Photo credit Unhindered by Talent
Photo credit filippo minelli
There is no doubt about it but Google is a disruptive company.
First Google disrupted search, then advertising, then video (with their acquisition of YouTube), and then Office applications with the launch and continued development of Google Apps for Domains. Most recently Google has disrupted the mobile phone industry, first with the launch of their Android operating system and just a couple of days ago with the launch of their Nexus One mobile phone.
What then should we make of Google’s recent creation of a subsidiary called Google Energy LLC and Google Energy’s request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to buy and sell electricity on the wholesale market [PDF]?
Given Google has already invested in solar power generation, given further that Google has invested in wind and geothermal power generation technologies (as part of its RE < C project), and given that Google has already launched its first product in the Smart Grid space, Google PowerMeter, should we now expect Google to start disrupting the utility industry as well?
Curious about what all this meant I contacted Google spokesperson Niki Fenwick to try to get some answers – see my questions and her responses below:
TR: What was the thinking behind Google’s setting up Google Energy? Why is Google applying to the FERC for permission to trade in electricity?
NF: Google is interested in procuring more renewable energy as part of our carbon neutrality commitment, and the ability to buy and sell energy on the wholesale market could give us more flexibility in doing so. We made this filing so we can have more flexibility in procuring power for Google’s own operations, including our data centers.
TR: Google has made some investments in renewable generation (solar, geothermal and wind), does Google hope to take on the utilities by selling electricity? How does this tie into Google’s PowerMeter project?
NF: This move does not signal our intent to operate as a retail provider and is not related to our free Google PowerMeter home energy monitoring software. We simply want to have the flexibility to explore various renewable energy purchase and sale agreements (that means we can buy electricity wholesale, rather than through a utility).
TR: Will Google Energy be used to develop more Smart Grid products?
NF: We don’t have any plans to announce at this time.
TR: How does this tie into Google’s partnership with GE?
NF: This move isn’t related to our partnership with GE.
So there you have it, according to Google this application to trade in electricity on the wholesale market is simply to gain more flexibility in procuring power for Google’s own operations, as part of Google’s carbon neutrality commitment.
Google have no plans to become a retail electricity provider.
For now. Things change.
After all, it is not so long ago that Google were denying rumours that they were developing a Google phone!
- Google seeks to trade wholesale power in U.S. (financialpost.com)
- Will Google Energy Power Its Data Centers? (datacenterknowledge.com)
- Ramon Nuez: Google is Going into the Electricity Business (huffingtonpost.com)
- Google launches Google Energy, hoping to bring more green energy to its datacenters (engadget.com)
- Google applies to become electricity marketer (infoworld.com)
- Google seeks to become energy trader (theregister.co.uk)
Ok, not all the time, but last weekend at 5:50am on Sunday morning (8th Nov) Spain set a new record, hitting 53.7% of its energy requirements being supplied by wind energy.
As you can see from the graph above, the amount of electricity being supplied by wind, the light green portion of the graph, doesn’t go below 30% at any point in the 24 hours and is closer to between 40-50% for most of the time!
These are figures the world’s most ambitious countries are targeting hitting by 2020, at the earliest!
Notice also on the graph that the contribution from coal (the red band) during this period is in the low single digits, never rising above 6.4%.
And finally notice also that for a lot of the period significant amounts of generation is below the 0MW line – this occurs when the electricity is being either stored using pumped hydro storage, or being exported for sale on the international markets.
“We think that we can keep growing and go from the present 17GW megawatts to reach 40GW in 2020,” he told El Pa??s newspaper.
Windfarms have this month outperformed other forms of electricity generation in Spain, beating gas into second place and producing 80% more than the country’s nuclear plants.
Experts estimate that by the end of the year, Spain will have provided a quarter of its energy needs with renewables, with wind leading the way, followed by hydroelectric power and solar energy.
The graph above is taken from the site of the Spanish grid operator Red Electrica de Espa?a (REE).
