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A Fully Distributed Power Grid? 389

rleyton writes "There's an interesting and topical black-out article on an "internet inspired" hydrogen powered energy network. The premise is homes, cars, factories and offices store up hydrogen when energy is available, and supply it into the new energy network when it's not. Certainly an intriguing idea, with some interesting comments on future power management. Feasible in the next "three decades"? Perhaps."
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A Fully Distributed Power Grid?

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  • by LiftOp ( 637065 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:15PM (#6736087) Homepage
    Oh, the humanity...!
    • Geez Louise (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Atario ( 673917 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:29PM (#6736257) Homepage
      Ah, yes, the old Hindenburg chestnut. Are we cursed forever to avoid using the single most commmon element in the universe, one that will burn clean, simply because someone burned a balloon with it once decades ago?

      As for the distributed side of this argument, I've thought it was a good idea for years. Whether or not we do it with hydrogen, we need to do it. Imagine a Beowulf cluster of...wait, let me start that again. Imagine every house's roof covered not with wood shake, or spanish tile, or what-have-you, but with photovoltaic cells. Now imagine that people's cars run on domestically-produced hydrogen. And when I say "domestic", I mean "in the household". Produced by electrolysis, in your own house, using electricity from your (and your neighbors', and everyone else's on the grid) rooftop photovoltaics plus water from your tap. Storage plants run electrolysis too, storing hydrogen for nighttime, when they burn it again and send the power back out again.

      Now compare that to our current state of affairs: the vast majority of our electricity coming from coal or gas, much of it imported; our cars running on gasoline, almost all of it imported.

      Now try and tell me it doesn't make sense to switch.
      • Re:Geez Louise (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dnoyeb ( 547705 )
        Totally agree. Anything is better than suffering the wasted wattage lost in the lines today. If everyone generated his own power, we would save billions!. This of course presumes efficient generation. I dont think todays consumer level equipment is near the efficiency of the big generators.

        Anyway, I will be using solar energy in my next house. Though its not that big in Michigan.
      • Re:Geez Louise (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rinikusu ( 28164 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:01PM (#6736613)
        How much would said "photovoltaic" cells cost, and how durable are they? Can they withstand high winds, impact from softball-sized hail, treelimbs, leaves, etc? What's the maintainence on them like? I live in an area where we get hail, high winds (even tornadoes), ice storms in the winter, etc. How well will these work in those conditions? And when they (and everything does eventually) break, how easily can you replace them? At what expense? As it stands now, with "typical" shingles, they last a long time, take quite a bit of abuse, and if they get blown off in a windstorm, well, you're looking at what, $30-40 to replace them? With labor?

        I'm not saying it can't be done, nor that it shouldn't be done, and I have no idea what the state of of "solar power" is these days, but those were concerns in the 90's and they may still be concerns today. Of course, if someone would pour 1% of the total energy revenues into Solar energy, I'm sure research would accelerate. :)
        • Re:Geez Louise (Score:4, Informative)

          by WOV ( 652967 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:15PM (#6736745)

          Approximately $2.85 / watt in bulk; $7 - $10 /watt installed with power electronics, etc.

          Yes, actually, they are tested with an ice launcher at NIST and other standards-testing labs; we're talking tempered architectural glass frames, generally speaking. I have seen people waste some time hitting PowerLight modules with an aluminum baseball bat to no discernible effect. The skylight-type panels mounted to the roof in a fairly nontrivial manner, using standard hardware. The shingles (From Uni-Solar []) come off as often as normal shingles do;

          Maintenance: wiping down the panels if they get pollen or dust covered, possibly replacing the inverter every ca. 10 years.

          Replacement: you should have a licensed installer do it, and again, replacement costs as above, though overall system costs have been declining by about 5% compounding annually for quite a while, and that may be accelerating shortly.

          • Re:Geez Louise (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 )
            One concern I've seen with Photovoltiacs is that they require as much energy to make one as it would produce in its lifetime.

