Utility Giants and the Woolly Mammoth Do Battle With New Technology

Utility Giants and the Woolly Mammoth do Battle with New Technology


Extinction Warning: Utility giants are becoming a dying breed, morphing into an industry of the past. Utility customers complain about increased cost for electricity, while Big Utility observes losses in profits.

The Background for this phenomenon – 2014 found many complaints coming in from across the US, that solar energy was doing too well, solar systems were making too much electricity. Customers have been paying less, and in cases where customers “went off the grid” their electricity costs are close to nonexistent.

Big Utility saw this as a warning to retrench (as in, to take up a more defensive position) or at least reassess, while conferences and speeches by utility executives ensued. This was after September 2013 when Hawaii HECO (Hawaiian Electric) worked with Island governments to stop, delay or surcharge new solar projects, especially connected to residential customers.   http://www.worldviewopinion.net/solar-turned-off-maybe/ Hawaii’s residential utility customers are most vocal since they experience electricity costs that are up to three times that of the mainland average.

Most importantly, the Utility Company business model is changing – Utility unrest is due to the disparity between high infrastructure costs for producing power for the grid, versus the less complicated, less expensive solar electrical energy. The corporate Utility business model is changing – moving away from being driven exclusively by corporate and stakeholder profits. Will they really? Many observers insist they will, just as employees have had to learn new skills to adjust to a changing economy.

As more and more, customers turn to the sun for their power, a variety of sources claim that Big Utility cannot win.

“Energy Manager Today,” an internet energy news media provider makes a revelatory prediction  “Solar-plus-storage represents a fundamentally new paradigm … solar-plus-storage provides an opportunity for customers to cut the cord to their utility entirely.”  February 25, 2014.

“RMI Report Predicts Demise of Existing Utility Business”

The theme of EMT’s report initially came from Rocky Mountain Institute, which “… details the potential appreciable customer defection from the electric grid in major markets by 2025, without incurring higher cost or lower reliability.”

This may seem an unusual theme choice since RMI maintains a close relationship with the Department of Energy.

Nothing the Utilities can do to stop it – Michael Sankowski, “Monetary Realism, Economics Without Politics, Dec. 23, 2013 – http://monetaryrealism.com/the-solar-powered-death-spiral-for-utilities-begins-in-hawaii/ Solar is already less expensive than using Utilities for power … “This will vastly accelerate adoption of solar and also completely disrupt the business model for utilities.”… Mr. Sankowski calls this the, “Solar Powered Death Spiral for Utilities,” which has already started in Hawaii. “It’s going to spread across the U.S. faster than a zombie plague – and there is nothing the Utilities can do to stop it.”

Net Metering – Many residential utility customers engage in “net metering” with their utility. This practice gives their sunny-day-overage back to the utility, later to be used by the customer like a bank account on a cloudy day.

What about those many hours of downtime for solar energy production. People have been trying to tweek energy out of cloudy days and nighttime hours for as long as humans have seen the sun.  http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2013/07/utility-wars-how-mainstream-utility-companies-are-dealing-with-solar-as-a-threat  Many utility companies across the country are reducing or eliminating net metering credits.  “Utilities (are) lobbying elected officials to reverse state laws requiring net metering and launching full-scale publicity campaigns to turn public sentiment against solar.”

A backlash is gathering – TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) an advocacy group, is about preserving a free market and fostering competition and choice. And TASC (The Alliance for Solar Choice) president Bryan Miller says, “Utilities aren’t calling solar an alternative – they are calling it a threat.”

Saying this shows that Solar has become strong enough, popular enough to be considered a threat by traditional utility companies, making the implications clear and far-reaching.

It seems that rebates and tax credits are on the way out.  “Everybody expects the 30 percent tax credit to expire and to move to a 10 percent federal tax credit in 2016,” says clean energy expert, Jigor Shah. Like a rocky road, energy consumers will find ways to circumvent the challenges.

Net Metering is not necessary – Happening concurrent to the complaints from utilities about cheap solar, electric energy storage units need to be stronger but smaller. More than that, innovators are establishing completely different directions and technologies.

Think of the energy to be saved – or made – if solar systems worked at night and on cloudy days. Researchers at MIT tell us this is the major drawback to solar energy production. “Photovoltaics could have a sunny outlook,” if they can overcome a couple of deficiencies. First and foremost, they don’t generate power at night.  http://www.engineering.com/ElectronicsDesign/ElectronicsDesignArticles/ArticleID/7025/Solar-Thermophotovoltaic-Cells-Can-Generate-Electricity-at-Night.aspx  January 26, 2014, they believe they have accomplished this with their solar thermophotovoltaic (STPV) cell, by concentrating sunlight onto a solar cell, extracting most of the solar spectrum, and “converting it to the wavelength that photovoltaics prefer.”

Hold that heat – At night, heat is easier to store than electricity, so panels are made of solar thermophotovoltaic (STPV) cells, thus generating electricity at night – it’s essential they hold the heat that they absorbed during the day. Caveat, “The researchers are a little sketchy about how the heat would be stored.”

Previous work with STPV cells produced experimental efficiencies of around 1%. MIT’s team brings that up to 3.2%. “They believe that with slight improvements, STPV will soon achieve around 20% efficiency, making it competitive with today’s PV panels.”

Why is panel efficiency so low?

Very Cool, cook my dinner, please – As the ultimate barbeque, the Wilson Solar Grill cooks meals in daylight, and at night. Developed by MIT professor David Wilson, this solar-powered grill can store heat energy at 450 degrees F for 25 hours, using a Fresnel lens [yes, like those in lighthouses] to heat Lithium Nitrate. http://themindunleashed.org/2014/01/newly-invented-grid-solar-grill-can-store-energy-cook-night-without-electricity.html These barbecues are quite beautiful.

african grill

What the two above news bits say is, here we have advanced technology, one that clearly needs more work, while the next one is beyond theoretical – it is practical and desirable. Note, both came from minds at MIT. Science is intended to be practical, and should be put to work in a person’s lifetime, not 20 to 80 years of prototype-building.

Think of Alaska in Winter – If you want your solar energy to last longer, lets say, during the Arctic Winter of Alaska, solar energy expert, Paul Smith shows how, using components from a hardware store. This everyday-applicable solar power operates all night, every night, and during cloudy days, any day, anywhere.  www.facebook.com/paul.smithAmericansupersolar  and supersolar.24.7@aol.com

Optimum solar energy is a reality now, without waiting twenty years for practical technology to catch up. Paul Smith will be giving a lecture on how to have solar power 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on March 6, at the Student Union, event sponsored by the United Nations Club of Southern Oregon University.


www.worldviewopinion.net – article by Charlotte Wilson