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Crowdsourcing the energy revolution

Crowdsourcing the energy revolution

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Nov 16, 2011
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Crowdsourcing the energy revolution
By Chris Nelder | November 16, 2011
For the last six weeks I have outlined the big picture on energy, and advocated fortransitions in energy and infrastructure that must really be addressed at the federallevel. But if federal leadership on these big objectives fails to materialize (as it has,so far), what do we do?
If you’re a resident of Denmark, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Tucson, Orlando,
Sacramento, and dozens of other communities, the answer is right in your town.
You don’t
even need to have an unshaded, south-facing roof and $20,000 to$30,000 to invest in a solar PV system on your house. All you need is an energyco-op.
Today I’ll survey how those strategies work. But first, I want to tell you about a
dream I had about a year ago.I had been trying to imagine how communities might develop energy self-sufficiency as the national grid infrastructure began to crumble and fail, because
that is the path we’re on. Without about 
half a trillion dollars in upgrades betweennow and 2030,our existing grid is destined for decrepitude.The technology exists to allow individual towns or regions to become largely, if not completely, self-s
ufficient in energy. It’s mostly off 
-the-shelf stuff, and muchof it has been around for decades. The only missing elements are the leadership todo it, and the capital. But how do we get from here to there?The conceptual model is straightforward.First, the town deploys as much local generation from renewables as possible. In
the Southwest, it’s solar; in the Midwest, wind; for the coastal cities, offshore wind
and marine energy (comprising a whole suite of different technologies); inmountainous regions, solar and micro-hydro; and geothermal (another suite of various technologies) almost everywhere.Second, the town develops local storage. Again, a whole range of technologies areavailable here, including residential- and commercial-sized battery arrays, pumpedwater systems, distributed flywheels, compressed air in underground caverns,molten salts, ammonia synthesis, and many others.The final step is to deploy switches that would allow the town to disconnect fromthe main grid when it goes down, and fall back on their own capacity. Thistechnology is routinely used today, to prevent one power plant failure from taking
down the entire grid. But it can also be used to create a ―microgrid,‖ allowing a
region to isolate itself from the main grid.
Think of a town-sized version of the switch that lets a home equipped with solarPV and battery backup disconnect from the grid when it goes down, and fall back on its battery array.
The hard part would be rounding up the capital and the leadership, and that’s what
my dream was about.
 A dream of self-sufficiency
It happened in Mill Valley, CA, a fairly well-heeled community of about 14,000people where I used to live, just north of San Francisco. Frustrated with frequentgrid outages, a small group of local, wealthy residents decided to take matters intotheir own hands. They created a small fund and set a modest target for the firstyear, like $1 million to buy PV and install it on the larger rooftops in town
forexample, the grocery store, the rec center, the sewage treatment plant. At the sametime, they added some battery arrays equivalent to the generation of each array.
Because they were the town’s elites, they were able to persuade the town council to
give them regulatory support for the project, clearing permitting hurdles for newsolar systems, and requiring the utility to install the microgrid switches. Themanagers of the commercial buildings were eager to host the arrays because theywere tired of the grid going down and wanted stability, and they readily agreed tobuy the power the arrays generated.When the first year proved a success, the fund was doubled, and more generationcapacity was added. Each year, it doubled again. A sense of local pride began todevelop around the idea, and by the fifth year, everyone wanted to be a part of it.Grandmothers dipped into their savings and contributed in $5,000 and $10,000amounts. Schoolchildren held fundraisers and contributed $200 at a time. By thetenth year, the largest roofs and available ground space were covered in solar PVmodules, and by the twentieth, nearly every spot with good solar exposure had it.In time, the microgrid switching was installed, and larger storage projects wereundertaken. A multi-million dollar system to store power for the whole town wasinstalled, which pumped water up nearby Mt. Tamalpais and used the existingreservoirs.

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