Monday, February 12, 2007

Freezing Energy - an innovative solution

Some real cool out-of-the-box thinking on solving a very pertinent problem! The linked Treehugger post suggests simply operating all refrigerator warehouses to operate at one degree of temperature higher during the day (thus using less power), and correspondingly set themselves to one degree lower during the night (compensating for the power lost during the day). In the end it will make no difference to the products stored in the refrigerator as the temperature will average out.

The problem of sporadic supply is the bane of renewable sources like wind and solar - how can we make a windy day compensate for a non-windy day? Or even a windy-hour compensate for a non-windy hour?

Solar power is the closest that we have to an inexhaustible supply of energy in the long-run, and I have in the past suggested that the solution lies in putting those solar panels into space. Long-term there is nothing better than that. But in the interim we have to do whatever we can to fight the carbon-addiction, and save what we can of our ecosystem. That being the case smoothening the spikes in power generating capacity seems of paramount importance if wind and/or solar are to ever go mainstream. Right now you need conventional power generation systems as a back-up for every mega-watt of wind- and solar-based power capacity that goes online.

Obviously the solution is in storage - store the power when you have excess and use that excess when you are short. And the best way to do that is to use a battery - OK, an ultra-capacitor-based "battery". And batteries are too inefficient and expensive right now. Will a cheap and ultra-efficient battery be Nirvana for the renewable energy world?

Maybe yes and maybe no, but a cheap and efficient means to store energy (effectively electricity) will revolutionize the world even if we did not consider the potential effect of renewables. Consider the electric car: everyone agrees that battery technology is the only thing that holds the electric car from killing the IC-engine. More importantly consider the power generation scene today - everyday there is a period of off-peak demand, when the power stations have to keep generating power at near-peak capacity. What if the power stations could store this power during off-peak hours, and release it during peak hours? I dont have the statistics but it would be safe to say that this would double power availability with no increase in generating capacity.

Going back to the icy-solution mentioned above, I would think that the easiest way to implement it is for the electricity companies to announce separate peak and off-peak rates. The refrigerators will automatically follow suit!