            Has this changed?
            • Re:Geez Louise (Score:4, Informative)

              by WOV ( 652967 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @05:14PM (#6737596)

              Grrr...the other persistent canard. = ) As of 1999, it was down to something like 4 years, in an exceedingly conservative and comprehensive calculation:


              And the panels themselves are usually output-waranteed out past 20 years (30 years being a safe bet lifetime for most.) Though I suspect that since we're seeing steadily more automation in the newer plants (and less silicon per watt, and better per-square-meter efficiencies, that this has even gotten better recently.

              Photon International [] goes over these issues in some detail...

          • Re:Geez Louise (Score:4, Informative)

            by imaginate ( 305769 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @05:08PM (#6737478)
            As someone who works at PowerLight, I'm not sure that I'd *want* to hit one of our panels with a baseball bat- but I'm impressed if you've really seen one stand up to a dedicated whack like that.

            In the end, though, you're right - the point remains that the newer modules will stand up to at least as much as most roofs, and, in the case of PowerGuard will often protect the roof, allowing for *less* maintainance of the roofing system rather than more. Solar installations must be tested at extremely high wind speeds (think 150mph+), which varies depending upon their placement (area of the country, height, etc.), so if a tornado takes them off, chances are a substantial portion of the building will go with them.

            People may be thinking of the old thin-film panels (like the ones in a calculator), which, because they weren't tempered, would break after getting sneezed on. As you say, the newer panels are very hardy, and Unisolar (because it doesn't have glass that can shatter) are incredibly durable, if relatively inefficient.

            And yep, you're certainly right about the costs dropping - one of the coolest things about investing in solar is that you're not only paying a reasonably competitive rate (depending upon your power rates), you're helping to bring the volume up, which will quickly get the cost down to levels that will cause mass adoption.
        • Has come a long way...

          "1 solar electric module []: UNBREAKABLE EFFICIENT SHADOW PROTECTED AND LOW COST UL and CUL listed, NEW 20 year warranty."

          Just imagine if a fraction of Uncle Sam's money that's being spent on hydrogen power research was used as incentives to builders and homeowners to use these shingles.
        • Re:Geez Louise (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Trinition ( 114758 )

          There are better ways to handle this. I Recently read in a Discover or Popular Science about Energy Innovation's [] producuts, such as the Sun Flower 250. They are basically thermal-solar-powered Sterling engines used to generate electricity. Their newest and most economical model costs $1/watt to purchase the actual unit, and that's it.

          You could just stick one of these babies under a plastic (or whatever) shell to physically protect it from the elements while allowing the energy in to do the work.

          So, l

      • What's stopping you? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Trigun ( 685027 ) <evil@evilempi r e . a t h .cx> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:06PM (#6736644)
        Check out Bob Vila [] for a little bit of insight, or even here [] for a little bit of information on photovoltaic shingles. You can easily patch them into your power grid via a grid interactive controller, or run them off of car batteries []
      • by Spamalamadingdong ( 323207 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:36PM (#6737092) Homepage Journal
        Are we cursed forever to avoid using the single most commmon element in the universe, one that will burn clean, simply because someone burned a balloon with it once decades ago?
        If only it were so simple. Safety is not the issue in public consciousness (how many million dead in automobile crashes, yet people barely give safety a second thought most days?) Instead, the use of hydrogen presents a ton of problems that are far less tractable:
        1. Current production is almost entirely non-renewable. Signatories to the Kyoto treaty will not be able to make their targets by "switching" to hydrogen if they make it from natural gas (or, heaven forbid, coal).
        2. Production is highly inefficient. Whether it's made from hydrocarbons, carbohydrates (polysaccharides such as wood) or electricity, the hydrogen only embodies a relatively small fraction of the energy which goes into the process. This further increases the cost, as well as CO2 production if the raw material is any kind of carbon-based fuel.
        3. Production is costly, relatively speaking. Storing energy as hydrogen appears to cost several times as much as gasoline.
        For these reasons, it looks like not such a good idea to plan an economy around this. AAMOF, it looks like a diversion by enemies of change; they can point to hydrogen as the panacea, but use all the very real difficulties as excuses for the glacial pace of achievement.
        Now compare that to our current state of affairs: the vast majority of our electricity coming from coal or gas, much of it imported; our cars running on gasoline, almost all of it imported.

