This post is part two of a special two-part series by SF2011 Fellow Whitney Ramos. Whitney served her Fellowship in the Public Utilities Commission.
Another idea (though the technology isn’t there yet) is to take advantage of the artificial wind tunnels created by tall buildings located in San Francisco and other cities. Have you ever walked down Central Market Street on a windy day? There’s certainly some power there.
DG offers exciting possibilities. Long term, what about upgrading the grid (or building initially, in developing cities) to be better able to hook up and take advantage of DG? I went to a conference called West Coast Green late last year, which was about the Built Environment. One speaker mentioned a large commercial building that included a solar array. During weekends the solar panels would generate more electricity than the building would use. This was a prime opportunity for a company, which had already invested in renewable energy, to both add a revenue stream and provide the community with clean energy two days a week. Unfortunately, the local grid was technically incapable of absorbing the excess solar generation. The speaker reported that the solar system owner had to create a new technology to turn off the solar panels’ generation. The panels generate 29% less than they could. Given the cost of the investment and potential revenue from selling excess green electricity to the Utility Company, it is clear this is an inefficient outcome. In this case, the system owner could not take full advantage of their investment due to the grid’s technical limitations. In the future, this wastefulness could be avoided if distribution grids were designed for optimal DG connectivity.
Significantly upgrading the distribution grid for this purpose would require long term planning and buy-in from all parties involved, particularly distribution utilities. I’m not sure that it could happen in the real world or when it would, but the potential is there. Especially with Governor Brown pushing forward the development of 12,000 megawatts of renewable distributed generation by 2020, there is bound to be some new life behind expanding renewable DG. Hopefully that new life comes with innovative ideas, substantial funding, and plenty of green jobs for Californians.
An interesting read on ideas associated with location and size of electricity generation is Amory Lovins’ “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken” (1976, Foreign Affairs, 55(1): 65–96). For those interested in considering these ideas further, it is worth reading.