A Resilient Grid

During Hurricane Sandy, all of lower Manhattan lost power for several days when a transformer blew at a ConEd plant on 14th Street.

Driving around lower Manhattan at night in the aftermath of Sandy was one of the strangest moments I’ve experienced as a NY’er. The traffic lights didn’t work and everything was pitch black.

Except NYU. As you approached Washington Square the city lit up again. That is because NYU has its own power plant, a cogeneration facility next to NYU’s Courant Institute.

Similarly, when the west side of Manhattan went dark a few weeks ago in what is turning into a summer of blackouts, everything was pitch black except the new Hudson Yards development. That’s because on the top of the Hudson Yards Shopping Mall, there is a massive cogeneration facility that powers all of buildings in that development.

So when I heard Mayor de Blasio ruminating over the weekend about a government takeover of ConEd, I thought to myself “he’s got it all wrong.”

We don’t need more centralized control of our power grid, we need a more decentralized power grid.

NY State has been pushing in this direction for years now under the leadership of Richard Kauffman, Chairman of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). The state has deregulated the energy markets, they have created substantial incentives for property owners to build out renewable (solar/battery/etc) capacity in their buildings, and they have put forth a vision of an energy grid that is not reliant on any one entity to stay up.

Back in the 1960s when the Department of Defense designed ARPANET, the precursor to the modern Internet, they designed a network that was entirely decentralized and therefore massively resilient (anti-fragile in Nassim Taleb speak).

That should be our goal with our energy grid as well. We should want energy production and consumption to happen at the edges of the network and we should want redundancy in the cables that connect everything together.

We aren’t there today and it will take a lot of work over many years to get there. But that should be our goal.

And we certainly should not be putting our energy system into the hands of a centralized and bureaucratic government. That would lead to more blackouts, not less.

#hacking energy

Comments (Archived):

  1. Mike Zamansky

    I live in the Penn South Apartments – a moderate income coop spanning 23 – 29 streets, 8th – 9th ave. Built in the 1960s it was an ILGWU project and it’s one of the last small islands of affordable housing for teachers and the like (if you can get on and through the waiting list). Unlike most similar projects the income ranges to get in make it legit moderate income housing.We’ve generated our own power since the 1980’s. We do lose power periodically but when we do, it’s normally planned for maintenance and short term and the rest of the city is up and running for us to escape to. We’ve also had power through all the storms and blackouts since I’ve moved in in the late 90s.Probably an especially good thing as Penn South is what is known as a NORC – a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community and we have many older residents for whom a blackout would be more challenging.Didn’t the Dakota generate its own power back in the day?

    1. awaldstein

      The Dakota–really!

    2. fredwilson

      how do you generate your own power? cogen, solar, something else?

      1. Mike Zamansky

        It’s a dual fuel cogeneration plant – oil or natural gas.

        1. fredwilson

          got it. that’s excellent.

    3. JLM

      .The Dakota is one of the first individual cogen plants in the USA. It had a steam “engine” in the basement that generated electricity.The heat was ejected in the form of steam that was used to heat the building.They used No 6 bunker oil. No 6 — rather than No 2 — is still used in NYC. It looks and feels like asphalt and has to be pre-heated to thin it enough to burn.The Dakota also had a cistern that caught rain water (not that unusual) and had rainwater hydraulic elevators (very unusual).I learned this because of the rainwater hydraulic elevators. I haven’t thought about this in 30 years, but I remembered it when you asked the question.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      1. Mike Zamansky

        Wow – this is all very cool.

      2. Salt Shaker

        I lived on W72nd St literally steps from The Dakota for 30 years. Used to pass Sean Lennon (John’s son) and his housekeeper/bodyguard going to school practically every morning as I’d head to subway/work. Would see Yoko too, but a lot less so over the years. There were a variety of other semi-famous residents too. One fine morning I stumbled upon an aging Lauren Bacall in rollers and a short housecoat walking her dog with a butt dangling from her lips. Wasn’t a very pretty sight as in my head some of Lauren’s classic celluloid images turned to cellulite.

        1. Mac

          Still, it was Lauren Bacall. Special moment.