        Now try and tell me it doesn't make sense to switch.

        Oh, it does.... but not to hydrogen. Batteries (such as lithium-ion) are far more efficient and have much lower costs already. If you want to power a transportation system, using a Calcars []-style system of grid-feeding hybrid vehicles would do a much better job, for less, using today's technology. Such vehicles would have no problem stabilizing the grid [].
      • Re:Geez Louise (Score:3, Interesting)

        by donutz ( 195717 )
        Ah, yes, the old Hindenburg chestnut. Are we cursed forever to avoid using the single most commmon element in the universe, one that will burn clean, simply because someone burned a balloon with it once decades ago?

        You call it clean burning; some say it will use up all of the earth's breathable oxygen! []
      • Re:Geez Louise (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tmortn ( 630092 )
        Great comment about the Hindenburg fiasco. However I am going to have to take some exception to much of the rest of your comment. If you take the average roof for your average suburbanite yuppie with 2.1 kids a white picket fence and dog mixed with average exposure to sunlight IE not optimal what your suggesting is a pipe dream without a serious decrease in power usage. Also there is the small problem of efficiency of conversion. You get roughly 1hp of energy per square meter of sunlight as I recall.. IE 75
    • Re:HYDROGEN Powered? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:33PM (#6736300) Homepage
      Actually, the line is "oh, the humanities!" if you listen carefully. Funny, either way it doesn't make much sense. Whatever. The reason the Hindenburg blew up was it was coated in a magnesium compound similar to rocket fuel.
    • Re:HYDROGEN Powered? (Score:2, Informative)

      by leinhos ( 143965 )
      There's a fairly well-documented theory that the Hindenburg accident was really caused by the flamable skin of the airship. A quick Google search renders a few sites:
      Rice U. [] [] []

      Just to name a few. At least let's not have a bunch of people using the Hindenburg as a reason not to think about hydrogen.
  • by L. VeGas ( 580015 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:16PM (#6736098) Homepage Journal
    I will be encouraged to pass gas?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Computers moved from mainframes to LANs long ago... I guess the power grid is finally catching up with the times?
  • by Nazmun ( 590998 )
    Why does it seem like a Nationally distributed pipeline system would be harder/more costly to create and maintain then large electrical wires to transfer energy.
    • As the article points out, and most anyone who pays the bills knows, we already have a nationally distributed pipeline system. it ain't hydrogen, but natural gas can be converted to hydrogen where it can be stored. how exactly we're going to be safely storing hydrogen in our homes is another issue.
      • Why crack it when it is already burnable and clean when it comes out of the pipe as natural gas?
      • Hydrogen molecules are pretty small... h2 (two hydrogen atoms) i think... Hydrogen can go through metals and is probably far more susceptible to leaks then natural gas.
    • Why does it seem like a Nationally distributed pipeline system would be harder/more costly to create and maintain then large electrical wires to transfer energy.

      I don't know why you think it would be harder... We already have one for natural gas. I think that the up front costs are probably higher, but the maintnance costs are probably lower, you rarely hear about people loosing their cooking/heating gas in a storm, but it is a common occurance for electricity... And the transmission losses are definat
      • You need high pressure and thick pipes to keep hydrogen in a container. Hydrogen molecules are also so small they can even go through some metals. This makes them far more susceptible to leaks.
        • Admittedly this thread is a little off topic, but the post I replied to was talking about pipelining, and piplines are VERY low pressure compaired to storage facilities. I belive that most narutal gas piplines run at under 20 psi (~25% over atmospheric pressure).

          Also small leaks are not really that bad, as long as they are less than ~10% they are still better than electric transmission lines...
    • Er, maybe I don't get it but... isn't the point of hydrogen that it exists in water and air so it should not be necessary to pipe or ship it around.
  • Wasn't the Hindenberg a hydrogen blimp?

