Electricity grids were hitherto developed in conjunction with large power stations and extensive distribution systems. The policies that regulate these grids and the power markets that use them require major reforms to render them equally applicable to renewable and embedded sources. Oversight occurs when renewables are expected to work within a policy system created at a time when nobody imagined electricity flowing any way other than from inside the system and out.
Today even major interests are suggesting that new generation may be small and distributed. Electricity will be more like an interlaced canal system, with some putting water in and others taking it out — hence the popular term 'electricity pool'. We may come to see small gas co-generation systems in the bottom of virtually every big building firing up to provide peaking power. We may see wind farms at the end of grids and suburbs of solar roofs pumping out power to commercial districts during the day. Unfortunately the 1950s model of large plants and lots of
Box 2.4 When policy fails: Guerrilla solar
One alternative to policy reform is guerrilla warfare. At the European PV conference in Glasgow I was introduced to a group of American engineers from what is now called Schott. (They make sine wave inverters for solar panels and sport T-shirts that read, 'We invert 'till it hertz.' I gave this T-shirt to my partner, who teaches yoga and spends preposterously long periods of time upside down).
Source: Home Power (1998)
Figure 2.8 Guerrilla solar in action
Source: Home Power (1998)
These people introduced me to the shadowy world of 'Guerrilla Solar', bands of wanton criminal types who wear balaclavas to disguise their true identity whilst they put solar panels on their roofs and plug them in. I am informed that in many US states this very act violates a raft of laws designed to keep good citizens from doing anything but consuming electricity. No licences for power production, no certification, electronic devices sending signals into the grid - all serious offences. To top it all, these audacious guerrillas take photographs of themselves in the act and post them on the web.
In fact, my new friends considered themselves a cut above this approach and instead were considering a strategy of re-branding. Their masterstroke was to turn the plugging-in concept on its head. Solar panel micro-sine inverters hitting the market at the time allowed one to essentially plug the solar panel into a household socket. There were, however, many grey areas about exactly how to classify a solar panel and what rules it would need to comply with. So these lateral thinkers were ready to classify their solar panels as Christmas tree lights. Every year hundreds of houses across the US go up in flames because Christmas tree lights have so few standards to meet. By putting two light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the line from the panel to the plug product would be both the safest and most energy-efficient Christmas tree lights in the US.
wires does not fit this evolution and it must be changed to allow renewables and distributed sources to enter the game.
Energy market reform and access oversights vary hugely between electricity systems. But certain common problems seem to crop up time and time again. For example, the owner of a power network may have the ability to refuse network access. Or that owner may be able to apply excessive or unreasonable costs, or gain windfall payments through the auctioning of spare line capacity. On a different note, the infrastructure planning system is unlikely to have ways to factor in savings though embedded generation and reduced system use (least-cost planning). And a different distortion can occur when the local value of energy (i.e. the cost including generation, distribution and losses) is not transparent or disclosed. Finally, the licensing for generation will be likely to be based on large power stations and may be inappropriate for small-scale generation.
On a more long-term policy front, similar issues must be confronted in terms of how grid infrastructure is extended, reinforced and paid for. How are licences calculated and assigned? How are power quality conditions specified? How are forward contracts for power set up and over what time periods? Are conditions the same for all power providers?
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