Why Greenpeace Thinks Smart Grid Could Help Save the World
November 22, 2010
Moving to a low-carbon economy is probably the biggest environmental challenge of our times. Not just because of climate change, but also because unless we find a replacement for fossil fuels then the lights will eventually go out through a lack of anything to burn.
But as well as being critical and unavoidable, decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels is fiendishly difficult. Our entire society is built around a steady flow of hydrocarbon-based energy that is produced with massive amounts of waste.
So how can we realistically achieve a greener energy future? Greenpeace International, the environmental organization, has a plan. Called Energy [R]evolution, it envisages an 80 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050, compared to today's levels.
As would be expected, the Energy [R]evolution strategy depends on significant rises in the amount of power from ocean, geothermal, solar, biomass, wind, and hydro sources. But perhaps the most striking part of the plan is the extent to which energy efficiency will play a part.
Almost half the greenhouse gas emissions savings by 2050 will come from energy efficiency, Greenpeace envisages. Much of this will come from better-insulated buildings, more efficient appliances and so on.
How important is smart grid for the Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution proposal?
Sven Teske: It is a must for the implementation of our energy evolution plan. This is not something that is just exciting for techies. We need this technology to implement the delivery of all the renewable energy supplies and create an efficient energy infrastructure.
The importance of smart grids relative to renewables is almost fifty-fifty. If we have all this equipment installed without smart management, it does not work.
We need grids that are intelligent enough to combine wind and solar power to meet energy demands, and if they are not available then to step in with hydro or biomass, for example.
Also we have to take account of the fact that we will have more electricity going into the transport sector, so the electricity demand will go up.
What studies have you done on the potential impact of smart grids, specifically?
Sven Teske: Last year we did a detailed analysis of the European scenario, called Renewables 24/7. We did a simulation of the entire grid of the European Union, using solar and wind data averages for the last 40 years.
"Renewables are at a critical mass and if they do not find buyers in the utilities they will get into power supply themselves."
Now we need to go a step ahead and check how it fits together, integrating fluctuating and static renewable power. You read that renewables are fluctuating power sources. That is simply not true.
There are seven major renewable energy sources: tidal, geothermal, photovoltaic, solar thermal, biomass, wind and hydro. And only two, photovoltaic and wind, are fluctuating sources.
But to deliver energy from all of these sources in a constant fashion we need to integrate the Internet with the grid.
How much development is needed before smart grids can achieve their full potential?
Sven Teske: Some further software development may be needed but right now there is nothing which is completely off the possibilities of available technology.
And the great thing is that most of the infrastructure is already in place. In most cases you do not need a single meter more of power cable.
Who should be taking the lead in smart grid development: utilities or IT companies?
Sven Teske: The utilities realize they need to do something but are not sure of how or when. IT companies meanwhile see the advantages of exploring new markets, so I see more pressure coming from the IT companies to the utilities rather than the other way around.
Utilities will need to change their business model. If they do not do this they will be out of business. Renewables are at a critical mass and if they do not find buyers in the utilities they will get into power supply themselves.
It is not a matter of whether utilities will do it or not. They will have to start integrating renewable energy into their grids if they are going to survive.
When did you start to see the IT sector as an ally against global warming?
Sven Teske: For some time now we have worked on greening the IT sector. And at some point we realized we could ask IT companies to do more than just eliminate toxic materials from their equipment.
IT companies could help with improving efficiencyand be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.