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Clean Energy Moonshot — Local microgrids and hydrogen storage allow 100% renewable energy! [Updated 3 Feb 2015]

Groundbreaking work has established the viability of a world powered by 100-percent-renewable energy using existing technologies. BUT no implementation pathway currently exists. This is a modular community-energy-system design, which tackles multiple problems associated with integrating distributed-renewable-energy production. It addresses these problems by changing the scale of the energy system from distant centralized power production to local energy production, use, and management. It provides a viable pathway for the construction of scalable 100-percent renewable-energy systems. Additionally it creates a new model that can integrate the best community-based renewable-energy innovation in an effort to make new ideas scalable.

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[Update 3 Feb 2015] This is a new explanation of the Clean Energy Moonshot, updated on February 3, 2015. The full Clean Energy Moonshot Explainer is ~18 pages and will be attached along with updated presentation materials as a supplementary document.

Summary: In the past few years groundbreaking work has established the viability of a world powered by 100-percent-renewable-energy using existing technologies for a very reasonable financial investment. BUT no implementation pathway currently exists.
 
This is a modular community-energy-system design which tackles multiple problems associated with integrating distributed renewable-energy production. These problems include long-distance transmission, intermittency, storage, finance, and grid resilience. 
 
This new design provides a viable pathway for the construction of a 100-percent renewable-energy system for cities, then for California, and then the planet. It addresses these problems by changing the scale of the energy system from centralized-power production and long-distance transmission to local energy production, management, and use. Additionally it creates a new model that can integrate the best community-based renewable energy innovation in an effort to make new ideas scalable. 
 

Clean Energy Moonshot: Community Microgrids and Hydrogen Storage Make 100 Percent-Renewable Energy Possible, Practical, and Profitable

The World Business Academy is bringing to the entire world (with prototype to be built in California) a system of energy production and distribution that is sustainable, economically efficient, reliable, scalable, and 100% based upon renewable energy resources, which completely eliminates our current dependence on long distance transmission lines, fossil and nuclear fuels. [Update 3 Feb 2015]

The founding principles of the Clean Energy Moonshot are that 1) communities must lead the transition to a renewable energy future; 2) the technology to create this future already exists; 3) to adequately address the challenge of global warming, solutions must be rapidly scalable AND resilient; 4) changing the fossil and nuclear fuel paradigm requires a system change, not simply the invention or refinement of an individual technology.[1]

As the OpenIDEO challenge demonstrates, no limit exists to the brilliance of millions of people who are working to bring our energy needs into alignment with our planet's natural limits. This brilliance must be allowed to flourish and every single person with a passion for this issue must be encouraged to participate if we are to adequately address this existential crisis. But right now, systemic blockages exclude the wisdom of the crowd and keep the monopoly power of the fossil-fuel industries at the helm. The grandfather of innovative system design, R. Buckminster Fuller, who inspires our project and defines our strategy said:

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
― R. Buckminster Fuller


Our strategy changes the model first, and in doing so, empowers the global genius so that every new, brilliant idea for distributed renewable energy generation can be easily connected and integrated into community energy systems.[2]

This new model must empower communities to take control of their energy systems; allow communities to offer local incentives for entrepreneurs, inventors, and energy users; and in doing so, integrate the vast passion for renewable energy into an unstoppable global force.

We believe the Clean Energy Moonshot’s Community Microgrid with Hydrogen Storage is that new model.


Community Microgrids: Local Power Generation, Local Management

Creating the new model begins with microgrids: localized energy systems, which create the energy they use within the geographical limits of the system. In other words, communities create the power they use locally. These proven systems are already deployed on university campuses, military bases, and in island communities.

Unlike the massive regional power grids, a community-scale microgrid (serving 10,000-50,000 people) is much smaller and more easily managed, allowing the integration local distributed renewable energy generation far more quickly than the massive regional-power grids.[3]



Each of these “Community Microgrids” becomes a laboratory for innovative local-energy solutions, including many energy solutions and behavioral change ideas proposed in this challenge. Without microgrids, these solutions must pass through the filter of the monopoly utility company or be owned, operated, and controlled by individuals. With Community Microgrids, residents come together with sufficient scale and local expertise, to achieve 100-percent renewable energy (or more for storage!).[4]

A Community Microgrid will also be more robust and resilient in the face of storms and wildfires—hallmarks of global warming—because they do not rely on huge networks of fragile, high-voltage transmission lines. These systems are less vulnerable to cyber attack and terrorism than regional grids, because attackers would have to disrupt each small grid individually instead of one huge grid all at once.