The REE website has highly detailed and extremely interactive infographics produced using Adobe’s Flex software:
Real-time (and historic) demand, along with generation structure and CO2 emissions
Real-time (and historic) structure of electricity generation (the graph above is taken from this page) and
Demand curves over intervals of time
Here is the chatstream from today’s Greenmonk Energy and Sustainability show:
03:30 Tom Raftery: About to kick off the show Info
03:31 cminion: Afternoon
03:31 Tom Raftery: Do we have working audio/video
03:31 cminion: very quiet here
03:31 marilynpratt: sound is a bit off
03:32 yellowpark: morning
03:32 marilynpratt: good
03:32 marilynpratt: yes great
03:32 yellowpark: yes
03:33 Tom Raftery: http://www.colorado.edu/news/r/f6f88ba8825d16175be07468e0d47fc3.html
03:34 dahowlett: hello peeps
03:35 yellowpark: hi dennis
03:35 Tom Raftery: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/gallery_glaciers
03:36 yellowpark: makes for big paddling on the bright side
03:36 monkchips: ah feck tom you trying to depress us again?
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/17/bluefin-tuna-fishing
03:36 dahowlett: @monkchips – @tom’s mission in life is to be more curmudgeonly than me
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1921177,00.html?iid=digg_share
03:36 monkchips: 😉
03:37 monkchips: yay!
03:37 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/sep/16/climate-change-beer-quality
03:37 marilynpratt: good news from US- is it suspect?
03:37 cminion: ??
03:37 dahowlett: @tom must be ‘pissed’ off
03:38 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/28/bp-alternative-energy
03:38 Tom Raftery: http://blogs.zdnet.com/green/?p=7343
03:38 cminion: Short term goals
03:39 monkchips: i am watching. have been tweeting!
03:40 monkchips: Landis and SAP http://www.landisgyr.com/en/pub/media/press_releases.cfm?news_ID=4012
03:40 yellowpark: @monkchips multi tasking!
03:41 marilynpratt: thanks 🙂
03:41 monkchips: there is so much hideous fud in this space
03:41 Tom Raftery: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/boulders-smart-grid-city-goes-mostly-live.php
03:41 monkchips: this week the story was smart meters to cost consumers Â£300 each
03:41 dahowlett: Doesn’t @monkchips know? Multi-tasking is said to be unethical. Personally I think that’s a crock
03:41 monkchips: currentcost should be so lucky!
03:42 monkchips: i mean- we know they dont cost that much
03:42 monkchips: absurd!
03:42 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/08/carbon-capture-north-sea
03:43 dahowlett: That’s one giant brain fart
03:44 monkchips: i will happily keep it in my shed
03:44 Tom Raftery: http://www.marcgunther.com/2009/09/20/fpl-americas-no-1-wind-power/
03:44 marilynpratt: so the sea will become a hazardous waste dump
03:45 monkchips: @marilynpratt the sea already is.
03:45 marilynpratt: and we know that never happens in above ground storage
03:45 monkchips: this would actually make use of the big holes from all the oil we sucked out
03:47 monkchips: tom- you got a better idea?
03:47 Tom Raftery: http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2117
03:48 Tom Raftery: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=lithium-ion-batteries-hybrid-electric-vehicle-recycling&sc=CAT_TECH_20090916
03:48 monkchips: VERY interesting news from Frankfurt
03:48 monkchips: the electric vehicles were all taken off their stands etc when it opened to the public!
03:49 monkchips: that is – the EVs are all concepts for industry insiders…..
03:51 Tom Raftery: http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090911/aussie-activists-target-world-s-most-polluting-coal-plant
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://in.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idINB47611720090913
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://www.ptinews.com/news/279619_Victorian-govt-to-export-brown-coal-to-India–Report
03:52 yellowpark: Interestingly, E.On announced today they have produced an electricity menu
03:52 monkchips: ah ****
03:53 monkchips: so much for tech transfer.
03:53 monkchips: they also sell paper to japan
03:53 monkchips: ******* idiots
03:54 Tom Raftery: http://www.snp.org/node/15664
03:54 dahowlett: @tom – where’s the beer?
03:55 Tom Raftery: http://www.forexyard.com/en/reuters_inner.tpl?action=2009-09-16T103243Z_01_LG56714_RTRIDST_0_EU-GRID-NORTHSEA
03:55 dahowlett: them jocks are strapping
03:55 dahowlett: @tom – my head is still on the beach
03:55 monkchips: jocks? you mean “sweaties…”
03:56 Tom Raftery: http://homecamp.org.uk/2009/09/18/adventures-in-home-energy-monitoring-or-how-i-became-the-energy-enforcer/
03:57 monkchips: did you see the comment from his dad?