    Yeah, that sounds safe to me.
  • Grid Repair? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Expect repair cost to go up if electricians have to repair a 'hot' grid. Repairing that main transmission line with everyone and thier solar powered doghouse feeding back to the grid should be fun.
  • Are people sharing the hydrogen, or just the electrical energy? If it's hydrogen, who's going to install the infrastructure? If it's electrical, how will the phases of the 20 gazillion AC sources be matched so they don't all cancel each other out?
  • idea! (Score:3, Funny)

    by tssiap_wmuc ( 699273 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:20PM (#6736144)
    we should use methane to store. god knows after a good mexican meal i could power half my neighborhood
  • .. to the matrix.
  • by euxneks ( 516538 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:23PM (#6736174)
    This sounds suspiciously like people "sharing" their power!
    Better watch your ass for the RIAA and MPAA.
  • by snoopyjd ( 665929 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:24PM (#6736192)
    "The consequences of connecting every owner of a fuel-cell micro-power plant with every other owner in an energy-sharing network will be as profound and far-reaching as was the development of the world wide web in the 1990s"

    Does the RIAA know about this yet?
  • Just wait until some terrorist starts pumping oxygen into there.
  • by zptdooda ( 28851 ) <deanpjm@g m a> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:25PM (#6736209) Journal
    so power flows all over the place, often causing congestion, energy loss and blackouts

    Hmm, the same reasons the city department gave us not to eat the wild mushrooms growing down by the creek...
  • security? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekmetal ( 682313 ) <vkeerthy@gm a i> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:26PM (#6736222) Journal
    An American company, Sage Systems, for example, has created a software program that allows utilities to "shed load instantly" if the system is at its peak and stressed to the limit, by "setting back a few thousand customers' thermostats by 2 degrees ... [with] a single command over the internet"

    We are all living through the nightmares of security problems brought in by the internet, do we take that along too?

  • by YanceyAI ( 192279 ) * <> on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:27PM (#6736228)
    Over the course of the next three decades, millions of people will purchase their own power plants. Fuel cells inside cars, homes, factories and offices will be capable of producing electricity for their own use during emergencies, while sending the surplus back to the power grid to share with others.

    Which works great until the RIAA, um I mean Power Companies, start suing us for sharing on our P2P energy network.

  • If it doesn't, then it obviously isn't proper energy policy.

  • A Global power grid makes a lot of sense, power requirements vary greatly during the day and distributing a grid across a large number of time zones would even things out. If you studied the power usage you would see changes in the flow as what would ordinarily be peak time moves across Asia then Europe and onto the American continents (You would get some drop of during peak time over the pacific, not a lot of people their at the moment).

    Of course a fully distributed power network makes a whole lot of sens
  • by StressGuy ( 472374 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:31PM (#6736280)
    I think the concept of many interconnected smaller power producing facilities could be more robust than fewer isolated larger units but why focus only on H2? I mean, I like hydrogen fuel cells. In fact, I have a stock portfolio that invest in sampling of all aspects of the fuel cell industry so I'd *love* to see this happen.

    Even so, each local climate has one or more aspects about it that can be the basis of power generation. From what I understand, monster wind farms aren't working out as well as we had hoped, but smaller local farms could contribute and be easier to manage. Then there is solar, water, geo-thermal, combustable waste, bio-diesel, etc.

    I see a possiblity to tailor power generation to the local environment while improving robustness and even national security. 2 cents anyways...

  • by zubernerd ( 518077 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:32PM (#6736287)
    To quote the article:

    An American company, Sage Systems, for example, has created a software program that allows utilities to "shed load instantly" if the system is at its peak and stressed to the limit, by "setting back a few thousand customers' thermostats by 2 degrees ... [with] a single command over the internet". Another new product, Aladyn, allows users to monitor and make changes in the energy used by home appliances, lights and air conditioning, all from a browser.

    Would I really want to give the electric company the power to control my appliances? I understand the benefit of lowering the demand; but it is possible this system could be abused... by anyone with a browser.

