To date the information technology revolution has had an underwhelming impact on the utility industry. But that is starting to change. Utility infrastructure is becoming more sophisticated as the ideas and technology that reinvented communications in the internet age are being applied to utilities.
The most important, customer facing piece of this utility infrastructure overhaul is the smart meter. The smart meter has met resistance by a small but vocal group of consumers over privacy and (believe it or not) health concerns. But its importance to the future of energy and energy management cannot be overstated.
Smart technology will deliver the new generation of energy management and energy efficiency. This will be critical economically as energy is becoming more expensive. It is also critical environmentally as the developed world seeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels which still provide most of the world’s energy.
In the future a truly smart electricity grid will allow smart appliances, electric vehicles, distributed electricity generation sources (think rooftop solar), and public electricity infrastructure to communicate seamlessly and in real time to make better use of available electricity and reduce waste. It will also change the way people buy their electricity. People will be allowed to prepay for their electricity and monitor it’s usage in real time. They can adjust their habits and the timing of their energy usage to fit with market supply and demand. This will allow them to both reduce their own costs and reduce strain on the grid during times of peak demand.
The Industrial Age, which has benefited the progress of mankind for more than 100 years, has also brought about a significant increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the earth’s atmosphere. The long-term effects of this increase is beginning to show itself in the form of global climate change. We need to address this problem sooner rather than later.
Scientific studies over the years show two effects that are already beginning to appear: the increase in the temperature of the Earth and the world’s oceans are becoming more acidic. These effects will continue to adversely affect the global environment should they be left to go unabated. According to scientists, unless urgent action is taken, the Earth’s temperature will continue to increase and sea levels will rise, resulting in negative impacts on both land and sea environments.
CO2 is a naturally occurring gas and essential to life on Earth. It is found in carbonated soft drinks, beer, and champagne as the bubbly “fizz.” The layer of CO2 that exists in the atmosphere prevents reflection of the heat produced by the rays of the sun back into space, allowing plant and animal life to survive. But there are other gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, and water vapor that contribute to the prevention of heat escaping back into space.
Obviously, the problem is what happens when too much CO2 is emitted or trapped in the atmosphere. While green plants use CO2 to live and animals emit CO2 as a by-product of breathing, the amount added to the atmosphere by man’s progress and industrialization is causing more heat than naturally intended to be trapped, causing the temperature to rise.
One of the major impacts of the production of electricity is the increased burning of fossil fuels to generate the amounts necessary to keep up with the increasing demand. The use of natural gas to heat homes also contributes to the increased amounts of CO2, as CO2 is a by-product of the production of natural gas. Add to these industrial processes the production of iron, steel, cement, ammonia, and the refinement of oil necessary to produce gasoline, and the amount of CO2 emitted into the air increases dramatically.
Deforestation and land clearing, either by natural occurrences such as wildfires, or progress by man when clearing land, reduces the number of green plants available to use the excess amounts of carbon dioxide produced by unnatural sources.
Recently the EPA proposed to place limits on the carbon pollution from new fossil fuel power plants, which would be required not only to capture some of the carbon dioxide produced, but also to produce a smaller amount in the first place.
The regulations include:
• Coal plants having a 500 kg per megawatt hour of producing power limit on carbon dioxide pollution.
• Natural gas plants limitations of just over 450 kg per megawatt hour of pollution of carbon dioxide.
Opposition to this was expected to be strong, with companies stating that implementation of these regulations would not be commercially feasible. The first version of the rules alone received a staggering 2.5 million comments before removal to address procedural issues.
Some experts believe that these new rules could help the U.S. economy progress to a low carbon future, and with the slow integration over 7 years of these standards that this was very do-able.
An additional flexibility that the EPA stated would be that plants would have to collect a portion of their carbon pollution. While advocates in the industry have argued that this change will be necessary for fighting climate change, the research and development is still in a very early stage.
On top of this, the power industry is shifting towards natural gas to generate electricity, which could mean that the market for plants with included carbon-capture equipment could be as far as decades away.
The EPA on recently announced new regulations that would see a limitation on the amount of carbon produced by new power plants in the U.S. These rules would allow sustainability for the coal industry by implementing the expensive, albeit early-stage carbon capture technology as a means of a cleaner future. The innovation of this technology isn’t the only hurdle though, with market demand potentially posing a problem.
While many think this is a positive move by the EPA, coal industry companies argue that this will only stifle innovation into clean-coal technology. Further statements argue that this expensive and energy-intensive technology could reduce the total power generation of their plants by a staggering 30%.
Despite these regulations and the hopes of the EPA, the future for this technology looks grim. The cheap and bountiful resources of natural gas alone threaten to make coal obsolete, and without a market for coal there would be a similar effect on the technology for carbon capture and storage. This doesn’t stop the motivation of some natural gas companies however, who anticipate the integration of these rules in future and have started to begin innovation with CCS.
For more information, read here: http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/0920/New-EPA-rules-Coal-s-future-depends-on-cheap-carbon-capture
Carbon capture and storage is the process of capturing the carbon dioxide that is produced from large scale carbon generating operations. This would typically be power plants that burn fossil fuel or biofuel to generate electricity. Larger scale industrial process also generate massive amounts of carbon dioxide and are therefore also prime candidates for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies.
CCS technologies, when effectively deployed can result in the capture of up to 90% of CO2 that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere. Such technologies when used with renewable biomass fuel sources can actually result in a carbon-negative process for generating energy.
The CCS process can be broken in to three primary phases:
- Carbon Dioxide Capture Techniques – This involves intervention at the point in which the carbon is produced at a power plant or industrial plant. The CO2 is separated from the other gases created in the process of generating electricity or other production processes. This is done by one of three primary methods: pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture and oxyfuel combustion.
- Carbon Dioxide Transpiration Techniques – CO2 captured at the source of production can be transported by a number of methods including pipeline, ship, and road tankers. The process is similar to that of transporting natural gas or oil. The infrastructure requirements for transporting captured CO2 and natural gas are similar.
- Carbon Dioxide Storage Techniques – Once transported, carbon dioxide is stored in liquid form. Typically, it would be stored in large geological formations miles underground. Often old depleted gas or oil fields can be used for CO2 storage. CO2 can also be used at existing but depleting oil fields. There the CO2 might be injected to increase oil recovery in a process called “enhanced oil recovery”. Approximately 30 to 50 million metric tonnes of CO2 are injected annually in the United States into declining oil fields.
Safe underground storage of Co2 relies on a mechanism know as structural storage whereby an impermeable layer of rock known as cap rock traps the CO2 underground. This impermeable layer of rock prevents the CO2 from escaping above ground and entering the atmosphere.