03:57 monkchips: CLASSIC!
03:57 dahowlett: wonderful!
03:58 marilynpratt: As a parent ROFL
03:58 cminion: Oddly enough for us, my gf pays the elec bill and im the one who is trying to reduce it
03:58 Joe Garde: spend most of my time running around after my kids to turn off lights!
03:58 monkchips: the really crucial point about joe
03:58 monkchips: and energy management
03:58 monkchips: is that he doesn’t believe in anthropomophic climate change!
03:58 marilynpratt: Brilliant
03:59 dahowlett: yes Tom – you are a horrible energy dictator
03:59 Tom Raftery: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327251.300-better-world-redefine-the-bottom-line.html
03:59 marilynpratt: same applies for gas at pump in the states
03:59 dahowlett: Living in Wigan: electricity cost Â£144/month. Andalucia â‚¬50/month
04:00 monkchips: ah shite i have to bank out now. but sarkozy is my man of the week- beyond GDP http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/09/14/sarkozy-adds-to-calls-for-gdp-alternative/
04:00 Joe Garde: WINDPOWER OUTLOOK 2009 PDF http://www.awea.org/pubs/documents/Outlook_2009.pdf
04:00 Tom Raftery: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8266200.stm
04:01 marilynpratt: just look at the health record in the US – poor
04:03 dahowlett: Wind famrs expanding in Sierra Nevada/Alpujarra
04:03 yellowpark: thanks tom
04:03 Joe Garde: Thanks Tom, glad you made it this week
04:03 marilynpratt: Excellent show Tom
04:04 Tom Raftery: Thanks everyone for your time and interest
04:05 Tom Raftery: (and all your excellent contributions obviously!)
If you actively select for cheaper electricity, you are de facto selecting for greener electricity because cheaper electricity has a higher % of renewable energy in the mix.
I wrote previously that it would be great if utility companies were mandated to publish realtime generation mix (% from coal, % for nuclear, % from wind, etc.).
Then if you had a truly open market for electricity, it should be possible to dynamically switch suppliers on the fly, based on the price and the realtime generation mix. If people were actively selecting for greener electricity (and given that cheaper electricity typically has a higher % of green, why wouldn’t they?), imagine the demand signal that would send to the suppliers! There would be an enormous rush to build more renewables and Kingsnorth would be shelved quicker than you can say “dirty coal”.
That idea is a step closer to reality today with the launch in the UK of RealtimeCarbon.org. This is a site which gives a realtime feed of just how “carbon intense” UK electricity is at any given moment. The data behind the real time feed comes directly from the computer systems that manage the UK’s electricity trading market. This data tells RealtimeCarbon.org how much electricity each type of power generator (e.g. coal power stations or wind farms) are currently producing during any particular 5-minute interval.
One of the beauties of this site is that they provide an xml feed of the realtime carbon intensity data (see the pdf on how to access the feed for more info). The xml feed will allow organisations to programatically monitor the CO2 emissions associated with electricity generation in the UK. Thus it will be possible to have devices programmed to automatically respond to realtime CO2 intensity signals coming from RealtimeCarbon.org i.e. shutting down when highly carbon intensive and starting up when carbon-light. This will be a big help in reducing the organisation’s carbon footprint.
RealtimeCarbon.org also has a forum where people can get involved suggesting methodology improvements, ways to improve the numbers (calculation or display) and how to use the data.
Now they just need to build this out for every other country on the planet!
[Disclosure – one of the companies involved in this project (AMEE) is a GreenMonk client]
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Photo credit Milton CJ
- RT @EdGemmell: HP Ireland running on 50% wind power saving 27,000 tonnes CO2
- RT @EdGemmell: HP in Italy has been running on 100% hydro since Jan09 saving 15,000 CO2 PA
- RT @EdGemmell: HP in UK has been running on 100% hydro since Feb09 saving 46,000 tonnes CO2 PA and
- RT @EdGemmell: HP in Germany has been running on 100% hydro since Jan09 saving 37,000 tonnes CO2 per year
Some nice data there and kudos to HP.
@TomRaftery Re HP and hydropower. If the energy mix in the market is the same then the CO2 has only moved from one customer to another.
