity is 1000*2*PI (radians/sec), and Earth rotation is 1 radian/24 Hrs = 1/86400 radians/sec

            Torque = (.072)*1/2*M*(R**2) continuously.

            For a 2000kg pit wheel of 4m diameter (2m radius) that’s… about 300 N*M of torque.

            I may have dropped a digit or messed up some of the calculations, and I have no Earthly idea how big or massive a pit wheel is (just guessed from images online). You should redo my calculations with more attention to detail.

            …but 300 N*M of torque against a moment arm of half a meter (half the length of the wheel axis) is about 150 lbs of force against both bearings. One bearing will have an extra 150 lbs of force pushing upward, the other will have 150 lbs of extra force pushing downwards. Or the 4 m disk itself will behave as if 150 Newtons of force push down on one side, and up when that side has rotated around by half.

            I don’t know, would that much oscillating force generate wobble in the disk?

    1. Only part of the solution, but thermal storage takes care of HVAC and hot water. Unlike batteries, it has no inherent limit on number of cycles and can be left at any “state of charge” for an unlimited time with no impact on lifespan. All that for a few orders of magnitude cheaper than any battery technology.

      1. What is the current best ‘bang per buck’ for thermal storage?
        We have a propane-fired hydronic heating system, planning to add an electric heat pump and rooftop solar. Thermal storage might be a great addition.

  4. I was thinking about solar but most (cheap secondhand) PV inverters need a 50Hz supply present to sync to.
    This makes microgrids a bit of a pain, maybe.

    So I was thinking to have a UPS and a fast cut-over switch, so the grid is cut off when it fails, and the UPS “runs” the solar inverter. It’s a selfish personal microgrid (nanogrid, maybe?)

    1. You could do that or you could do what I’m doing and get something already setup for that. I’m using the Schneider XW6848 for my system. The Outback Radian series can also do the same thing. They are what’s called hybrid grid tie. Basically, the inverter has a built in transfer switch and will run in off grid mode if there is no grid. But if there is a grid, it will do grid tie. In fact, the XW pro series even has features to help try to stabilize the grid.

  5. Our local power provider has been steadily raising the energy delivery charge, but lowing the price for kWh.

    This has no net effect on consumers, however it does significantly hurt people with grid tie solar arrays trying to sell excess power to the grid.

    Thus, my plan:
    (Solar array) — > (EV battery storage) –> (inverter to power the house)

    (EV battery storage) is a combination house battery (made with used EV batteries) and the battery in my electric truck.

    In the event that the house battery and/or EV battery is depleted, then power can be drawn from the grid to supply the load.

    Also, could take the truck and charge it up and bring home energy to power the house. ;D

    1. An interesting exercise is to calculate how much such a strategy actually costs. When I did it for my house (admittedly a few years ago — costs have changed since), total all-in battery cost (including wear-out) was about $0.50/kWh, and the remaining capital and maintenance costs added another $0.50. The “free” electricity I produced myself would therefore cost me $1/kWh just to displace part of the grid draw, and that’s not even counting the space it takes up. Sure, it’s also backup power, but that’s a different consideration.

      When grid power (at the time) was $0.20/kWh, it didn’t make any sense at all to do it.

      Now that grid power is a bit north of $0.30/kWh here, and solar costs have come down, it might be almost worth it.

      A nice feature of a strategy like that, though, is that it is pretty much infinitely scalable: you can start with a single panel and a puny battery and grow it as needed.

  6. IRENA can publish all the numbers it wants, but we still know they’re not including the real costs of renewables: storage and/or peak capacity generation, and it’s highly unlikely they’re being completely honest about maintenance (see: offshore power). All energy systems should be assessed on the amount of *continuous* power they can provide year round, and account for maintenance.

