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Monday, June 20, 2011

You Can Generate Infotricity in Your Home


Get out your favorite pen, crayon, or marker and make a very large “S” and then cut out that S and lay it over on its side. You now have a graph of the power consumption in the TVA region over a one day period. Congratulations, you are now a scientist! Now your graph can be combined with the real graph of power consumption at my house on a day last week and a day last year with identical temperatures which is shown above and you can see some of the problems and opportunities for solving the issues presently confronting the power business.

Half of the time, generally during the night, power demand is too low and that means that generation plants have to be cycled back or totally shut down. The other half of the time the demand is too high and even after firing up every unit TVA has in its arsenal, they still fall far short of what is needed to meet the power demand. To keep the lights on, TVA must go out and buy additional power from its neighbors during the peak times. Both the constant cycling up and down of their plants during the daily “valley” of demand and the constant daily purchases of power during the daily “peak” cost staggering sums of money and create many other negative environmental impacts. Everyone in the power business is looking for ways to smooth the peaks and valleys of the daily load cycle in pursuit of the perfect situation – a daily load shape that would look like a flat horizontal line.

Though the perfection of that horizontal line will likely never be realized, we certainly can improve on that recumbent “S” situation we have today. Several years ago TVA made a giant move in that direction by building their Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant. This facility, just outside of Chattanooga, uses a lot of power during the valley portion of the daily demand curve by pumping water from the Tennessee River up to the top of Raccoon Mountain where TVA hollowed out the top of the mountain to create an artificial lake. This allows them to keep other base load plants operating efficiently during the night instead of shutting them down. Once the lake is full, TVA can turn the pumps into electric generators and drain the lake back down into the river while generating about 1,600 mW of power to offset the peak portion of the next day’s load curve. It is a brilliant project. It works as designed. Today, TVA needs several more of these projects to help further flatten the daily load shape.

In Glasgow we have discovered that they might accomplish this without any construction crews and without hollowing out another mountain. It turns out we all have a little Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant in our home! Over the last couple of hot weeks I have been experimenting with programmable thermostats and general changes of power consumption habits in my home and the graphic included here represents the sort of change I have been able to accomplish during a recent 24 hour period (the reddish line) compared to a similar day when I made no effort to shift my consumption (the blue line). Like Raccoon Mountain, I stored energy during the off-peak hours by heating water and pre-cooling my home below our normal set-point. During on-peak hours, instead of draining an artificial lake, we allowed the temperature to rise to 78 degrees and we refrained from running clothes drying and dishwashing. The resulting difference in on-peak power usage at my house last year (the blue line) and this year (the red line) is pretty stunning. As you can see, compared to a day with the same temperatures but without any effort being made to avoid on-peak hours, my simple changes resulted in an average on-peak power reduction of about 4 kW. This is a very big deal.

Now, my measly 4 kW is totally insignificant compared to Raccoon Mountain’s capacity of 1,600,000 kW, but this is 2011 and a lot more is possible by using the latest technology. Today all of the homes which harbor these little bits of Raccoon Mountain can be connected via the internet. In those homes the thermostats, water heaters, appliances, and electric meters can also be connected to create a virtual power plant many times larger than Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant. Let’s do the math. Let’s say that the average on-peak demand reduction capacity is only half of what I have been able to accomplish at my house. So, if 2 kW is available in each home and since TVA serves roughly 4 million homes, then about 8,000,000 kW is possibly available in our virtual pumped storage plant! That means we discovered five pumped storage plants of the same size as Raccoon Mountain in our homes! It means that this capacity is available basically for free. It means that this capacity would require no fuel, would generate no greenhouse gases, and would require not one shovel of earth to be disturbed to tap that capacity. Who knew we were hiding infotricity generators in our houses?

Accomplishing the on-peak reduction depicted here in my house was not without some sacrifice. When the house is being pre-cooled to about 72, it can get a little chilly. In the afternoon when it is allowed to warm to 78, it is noticeably warm. We have to remember to run the dishwasher and clothes dryer after 8:00 p.m. and to not use the electric oven in the afternoons. But really, after a couple of weeks the changes are not much of a burden and when you compare the possible benefit of gaining all of this clean energy from simple changes in habit, the burden/benefit ratio is ridiculously canted toward the benefit side. We have been talking about infotricity as a replacement for today’s electric power for many years. Now we have more proof that it is viable. As soon as we learn how to compensate everyone for generating this infotricity and making it available to TVA, every electric power user may also become an owner of the most efficient generation technology ever devised. We are convinced this is a real possibility and we continue to have you to thank for giving us the latitude to explore these ideas.

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