Can Nanogrids Deliver on the Promise of a "Wise" Instead of Smart Grid?
The U.S. set a record in 2013 for billion dollar disasters, according to Annual Global Climate and Catastrophe Report. Yet the $41 billion in economic losses paled if compared against 2012, since there was a lack of mega disasters in 2013 on the scale of Hurricane Sandy ($65 billion in damage) o the drought of 2012 ($30 billion in damage.)
In terms of smart energy, these disasters, and related power outages and need for emergency energy services, are fueling interest in microgrids, not only in the U.S., but in the developing world. Yet, what if these microgrids, so dependent upon smart inverters, were to accelerate the creation of a new form of “dirty electricity,” pulsing electromagnetic fields that could grow even more intense as power sources and control technologies increase radio frequencies (RF)?
Such concerns led to an event at the prestigious Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on January 28th, which attempted to articulate the different between a “wise” and a “smart” grid. Among the speakers was Dr. Timothy Schoechle, author of a recent paper entitled Getting Smarter about the Smart Grid and a guest of a recent radio show I was a part of on KWMR.
The gist of the criticism of the classic smart grid focused on utility deployments of smart meters was that these meters often rely on wireless communications that are, according to some scientists, jeopardizing the health of growing numbers of citizens that have no choice in the matter. RF is everywhere, and smart meters are just increasing the density of RF that has not been subjected to sufficient scientific scrutiny, these critics argue. These same meters, according to these critics, have not delivered economic benefits to most consumers rather than enhance, compromise energy security.
Ironically enough, during the same week the World Bank hosted a webinar on the topic of rural electrification that extolled the virtue of wireless telecommunications as a driver of economic livelihood for those living at the Bottom of the Pyramid. As pointed out in a previous blog of mine, among the chief drivers for providing more affordable electricity to the poor in the developing world is wireless cell phone technology. In many places in Africa, Latin America and Asia, citizens are more likely to have a cell phone before they can enjoy electricity service. Since banks will lend money to large multinationals installing cell phone towers in the middle of nowhere, small local entrepreneurs can then piggy-back on these investments, and expand electricity service.
In a sense, this approach is working, and is, more often than not, delivering Direct Current (DC), which Dr. Schoechle claims is the cleanest form of electricity from an electromagnetic point of view. In fact, he argues that the best way to deliver what many consider to be the lifeblood of modern civilization is through DC “nanogrids,” this latter technology platform being the subject of my next report for Navigant Research.