Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Decentralized Energy Economy

In a recent post (A Different Perspective on the Hydrogen Economy) I left off stating that I believed we would need to move toward a more decentralized energy economy in order to survive peak oil. In this post I will take an in depth look at the current state of development in this area and describe the kinds of changes I think will occur in order for this evolution to transpire. This development is a very important piece of the puzzle for understanding what I see as a near future economic infrastructure paradigm shift. This paradigm shift will be a quantum leap in energy efficiency and will fuel our exponentially accelerating technological future.

The final goal of a decentralized energy economy is to have every household producing their own energy using free and renewable resources e.g. solar and wind. This includes home electricity, heat, and vehicle fuel. At the present time this may seem to many to be an incredible and unrealistic goal. The reason, however, why this may seem so incredible is because our current energy economy is wildly inefficient. So to begin with let's take a look at what is causing our energy economy to be so inefficient and what sort of technologies can and are remedying this.

One enormously inefficient practice simply comes from transmitting electricity across the power grid to homes. This is very inefficient for a number of reasons. First the electricity has to be sent as AC because DC cannot be transmitted over long distances. DC appliances are far more efficient than AC appliances yet we all have AC appliances because that is what comes out of the socket. So to start just by making power at home you need less because you can buy DC appliances and don't have to pay a company for their inefficiency

The two greatest energy costs for a home are lighting and heating. Most of you are probably aware of the breakthroughs in LED lighting. This article states that if everyone in the country were to replace just one standard 60w bulb it would save enough energy to shut down the largest power-plant in the country. Reforming heating efficiency is a bit more difficult. This requires first that people invest in better and more efficient insulation. But the real breakthroughs will come through new and improved architecture involving passive solar heating and high-tech materials for insulation and thermal mass (another example). There are many people all over the world who are currently living a modern lifestyle with all amenities and conveniences yet pay no energy bill. Check out this blog on Unplugged Living. It may be too expensive for many Americans to attain this state of independence now but what about ten years from now?

Part of the high cost of achieving an 'unplugged status' comes from the cost of and relative efficiency of the apparatus for home power generation. This, however is changing rapidly. Every year windmill generators and photovoltaic cells get more efficient and less expensive. Here are two recent advances: this post from The Energy Blog, and this post from World Changing. Also see this.

So if you combine the efficiency of not having to transmit power with modern ultra efficient appliances and lighting with with innovative building techniques that incorporate materials technology and passive solar; and you combine that with rapidly advancing technology for efficiently producing electricity at home then you may begin to see that home power generation is not so impractical after all.

Now add to that electric vehicles powered by Li-ion batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, and supercapcitors. By 2015 these kinds of vehicles will be so efficient because of advances in nanotech that users will be able to charge their vehicles at home using the same home power generation. See this article on Mitsubishi's EV which is on target to come to market in 2008, and this article on GM's EV scheduled for 2010.

As you can see I'm not exactly worried about peak oil. In fact I think that a nice steady climb in oil prices is just what our economy needs to prod it out of its dogmatic slumber.

UPDATE: This is a very good post on a related matter


Energy independence through decentralization has interested me for years now. I agree that the possibilities are expanding for self sufficiency in energy for a lot of people, especially people with a little tech savvy. Thanks for the links.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2/11/05 19:01  

Going to battery electric power in the home and yard machines almost eliminates the range and recharge limitations suffered by highway vehicles. So electric tractors have advantage over such road vehicles.
A website of my invention (a modular assembly kit for a multi mode implement carrier) describes electric in-wheel motor drive and I wouuld appreciate consideration and comment from your group of technocrats to my Email address there. (Not too handy with blogs).

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