  2. awaldstein

    Agree.The hybridization of the grid seems the right solution.Visibility and micro markets cross a hybrid grid seems an opportunity for the blockchain which has not come to fruition yet.Curious if you Fred or anyone knows of projects that are tackling this?Early ones like Swytch are interesting, but no one with the possible except our local LO3 energy seem to be busting out.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Without nuclear power, you aren’t going to have a powerful on demand sustainable grid.

      1. awaldstein

        You keep saying this and maybe your are right.But honestly, I am not listening very hard–to even smart folks–who throw crud in the mill without helping to fix stuff.I can and am working where I can add value through projects that are trying to make a difference. Big fish in very small pond which is my way.If you care–and you are certainly smart and informed enough, and an investor–you should.If you don’t care that is fine. We all choose where we can both give a shit and make a difference.

      2. Paul Williams

        “on demand sustainable grid.” mmmm you do know how grids work..right ?supply has to match demand exactly….. at all times, its quite a feat that grid operators manage to do this at all…. supply can’t match demand…black/brown-out, over-supply is just as bad and it has to be dumped via giant artificial loads or it will damage the grid infrastructure. balancing is done currently done using “peekers” but that is changing rapidly as it is now cheaper to build large scale storage(or small scale distributed) than to build new peekers. You can’t spin a nuclear power station up and down to match the demand. Nuclear has its place but but “on demand” don’t think so. Watch the video 😉

        1. pointsnfigures

          I have rudimentary knowledge of how grids work. However, your point doesn’t buttress the need for solar etc-but does buttress the need for unbundling. The broader point is in an information economy where we are large consumers of energy, we need nuclear to meet the demand. Blockchain might have something to say about getting more power into the grid while keeping it balanced. Futures contracts based on historical data might also work to keep the grid balanced. But, the future has to be nuclear. Besides, it’s green.

          1. Paul Williams

            “Besides, it’s green.” yep I believe it makes apples grow better and encourages nature reserves ;)http://mentalfloss.com/arti…Most of Europe is unbundled thanks to the EUhttps://www.sem-o.com/marke…https://www.sem-o.com/marke…In most of these new markets a virtual supplier that can act on short(or medium) call-time to reduce demand get’s a payment that is equal to what a peeker generator would get for supply(i.e. a premium rate).They are called “demand side aggregators”, some of them are implementing this by using local battery storage and smart meters on their customers premises(commercial mostly), the batteries are charged when demand is low(cheap rate). The v-supplier has real-time info from the smart meter on consumption and charge state of batteries so he knows how much “demand reduction” he can supply at any given moment by sending a signal to customer to switch to battery. So a lot of this is happening already…..just not in NY(and US ?)……. no magic blockchain required :DNow if you add rooftop solar to charge those customer batteries….MIght reduce future spending on grid infrastructure upgrades….which are often the root cause of power outages when demand is extra high…..(A/C in hot summers in NY).No use having a massive Nuclear power station if you’re network can’t get the current to where the peak in demand actually is.Unless you are ok with a nuclear power station in downtown NY.

        2. JLM

          .As you obviously know, power is fed into the grid by base load and peak load generation plants.Coal and nuclear are good base load plants.Natural gas and to a lesser extent oil are good peak load plants. Peak load plants can also be used for base load.Last time I checked, there were 9,000 power plants in the US with a number of them being multi-fuel and most of them having multiple individual units.The first line of defense in dealing with peak demand is to simply crank up another unit at an existing plant in the immediate service area.The second line of defense is to import power via the grid.The computer models to predict the demand are quite good and accurate and have been for years.The distribution infrastructure is good, but not great.What challenges peak load delivery is weather and population growth.In places like Texas where the summers can be brutal, the models anticipate the 110F days with great accuracy and they can be seen building at least six hours before the peak arrives — in the 4-7 PM time frame.The course of action is clear hours before the peak arrives. If you miss the peak, you get a brownout.Power plants have the ability to “throttle” their power output and peak power plants can spin up/spin down in relatively quick order.Nukes are not the ideal tool to meet peak because they run best when the process is stable and consistent, but they can be throttled just a smidgen.The grid is tested by renewables for exactly the reason you note — the absolute necessity to balance production and use of power.The grid is very physically vulnerable as NYC learned recently — though that was not the “grid” people mean when they say the grid. That was more of a local distribution issue.One important fact to remember is where the USA has coal. More than 40% of all the coal in the USA comes out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming from whence the US Army’s Powder River Division, the 91st Inf Div was formed.My Dad served with the 91st In Italy and received a battlefield commission. He admired those tough miners.Unfortunately, the electrical demand near where coal exists is low.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

