Originally written on JBS News.
By John Brian Shannon.
Electrical grids perform two main functions. They carry electrical current from the power producer to the end-user and they regulate the electrical current that is being transported through the lines.
On one end of the line, the electrical current might be generated by a hydro-electric dam, coal, nuclear power, or a renewable energy power plant such as wind or solar power. At the other end of the line, the homeowner, business, industry, or government, receives all the AC electricity (Alternating Current) they need at exactly the right voltage (Volts) and cycles per second (Hertz). In North America, this usually works out to 110 (or 120) Volts AC power @ 60 Hertz.
Along the route, through the hundreds or even thousands of miles of high tension lines and towers (called ‘pylons’) significant but naturally-occurring electrical current losses of up to one-third of the original output are experienced — which must be covered by 1) sending more current than is needed to ensure the required amount reaches the city after the losses are factored in 2) the installation of costly substations, with their hugely expensive transformer systems to recover and re-modulate the current.
Illustration below depicts just one example of the many kinds of current leakage found in all electrical grids, worldwide.
There are more substations in North America than you can possibly imagine, and these help to regulate the electrical current and manage leakage. Even the tiniest substations cost several million dollars, have an appreciable land footprint, are often located on expensive land next to residential or commercial/industrial areas, and they are hazardous locations for pets and kids who may ‘jump the fence to take a look around.’ I know this, because in my youth this was a favourite pastime, and my friends and I ‘inspected’ entire substations wondering what role each component performed. After lightning storms, we always looked around for pieces of fried metal that we could proudly take home to show Mom.
SOLAR POWER GRID AUGMENTATION
Small-scale solar installations placed along high tension line routes could compensate for current leakages, and add surplus solar power to the grid as the current flows towards the end users.
The land required for such installations would be tiny, and in fact, that land is already bought and paid for (or leased) and this land is known as electrical power transmission company ‘right-of-ways’ wherever the high tension wires and the pylons which support the wires high above the ground, crisscross the countryside.
The next logical step for power producers and their partners the power transmission companies (now that solar panel costs have hit all-time lows) should be the installation of 1MW solar arrays every 50 or 100 miles along high tension wire right-of-ways to compensate for the electrical current that is lost in transit. A tiny substation at each solar array along the routes could transmit the solar generated power directly to the lines in real time, to make up for the electrical current that is normally lost in transit.
As most electricity demand occurs during the daylight hours, solar panels would add power to the grid exactly when it is experiencing its highest rate of electricity demand and leakage.
WIND POWER GRID AUGMENTATION
In Northern latitudes, wind power might be the preferred Grid Augmentation method. Installing a 1MW wind turbine every 50 miles along high tension wire routes would cover existing electrical current leakages, as well as adding surplus power to the grid.
New and sophisticated vertical axis wind turbines could be installed close to existing high-tension lines with no danger of them ever hitting the wires or pylons.
MAKE MINE A MODULAR!
By employing a modular approach to such installations, results could be seen right away, as a new design/engineering/construction method would not required for each installation. We can simply decide to add a 1 MW block of solar or wind power every 50 miles (or whatever is required to cover the average current loss per 50 miles) and start pouring the concrete bases to mount the panels or turbines. This is not rocket science, this can be done.
Electrical leakage results in a huge cost to electrical producers, electrical power transmission companies, and especially to end-users. It is a well understood factor in the course of moving electrical power over long distances and merely adding electrical current to the grid at regular intervals — of a kind which has no fuel cost, no production cost, and is not operator-assisted — will solve the problem, completely.
I look forward to new and innovative uses for renewable energy which complement electrical power producers — instead of competing with them. Using renewable energy in this way could make our grids and the huge, otherwise empty tracts of land they occupy, 30% more efficient in less than two years, if we immediately begin to deploy Modular, Renewable, Grid Augmentation.
A smarter grid, courtesy of renewable energy!