P2P Energy Grid

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The P2P Energy grid is a concept whereby any home could produce its own energy, using renewable energies like solar energy, and sell its surplus to others who need it.

See also Micropower, Microgrids , Net Metering and Distributed Power Generation


1. Alex Pazaitis:

"A P2P energy grid is a P2P network comprised of microgrids, in that are in close proximity from one another. It shares the same rules and characteristics as its component networks, which can be P2P microgrids. In this context, excess energy from each individual microgrid can be distributed in the rest according to their needs, basically creating a common energy pool for the network. Similarly to the individual peers of a P2P microgrid, in a P2P energy grid if for any reason one of the microgrids collapses it would not compromise the operation of the whole system.

Each of the peers (producer and consumer) is able to join or leave the grid at will, though it is necessary that the collective behavior is defined by the community itself. Unlike a P2P information network, in a P2P energy grid energy is not abundant, or though it might be abundant, in the case of renewable energy, like solar energy for instance, it is but not possible to be efficiently harnessed, stored and transmitted with the current technology level. The specific rules, defining participation might be shaped, according to the specific goals and desires of the community. Therefore, energy produced in the P2P energy model might be considered a commons only for those participating in the production."


"Microgrids are “a collection of small generators for a collection of users in close proximity,” explains Dr Markvart, whose research appears in the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Ingenia magazine. Microgrids’ premise is that electricity demand is split up and shared around the network of users, much like BitTorrent file sharing. “This microgrid appears to the larger grid as if it’s any other customer. And it can quickly switch between operating on and off the grid: when the grid offers cheap electricity, the microgrid can purchase it, but if prices rise or there’s a power failure, the microgrid can isolate itself. ” (http://www.ivanenviroman.com/2007/03/08/microgrids-are-p2p-electricity/)


Arguments for Microgeneration of Energy

  1. "Microgeneration is cost-effective. Some of Micropower technologies are more accessible than others but all can deliver on at least two of the four energy policy objectives; reductions in C02 emissions, reliability of supply, fuel poverty relief and maintaining competitiveness. For example, a micro-CHP unit will deliver the same comfort levels as a modern boiler, whilst reducing the emissions of a typical house by 1.5 tonnes (around 25%) of CO2 per year. This can help relieve fuel poverty, supply 1 - 5kW of peak electricity generating capacity - and provide the major utilities with some competition. Other forms, such as micro-wind turbines and solar panels, can cut energy bills by up to £100 per year or be integrated in conjunction with other types of microgenerators to offer genuine zero carbon residences. Moreover if just one quarter of all gas boilers that will be replaced between now and 2020 are replaced with ones that can generate power, the capacity this will bring is the equivalent to just under half of that provided by today’s nuclear power stations.
  2. A typical large power station wastes over a third of its fuel by simply heating up the atmosphere. A further 10% of this is wasted in transmission and distribution, meaning less than half of the fuel is used productively by the consumer. By comparison, microgeneration technologies use more than 90% of the fuel productively for heat or electricity, or are powered by clean, renewable sources.
  3. Microgeneration helps to combat climate change. Some forms of micropower use fuels or energy sources that produce no greenhouse gases and are classed as renewable energy. Those that do use fossil fuels do so with efficiencies typically of greater than 90%.
  4. Some micropower technologies, when taken up in large numbers, will provide a more predictable source of power generation than large power stations. They also relieve pressure on the grid at times of strain. They enhance diversity and security of supply, and for some technologies back-up power is also available in the event of a blackout.
  5. Microgeneration is a catalyst for cultural change.There are wider benefits than just cost and carbon reductions Consumers with microgeneration exhibit noticeable changes in their energy use, as well as sending a clear visual signal of a property contributes in generating low or zero carbon energy to neighbours."


Solar power as inherently distributed

Travis Bradford of the Prometheus Institute for Sustainable Development, and author of the book: Solar Revolution: The Economic Transformation of the Global Energy Industry, in an interview by Alternet

Travis says that we’re moving towards a distributed power generation model, with solar as the only viable option.

He says:

Solar is different from other energy technologies in that it delivers energy at the point of use, directly to the end user. That allows it to circumvent the entire supply chain. It’s not another option for a utility, it’s a competitor to a utility — the first time utilities have really had a competitor.

Solar is slowly going to begin to unwind the existing utility economics, to the point where utilities decide they have to get in or they risk losing their core business — exactly the transformations we’ve lived through in the last 20 years.

The solar revolution does not require new breakthroughs in technology. You could do it with the technology we have, scaling it up and learning how to do it incrementally better every year — which is what naturally happens with scale.