          1. Paul Williams

            “The grid is tested by renewables for exactly the reason you note — the absolute necessity to balance production and use of power.”https://blogs.scientificame…Absolutely right, renewables without storage do cause a problem, so storage capacity (large scale or distributed)in the network should come first, and only then solar and wind.That’s my whole point….. its currently cheaper to build smart storage than build power generators…..and its only going to get cheaper.I’ve heard that the distance in Texas from where the most demand is to the large coal powered generators is 500 miles(I guess it makes sense to have them near the coal). I can only imagine what that cable network even looks like and the amount of energy that is lost along the way. And if we don’t get away from coal soon……we are all done anyways. Especially low-lying cities like NY….My next point was that the real solution is demand reduction via smart use of technology(demand aggregators, blockchain etc)or just better designed buildings, but nature might take care of that for us, if we (as a global community) don’t get our act together soon.

          2. JLM

            .Texas is big, but no power plants are more than 500 miles from targeted markets.Coal power plants are located between the lignite and the market or at the market astride rail lines.The biggest coal plant, WA Parrish, has 3 coal units and is located inside Houston astride a rail line.It is married to 4 gas plants, a perfect base/peak load design.Texas shut down 4 coal plants (5,000 MW capacity) last year, one in San Antonio.The power grid in Texas is pretty good with a huge diversity of coal/lignite (16), natural gas (46), biomass (6), hydro (12), wind (78), solar (23), and nuclear (2).The biomass, wind, solar plants are all small, some as small as 30 MW and as high as 200 MW.Storage is going to be a tough nut to crack because of the ability to manage peak loads with other capabilities.Line losses in the distribution net are enormous especially from the windy parts of Texas — the high plains — and the markets.However, line losses is and has always been part of the game.Nuclear is the big opportunity, both large plants and pre-packaged plants at the 25 MW size. There is not a single small sized nuke operating in the US today and, yet, our US Navy is running them all the time.As to buildings — having built millions of SF of high rises in my time — they have a simple time of day issue 8-5 they need power for lights, elevators, HVAC. Thereafter they go to bed.I had good luck with night time ice generation to avoid peak electricity charges, but that initiative is essentially dead in the USA. You know who uses night time ice generation? Churches.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    2. Paul Williams

      Grid+ started off attempting that….Tony Seba talks about these issueshttps://www.youtube.com/wat…

      1. awaldstein

        Thanks.There is interesting blockchain thinking coming out of MIT Innovation Labs spearheaded by John Clippinger that speaks to this tangentially. As well–and out there–the idea of soil regeneration and blockchain measurement systems to measure climate chain through carbon changes in soil composition.Drawn to this.Spoke to a grad class recently taught by well known friend in the crypto space where these brilliant young teams were brainstorming how to build and rollout pieces of the solution.Inspiring to me to help fuel the future through these unencumbered minds.

    3. Roelof Reineman

      Blockchain and the Energy Transition go hand in hand, but blockchain is an enabler, not the original disrupter as many claim it to be. The disruption of energy started with renewables, EV, storage a lot earlier. Granted, blockchain will make integrating all these bits and pieces a lot easier.There are a number of projects (in varying stages) next to LO3:- Energy Web Foundation- Power Ledger- FlexiDAO- Electron- Prosume.ioI have experience with blockchain at a Dutch utility for about 5 years now, happy to help if you have any other questions.

