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Refrigerator, clothes dryer, computer, power plant?
May 23, 2014 8:41 AM   Subscribe


 
The article didn't mention cogeneration of heat and power, which seems somewhat promising at the consumer level (MicroCHP).
posted by exogenous at 9:03 AM on May 23


Hydrogen House Project in New Jersey is pretty cool. He's even got a solar-hydrogen riding mower.
posted by stbalbach at 9:13 AM on May 23


Back when people were talking about hydrogen fuel cell cars, one of the ideas was that such vehicles, each capable of producing a significant amount of electricity, would also serve as widely distributed power generation systems.

Hydrogen economy - come home from work and plug the house into the car.
Electrical economy - come home from work and plug the car into the house.
posted by bartleby at 9:54 AM on May 23


One more thing that can be sold to private industry and removed from the "public good/necessary utility" so the public infrastructure and the people who depend on it can rot.
posted by bleep at 9:59 AM on May 23 [10 favorites]


The biggest problem I can see with owning a home power plant and being off grid is the move to plug-in EVs over the next 20 years. Already a Tesla Model S can suck off the grid (not the supercharger, the grid) at 20kW and require near 100kW of power to fully charge. Most homes pull maybe 3.5kW and peak when your HVAC, fridge compressor and other things all operate at the same time. The "OH MY GOD JESUS CHRIST WHY DOES MY CAR SUCK SO MUCH POWER" of these things is enormous and would basically blow up a home grid. Or require many kW of installed battery capacity. 50kW battery system? That'll be a touch over $25k thanks. Even if Tesla get battery capacity for themselves below $200/kW (even if they share it with us mere mortals) that's still $10K in battery capacity.
posted by Talez at 10:06 AM on May 23


bartleby: I think more people are talking about this working with electric vehicles now, certainly the focus in the UK has been on that as an element of a smarter grid. The idea would be that this would be a key enabler for electricity supply systems with a large volumes of intermittent renewable energy generation, i.e. lots of wind and solar. it would be possible with hydrogen but EVs are looking more likely to be economic than H2 powered fuel cell vehicles.
posted by biffa at 10:07 AM on May 23


One more thing that can be sold to private industry and removed from the "public good/necessary utility" so the public infrastructure and the people who depend on it can rot.

There's no intrinsic reason why a block or apartment building couln't own the solar/battery plant co-operatively. In fact, that kind of collaboration and co-investment is probably necessary for most people to participate.

"Public" doesn't have to mean "state-owned." It rarely does with municipal power generation, in any case.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:15 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


I want to go really off the grid and put in my own nuclear power generator - although I think that idea went the way of the flying car I don't have either...
posted by caddis at 10:17 AM on May 23


This actually isn't a new idea so much as a return of an old one -- back in Ye Olden Days the folks who could afford it had their own power generation plants. The Winchester Mystery House had its own gas manufacturing plant for lighting. A bit later on, estates would have their own diesel engine to generate electricity. (As discussed here in the context of Downton Abbey.)

I personally would much rather pay electric rates into a town municipal electrical system; that seems like the optimum size for a power generation and distribution system. Any smaller and you give up on the economies of scale; any larger and you get crappier service. (I live next to a town with a municipal co-op and it's amazing how much cheaper their electric, cable, etc. are and how much faster they get back up after a storm.)
posted by pie ninja at 10:23 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I'm just imagining a slum lord providing the shittiest possible generator that works about as well as the stove in my apartment and the laundry machines in my basement. (Not well at all)
posted by bleep at 10:23 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Hello my name is Mr. Snrub and I come from some place far away. Yes, that will do. Anyway I say we invest that money back in the nuclear plant.
posted by Fizz at 10:25 AM on May 23


The economics of the electric grid depend on participation by large segments of the population. How does this shift affect affordable access to reliable power by those unable to afford the shift to the new system?
posted by humanfont at 10:30 AM on May 23


There's no intrinsic reason why a block or apartment building couln't own the solar/battery plant co-operatively.
Okay, how many of you renters trust your landlord more than your electric utility? (Disclaimer: I currently do, but for most of my past addresses I wished the electric company would buy out my landlord.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:40 AM on May 23


How does this shift affect affordable access to reliable power by those unable to afford the shift to the new system?