    (No I'm not paranoid... but my thermostat is my thermostat :) )

  • You can do this now, with a big battery (or store the energy by pumping water up a slope, heating up a rock, or however you like to store your energy)

    You then pump electricity back into the electrical grid, making your meter spin backwards. People out in windy / sunny country have been doing this for a while, I thought, using the network as a battery: this allows you to buy a wind generator just big enough to power your AVERAGE consumption, because you suck your peak from the net, but sell your overflow ba
  • And on hydrogen (Score:2, Insightful)

    by oakad ( 686232 )
    It is not too effective to store energy in the burning medium, beacuse of the 2nd law of the thermodynamics. The total efficiency of "store and burn" method will be awfully low. It's much better to invent a "cold" or even "hot" fusion reactor and to use hydrogen for what it was meant to: syntesizing matter and energy.
  • For this to work in a free market, the system has to prevent unscrupulous corporate entities from swooping in and sucking up all the (supposedly free of cost) excess power made available to the community then selling it back at ridiculously high prices in times of need. I'm guessing an auction system would be attached to it so each cell could sell their excess power to the highest bidder in times of excess, then in times of need buy power from the lowest sellers... I hope I not describing Enron's business p
  • Flywheels? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daemonik ( 171801 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:39PM (#6736363) Homepage
    Why not provide every homeowner/business with a flywheel [] UPS. The flywheel could charge itself during off peak hours and provide the homeowner's peak energy needs without drawing excessively from the grid.

    In the event of a grid failure, the house would draw power from the flywheel until the grid could come back up. The flywheel could also be used to regulate the power entering the house eliminating surges and brownouts.

    Flywheels are more environmentaly friendly than a bank of batteries and less hazardous than storing volatile gasses.

  • by djh101010 ( 656795 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:39PM (#6736364) Homepage Journal
    OK, so hydrogen burns clean. Yay. Now tell me where you plan to get it? The only way to get it in any quantities, is to make using energy. Electrolysis of water is most common, but no matter how you're going to do it, you have to spend energy to break the hydrogen away from whatever it's attached to.You aren't going to get more energy by burning it (turning it back into H2O) than you spent in getting it (by taking it out of H2O). All you're doing is making that energy portable.

    The article mentions "a powerplant in every home" or noises to that effect. This is effectively the same thing we have today; anyone can buy a gas-powered generator and stick it in the back yard. Yes, fuel cells might be a way to go for some things, but distributed backup power isn't one of them. How many people are going to want a tank of hydrogen hanging around? Yes, it can be stored safely. Yes, it's no more dangerous than, say, gasoline or propane. But, it also doesn't give any benefit that those fuels do not.

    The energies being spent on hydrogen power could be better applied to something that's actually an improvement - biofuels, wind, solar...that's where independance is, not in going from one type of fuel to another that has the same or worse problems.

    Hydrogen may be a really interesting technology for some things, but this isn't one of them.
    • Q: Where to get electric power?
      A: Gyromills

      Q: Power plant in every home?
      A: No. A flywheel battery in every home.

      Q: Bio-diesel?
      A: Fuck no. Why re-convert forestland back into soybean fields that deplete the soil?
      *see changing the world technologies

      Q: Wind?
      A: Gyromills NOT windmills. Surface winds are slow and inconsistent.

      Q: Solar?
      A: Space based solar farms to phased array x-ray lasers. Surface solar radiation is weak and inconsistent.

      THE MEDIUM IS UNIMPORTANT. Hydrocarbons, hydrogen, kinetic energy, li
    • Go back and re-read the article. They are describign a battery system, so they NEED a storage medium, not a fuel source. The idea is that during charging periods you drain some of the electricity to turn water to hydrogen and store it, allowing the Oxygen to escape.

      Then when you need the power, you turn on the fuel cell and convert the hydrogen and free oxygen in the air into water plus power.

      The scheme is basically a battery back up, with a specific type of battery mentioned. While they did not give

    • That's the point. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raygundan ( 16760 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:59PM (#6736590) Homepage
      The idea being presented here is exactly what you are talking about. It's not using hydrogen as the source, just as a storage mechanism. So, when the big generator is working, you can electrolyze water and fill your hydrogen tank. When the big generator dies, you and all your neighbors power yourselves, or even pump power into the grid.