      1. awaldstein

        great.my expertise is in creating the narrative with the market for a number of projects within and without the blockchain and environmental [email protected]

  3. kenberger

    I was a co-founder of BAWUG in the Bay Area in early 2000s. We had taken self-powered open source mesh radio tech we experimented with in the desert at Burning Man, and adapted it to first responder, cafe hotspot, and other mesh communication uses.Here’s 1 of the old writeups (2002): https://www.cnet.com/news/f…”Free wireless Net access for the masses:Community groups are extending Net access through the 802.11b wireless standard, generating a phenomenon reminiscent of the Napster craze.”But most of the coverage was that a bunch of hobbyists were about to disrupt the “cellular” companies. Clearly, that didn’t really happen. But it’s good to see some of this finally taking off on grander scales. We did get involved in some projects that were commercially successful (Tropos Networks), but most of these still eventually got subsumed by centrally-acting entities (the way that Fred is advising NOT to go).I guess my point here is that economic forces and venture return models have largely caused centralized companies to prosper. It’s only very recently that decentralized anything has been given serious consideration or market validation and success. Maybe now is finally indeed the time, and I couldn’t be more excited about that.

    1. kenberger

      This is fun: our old website is archived at the Library of Congress site:https://webarchive.loc.gov/…We had lectures like “Antennas 101”, in late 2000.I got Intel’s CTO to host us for a day and have us poke holes in their WiMax equipment and plans, in 2002.This is how I started with VC: most of them were interested in having us help source and diligence wifi investments.

    2. Matt A. Myers

      It’s perhaps the increased sense of threat due tyrannical governments and bad actors making a stronger showing globally that’s the impetus that wasn’t there before.

    3. sigmaalgebra

      As I understand the situation, the US electric power grid, even extending to the Canadian electric power grid, is wildly distributed for both the KW producers and the consumers. So, if a big producer goes off-line, there are adjustments all across the grid, in principle all across the country.What is usually not distributed is just “the last mile”.

      1. kenberger

        I’m not deep or current enough re power grids to explain well, but consider that often times, an entire region (the whole northeast?) goes out when there’s a problem. That tells you something that even though it looks and sometimes acts like a mesh, and the nodes are “distributed”, the system still acts almost like a central network (rather than edge, as Fred promotes here) and is very vulnerable.

        1. sigmaalgebra

          IIRC, the big outages you mention were caused by faults in the protection of “grid stability”. There was plenty of power, but from the instabilities parts of the grid went off line as a safety measure, e.g., to protect some equipment from overloading.My understanding is that since then and in response the grid has worked really hard on keeping the grid stable. Apparently part of this is the smart grid, and not nearly just for the last mile.One of the concerns for wind/solar power for the grid is that some sudden weather change can shutdown the power suddenly. Then the rest of the grid has to adjust. That adjustment is more challenging than some traditional base load plant announcing in advance that they are going to go offline at noon in two weeks.Gee, in my list above of the keys to the solution, carbon-free, renewable, wind, solar, gerbils in cages, generators on exercise bicycles, …, I omitted blockchain!!!! I don’t know when, how, or why, but there must be a crucial role in there somewhere for the uniform magic of blockchain??When I was working in anomaly detection for server farms and networks, I gave a talk at the main NASDAQ server farm in Trumbull, CT. There I got a tour. In short, they ran the site off generators powered by batteries. They charged the batteries from the grid and had two independent connections to the grid. If both of those connections failed, they had big (maybe 20 feet high) Diesel generators ready to charge the batteries. The generators were started and tested occasionally. And, then, in case the whole site went down, they had a remote backup site ready to take over!!! So, if want really reliable power, there’s an example of how to get it! I didn’t notice a role for wind, solar, or blockchain!!!I know; I know; I know; for this whole issue definitely we should look for our much needed wisdom and leadership to those intrepid ladies of “The Squad”https://img.huffingtonpost….

  4. David C. Baker

    But couldn’t you make the same argument for “public” transportation, low-income housing, and the dozens of other things that are centralized in gov’t?

  5. Chimpwithcans

    From an African perspective, once a government truly becomes dysfunctional, roads, water and energy are some of the first services to break down. (Roads first, I would say).Therefore, although USA is far from an African government – I would have to agree with Fred here. Decentralised power is a worthy experiment at least.

