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A Grand Vision of a Potential US Energy System

If all energy production channels were employed, the United States has sufficient resources to eliminate all coal, gasoline and diesel combustion in all demand sectors and replace them with natural gas, wind and solar electricity firmed and shaped with both grid-scale and distributed energy storage. I believe that we can reach a zero-air-pollution, coal-free, crude-import free, all-electric low-cost energy future. We have energy rhetoric and technology to get there; do we have leadership and will?

Coal and refined petroleum products must seek export markets for those jobs to survive.

In my view, the new energy future would be built around one national transmission grid, incorporating the following ideas:

  • Unification - Combine NERC control areas into one unified national grid designing the transmission SCADA System providing sufficient redundancy and control logic – allowing most efficient use of generation resources.
  • Grid Control - Create a National Grid Control Authority (NGCA) within DOE using the best management and technical staff from the redundant NERC regional control areas.
  • Generation and Storage - NGCA would model the system, determine required new generation and storage based on:
    1. Net demand forecasts provided by the branches (including transportation demand) as well as load forecasts provided by grid customers
    2. Existing levels of nuclear, natural gas-fired and sustainable generation, and
    3. All coal and refined petroleum product-fired generation would be shut down.

If additional energy is required, grid level sustainable resources must supply it under an NGCA sponsored RFP. All schedules submitted to the NGCA shall be firm forcing intermittent generators to purchase storage firming services.

5 types of connections would be permitted on the national grid:

  1. grid “backbone”
  2. grid load
  3. grid storage
  4. grid generation, and
  5. distribution branch connections.

Each day each connection would submit in 15-minute granularity anticipated injection/withdrawal schedules from day of (real-time) to 12-months ahead. The NGCA would sum all schedules, requests bids and offers and then select the highest bids and lowest offers creating the 12-month forward grid price curve against which market participants could plan their local operations. Ex-poste financial penalties would be imposed for inaccurate scheduling. Cottage industries would likely spring-up offering scheduling, market participation, and related activities.  

Generation Services

Grid-scale generation and storage in my vision of the U.S. electricity system would exist under the national grid unified region and would be run as one unified control area with the NGCA. Tariff on the grid would be “postage stamp” style whereby electricity injected into the national grid would pay one rate and could be taken off the grid anywhere. Consistent and significant shorts would instigate a generation and storage RFP conducted by the NGCA.

Charges for congestion and wheeling, “pancaked rates,” would be eliminated, imbalances at the intra-hour level would be reconciled and settled promptly in a national imbalance market auction conducted by the NGCA. 

Distributed Generation and Storage

Through tax incentives, guaranteed loans and federal grants NGCA would promote and the government would incent installation of private-scale generation and storage systems consisting of small wind turbines and photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, plus small-scale batteries. Control systems would allow each fixed load to become electricity self-sufficient or a net generator depending on the private-generation capacity selected.

The U.S. would repower all coal-fired generation plants with natural gas (requiring significant investment in both plant conversion and natural gas transmission.) If it was determined that repowering is not economic then the plant would be shut down.

Distribution Branches  

These branches would connect geographically adjacent fixed loads (a distribution "branch”) and connect all branches to a national-grid-connected step up/step down substation to give each branch bidirectional grid access.

Transportation

The U.S. would shift all surface vehicles from fossil fuel power to grid-charged electric power, eliminating the 2nd largest air emission source. Every dock, parking space and rail line would be connected through the branch to the national grid so that the following could take place:

  1. Vehicles could be charged at the operator’s discretion, keeping the vehicle in a permanent state of sufficient charge.
  2. When (and depending where) a surface transportation vehicle parks or docks it could be connected to the grid and charged at the discretion of the operator or in case of grid surplus and at the discretion of the grid at no cost to the vehicle owner. Payments would be billed automatically to the vehicle owner’s account.
  3. When plugged in, the system would interrogate your vehicle to establish:
    1. The vehicle owner, state of charge, the account status and the battery would be charged at the operator’s discretion.
    2. Charging unattended vehicles would eliminate the need for filling stations or new technology quick charge batteries. Upon operator return, the battery would be charged, the account debited and a car printer would print relevant stored and downloadable financial, operational, and maintenance information.

The benefits to this system are that maintenance quality would improve, your vehicle’s location would be readily identifiable, and car thefts would decrease because when the stolen vehicle attempted to recharge local authorities would immediately be alerted.

A private financially self-sufficient national corporation would buy, refurbish, warranty and export the existing fossil fuel fleet for either disposal or sale, providing new electric vehicle capital facilitating the fleet conversion from refined petroleum to all-electric power.

To reiterate, grid surplus would allow the smart grid to offer free storage refills all levels of storage (grid, distributed, vehicle) until surplus exhaustion. 

The benefits of a system like this would be many, including increased system reliability; smaller electricity price volatility; a revenue opportunity for residential, commercial, and industrial sectors; a tax revenue opportunity for state and local governments through the income redistribution; infrastructure renewal and education.

Energy Tax Policy

In my vision, I see two energy tax policy changes, as follows:

  1. Tax all fossil-fuel combustion to subsidize sustainable generation and storage both at the grid scale and distributed levels.
  2. Implement a small (less than 3 percent) electricity sales tax. This would generate sufficient revenue for required loan guarantees, grants, and compensation for those directly injured by this policy. (i.e. the coal-fired generation industry, refining and marketing industry. Fossil fuel engine and distribution industry.)

While there is significant government tinkering in the form of guaranteed loans, grants, and tax credits, these would be funded within the sector by allocating the revenue from an electricity sales tax. With this significant qualification, all prices and product flows would be self-regulating free market outcomes. Market meddling was required by market failure to avoid energy overconsumption, industrial waste overproduction, and environment free dumpsite over use. The “invisible hand” in this case woudl require a “helping hand.”

In Conclusion

Overall policy benefits of my vision would include lower utility and transportation costs; energy independence; lower air emissions; more jobs (assuming coal and refined product export); a smaller federal deficit. Also, the plan uses existing technology.

As an entrepreneur and developer, it is my role to be creative and ingenious in crafting solutions to society’s problems. Manufacturers of retail- and grid-scale generation and storage equipment as well as electric vehicle manufacturers should support this idea once they have grasped the commercial implications of my suggestions.

I hope to spur a full-throated debate among environmental groups, the coal, auto, and refining industries. I believe that we can reach a zero-air-pollution, coal-free, crude-import free, all-electric low-cost energy future.

We have energy rhetoric and technology to get there; do we have leadership and will?

Lead image: Big Profits from Big Ideas via Shutterstock

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