Everything has to reconnect. The infrastructures that separated — first at the beginning of the century, and again in the middle of the century for natural-gas infrastructure — have to reconnect. And we’ll need a lot more electricity to drive that.

There are real capacity constraints in any transportation-fuel option until we reconnect it with the electricity infrastructure. You do that either with plug-in hybrids or with electrolyzed hydrogen. My guess is that batteries will be better for transportation purposes, and electrolyzed hydrogen for stationary applications, because fuel cells on site are much easier to make than fuel cells with the thrust needed in automobiles.

Question by Alternet: What about the political implications of solar power? Will the decentralization of power production be accompanied by a decentralization of political power?

Bradford: Solar power is empowering. All things being equal, people like to control the resources upon which they rely. That’s why I spend time thinking about solar technologies rather than centralized, easily controlled technologies. At the end of the day, sustainability includes distributed power and democratization."

Weaknesses of the "Off the Grid" Approaches

Steve Bosserman [1]:

"In the traditional centralized Power Grid, power is concentrated in a select number of locations and authority is distributed to other points as needed and according to priorities driven by limited supply during periods of peak demand. The overall system, no matter how inefficient or costly, strives to be convenient, available when needed, standardized in delivery, and transparent during use. The goal is to please the most and dissatisfy the least so that fundamental assumptions about the design of the system are unquestioned, significant investments in infrastructure modernization or extensive system redesign are delayed, and increases in operational costs, along with services, are passed fluidly to the consumer. In other words, the existing power structure prevails and remains unchallenged and the consumer is dependent on that structure to get what is needed and wanted.

For every movement, there is a counter-movement. There are those who regard being “on the grid" as a lifestyle that epitomizes wanton consumerism, promoting waste, excess, banality, and destruction of the environment. Their alternative is to live “off the grid” disconnected from public services including electrical power. Initiated during the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the “back to the land” movement is often synonymous with off the grid solutions such as energy from solar, wind, and biomass sources.

The off the grid approach represents an alternative organization structure—a decentralized model. In this instance, power is held by a wide range of relatively small, independent individuals / families who are in total control of an electrical power system that meets their consumption requirements. As with many decentralized structures, one’s destiny is in one’s hands. However, the limits of these structures become apparent when consumption patterns change and more power is required or disaster strikes and there is no opportunity for a quick recovery." (http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/steve_bosserman/2007/02/07/lessons_from_the_grid.htm)

So we need integrated approaches

Steve Bosserman [2]:

"In New York where, as the article mentions, the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), launched the New York Energy $martSM initiative which offers a range of incentive programs directed toward offsetting the installation costs for small-scale solar systems and encouraging connection to the public power grid in order to facilitate net metering.

From an organizational standpoint, this represents a very different structure—the integrated model. Although neither centralized nor decentralized, integrated structures blend a centralized surplus distribution and backup system with a decentralized network of small-scale operations. Such interdependence distributes responsibility and authority to individual members in the social system so they can engage in self-sustaining behavior patterns while linked to a broader network of resources and markets. Individuals are in control of investments, operating expenses, and utilization of resources. They can take care of themselves first, sell the surplus, or if circumstances warrant, buy what they need or want when they are unable to provide enough by themselves.

The combination of electrical power grid, PV panels, and net metering represents one way developments in technology influence organization structure and design. As systems technologies become more powerful, pervasive, and transparent, sub-systems will become more embedded, integrated, and interdependent. The same concept applies to computers, the Internet, and payment for posting articles on a website or blog. As information and communication technologies continue to evolve, they will empower individuals to THINK independently, work openly and in parallel, and collaborate when opportunities arise for bargains and balances to be struck among the various comparative advantages, surpluses, and deficits in the larger system.

Thereby comes one of the unintended but inevitable consequences of pursuing “green energy” sources for power generation in lieu of “brown energy” sources: the fundamental organization structure and assumptions for organization design shift. Control is no longer held by a central body, be it a corporation, government, or special interest group; nor is it fractured and splintered to such a degree that collective effort is no longer possible. Instead, it is held in balance at the point where production, distribution, and consumption work in unison with one another for the advantage of the system rather than favoring the interests of a few at the expense of the many." (http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/steve_bosserman/2007/02/07/lessons_from_the_grid.htm)

Microgrids will be very difficult to achieve

Bill St. Arnaud [3]:

"All these analogies are nice, but the fundamental problem with P2P. Cloud or Distributed computing architectures for electrical distribution, is that todays electrical network is not designed for such traffic.