    1. JLM

      .In fact, the USA is built on decentralized power. The “united” states gave certain specific powers to the Feds — the “enumerated” powers in the US Constitution.All other powers not specifically given to the Federal government were reserved to the States who then empowered their building blocks — the counties.The counties empowered masses of population — cities, towns, townships, freeholds — to govern themselves. Hence the distinction of “self-rule” cities.Unincorporated cities are still ruled by the county in which they reside.The infrastructure of the USA is borne by the individual governmental entity.The Feds build the interstates because they oversee interstate commerce and transportation.The States over see the state highways, farm-to-market roads, ranch-to-market roads.The cities oversee their own city streets.Cities provide water, sewer, police, fire protection, and building enforcement.In tjhis manner, the USA is protected from a national, regional, state, or city meltdown.The glue that holds this together is taxes. The Feds collect gasoline taxes. The states may collect the same gas tax. The counties collect property taxes. The cities collect fees and property taxes.It is all held together by the US Constitution that starts with the “several states” creating a common bond through the enumerated powers.It is a damn good system and one of the reasons the USA is able to whether regional downturns.I tell you all of the above to argue that we are a nation of specifically distributed power that works well.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  6. William Mougayar

    Centers are losing their power, and not just because of blockchain. Decentralization strikes again. It’s the future.

    1. awaldstein

      The point is with the grid that it has not struck.Because there is an obvious problem and edge based grids could fix it is in no way unfortunately saying that it is or will.

      1. William Mougayar

        But there are experiments in some areas (US and abroad) where a decentralized grid is the default. (I can’t remember where but I remember reading about it multiple times).

    2. Mike

      To me the interesting part is the idea of a more decentralized power generation and distribution system, less whether it is managed by the public or private sector, or some combination. I watched the recent NYC blackout on the news. Regional, short duration losses of power are very inconvenient. As the scope and duration increases they can become really dangerous. Our expectation is that when we turn on the switch the light comes on and there really aren’t any good back up plans.

    3. jason wright

      It was the past. It is the future. This period in between has been a dark age of self indulgent profiteering by a few at the expense of the many.

    4. Michael Elling

      Centers don’t naturally lose their power; just the opposite it gets taken away. But not by decentralization, but rather another centralized force. That’s natural network effects.

  7. pointsnfigures

    Unbundling the grid…..I think that is the opportunity for solar and wind is unbundled small size projects that are independent rather than a massive blanket system. We live in an information economy that is on demand.What’s amazing to me is that all these people think they are innovators but they continually come up with the same dumb solutions to problems. Like trying to drive a nail with a shoe heel.DeBlasio has been a horrible mayor for NYC.

  8. richard bookman

    I’m not sure this quite got the wording right when you say, “That would lead to more blackouts, not less.”I think we might have more blackouts, but each one would impact fewer people….so the network effect is greater tolerance of blackouts….allowing more at the edges but with reduced network impact.

    1. Mike Zamansky

      I’m not sure there would be more blackouts. I’m just a single data point but the complex I live in has suffered only super minor blackouts in the 20+ years I’ve lived here. the longest was maybe 5 – 10 minutes and then there were a couple of power outages for maybe a minute or less. That’s far better than ConEd over the same time period. There were also a handful of scheduled power outages for upgrades and the like but I’m not sure I’d count those as blackouts.I’m sure that if there were more local generation some of those sites would be more problematic than others and you’re probably right that there could be more overal blackouts but I’ve got to say that it seems that I’ve been far less put out by my complexes’ blackouts as opposed to those who’ve suffered from ConEd blackouts and brownouts.

  9. CTC911CTC

    Fred’s observations work if the word ‘school’ is replaces ‘power’. More local control assures more local ‘buy-in’.

  10. Greg Kieser

    Agreed. DeBlasio’s thoughts on that subject scare me. Given the financial and power incentives involved it is going to take an enormous amount of public pushback/activism/voting before governments learn to respect and utilize the power of decentralized, diverse, complex systems. They will lose way too much power for them to give it away without a public push. Unfortunately the general public lacks an understanding of these traits of healthy systems as well.I shared these and other similar thoughts in Dear Machine, if anybody wants to give it a read. Free PDF here: https://www.supersystemic.l

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Ah, I’ve slowly learned my lesson: Listen to DeBlasio hardly more than to the Squad, and refuse to listen to those four at all.Bottom line: They say things, just things, often outrageous, uninformed, misinformed, just plain wrong, dangerous things, just say them. They (1) get what they want — publicity — and (2) assume that in the future nearly no one will hold any such statements against them or even remember what was said. For (1) I just listen long enough to find a few, to me, totally disqualifying statements, keep them with references where I can easily find them and for (2) just do NOT forget and DO hold the statements against them, i.e., as “totally disqualifying”.