    Re: microgrids, same deal. You want to set up something that provides random intermittent power? Fine, doesn’t go on the grid. You want to handle smoothing it out to provide a fairly consistent power? Welcome. A smart grid does have the ability to connect power generators with power storage, but the economics need to be sorted out. We have huge incentives for renewable installation, and many localities force utilities to buy the power back regardless of their needs. Countries should spend at LEAST as much money (if not more, to balance things out) incentivizing power storage if they want to push renewables.

    Currently utilities are getting hammered because they are forced to bear the brunt of smoothing capacity. And your dinky battery for your home solar doesn’t count if it’s running dry when there’s no sun/wind/whatever. If energy buy back was priced accordingly, and there were enough power storage facilities, it’s possible economics could sort this out – but I think you’ll have a hard time justifying a power bank that gets you through winter compared to the cost of running a thermal generator.

    1. “You want to set up something that provides random intermittent power? Fine, doesn’t go on the grid. You want to handle smoothing it out to provide a fairly consistent power? Welcome.”

      What is wrong with the first alternative if we also have the second?

    2. A $500 generator will power my house for 2 weeks with intermittent power to maintain my fridge and living temperature. I have to keep 10gal of fuel on hand, magically I don’t have to worry about power outages. The same systems in solar/wind $15,000+ dollars, and if it’s not windy or sunny for a few days I’m out of luck. Sure you could figure a cheaper way, but you’re just trading maintenance time for money.

    3. The LCoE still under-estimates the cost of power because it fails to account for the subsidy structure that applies to the investment.

      In other words, since renewables are heavily subsidized with fixed prices, preferred access to the grid, curtailment compensations, investment tax credits, production tax credits, net metering… etc. they are less risky to invest in than conventional power. This shows up as lower up-front and capital costs and faster payback times. This is an artificial situation that is sustained as long as the costs are socialized and the profits stay private.

  7. The other benefit of centralized power generation is pollution control from fossil fuel plants. Having been a kid in London in the 1960s the yellow fogs were no joke, and that’s mostly gone with centralized electrics and “electric fires” rather than hundreds of thousands of small coal-burning fireplaces in houses with the smoke trapped in inversion layers.

    This highlights one of the hazards of decentralizing power generation – this is done in some countries by turning off the grid, at which point everyone fires up their personal generator with predictably smoggy results, though they can proudly claim to be “off the grid” if they like.

    The other hazard is regulatory shenanigans – as we’ve seen in Texas (and are seeing everywhere else in the US) electric companies are now energy transmission companies, acting as a profitable middleman between aging powerplants and consumers, skimming a bit from homeowner solar, and sharing handsomely with regulators. In my current location, “smart grids” are a thing…provided you give the power company permission to turn your power off remotely for the better part of a day to avoid brownouts. Given that the temperatures here range between -25°F to +110°F in a year, the results of that could be lethal.

    So there are myriad intriguing technical challenges to be overcome, but I think that as we’ve seen everywhere from ENRON to ERCOT to “clean coal” the eternal problem is less about electricity and more to do with elections. Good luck finding an app for that.

      1. In some areas there is a separate circuit going to each house for less critical purposes. It is generally hooked up to things like the furnace and the hot water heater (tanked variety) since neither is going to go cold immediately. Power on that circuit is sold cheaper but it may be switched off a few minutes here, a few minutes there allowing the electric company to reduce demand without taking anyone all the way off.

        I don’t think that kind of system is going to do enough to prevent a problem like in Texas. Obviously if they had to switch it off for days at a time during a cold spell people are going to have a problem. But it can make regular day to day variance easier to control.

        1. You don’t need a second circuit. Before smart meters became a thing, they used to send a signal down the power lines using the AC as the carrier, that would signal to customers that the electricity rates just changed for the night and they can turn on heaters and boilers etc. These loads would then switch on automatically if needed.

          Every night at 10pm you could hear the relays going *clunk*. Now the system has been outsourced to cellular operators who can charge the price of a mobile line for each meter, which the power company then charges out of the actual customer.