This new model solves another major problem with renewable energy: ability to scale. Under the existing paradigm of centralized energy production and long-distance transmission, renewable energy projects must be connected to the grid by existing transmission infrastructure, or new infrastructure must be built to integrate the new systems. This limits where they can be built and creates huge uncertainty, multi-year delays, and endless legal battles.[5] Instead of relying on massive centralized power plants, Community Microgrids can be powered by local, distributed-renewable-energy resources. The smooth integration of these local sources means they can be much more easily standardized, financed, and deployed.



Many experts agree that the energy system of the future consists of interconnected microgrids. Energy economist Dr. Lorenzo Kristov (Principal for Markets and Infrastructure Policy at the California Independent Systems Operator "CAISO"), and California Institute of Technology Scholar Dr. Paul De Martini, coauthored a visionary paper titled “21st Century Electric Distribution System Operations,” outlining a future energy system based on the distributed microgrid concept.[6] Additionally “Microgrids: A Regulatory Perspective,” is a detailed exploration of the advantages of microgrids, written by staff at the California Public Utilities Commission, the regulatory body that directly oversees independently operated utility companies.[7] Taken together, these papers and other academic work supporting microgrids is a clear signal to regulators, business, and California politicians that local power systems are the future.


Deploy Local Renewable Energy Production and Storage Systems

With the systemic shift away from centralized power production and toward Community Microgrids, distributed renewable energy generation can flourish. Our plan calls for the widest deployment possible of proven technologies for energy efficiency, passive-energy collection, and locally distributed-energy generation. Many of these systems can be individual financed with existing business models and established local and national incentives. The goal of this deployment is to create as much power as possible within the Community Microgrid service area.



The growth of the solar industry created economies of scale and other market forces to drop the price of solar energy by 80 percent between 2008 and 2012.[8] [9] Along with current subsidies, solar panels make economic sense for almost all residents of California (and many other U.S. states with high electricity rates). The 2015 announcement of a 50-percent renewable-energy goal by California’s Governor is a market signal that incentives programs for solar will only get stronger, further accelerating the continued adoption of solar power by individuals and businesses. In addition new study by the Solar Foundation estimates that 70,000 K-12 schools across the US would see immediate benefit from installing solar systems.[10]

With the development of Community Microgrids, the widespread deployment of these neighborhood-level systems could meet the needs of communities and actually supply excess energy, which can then be stored for later use in homes, businesses, or even cars.

Energy-production systems like rooftop solar can actually become more profitable than at present. Instead of getting paid the lowest rates for energy they produce, as homeowners with solar panels do now under most feed-in tariffs, each energy producer can receive the actual value of the energy they produce based on local demand and supply. By achieving this local trading market for energy, communities can incentivize the accelerated deployment of local-energy systems.

Currently the intermittency of renewable energy is problematic for massive regional power grids. When renewables create too much energy, grid operators actually “curtail” them, reducing or shutting off the flow of energy from these resources to prevent overloading the system. This wastes good electricity. Our system design incorporates advanced storage systems including flow batteries and a system for storing excess renewable energy as hydrogen gas.


Hydrogen for Renewable Energy Storage and Transportation Fuel

Any excess renewable energy created within the Community Microgrid can be stored for later use. By powering an electrolyzer with renewable energy, wastewater can be split into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen gas can be stored in carbon-fiber tanks, and used later in a fuel cell to create electricity, powering hydrogen-powered electric vehicles, or utility scale fuel cell power plants.



Hydrogen infrastructure is currently being deployed for California’s transportation sector, with the first zero-emission hydrogen-powered Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) for sale in California (Hyundai has rolled out the first hydrogen FCEVs)[11] with more makes and models due in 2015.