If solar can get cheaper than fossil fuel generation, then it seems like it could potentially reduce costs.

Plus: distributed generation may be necessary to stem carbon emissions. It allows a switch to more sustainable generation and at the same time reduces transmission losses. Climate change is going to be terrible for large segments of the population.

Okay, how many of you renters trust your landlord more than your electric utility?

From what I've seen in DC, this will start with luxury properties and expensive neighborhoods, which are buyer's markets. Once those properties age out and become middle-class and poor neighborhoods, it'll take good regulation and collective action to keep standards high. But of course, the same is true for provision of utilities and municipal services.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:43 AM on May 23


If solar can get cheaper than fossil fuel generation, then it seems like it could potentially reduce costs.

That's a big if. And, there's still the issue that, no matter how good solar gets, it's not the magic bullet for people who live in areas where things get cloudy and gray a lot. And then there's the storage issue with solar, for nights and those gray days.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:56 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


From what I've seen in DC, this will start with luxury properties and expensive neighborhoods

I can't wait to see the quality of public utilities when rich people don't use them any more.
posted by goethean at 10:56 AM on May 23 [4 favorites]


I'd like to throw out a word of caution. Do not subscribe to RMI unless you are willing to make a lifetime commitment. I subscribed years ago because I'm interested in energy, and have, over the last few years, tried to not subscribe to their endless (endless!) emails. Nothing, and I mean nothing, ends the emails.

Nice group, really crappy attention to email/subscription. I've finally told gmail that they are spam. Which is the bucket I saw this in today, right before I deleted it.
posted by Houstonian at 10:58 AM on May 23


No thank you, I live in a first world country that can be counted on to keep the grid running.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:58 AM on May 23


I can't wait to see the quality of public utilities when rich people don't use them any more.

You need look no further than the US public school system, which is better than the private school system. Seriously.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:02 AM on May 23


> Already a Tesla Model S can ... require near 100kW of power to fully charge

I think you might be confusing kW (power) and kWh (energy). Easily done.
posted by scruss at 11:27 AM on May 23 [1 favorite]


I've just discovered that one of my neighbours has, for no reason that anyone can determine (including him) two 50kw diesel generators in his boat (it is a neighbourhood of boats), which I gather would power the whole community.
So I guess we're all set for the zombie apocalypse, so long as we can successfully raid for diesel.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 11:33 AM on May 23


I've always thought it would be cool to have an RTG buried beneath my driveway. It would output enough power to run my house for 50 years, and since it's all sealed up would be totally safe. An added bonus would be I'd never have to shovel snow off the driveway ever again.
Sadly the NRC doesn't really approve of purchasing a private RTG at the Home Depot. Damn.
posted by smoothvirus at 11:54 AM on May 23 [3 favorites]


Already a Tesla Model S can suck off the grid (not the supercharger, the grid) at 20kW and require near 100kW of power to fully charge

scruss said this already, but you're mixing up power and energy. The car can pull in 20 kW (power), but that's the maximum and would need a special 80A 250V socket (or maybe two dedicated 250V 40A circuits). There are lots of charging options but if all you had in your garage was 15A and 120V the car would only use 1.8 kW while charging.

A fully charged battery is 85 kWh (energy), which would take 4.25 hours to charge at 20 kW or 47 hours at 1.8 kW.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:58 AM on May 23 [2 favorites]


Please dear god, let's hope the adoption of personal power plants is not similar to that of personal computers.

If the former follows the path of the latter, with virus infections, misuse and lack-of-maintenance, we'll have explosions, fires, ecological disasters and spectacular electrocutions daily in every neighborhood on earth.