  11. Paul Williams

    “So when I heard Mayor de Blasio ruminating over the weekend about a government takeover of ConEd, I thought to myself “he’s got it all wrong.””I may be wrong here because I can’t remember the source but I believe that ConEd(a private company that has a monopoly) will not allow you to connect a storage device like a Tesla powerwall 2 to the network ? so they get to charge you max rate at all times…. not good for a resilient grid but good for their bottom line.If that is the case….. maybe a government take over might be better…..no ?In Europe we had EU intervene and force all member states to implement a wholesale real-time electricity market and get rid of the old monopolies. http://www.eirgridgroup.com

  12. JLM

    .As to the birth of the Internet and decentralization, the operative word is actually “redundant.” DARPA was working on a military application.At the beginning, the problem was this — you are trying to order the 18th Airborne Corps (the 101st ABN and the 82nd ABN) — the tip of America’s sword — to saddle up and go to Africa to protect American interests, but the Pentagon commo is down. [Like on 9-11, as an example?]American satellite command & control is also TU (technical military term that roughly translates to “tits up” meaning dead), a very real possibility in the next war as China has developed such a capability and ground based lasers are going to fry everything.With the Internet, your message is routed through multiple nodes and gets to the destination at Ft Bragg without going through the Pentagon.The 18th ABN Corps mounts up and goes to war.The Internet represented a redundant capability (redundant to radio, satellite) and the nodes were redundant pathways to get from the appropriate commander to the 18th ABN Corps.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. Amar

      This is so vital!!1. Learn from history. History repeats itself rhymes2. Don’t stop asking questions. Often we stop once we have a grasp of “What” happened and “How” it happened. We do not push our curiosity and energy into understanding “Why” it happenedThe “Why” is all about context and knowledge of the “Why” is essential in converting any past lessons into future options

    2. Michael Elling

      Let’s remember, the “settlement-free”, distributed Internet 1.0 crashed and burned in 2000 It was only after, a) the centralized ad-tech model began to scale, and b) the cable companies made broadband ubiquitous and affordable to many, that Internet 2.0 began. So it was centralization that paved the way. In 2003, broadband penetration was just exceeding 30%. YouTube was founded in 2005 and acquired in 2006 by Google. The iPhone hit in 2007. The rest is history. Funny how people forget these things.

      1. JLM

        .Great comment. It is funny how much of the long history of the Internet is so recent.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      2. sigmaalgebra

        I still want the story for how the heck back there Bezos saw the future, if he actually did and didn’t instead just get lucky: Bezos started in just the book and record business which needed only meager bandwidth. His current success is heavily based on a LOT of broadband to send his JavaScript, images, and audio and video.Bottom line: How and when did he know that the US end users were going from 300 bps (bits per second) to 9600 bps, 14.4 bps, … 200,000,000 bps, and commonly now 1 Gbps (billion bits per second)????Guess at an Answer: Likely some people had good, early information, say, at Cisco, Juniper, the optical fiber suppliers, the cable modem suppliers, the people making the chips for the routers and for Ethernet, WiFi, etc. So, some years before the equipment for 1 Gbps was installed in houses, the suppliers of that equipment were doing the R&D and product development so knew what was coming. Maybe Bezos got a good briefing and then decided to go all-in right away on his Web site software, server farm, warehouses, transportation, expanding to 1+ million products, etc.

        1. Michael Elling

          A bunch of us knew it. But luck, correct positioning, good calls (think 1-click), unbelievable drive, work ethic and people smarts, all contributed to Bezos’ success. I was definitely among the skeptics of Internet 1.0 and CLECs by 1996-1999 because of what I saw as flaws in the respective business models.In the end, Internet 1.0 and 2.0 weren’t just digital arbitrages and disintermediation of expensive analog systems; they fundamentally increased the velocity of information and created global digital network effects. Not sure any of us really appreciated the latter as much as say a Bezos.In 1990 I used to go to John McQuillan NGN (next gen networks) broadband conferences and would tell investors how everything would be a “cloud” and people would communicate “in data.” Almost everyone laughed. Remember, we were deep in the heart of “distributed processing.”