Natural Gas and Hydrogen Fuel Cells for Base Load Power

Community Microgrids can integrate systems to create and store hydrogen gas with surplus energy created when renewable electricity is abundant (when the sun is bright or the wind is strong) and hydrogen fuel cell power plants to redeploy this stored energy when needed to “buffer” the intermittent renewable energy systems during periods of low generation.

Utility companies currently build natural gas turbine plants to create base-load power to back up intermittent renewable energy sources. The current grid system creates a Hobbesian choice – in order to add additional renewable energy, utilities claim we must also add natural gas “peaker” plants to make up for intermittency. Instead of building new natural gas turbines (and by doing so, committing to at least 25 years of carbon-based power generation), we should instead build natural-gas-fuel-cell power plants which can inexpensively transition to use 100-percent hydrogen at any point in the future. Unlike gas-fired turbines, fuel-cell plants are small, silent, modular, and release virtually zero “criteria pollutants” (e.g. carbon soot, SOX, NOX, etc.) that have negative health impacts on local populations. These advantages make permitting and siting much easier, allowing safe integration in populated areas.


Implementation Pathway: How Communities Lead the Transition to 100 Percent Renewable Energy

The San Francisco neighborhood of Hunters Point is creating a Community Microgrid.[12] According to analysis by the Clean Coalition, in partnership with local utility company Pacific Gas & Electric, the project will be deployed in 2015 and will:

Bringing approximately 50 megawatts of new local renewable capacity online in Hunters Point; generate $233 million in regional economic stimulation, including $100M in local wages, 1270 near term job-years in construction and installation, and 520 job-years in ongoing regional employment; avoid $80 million in transmission-related costs over 20 years;
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78 million pounds and save 15 million gallons of water annually; and substantiate the business case that distributed generation boosts local economies by attracting significant private investment, stabilizing energy prices, and keeping money spent on energy within in the local community.

Using Hunters Point as the example, we believe this system can be brought to every community in California to create a groundswell for support.

The “User Experience Map,” or the engagement pathway corresponds with the images attached at the top of this page. The pathway is as follows:
  1. Renewable Microgrid Path Elected by Community – Champion organization presents benefits and opportunity of this new system to community leaders and decision-makers. Communities elect to move forward with the process.
  2. Local Distribution Grid is Analyzed – Existing infrastructure is analyzed for optimal citing of distributed renewable energy systems, energy storage locations, fuel cell power plants etc. First customer-producers identified and enrolled.
  3. Create “Plug and Play” Microgrid – Local community organizations form (probably within city government) to enroll new customer-producers, manage upgrade of infrastructure, begin forming energy management hub (software and hardware). Development to be funded with grants, investments, and savings from local energy production. Private capital is attracted by the bulk investment opportunities, standardization of investment deals.
  4. Residents, Businesses Informed of Financial Incentives – Word spreads of the financial, environmental, and branding incentives for community energy. Business groups, neighborhood associations, and individual residents build community around energy production.
  5. Energy Locally Produced and Managed – With financial and environmental drivers in place, local energy production and management continues to develop, deploying new systems and integrating the community as a whole. Education, outreach, and civic engagement flourishes as community GHG-reduction targets are tracked on a big screen outside city hall.
  6. Excess Energy is Stored as Hydrogen – As the Community Microgrid system develops and begins producing excess energy, the hydrogen-storage system kicks in, creating a domestically-produced, zero-carbon transportation fuel.
  7. Fuel Cells are Integrated Into System – Fuel Cell power plants are integrated into the system to create power when solar and wind systems are not producing. These fuel cells make Community Microgrids totally self-sufficient and no longer reliant on the massive grid. These fuel cells are initially powered by natural gas but can use the stored 100-percent renewable hydrogen.
  8. Any Existing Substation Becomes a Community Microgrid – Every community in the developed world can see the advantage of the Community Microgrid system and can deploy these systems (along with any innovations) to start down the Community Microgrid path. The transition time will be shorter and less expensive for every successive Community Microgrid, as technologies become standardized, economies of scale come into play, and finance is simplified.
  9. New Energy Systems Around Globe Built as Community Microgrids – Developing communities can build their systems from the ground up in accordance with the Community Microgrid design, thus bypassing the dirty fossil-fuel economy entirely. The Community Microgrid design allows for the optimization and communal ownership and use of all of the innovative energy systems currently proposed for the developing world and all of the innovation that is yet to come.