All electrical distribution systems today are designed on the assumption that power flows one way from the generator to the consumer. The design of the transformers, meters, breakers and monitoring equipment all assume power flows in this one direction. Even big corporations who purchase re-sale power struggle with the limitations of the high voltage electrical grid which was not designed to handle the dramatic growth in the wheeling of power from independent generators to customers.

Micro-generation and P2P micro generation are great ideas - but will decades to implement on a large scale because of the architecture limitation of today's electrical grid.

Just a simple example - imagine if your neighbour, with whom you share a transformer injected power into the grid. Because of impedance mismatch of the transformer, all that power would most likely flow into your home, rather than into the grid and burn out all your motors.

To properly build a micro-grid we would have to install new devices and equipment in all our homes.

Therefore my suggestion is rather than trying to build micro-grids, we instead use the mico-generated electricity to power real P2P network servers at our homes. But we don't attach these severs, or the micro-generators to the traditional electrical grid and instead use the Internet for re-routing of traffic as these servers turn up and down as household power demands fluctuate."


Policy Case: California

Michael Bishop describes a possible opening in California [4]

"It's possible that in the near future, the California Energy Commision and/or the California Public Utilities Commission will require the utility companies to actually pay residents that put more electricity into the grid than they took out of it. Once this happens, distributed generators will have much more leverage for developing P2P networks in which surplus electricity is bought and sold with minimal utility involvement.

The electric grid has huge potential as an 'open source' network. Advances in net metering (check out the yet-to-be-implemented Western Renewable Generation System: http://www.westgov.org/wieb/wregis/) are allowing folks to know exactly how much electricty they're producing and how much they're consuming at any given time. And it would be great for people to know that they can purchase renewable energy from a pal down the street. Open-source applications would be very appropriate for facilitating the open-source electricity network.

The California commissions have recognized some of the major problems with the current set up. Last fall, they put over $3 billion into renewable energy funding for the next decade and made it clear that radical changes would need to be made to California electricity systems in order to accomodate their ambitious goals (20% of California energy renewable by 2010; 33% by 2020). I think that further action on their part is critical for P2P networks to become feasible. Let's hope they've learned from the failed deregulation attempt in 2001."


Bloom Energy: Energy generators in homes and businesses

From Business 2.0:

"Making electricity in central power plants is so 20th century. K.R. Sridhar has a better idea: Create energy on the spot, right where it's consumed. His startup, Bloom Energy (formerly known as Ion America), is developing a fuel cell that could kick-start the distributed-energy industry.

The problem with today's centralized approach is its vast inefficiency. In coal-and gas-fired power plants, almost two-thirds of the energy produced by converting fuel into kilowatts escapes as heat. Another 8 percent, on average, dissipates as the electricity travels over transmission lines to get to your home.

Sridhar, a former aerospace engineering professor who developed a device for NASA to turn carbon dioxide into oxygen on Mars, is undaunted by big challenges. His plan for generating energy locally is to use solid-oxide fuel cells - a concept that has been kicking around since the 19th century but is now becoming practical with advances in the ceramics needed to build the things.

Bloom's cells, still in development, are constructed around a ceramic core that acts as an electrode. At high temperatures, fuel on one side attracts oxygen ions on the other. As these ions are pulled through the solid core, the resulting electrochemical reaction creates electricity.

Such a fuel cell can run happily on almost any hydrocarbon fuel - ethanol, biodiesel, methane, natural gas. Though it consumes hydrocarbons, Bloom Energy's fuel cell does not require combustion and therefore produces half the greenhouse gas emissions of more conventional energy sources. One of its by-products, in fact, is hydrogen that could be used in a different type of fuel cell, the hydrogen-powered version imagined for propelling cars." (http://peakenergy.blogspot.com/2007/08/distributed-energy-bloom.html)

More Information

Energy Action Plan II at [5].

CEC's 2004 Integrated Energy Policy Report at [6].

This World Changing blog entry summarizes different initiatives, at http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/002152.html

See the webcast on Decentralized Energy

P2P Encyclopedia entries on:

  1. Distributed Generation, or at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_generation
  2. Distributed Power Generation
  3. Microgeneration
  4. Microgrids
  5. Micropower
  6. Net Metering

Key Books to Read

Power to the People : How the Coming Energy Revolution Will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the Planet. Vijav Vaitheeswaran. Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 2003

Powerdown : Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World. Richard Heinberg. New Society Publishers, 2004

"an overview of the likely impacts of oil and natural gas depletion and then outlines four options for industrial societies during the next decades:

Last One Standing: the path of competition for remaining resources;

Powerdown: the path of cooperation, conservation and sharing;

Waiting for a Magic Elixir: wishful thinking, false hopes, and denial;

Building Lifeboats: the path of community solidarity and preservation."