      The hydrogen you use could also come from catalyzing natural gas at your end, or by using non-grid power to crack water.

      The advantage over gasoline and propane is that you can make it yourself. Just TRY to find an easy way to refill your gasoline tank using only electricity (or for extra credit, sunlight or wind) and water. With hydrogen, you're off and running.

      To sum it all up-- hydrogen is best thought of as a storage method, not a fuel. And the processes by which you can get it are simple enough to perform in your house, using the two most common power sources already present, natural gas and electricity.

      Of course, I don't see anything like this happening nationwide any time soon, either. But it's the sort of thing I'd like to have around the house. A huge UPS for everything!

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:44PM (#6736412) Journal

    We already have the beginning of a distributed power system where industrial customers cogenerate their power. Nevermind hydrogen. It's a red herring. It's just another way to store energy, with advantages and disadvantages just like all the others.

    I don't think it will take 30 years to scale cogenerating down to home use. IIRC, GE introduced some cogenerating appliances for home use a couple years ago. There's was no big push on it, but the tech isn't lacking to get these things in the home.

    What's needed (as usual) is the right kind of marketing. It's a bit more expensive at the outset to set up cogenerating from your house, and there's some red tape with the electric company, but solar people have been selling back to the grid for years. At optimal times, some solar homes actually get credits on their bills.

    In our area, I think the best way to sell this would be "if the power goes out, you've got a clean, quiet natural gas powered backup generator in your basement".

  • by HiKarma ( 531392 ) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:45PM (#6736424)
    Felix Kramer of has some interesting ideas. In particular, pushing hybrid cars with more batteries than a typical hybrid but less than a full blown electric.

    And while most people think one advantage of a hybrid car is you don't have to plug it in, his idea is that you would plug it in, to charge the batteries at night, and, conversely during a period of high-power need during the day, running the generator to provide extra power for your house and for the grid.

    Now with gasoline that would be more polluting, but it still has a lot of merit in that power plant contruction is all about hitting that peak load, and it may be OK to pollute a bit more just at those very peak load times if it cuts grid usage and power production at other times -- nukes, hydro etc.

    I would combine the ideas as follows. If you had hydrogen hybrid cars you could use them as generators to take the peak load off the grid as well, with no pollution.

    And another Idea I have not seen much talk of is putting Stirling engines in hybrid cars. Sterlings are much more efficient than internal combustion engines, but nobody puts them in cars because they take several minutes to come up to boil, and people don't want a car that won't go until several minutes after you start it.

    With a hybrid car with a 10-mile battery, you can go right away while waiting for the Stirling to heat up. Plus any energy put into the engine goes into battery charging so it is not wasted.
  • I admit it. It is just me. But I've read "A Fully Distributable Power Girl". :(
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @03:51PM (#6736493) Homepage Journal
    There is no shortage of "small generator" capacity. The problem is with the local power grids.

    We [] have three megawatts of power generation capacity, but we don't need all of it (our power needs are less than 1.5 megawatts; two generators are present for N+1 reliability). So we wanted to sell power back to the grid, and the power company wanted to buy it. But it couldn't happen, because the local grid in this area is not capable of accepting a backfeed. This is the problem in most places. There are probably tens of thousands of places with local backup generators that would be capable of supplying power to the grid, but until the local grid is upgraded to handle backfeeds, it simply can't happen.