Just imagine the guy who thought the CD tray was a cup holder operating his own kilowatt electrical unit.

posted by mmrtnt at 12:00 PM on May 23 [2 favorites]


operating his own kilowatt electrical unit.

A kilowatt is nothing. I've never actually seen a generator that small. I know a bunch of people who have 2k or 3k gennies, and there's nothing complicated or dangerous about them; they're basically just a big piece of luggage that rumbles, smells bad, and makes electricity. Simple tech. Don't drop it on your foot, I guess, and don't stick your face in the exhaust, but you're really not going to hurt yourself or anyone else with one of these things.

The biggest generator I've personally been involved with was the 35K diesel unit I towed out to a festival a few weeks ago. It was big and heavy and annoying to move around, but it's still basically just a big metal box that rumbles and makes electricity. There's a big 220V socket on the front which you plug a power distribution box into, and then you plug whatever you want into that. As long as you've parked it properly and don't stick a fork in the socket or something like that, there's just not anything bad that's going to happen as a result of keeping it around.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:17 PM on May 23


@ Mars Saxman - I think the concern is less about diesel generators than the 'RTG under the driveway' type power plant smoothvirus suggests.
There's not much potential danger in a small combustion generator, besides some dope running it in the living room and killing everyone with CO poisoning, or spilling diesel all over the yard the day before a barbecue and having one hell of a cookout. They deserve what they get.

But I shudder at the prospect of say, the average backhoe operator encountering an underground isotope reactor. "Homeowner didn't know what it was, maybe something the previous owner put in; it was pretty cool looking, so I took it home and put it out with the wife's petunias."
posted by bartleby at 12:40 PM on May 23


Please dear god, let's hope the adoption of personal power plants is not similar to that of personal computers.

No. TFA is talking about solar-battery systems. None of it is new tech; it's been around for years. I've got the solar part right now. If somebody comes up with storage batteries that don't cost $10K and last more than 10 years, I might get off the grid completely, even though my electric bill is now $0 every month.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:22 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]


A fully charged battery is 85 kWh (energy), which would take 4.25 hours to charge at 20 kW or 47 hours at 1.8 kW.

The point is that you're not going to have a solar system that can output the 20kW necessary to charge an electric car (especially at night) and that even a 50kWh storage system would be prohibitively expensive to implement.
posted by Talez at 3:51 PM on May 23


It would be fairly unusual to need a 100% charge on an EV. There is a disconnect between what you can get from local solar and potential major increases in demand, EVs but also ground source and air source heat pumps for example will not be a great fit with solar output. So being fully independent from the grid is unlikely for many consumers as we expect to see both technologies be adopted. However, more local generation, not just for individual but for use on local distribution networks can reduce system losses due to transmission and transforming from lower to higher voltages and back.

There will be an issue with reduced transmission grid usage and who pays for it since this trends to be based on volumes of energy, amongst other things. There is no apparent solution for this currently, I have heard the idea of forcing all consumers to pay anyway floated in the UK but this is fairly antithetical if your country is supposed to be committed to the free market.
posted by biffa at 11:06 PM on May 23


The point is that you're not going to have a solar system that can output the 20kW necessary to charge an electric car (especially at night) and that even a 50kWh storage system would be prohibitively expensive to implement.

Well yeah, except that if you own a Tesla S you already have a 50kWh storage system. And if your workplace puts a big solar plant on the roof and lets employees charge their cars off it while they're parked at work, you get to take all that electric goodness home with you and dump some of it into your house batteries.
posted by flabdablet at 12:01 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]


Flabdablet, I think the point being made is that you would need the storage to capture solar during the day so you could repower the EV battery at night, ie when the car battery is in use or elsewnere. I agree with you though, there is no need to get caught up in complete auto-consumption when there are wider societal sustainable practices to be initiated.
posted by biffa at 3:37 AM on May 24


50kW battery system? That'll be a touch over $25k thanks.