[1] As a thought experiment try this: If an energy positive process for creating electricity from cold fusion were discovered today, what are the political, financial, and technical hurdles it would need to clear before it could power the planet? How many years would this all take?

[2] For more on Distributed Generation, visit Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_generation

[3] Distributed generation (local solar and wind projects) are limited to ~15% of the total electricity that can be incorporated into existing grid systems because these massive grids are designed for one-way power distribution (from power plant to consumer), not two-way distribution (where consumers also produce power, sometimes in excess of their use). See California Interconnection Rule 21 for more info:  http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/rule21.htm

[4] For an in-depth discussion of the advantages of microgrids and the groundbreaking work being done in San Francisco’s Hunters Point, watch this video from our friends at the Clean Coalition:  http://www.clean-coalition.org/events/planning-the-grid-to-optimize-distributed-energy-resources/

[5] In a 2011 report titled “Project No Project – Progress Denied: A Study on the Potential Economic Impact of Permitting Challenges Facing Proposed Energy Projects,” the US Chamber of Commerce outlined the vast hurdles and delays that make expanding centralized energy production and transmission impossibly slow and difficult to finance:   https://www.uschamber.com/sites/default/files/legacy/reports/PNP_EconomicStudyweb.pdf

[6] “21st Century Electric Distribution System Operations:”  http://resnick.caltech.edu/docs/21st.pdf

[7] “Microgrids: A Regulatory Perspective,” from the California Public Utilities Commission (April, 2014):  http://goo.gl/OWZkq7

[8] Bloomberg New Energy Finance graph of solar prices 2013:   http://cleantechnica.com/2013/05/06/solar-pv-module-prices-have-fallen-80-since-2008-wind-turbines-29/http://goo.gl/jlAJTE

[9] For more on the economics of solar, visit CleanTechnica’s collection of solar graphs:  http://cleantechnica.com/2014/09/04/solar-panel-cost-trends-10-charts/

[10] Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in US Schools, Solar Foundation (September 2014):  http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/brighter-future-a-study-on-solar-in-us-schools/

[11] Hyundai Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Come to Market:  http://goo.gl/PVF0wK

[12] More about this groundbreaking project can be found here:
http://www.clean-coalition.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Hunters-Point-27_zf-22-Apr-2014.pdf

What community does this idea benefit and who are the main players?

[Update 7 Feb 2015] The first round of implementation in Santa Barbara County will benefit the following stakeholders: 1) Santa Barabara residents - residents of Santa Barbara have been experiencing blackouts because of an unreliable power system. The business community is up in arms about it and they are pushing for a real solution. The improvement of the distribution grid by Edison is a perfect opportunity to rebuild it correctly to enable two-way power flow. Our design for more locally produced energy will give residents and local businesses the reliability they need now and the resilience they need should a major outage occur. Edison has warned in their own documents of the major risks facing Santa Barbara County because of the County's position at the end of the transmission grid and the lack of backup transmission should the existing (aging) wires go down in a storm or fire. A rollout of renewables for all county and city buildings will save residents money immediately - a recent report from the Solar Foundation found that almost every K-12 school in the county would benefit from solar and would immediately save money on power. Only four schools currently have solar installed. 2) University of California, Santa Barbara - the UC Regents have set a commendable sustainability goal for every campus to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. UCSB can combine their existing efforts with our system design to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity, not just for their campus, but in support of a wider community effort. The Clean Energy Moonshot pilot in Santa Barbara would support the campus's efforts as well, giving their project wider geographic boundaries and more diverse distributed generation opportunities, including a potential brown-gas-powered fuel cell from a nearby wastewater treatment plant. 3) Local economy - construction and maintenance jobs throughout the local area will increase and create an economic multiplier effect. Local energy production will keep the community's capital WITHIN the community - a key economic sustainability metric. Recapturing some of the money spent on energy (electricity and eventually transportation dollars via EVs and fuel-cell-powered EVs) will localize capital flows and support a thriving green business sector. Sponsorship and branding opportunities for local businesses who embrace the microgrid will help to change business consciousness locally. The City of Santa Barbara and surrounding communities already have a thriving tourism industry. This green business opportunity can serve as a unique attraction for visitors and conferences. [/End Update 7 Feb 2015] = This system is a huge economic explosion waiting to happen. Local energy systems will benefit communities at every level. Foreseeable Benefits of Local Energy Production: -Local energy systems create good jobs! Construction, maintenance, and management jobs become community-based, keeping business activity and capital flows in the service area. -Real Estate owners can become energy self-sufficient or even local energy exporters! With small power plants on their roof, these properties harness their own energy and sell it into local markets. -Individual customers can share in cost savings and efficiencies - renewable energy unlocks abundance because unlike the consumption of scarce resources like oil and gas, the price of renewable energy systems continues to go down as more are deployed, leading to lower prices for electricity - just look at wind! -Businesses can market their facilities and products as carbon neutral - as global consciousness shifts to the climate emergency, consumers will value products that don't heat the planet. This is an example of the confluence of values and marketing; businesses can stand for something critical to the planet (lowering ghgs) while also selling services and products to make a profit. -International finance can win as well - there are Trillions (yes with a T) of dollars looking for good investment opportunities in the private capital markets. This system, if properly designed, is modular, scalable, and creates a standardized investment opportunity for huge pools of cash which are currently hunting a safe place to invest. The advantages of socially responsible investing are becoming more and more clear, this is the ultimate socially responsible investment because it could help to prevent the climate disaster. - State, National, and Global benefits - the first-movers who develop and help deploy these technologies will give birth to entire new industries. The production of advanced renewable energy systems, software, new vehicles, and new business models, will all become unprecedented opportunities for new business activity. These technologies will drop in price as they scale and will be appropriate solutions for developing countries as well, brining billions of new people literally into the light and giving them new opportunities for development.