    What does happen, though, is that on days of very high demand, the utility will provide cash incentives to companies with their own generators, to voluntarily get off the grid and run on their own power. We did this for a couple of years. But ever since "deregulation" put utility prices through the roof, it's actually been cheaper to just run the generators 24/7. Diesel fuel is less expensive than the utility, which IMHO is proof that deregulation doesn't work... at least not when the White House is inhabited by someone who cares more about the welfare of energy companies than about the citizens.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The problem with power deregulation is that they weren't deregulated. I know my local power company has to run all capital improvments through a board that doesn't know anything about generating power. For years they were dumping millions into the ground because they couldn't get approval for $50,000 worth of computer redundancy. The millions in power came out of O&M budget that they were allowed to spend money on. The "deregulation" hasn't changed that regulation.
  • There is no reason to restructure the electrical infrastructure to the level suggested by the article. It would be akin to fitting all homes with their own natural gas turbines to produce electrical energy for themselves. And the natural gas infrastructure itself would need to be upgraded to deal with the massive increase in usage. The analogy fails even more when you consider how creating power differs from ARPAnet and the Internet in general because the physical cost of wiring is so much cheaper and easie
  • This idea clearly has certain merits, one of which is equally distrubited drain. (As in, we can store energy during summer nights when the drain is lesser, and use up some of that stored energy during the days when we have our dishwasher, clother dryer and air conditioner on full blast)

    However, basically they are just saying get a big battery (and trying to convince us that a hydrogen fuel cell system would be the right kind of battery)

    Every time you load and unload the battery their are efficiancy los

  • by vkg ( 158234 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:26PM (#6736940) Homepage
    20 Hydrogen Myths (pdf) [] pretty much explains the whole "hydrogen economy" thing, including debunking pretty much all of the common objections.

    It covers where do you get the hydrogen (natural gas at first, renewables later), why bother (electric motors are very efficient compared to combustion engines and renewables like wind can make your total supply cheaper) and what technologies need to be developed for it all to work.
  • by WOV ( 652967 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @06:55PM (#6738883) [] - outside of Kingman, Arizona.

    I've seen it done in Japan, but never the US - great timing as far as this article goes. 487 home housing development, not connected to the grid...

  • Amory Lovins (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fatcat1111 ( 158945 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @09:26PM (#6739980)

    Amory Lovins [] of the Rocky Mountain Institute [] has been proposing something like this for a while now, but with an interesting bootstraping step. Quoting a bit from Natural Capitalism [] (full text is available online):

    A sufficient production volume to achieve $100 per kilowatt could readily come from using fuel cells first in buildings--a huge market that accounts for two-thirds of America's electricity use. The reason to start with buildings is that fuel cells can turn 50 to 60-odd percent of the hydrogen's energy into highly reliable, premium-quality electricity, and the remainder into water heated to about 170F--ideal for the tasks of heating, cooling, and dehumidifying. In a typical structure, such services would help pay for natural gas and a fuel processor to convert it into what a fuel cell needs--hydrogen. With the fuel expenses thus largely covered, electricity from early-production fuel cells should be cheap enough to undercut even the operating cost of existing coal and nuclear power stations, let alone the extra cost to deliver their power, which in 1996 averaged 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Electric or gas utilities could lease and operate the fuel cells most effectively if they initially placed them in buildings in those neighborhoods where the electrical distribution grid was fully loaded and needed costly expansions to meet growing demand, or where fuel cells' unmatched power quality and reliability are valued for special uses like powering computers.

    Once fuel cells become cost-effective and are installed in a Hypercar [his term for an aerodynamic, lightweight, fuel cell vehicle, described in more detail in the book], the vehicle becomes, in effect, a clean, silent power station on wheels, with a generating capacity of around 20 to 40 kilowatts. The average American car is parked about 96 percent of the time, usually in habitual places. Suppose you pay an annual lease fee of about $4,000 to $5,000 for the privilege of driving your "power plant" the other 4 percent of the time. When you are not using it, rather than plugging your car into the electric grid to recharge it--as battery cars require--you plug it in as a generating asset. While you sit at your desk, your power-plant-onwheels is sending 20-plus kilowatts of electricity back to the grid. You're automatically credited for this production at the real-time price, which is highest in the daytime. Thus your second-largest, but previously idle, household asset is now repaying a significant fraction of its own lease fee. It wouldn't require many people's taking advantage of this deal to put all coal and nuclear power plants out of business, because ultimately the U.S. Hypercar fleet could have five to ten times the generating capacity of the national grid.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN