Decentralized Energy Grid
xiaoliangge @ stock.adobe.com
Different from large-scale conventional utility plants, decentralized energy grids can transfer, store, and harvest electricity or heat in smaller units located nearer to consumers. Instead of centralizing enormous facilities that typically cause considerable sustainability issues, these grids aggregate the decentralized production of energy from distributed energy resources (DERs). From wind, solar, combined heat and power (CHP), biogas, hydropower, fossil steam, power-to-heat, to diesel engines, decentralized energy grids are an optimal solution to empower communities and individuals, so they become the holders of their energy distribution and production.
Energy storage facilities, such as batteries, thermal, compressed air, and pumped storage, could also be incorporated. With the help of IoT sensors, it could monitor and optimize the grids and the networks benefiting from the energy produced, from homes and small-scale producers to businesses or industrial sites. Considering that this model allows different units to supply power to localized communities and areas, the decentralization of energy could decrease greenhouse gas emissions as the production does not exceed demand. Also, as the decentralization of energy increases efficiency due to the reduction in lost energy during transfer, it could create economic value for the producer in the long-term.
Key Emerging Technologies
A decentralized, transparent, and transactive energy market could be delivered on the Blockchain by Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAO). For example, Energy Web Foundation’s approach combines the Energy Web Blockchain and the Decentralized Autonomous Area Agent (D3A) to create an open-source network with features specifically designed for the energy sector to manage data, consensus, and digital assets. The D3A is a transactive market model that "leverages Smart Contracts to perform control and financial settlement for energy resources of any size and type, nested and scaled up and down the electricity grid, from devices to buildings, to neighborhoods and substations, to the bulk power grid."
A Smart Grid Architecture Model (SGAM), a complex System-of-Systems (SoS) that connects and manages the interactions between energy producers, distributors, and end consumers, could also be a central pillar for Decentralized Energy Networks. Being able to measure, model, anticipate and respond to fluctuations in energy usage and demand reduces the stress on network assets, minimizes disruption, and allows the entire network to be more efficient as electricity and heat are delivered to exactly where they are needed.
When paired with Machine Learning Weather Models, Decentralized Energy Grids could use real-time weather data to anticipate and predict load throughout the grid, enabling it to respond to any changes in weather and therefore fluctuating energy supply from renewable sources in order to redistribute energy around the grid.
In terms of supplying energy, Solar Roof Tiles could be installed on buildings and facilities connected to the grid, thus also potentially providing a source of income or tax credit for building owners supplying the grid. At a larger scale, Community Solar Billing provided via Mobile Crowdsensing Platforms could help reduce electricity costs for communities by helping them become shareholders in local solar farms.
Street furniture could also be connected to the grid. Streetlight CO2 Absorbing is one example of solar-powered streetlights equipped with CO2 scrubbers that help absorb pollutants present in the atmosphere that could also be connected to the Decentralized Energy Grid to serve twin purposes of providing light and also reducing CO2.
In the future, Piezoelectric Kinetic Energy Harvesting could harness energy from the impact of people's footsteps on sidewalks or vibrations from cars on asphalt roads or specially designed kinetic energy harvesting floors, providing an additional source of energy from within the grid to supply the grid.
Opportunities and Challenges
Decentralized Energy Grids give consumers more agency over their energy supply, providing flexibility, customization and convenience. From micro-grids serving campuses or small communities to grids serving urban areas, cities or entire countries, decentralizing the production, transmission and distribution of energy provides more autonomy, resilience and reliability when it comes to power. Yet the implementation costs are still a point of resistance. For instance, as solar panels are expensive assets, the expectancy of wide-range adoption of this energy model is still in its infancy.
As these systems become more accessible and inclusive, individual households could sell extra energy to the grid, in a peer-to-peer model, becoming a distributed energy grid. Also, these systems are evolving to become autonomous. They could, at some point, be nearly capable of making optimal decisions and energy negotiations without human input, optimizing energy efficiency and cost, and finally, taking into consideration not only the source of power but also real-time information such as the weather.