Dean Anthony Gratton
Sustainable energy: Switching on the Community
More and more, we are encouraged to be mindful of our energy use and with its increasing cost, I dare say, it’s become somewhat difficult to ignore.
Are you still using fossil fuels?
Naturally, cost isn’t just a contributing factor to our need to become greener and to reduce our overall energy consumption, whether that’s for water, electricity or gas – we are indeed reminded that there isn’t an unlimited supply.
With this in mind, I decided a month or so ago to plunge into solar and revisit the advertised benefits of choosing to install panels on your property. You see, where my wife (Sarah) and I live there’s no gas, so we use electricity to both warm our house and heat our water, which has proven to be outrageously expensive. Our hot water boiler is an emersion heater whereas our ‘GEC NightStor 100’ uses Economy 7 to charge up overnight, which in turn releases its collected heat to fuel a wet radiator system. Incidentally, Economy 7, in the UK, is an energy plan that helps you to pay less, that is, you pay normal prices during the day, but cheaper rates (only seven hours are available) in the late evening/early morning, typically 12.30am to 7.30am. Nevertheless, the heat that is collated and stored overnight within the NightStor unit will normally last no more than six hours when used during the day. It’s incredibly infuriating, especially in the colder months. As such, we also use a coal fire, which nowadays is frowned upon, to compensate our heating system’s shortcomings in terms of warming the house.
Slashing your energy bill
My journey with solar, started with senseless amounts of research in order to find the right product and company. We eventually found a company with excellent credentials and selected their 14 280W JA solar system with all the gubbins necessary to complete the installation. It wasn’t a knee-jerk decision, as we spoke with many companies previously and garnered anecdotal research, as well as taking note of other people’s experiences.
Following a chat with the company, a surveyor was scheduled to be at our property to ensure that we could indeed benefit from solar energy. The surveyor’s results came in and he predicted that, with an orientation of 60° from the South and with a roof tilt of 50° from the horizon, our panels would provide an overall solar radiation input of 775 (kK). In summary, our solar panels could potentially generate 3040kWh or more annually and, based on last year’s consumption that’s half of our household use! It’s quite a lot, I know, but like I said, that damn NighStor unit is singularly responsible for global warming!
Maintaining that green theme
We were both pleased with the results – but wait, there’s more! Yes, we learned of an additional option that would not only help us strengthen our green ideology, but could in fact further reduce our energy bill!
Our solar panel system could be complemented with a battery. Seriously, I’m thinking this is some souped-up Duracell bunny taped to our exterior wall; but rather, it is a real-world viable solution that suitably squishes your energy bill by allowing you to use the stored solar energy at any time of day or night. Moreover, I later learned of its use with businesses and industries, and was astonished how the simple battery has evolved and, today, resolves some simple energy problems whilst echoing that consistent green theme.
When in Paris…
The battery solution that was suggested would be charged, based on surplus energy during the day. So, not only do I feed back into the grid and get paid for that, I would also receive the additional benefit of my battery being charged based on energy that was not being used. The battery would take over the provision of energy once dusk occurred and would then continue to power my house with it’s 4.8kW cells. Of course, it’s always subject to your use and, as such, if the battery has depleted, then it would recharge itself during the Economy 7 tariff. Oh, and one final benefit, if there’s a power outage in our village, then the battery would sustain our energy use.
Well, with my mindset now deeply charged (so to speak), I was invited, along with Sarah to attend #CIGRE47 in Paris – coincidence?
Stabilizing the national grid
Anyway, on our way to Paris to attend the event, via Eurostar, I overheard a conversation between some American tourists and French commuters discussing the whole notion of renewable energy – perhaps they were also attending the same event, but this energy thing was becoming a tad surreal – was someone watching me? Anyway, what I overheard was how in the US it had become compulsory to build new homes with solar energy in mind, although I wasn’t sure if this was state-specific. I have to admit, I was surprised, since I had thought that Europe and Asia led renewable energy strategies, but I was very happy to be proven wrong and to learn of how Americans are equally eager to adopt this green philosophy, which led me to question, “Why aren’t we building homes in the UK with solar as standard?”
This now brings me neatly to some of the topics that were discussed during the event. Most notably, renewable energy, of course, but in particular, a notion, which I heard presented by Siemens, which was how to ease the national energy grid. Energy use becomes costly when there’s an unexpected demand on the grid, where suppliers have to source energy from one place and shift it to another.
Where is the community spirit?
So, the proposition presented by Siemens was to encourage, in a similar manner to the US, a new housing policy, where both new and existing housing stock would all benefit from solar energy. Admittedly, this notion is not entirely new, but the proposition was further lifted when Siemens conjectured a sense of “community,” where neighbors, and neighbors’ neighbors and so on would share unused energy with each other. In essence, this community, would form a “community-grid,” a self-sufficient energy ecosystem. And, in an ideal world, the community would never have to rely on the national grid for its electricity; unless there was a particularly cloudy day or an unusual demand of energy use within the community.
In fact, my neighbor asked me about my solar installation and I was very happy to share the benefits with her. I even spoke about the events at CIGRE47 and how a community, such as ours, could help ease “unexpected” demand on the grid. She interrupted and said, “That would never happen here,” which only led me to think that her sense of community had clearly escaped her, leaving me less than positive about such an ideology becoming a reality. Sigh …
Until next time…
Nevertheless, Siemens further proposed how a community could additionally benefit from battery installations to help reduce the demands on the grid, where superfluous energy would be used to charge the batteries. Crikey, when I heard and learned of these ideas, I really thought I had psychic powers, a real insight into the future! Well, call it psychic or a coincidence, but it seems Sarah and I have made the right choice in terms of reducing our energy footprint and defeating the rising cost.
But, I do raise the question, “What about the energy companies?” Yep, they are surely going to lose out, as consumers, businesses and industries begin to become more savvy about their energy choices. In turn, our demand on the grid will inevitably decrease – anyway, who cares about their coffers – it’s about time we took charge!
So, this is where a super-charged Dr. G signs off.
Originally published in Technically Speaking.