And, to an extent he is correct. If suppliers in a market generate 200gWh for example, 50% of which is from renewables then you have 100gWh of renewable energy to go around. One co. preferentially buying 10gWh means by definition that there is less renewable energy (100gWh – 10gWh = 90gWh) to go around for others.
However, the flipside is that if companies are preferentially purchasing/looking to purchase renewable energy, this increases demand in the market. And an increased demand signal invariably leads to an increased supply (as suppliers see more demand, it makes sense to invest in more renewable generation to meet the demand).
So, companies who favour renewable energy (and especially if they publish targets to increase the amount of renewables they are purchasing) are de facto helping to increase the penetration of green power on the grid.
More of it, I say.
The first European Future Energy Forum kicked off this morning in Bilbao.
The opening session in the main auditorium was addressed by the Chair of the World Future Council, Bianca Jagger, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC) which is mandated to undertake and drive the Masdar Initiative, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the president of the Basque Government, Mr Patxi López and the President of the Regional Government of Bizkaia (a province in the Basque country), Mr Jose Luis Bilbao.
Both Jose Luis Bilbao and Patxi López talked up renewable energy and put the Basque country forward as an area with a strong interest in renewable energy technology. Spain is one of the world’s leading countries in the production of both wind and solar energy, (in January 2009 the total electricity demand produced with renewable energy sources reached the 34.8% saving €90m in gas imports!), however, the Basque country is currently languishing at 5.1% of demand sourced from renewables!
Hopefully Patxi López and Jose Luis Bilbao were impressed enough by the talks from Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and Bianca Jagger to try to increase that %
For their part both Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and Bianca Jagger gave very interesting talks. Dr Jaber discussed his Masdar project and talked of how Abu Dhabi has had a paradigm shift from a fishing and subsistence nased economy to an oil based one and how it now needs to transition to one based on renewables. Coming from a country which has depended so heavily on oil for its income for so long, it is both heartening and a little disquieting to hear that Abu Dhabi is now looking to get into renewables. Can you say Peak Oil? Dr Jaber also made the case for the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to be based in Masdar.
Bianca Jagger, the Chair of the World Future Council, gave a hugely impressive, fact based and impassioned speech quoting variously and at ease from Nasa’s Jim Hansen, Nicholas Stern (author of the Stern Review, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank) and the reports of the IPCC. Ms Jagger aimed a broadside squarely at the nuclear industry whom she accused of Greenwashing by trying to pass themselves off as non-carbon emitting. Every stage of nuclear generation, from mining to dealing with the waste byproducts generates CO2, she said and nuclear energy emits significantly more CO2 than wind, solar or hydro. Ms Jagger also referenced the foundation of IRENA and emphasised its importance and she finished off asking if the 20% renewable energy by 2020 goals of the EU were going to be enough to avert a climate catastrophe.
I have made no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of Smart Grids and Demand Response programs (properly rolled out, of course!). I have also spoken at various international conferences propounding the benefits of Smart Grids and Demand Response for quite a while now.
You can imagine my disappointment then when I read an article entitled Outsmarting the Smart Grid which was strongly anti-Smart Grids, on The EnergyCollective site by William Tucker, a pro-nuclear writer.
William sets a facetious tone for the article in his opening paragraph:
The latest delusion about energy is the “smart grid.” This bright new technological miracle will once again help us overcome the realities of physics and allow us to live in a world run on wind and sunshine.
The genesis for Mr Tucker’s displeasure appears to be the above GE ad informing people of the benefits of Smart Grids.
It’s fitting that the girl is standing in front of a clothes dryer because that and washing dishes are the only examples anyone has ever been able to come up with about how residential users are going to “redistribute” their energy consumption.
What else can they do? Are they going to wait until after midnight to watch prime-time television? Are they going to heat up dinner at 4 a.m.? Are they going to turn on lights at sunrise instead of sunset? And how about air conditioning, that most voracious consumer of electricity?
Again with the unhelpful sarcasm.
While it is true that not all loads in the home are movable – I use the example that I am highly unlikely to get up at 3am to cook my dinner just because energy is cheaper – there are more than just the dish washer and the dryer. Mr Tucker neglects to mention here air conditioning (though he does mention it elsewhere in his post so he is aware of it). Nor does he mention heating water in an immersion, refrigeration, PHEVs or storage heaters for example – all very movable residential loads. Of course, he neglects to mention industrial scale demand response altogether!