  13. JLM

    .Co-generation — the generation of electricity while creating heat for a second use — is always a single or double fuel solution.The electricity is used for power while the heat is used for heating — sort of obvious. The challenge is to balance the power and heat outputs. Many times the power is fully usable, but the heat is too much and thus frivolous uses are made up — like heating sidewalks in a northern snow climate that wastes the heat all summer long.The fuels are usually natural gas and oil. These fuels have different delivery and storage methodologies. Some systems are dual fuel systems able to use both but the infrastructure is bigger to accommodate both forms of fossil fuel.When a cogen operation is built, sometimes it has to be connected to the public grid by building code meaning the local power supplier has to reserve capacity, dedicate capacity, and construct the linkage that may never be used with a high likelihood they will never generate a penny of revenue.Some power companies charge for “capacity reservation.”This linkage to the public system is the only manner in which renewable energy can be connected to a cogen solution.In cogen systems like Freddie notes, these are independent islands of power that will likely never use any renewables because the linkage is not “hot.”I have installed cogen plants driven by natural gas in Bakersfield, Cal that were built next to the actual well (just have to install a “scrubber” and pressurizer to make it immediately available) and drove turbines that produced power and steam. The steam was used for a myriad of process uses — melting plastic, as an example.Of course, you have to hit natural gas when you drill the well, but all of Bakersfield is over gas.The cost of power back in the late 1970s drove this equation. On a small — actually not so small — application it worked like a champ.Cogen and renewable energy do not play well together.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  14. ShanaC

    We already do this to a limited degree for some hospitals, because they are considered critical infrastructure. I remember there was limited emergency power to hospitals downtown during sandy because they wanted to power the NICU and the ICU. They ended up having to move patients anyway because of concerns about backup power failing. (it made for some very dramatic photos and a whole academic paper about how to correctly evacuate a NICU unit https://pediatrics.aappubli…Interestingly, by moving the grid to a more decentralized approach, they might have avoided the evacuation, because they would have been able to support the hospital.

  15. jason wright

    “…and therefore massively resilient (anti-fragile in Nassim Taleb speak).””Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” – Nassim Taleb.Most people seem to struggle with their understanding of this critical difference. When volatility is introduced to a system it breaks when it is fragile, it remains resilient when it is not, but it improves when it is antifragile.

  16. sigmaalgebra

    Uh, now we are into the theory and practice of the engineering and economics of the reliability of electric power generation. Hmm ….And, let me guess: Keys to the solution are renewables, low or no carbon footprint, wind and solar (IIRC Trump: “Honey, is the wind blowing? I want to watch TV.”), and, of course, distributed, and everyone with batteries.My impression is that there really is an electric power grid. On this grid, there are lots of power producers and lots of power consumers. And routinely some of the power producers go off line, and the power from the remaining producers and the flows in the grid are all adjusted. There the main issue is grid stability and not really grid capacity (in KW). The producer who went off line misses some revenue for a while, and some of the customers pay a fraction of a penny more per KWh for a while — otherwise, all is fine. That IS a lot like the Internet: Typically there are multiple paths through the network between an origin and a destination. If one of the paths fails, then try another — and IP (internet protocol and maybe also BGP, border gatway protocol) have some nice, famous algorithms for finding the new paths.But none of this Internet engineering will help if you have only one connection to the Internet through just one cable to just some one ISP (Internet service provider), i.e., over “the last mile”, if their equipment fails from fire, flood, hurricane, war, etc. Much the same for electric power for “the last mile” or the neighborhood if, say, a big transformer dies.Sorry, still not convinced that humans are causing flooding or climate change or that we need wind, solar, and battery, distributed, carbon-free renewable electric power.

  17. Stefano Galiasso

    Nice post Fred, as usual – I’m a big fan of the concept of Microgrids, very popular – increases resiliency, possibly against cyber attacks as well by isolating resources and keeping critical infrastructure (hospitals, community centers, and so on) isolated. Gov. Cuomo with the New York REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) has kickstarted at least a thought exercise around that. Hopefully something more concrete will be realized, especially if it opens new business models for innovators!