How does your idea specifically help your community rapidly transition to renewables?

Changing the scale away from huge centralized power to community controlled creates changes the game for innovation, community action, and for reducing our impact on the planet. Currently distributed renewable energy production is limited by policy and by the state of the electricity infrastructure. Communities need a NEW SYSTEM to be able to fully deploy all of the brilliant energy production, storage, and management technologies that currently exist. [Update 7 Feb 2015] This system change will let any social entrepreneur within the service area build an energy business and immediately participate in the renewable energy revolution. The Community Microgrid becomes the foundation upon which the fully integrated, optimized, distributed, and resilient community power system can be built. It's the "killer app" that allows the billions of brilliant people and millions of excellent energy innovations to actually work.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

The initial work done by the Clean Coalition, which can be replicated in any community, can identify the "low hanging fruit," for the development of a microgrid. This analysis demonstrates the location for the deployment of solar pv and some additional grid improvements to achieve significant levels of renewable energy without a significant overhaul. This analysis can demonstrate the viability of this idea anywhere, very quickly. We are working to create a Community Microgrid with Fuel Cell power plants in Santa Barbara, California, which is hanging by a thread to the transmission grid and experiences electricity disruptions on a regular basis. Helping to develop this system (which would be far bigger and more complex than Hunters Point) would prove the viability of the model. Smaller scale systems could be rolled out across college campuses and at hospitals along the way. These smaller systems may not have the scale needed to achieve 100 percent renewable energy but it's worth a try and will be a net positive in any case.

What skills, input or guidance are you keen to connect with from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

We would like to spread this concept far and wide. Identifying communities that are ready for an all-out push for renewable, reliable, resilient power systems and connecting them with me would be very helpful. Additionally my organization, which has been developing this concept, is in need of funding to support our championing of this project. We want to continue to develop and spread this idea but we're only going to be able to do so with the financial support and partnership of individuals, companies, and philanthropic organizations who share this vision for a renewable energy future. [Updated 7 Feb 2015] Our top priority is implementing this model in Santa Barbara County to work with all stakeholders and create a scalable model that solves current reliability problems in Santa Barbara County and demonstrates the pathway to implementation for other counties. We are designing a fundraising campaign to raise funding for the first two years of this project. THIS IS THE PATHWAY! Now we need support to make it a reality.

Please indicate which type of energy is most relevant to this post:

  • A combination of various types of renewable energy

This idea emerged from:

  • A Group Brainstorm

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