Mr Tucker then re-defines the Smart Grid to suit his argument
the underlying presumption of the smart grid is that it will somehow help us conserve significant amounts of energy
Uh, no it isn’t. The presumption of the Smart Grid is that it will more closely align demand with supply, thereby stabilising the grid and facilitating the further penetration of renewables onto it, thereby lowering our carbon footprint. The Smart 2020 report (7mb pdf) estimates that Smart Grids will reduce CO2 by 2.03 GtCO2e by 2020.
Mr Tucker seems hell-bent though on criticising Smart Grids for not reducing consumption quoting from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) “The Green Grid,” study published last June
its most optimistic prediction was that by 2030 we could reduce electrical consumption by 7 to 11 percent below what is now being projected. That’s not an absolute reduction in consumption but only a slowing of its anticipated rise. Second, as the study concludes, “shift[ing] load from on-peak to off-peak periods may not necessarily save energy.” It will only save money. And when you make electricity cheaper, people may consumer more of it.
What Mr Tucker is again conveniently forgetting is that electrical consumption is not the problem, per se. The problem occurs when that energy is generated using coal, oil or some other non-renewable form.
In fact, there are times when we have too much electricity and you are increasingly seeing wind farms curtailed as a result of this phenomenon. Instead of curtailing wind energy when we have an excess, what we should be doing is demand stimulation – stimulating people to increase their demand at this time of excess supply. This can be achieved by dropping the price of electricity to 0 or even making it negatively priced and making that information available via Demand Response programs rolled out over Smart Grids.
Mr Tucker concludes by once more poking fun at the GE ad
In that light, it’s worth going back to that last little GE vignette where the girl says, “It’s sunny in Arizona.” She is standing at a window looking at a waxing half moon about three hours above the horizon. If she’s in the Midwest, that means the sun has already set in Arizona. If she’s on the East Coast, then it’s about to go down. She’d better get to bed because in another twenty minutes the lights, refrigerator, television, computers and everything else are going to turn off.
Meeting pointless pedantry with more pointless pedantry, the girl is looking at a street light, not a waxing moon.
Mr Tucker’s main argument is that Smart Grids won’t necessarily reduce consumption so we shouldn’t bother with them.
Energy is very abstract, no-one really cares how much they use. What they do care about is the utility bill at the end of the month and increasingly, the carbon footprint of that consumption. If I consume 10 TeraWatt hours in my home daily (not possibly obviously!), as long as it has a negligible carbon footprint, so what?
What Smart Grids and intelligent Demand Response programs will do is, massage the demand for electricity so that it lines up with the supply. This stabilises the grid for the ISO (the grid operator) allowing them to add even more variable generation sources (i.e. renewables) to the system lowering costs and carbon footprints. Win, win.
The discussion continues in the comments where Mr Tucker rails against Demand Response
Now that I think about it, here’s what’s going to happen if the utility can cut off 1/6th of its air conditioning load on a rotating basis. If people know this – which they will – they’re just going to run their air conditioning a little higher while it’s on in order to compensate for the 1/6th of the time it’s off. It’s like the low-flush toilets that you have to flush twice to do the job.
However, for once he has a valid point!
This is why when you roll out Demand Response programs, you put the control directly in the hands of the consumer. The top-down, command and control utility attitude of “we’ll turn off your aircon when it suits us” will only turn people against Demand Response.
Instead, you roll out home area networks and home energy portals where people decide themselves how they want their devices to respond to pricing signals. You’d be able to program your dishwasher to wash the dishes when electricity at 6c/KWh or 6am, which ever came sooner, for example. If you put the washer on at 8pm, for the most part, as long as the dishes are washed by 7am the following morning, you don’t care when it happens.
Similarly with your immersion, if it selectively heats the water when electricity drops below either a set price or a set temperature, as long as you have enough hot water, you are happy.
Obviously any home energy portal like this would allow the home owner full control over all the devices in the house because they belong to the home owner, not the utility!
Long term, what I want to see happen is, I want utilities to publish their generation mix (% coal, % natural gas, % oil, % hydro, % chg, % wind, etc.), as well their prices, in realtime. That way I should be able not only to control my devices but also have the ability to select the Greenest utility supplier dynamically at any time – now that’s a Smart Grid well worth having.
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