And if you go that route in a few years the battery pack will be dead, worth scrap, and you'll have to buy it all over again.

The old Nickel Iron batteries don't have that problem - some are working 50+ years later.

If solar can get cheaper than fossil fuel generation, then it seems like it could potentially reduce costs.

That's a big if. And, there's still the issue that, no matter how good solar gets, it's not the magic bullet for people who live in areas where things get cloudy and gray a lot. And then there's the storage issue with solar, for nights and those gray days.


Lets deconstruct the response.

That's a big if.

Fossil fuel is just old, stored sunshine that no one is paying for on a per photon or for the photon -> fuel process basis.
Sunshine itself has $0 cost.

Fossil fuel? Now that has multi-million dollar costs to put holes in the ground and then process the material to get to consumers.

And, there's still the issue that, no matter how good solar gets, it's not the magic bullet for people who live in areas where things get cloudy and gray a lot.

And yet things like evacuated glass tube systems and solar panels still manage to produce diminished output on those days.

And then there's the storage issue with solar, for nights and those gray days.

There is an old saying "make hay while the sun shines". Just because the past had 24X7 on demand electrical power is no.

But hey - if you don't want solar why not chip in on the promise of power that should be clean, safe, too cheap to meter?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:25 AM on May 24


I don't really get it. Most things, including solar power, have significant economies of scale. A utility can pick out the best panels, put them in optimal positions, and maintain them correctly because it has engineers hired to do those things. And I'm supposed to compete as an independent homeowner with no resources? It doesn't really make sense.
posted by miyabo at 8:25 AM on May 24


miyabo: Roughly, solar power generated at home will cost about 50% more than a large scale solar farm (this is based on UK subsidy provision). However, this is the generation cost only in both cases. For you to use the energy from the large-scale solar farm you also have to pay the costs of the supply company who buys from the solar farm and the costs of the distribution company, maybe also the transmission costs but this may be avoidable. So in a solar world for small-scale solar to be a good bet for you it has to be cheaper than the solar farm generation cost + distribution cost + supply company cost, which is not at all impossible. I would expect distribution and supply to add more than 50% to generation typically.
posted by biffa at 9:40 AM on May 24


It doesn't have to be (or only be) solar. If you have low cost natural gas coming to your house, you could get a fuel cell to generate your electricity.
posted by eye of newt at 1:45 PM on May 24


A utility can pick out the best panels

"best"? What is "best"? Price to obtain? Price VS power output? Price VS expected lifetime? Price VS taxes paid on the land/panels?

, put them in optimal positions,

Yea, tricky thing that Earth going 'round the Sun.

and maintain them correctly

Like wash them? What, exactly needs maintaining in an object that has no moving parts?

because it has engineers hired to do those things.

One would hope engineers arn't doing maintenance or figuring out the tax law VS price of getting the panels.

And I'm supposed to compete as an independent homeowner with no resources?

If you have no resources - how are you buying the power from the electric company?

It doesn't really make sense.

You don't get to write the panels off, write the workers off, or get tax breaks from the Government for being the big Power Company so of course when you have to pay out of pocket for everything no wonder the economics don't make sense.

What makes you think that the grid that gets the power from there to you will be functional to get the power from hither and yon?
posted by rough ashlar at 8:43 PM on May 25


One form of self-generation may become Ammonia. Ammonia can be "burned" in an internal Combustion Engine - even one as old as the Lister design.

http://www.25degrees.net/articles/energy-efficiency/item/1198-off-grid-cellphone-towers-powered-by-ammonia.html

If one has a reversible fuel cell one could be making Ammonia (in water) if one has excess power. Sunlight can be used to make anhydrous ammonia. http://www.energy-concepts.com/_pages/app_isaac_solar_ice_maker.htm
posted by rough ashlar at 8:47 PM on May 25


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