Relative economics of renewable energy integration

A successful transition to a low carbon economy requires that electricity generated to be dependably available to consumers. This requires low emission energy to either be compatible with distribution grids or distribution grids to be enabled to successfully integrate variable renewable energy. Integrating sources with acceptable levelised cost of energy like wind and solar are constrained by the nature of the current grid architecture. Solutions compatible with the existing limitations of the grid like alternative nuclear are being pursued. Solutions to grid integrate variable renewables are also being prioritized by policymakers, researchers and investors. Neither solution set currently has a generally acceptable solution to this fundamental problem with a transition to a sustainable energy future. Currently, there are four potential solutions to the challenge as presented by the U.N.E.P. (United Nations Environment Programme):

Fast response conventional generation

Building additional fast response generation from sources such as gas, coal or diesel, to provide adequate capacity to compensate for the scale and speed of the variability from renewable energy. This is both expensive (building lots of expensive new power stations) and does not remove our dependency on fossil fuels.

Interconnections

Installing extremely expensive connections between power grids can allow them to share electricity. This does not fix the fast variability issue of renewable energy volatility in the grid. It also introduces additional instability into the system as the interconnected grids can oscillate relative to each other that can lead to disconnection of the grids and in some cases wide spread blackouts.

Demand response

Financial incentives are proposed typically to large industrial and commercial users for reducing their electricity consumption during peak times of demand. Reducing the demand on the network can help maintain a balance when renewables are not producing enough energy. In practice it can be hard to predict variations in renewable supply in a timely enough manner to allow this to be manageable for industry. The solution also has an impact on economic productivity, which will have huge ramifications at all scales from local jobs to the global economy. It is in effect paying energy users to reduce their contribution to GDP.

Energy storage

This option utilises batteries throughout the network that can hold surplus electricity produced when renewable generation exceeds demand, and then release it to the grid when renewable power resources are insufficient to satisfy consumption. Batteries can react fast enough to stabilise both the short-term volatility and the intermittence in power from renewables. Unfortunately, current battery technology is not yet sufficiently efficient or energy dense to be cost effective.

For medium-term balancing (measured in hours) all four could be technically viable options, however the cost (capital cost, operating cost and the economic cost) will result in the situation where the cost of electricity will be far too high for consumers or the economy as a whole. For short-term balancing (measured in milliseconds to minutes) the only technical option currently under consideration is energy storage, which is not practical and feasibly with current technology. Nor is there a sign that this will sufficiently change in the coming decade to meet the technical or economic need. It is easy to see that currently there is no solution to being able to increase our use of renewable energy in any amount that will have a positive impact on the environment.

Comparative Costs of integration options

The Faraday Grid is the evolution of our existing electricity networks to allow a much greater and more efficient use of renewable energy. It utilises all of the existing poles and wires without needing to add expensive new technologies to supplement the existing system.

The Faraday Grid replaces a number of existing technologies in the existing electricity network with a single device – The Faraday Exchanger. The Faraday Exchanger operates in isolation, interacting with only the network it is directly connected to. Each device will autonomously manage its immediate network area to maintain a stable power flow. When multiple devices are combined throughout a network an emergent order is inherently formed.

For the first time in 130 years the grid is able to move beyond the inherent limits of a centrally managed ontology with a knowledge problem. Those limits were always an issue for grid management. With the policy lead injection of large volumes of widely distributed highly variable renewable generation the maintenance of grid stability has become an insoluble problem for the existing distribution network. This is at odds with all currently acceptable low carbon generation options.

Adoption of the Faraday Grid allows delivery of a stable power supply throughout the grid without the requirement for additional expensive monitoring or control infrastructure. Like most equipment, transformers, converters and rectifiers all have a finite operational life. As these devices are replaced, Faraday Exchangers can be installed in their place, providing a changeover to a network capable of efficiently handling renewable energy generation at a level much higher than today.

All other current potential solutions to renewable energy problem have assumed a constrained system and are looking to address varying response levels through additional expensive infrastructure or constraining energy use. These are fundamentally attempting to address the symptoms rather than the problem itself. The Faraday Grid design has removed these constraints and enabled an effective and efficient path toward greater renewable energy utilisation.