      2. We need to focus more on turning things *on* if doing so reduces use later. Water heaters and dedicated freezers are two examples of things that can basically be “cranked up” in the background with most users not even noticing.

  8. “With a microgrid, your neighborhood can reconfigure itself and so that any generators or battery packs can power the neighborhood. ”

    Nope. Who has a generator big enough to power their whole neighborhood? How long would your typical power wall last doing that?

    Sorry, I want my generator to keep the sump pumps in the basement running, the furnace fan spinning and maybe, if there is fuel available the refrigerator too. Split that energy among all my neighbors and it won’t really do anyone any good. I doubt it would even turn the lightbulbs on dimmly. But it would keep my generator going full-blast till it runs out of fuel or burns itself out.

    I don’t even care if it means the meter is running backwards, it isn’t going to be worth it to me to let my house flood.

    Maybe if 2/3 or more houses had their own power generating capability and they were evenly spread out it might work. But that seems like a long way off.

    1. In some neighborhoods, whole-house back-up generators are common. A typical size is 22 kW, to support starting air conditioner compressors. Efficiency is quite low at low loads. Average household consumption may be 2 to 3 kW on a monthly basis, even in summer. A rotating sharing arrangement of such generators could make a lot of sense during utility power outages.

  9. I would LOVE to install solar panels on my house. I’m still waiting for the biggest obstacle to be overcome. And no, it’s not technical in fact it’s a completely artificial product of how our society is structured.


    Yeah, sure, all those “I void warranties” t-shirts are cute but one’s house is in an entirely different league than some small electronic gadget. My own shingles have a lifetime warranty on them. Do you have any idea what it costs to replace a roof? Unfortunately I do! I could buy a lot of electricity for that money and power my home for a very long time! As I hear about more people installing solar panels I get a little sad and a little jealous but there is no way I’m even looking at those tiles with a tool in my hand. I already paid once for a new roof and that is once too much!

    And yes, I have helped install shingles before. There is money to be saved in doing it yourself but my own roof is way too steep of a slope for that. It’s a job for a professional.

    1. “There is money to be saved in doing it yourself but my own roof is way too steep of a slope for that.”

      Do not mount photovoltaics on a steep roof or anywhere else where they are not easy to access. The panels have to be kept clean for maximum efficiency.

  10. The price of solar and wind have plunged ever lower as efficiency has slowly crept up. Solar alone has dropped 70% in price over the last decade.

    Is that costs going down, or rebates going up?

  11. You can drive cost as low 0.15$ for PV some even claim their DIY solution as low as 0.10-07$ include maintenance but on other hands we have (CS) concentrated solar which in cheapest iteration just double wall vacuum tube with copper tube inside + old conditioner/linear industrial pomp which can be found for cheap or even free, and you can use your boiler as thermal battery(with additional layers of thermal insulator), so your primary goal is heat CS probably for you, but you can as well make pretty efficient small LT Stirling engine, unfortunate low power(<100kW) industrial Stirling engine are rare and most of them anyway used in Stirling dishes.

  12. Sharing power from a generator with one’s neighborhood only makes sense if the generator is getting fuel from plumbed in natural gas, and thus unable to run out. Not that utility gas is infinite, but as long as your neighborhood power outage is not from frozen wells/pumps/refineries, or from earthquakes, your underground pipes should good.

    While I can understand a generator running out of fuel, why would it “burn itself out”?

    1. There’s a level of power draw that a generator can handle at a 100% duty cycle. Some are also made to be able to exceed that for varying amounts of time. A generator able to go over its 100% duty level but without an automatic system to cut back to the 100% level when it gets too hot will end up overheating its windings, if it’s overdrawn to a level that’s not enough to trip its circuit breaker or thermal cutoff or other protection.

      Even if only run at the 100% duty level, that’s pretty hard on a generator, unless that 100% is a very conservative rating.

