Integrated distributed energy supplies using renewable energy

Fig. 1.1 The advantages of an integrated, distributed and renewable energy based supply model (bottom) when compared with that of the conventional, segregated and hierarchical system as it historically developed through the age of industrialisation to become currently prevalent (top), and the more integrated and highly hierachical model presently advanced by the conventional energy industry (center).

Note: RS = renewable source; OS + C = own supply and consumer; C = consumer; CS = conventional source; S = supplier; G = generation plant

Fig. 1.1 The advantages of an integrated, distributed and renewable energy based supply model (bottom) when compared with that of the conventional, segregated and hierarchical system as it historically developed through the age of industrialisation to become currently prevalent (top), and the more integrated and highly hierachical model presently advanced by the conventional energy industry (center).

fewer and fewer people using the infrastructure, those who remain connected will either have to pay ever rising connection costs or the state/public at large will have to subsidize the mains supply to ensure that costs for users are not too high. It is likely therefore that in order to compensate the latter, the state will resort to obligatory connection to the mains even for those who do not use the infrastructure - or alternatively those who are not connected will be taxed. This would signify a trend to return to de-liberalization, although it would also lead to intensified efforts to make mains operation more effective. This, however, will have to be based on the criterion of supply security at the same price for those energy users who are dependent on the infrastructure and not according to the criterion of the highest possible capital returns. It is therefore a public and not a private sector criterion - a criterion of the modern commons.

The three prototypes described signify three phases of resource use and/or technology development: looking back to the history of modern energy supply it is apparent that this could not have been created without the public sector providing the infrastructure. In this first phase there were still too few users to have made it economical for the private sector. In order to make the advantages of the system available to all, the public authorities had to provide an outlay in advance. Where, as in the developing countries, only the towns and cities have benefited because the economy lacked the strength to do more, a seemingly hopeless gulf was created between the cities and rural areas. The cities of the Third World have grown rapidly as a result of the exodus from the land, only incomparably faster and more comprehensively than happened in the industrialized countries. The process has impoverished both the cities and the rural areas. The second phase is where we are at present: where infrastructure, as in the successful industrialized countries, was built and expanded to provide blanket coverage and everybody became a user, it no longer seemed necessary to keep infrastructure provision under public control. Increasingly it seemed desirable to privatize the infrastructure, the users of which, it seemed, would always be dependent on it, creating a relatively risk-free natural monopoly.

The more this trend progresses, however, and the users are progressively less able to pay for the infrastructure, the whole business starts to run into trouble. Even collecting the charges for the infrastructure becomes impracticable if the number of self-suppliers grows too large or, as in the Third World, the number of people who can no longer pay their bill simply tap into the grid where they can. If they are cut off from using the infrastructure, however, mass protest is the inevitable consequence. This is one of the reasons why privatizing infrastructure - electricity and water supply - in the mass cities in the Third World failed because what was intended to be a high volume business became instead a subsidising business.

Today we are at the beginning of the third phase when the system, after a period of convergence, is diversifying again, leading on the one hand to a gradually declining number of energy users who remain dependent on the broad networked structures of centralized electricity and gas supply, and on the other hand a gradually increasing number of players who are producing and supplying energy to the grid and are at the same time customers of the grid. Some are in this way developing into full individual energy producers; others are creating their own energy patches and districts. The decentralized structures - through to the Solar City - are becoming increasingly attractive, offering diversity and flexibility. They are turning the city into a solar power station. While conventional energy supply is a permanent and rising cost factor, solar energy is becoming an autonomous value added factor for the city and its inhabitants. The city is becoming more prosperous and a better place to live. The clean air is good for public health, making outdoor life more enjoyable and promoting communication. The first step is to realize that it is finally time to make full use of the most important infrastructure in the city: the Sun.

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