      1. There’s no clear cut-off what the generator can handle. Typically an engine is designed to run X hours at Y load, and when you increase the load, all the parts are pushed harder and they wear out faster. It’s a non-linear relationship, and depending on how well the engine has been “optimized”, it can operate for 5,000 hours, 500 hours, or just 50 hours when you crank it to the max.

  13. “Already one-third of solar energy produced is from residential rooftops”

    Great. But what percentage of demand/consumption does that represent?

    The last I saw in the CIA worldbook, the figure for the US was along the lines of 11Twh/day

        1. Try again. Your arithmetic is off. Missed the Wh/kWh part?
          11 TWh / d= 1.1e16 Wh / 24 h = 4.6e14 W
          over 3.3e8 people = 1.4e6 W per person.

          Looking it up, the 11 TWh is the total energy (electricity plus fossil, etc.) use in the USA, ANNUALLY, not daily. Or 3.8 kW/person.

          Coincidentally, the average per capita electricity use actually IS about 1.4 kW.

          1. No, I’m quite sure I got it right. Let’s check.

            11 kWh x 1000 = 11 MWh
            11 MWh x 1000 = 11 GWh
            11 GWh x 1000 = 11 TWh

            11 TWh = 11 000 000 000 kWh

            Now divide by 330 000 000 people. Take the zeroes out and you’re left with 1100 / 33 = 33.333… kWh per day.

            33.333… kWh / 24 h = 1.38 kW

            Your mistake was in conversion to Watt-hours. It’s 1.1e13 instead of 1.1e16. Tera is 10^12.

    1. Which answers the question, how much would it cost to have a 1-day backup battery for everyone in the US.

      At $150 per kWh you would pay $1.65 trillion dollars or 38% of the entire US federal budget, or about 7-8% of the entire US GDP.

      1. If we use current Li-ion price which is $100 per kWh and overage electric consumption which is 4kWh per mouth per person you can have monthly backup for (400 x 330 000 000 = 132 000 000 000) $132 billion or roughly 18% of USDOD budget or roughly x6 NASA budgets.

  14. Hornsdale is a glorified UPS device with only minutes of power capacity, at best it allows the operators to game the energy market in realtime and drive up costs for everyone else. A real battery for the grid would need to be an enormous flow battery with many gigaliters of capacity. Something like the vanadium flow battery (VFB) in Yadlamalka, South Australia, but much larger again. Ideally one that uses less exotic materials such as iron.

  15. Distributed power generation and microgridding is the next step in power generation and consumption, I agree. Power production coming from renewables at scale, is a joke. I don’t remember the exact number, but so called renewables account for much less than 10% of the US supply if my memory serves. That simply will never scale to a sustainable level towards national power requirements, and is ironically more pollutant to the environment than even coal production. Solar panels in particular require extensive rare earth metals for production, have a comparatively short life span compared to conventional and nuclear plants, and require extensive battery storage which also requires huge amounts of rare earth metals-which are overwhelmingly supplied by China and third world countries strip mining with no regard for pollution. Furthermore, solar panel farms are prohibitively square footage expensive-I would wager there simply isn’t enough square footage in the US to accommodate sufficient power generation. And let’s not forget as a recent HAD article mentioned, there’s not enough lithium in the world to supply the US an all EV fleet for consumers, let alone solar panels and energy storage in parallel to that. Additionally, when I was stationed in Hawaii which has one of the highest concentrations of solar panels, I saw first hand that this created huge levels of stress on the system causing routine brownouts/etc while reducing the number of paying customers dramatically. This resulted in extremely expensive power for the people too poor to afford solar panels on their residence. Something to think about.

    In short, the only power source capable of providing regional constant on demand power at scale while being the least pollutant source of energy is nuclear reactors. The army has already developed tactical sized nuclear plants that can fit in two tractor trailors (reactor + cooling); proliferating minature nuclear reactors is the only currently feasible way to maintain power at scale while offering the resilience of localized gridding and simultaneously drastically reducing pollutant emissions.

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