If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the grid?

rollandelliottrollandelliott Solar Expert Posts: 834 ✭✭
Maybe this has been discussed before, if so please let me know.
I'm just curious, if you just inherited an island nation with no electrical system. As a benovolent dictator what would be most economical and practical to power your new country and give power to all your people.

It seems very very expensive to build some huge nuclear power reactor or even a coal burning plant and run wires everywhere. Seems like solar would be the way to go. Have their been any studies on this?

this artical about 3rd world country Bangladesh peaked my curiosity about this
http://forum.solar-electric.com/showthread.php?16640-Bangladesh-Hits-1-Million-Solar-Systems-Milestone&p=125036#post125036

Assume that as dictator you have no aspiring goal to make nuclear weapons. :-)

Comments

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    You have to look at a lot of factors. An island nation would probably have to import fuel for a central power plant; that's a big on-going cost with no small amount of unpredictability built in. A large nation would potentially have huge expense in building/maintaining the wiring infrastructure. The costs for any type system would be individualized to the particular country. Since solar produces only during daylight, climate needs to be considered and sufficient battery storage allowed for (expensive). In other words the same as any solar install: highly site specific. Some of the costs, there as "here", would not be so readily apparent as to appear on a balance sheet (i.e. pollution factors).

    One thing about solar; its generation restrictions would force people to limit consumption.

    I'm a bit concerned about Germany and Japan going hyper-solar as I don't think they've thought through the consequences. There is no practical means of storing massive amounts of solar generated electricity as of yet, so to make any country of such size solar-dependent is as foolish as making it import-oil dependent in my opinion.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,520 admin
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    This is addressing "micro" power needs. They are looking at 25 watt panels + batteries in regions without power. In these sorts of areas, people even pay to recharge their cell phones (walk/bike miles to leave the phone for 1/2 a day a the nearest recharging station--some folks have even setup solar recharging stations in rural areas to make money too).

    "Cheap" power is a common way countries "get rich".

    So, no country is going to "get rich" with 25 watt power service for a few hours per day--And probably no central power authority could economically wire a remote community for 100 WH (0.1 kWH) per customer.

    Not to say that a 25 watt panel + battery will not dramatically change a person/family's life. From home work, to business. Reduce the use of expensive (and many time imported) fuels and the fires that typically happen (knocked over candle/oil lamp/etc.) will be a plus. On the other hand, solar panels + batteries are frequently imported too (not cheap).

    In the end, this is probably the start of a massive cultural shift (from business/cash flow to increased educational opportunities)--To using more power (more solar, eventually central power of some sort--possibly at village level first) because of increase wealth in the community. And the "other issues" too--Cultural impacts from increased wealth to diversity of/globalization of information sources (radio/TV/text messaging/Internet/etc.). From market data to political.

    Whatever your thoughts are on Western vs Indigenous Cultures, etc... The "benevolent" dictator will have to evolve or eventually fall to somebody else/cultural/religious "force"... For better for for worse.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    After the next, 'War to end all wars" I wonder if our population base would be low enough to try to live off solar w/o the storage, but rather some minor capacitor based storaqge to start motors and run things during the daytime hours, with little or no storage for overnight.

    Houses built into south facing hills or berm home drawing much of there heating and cooling from the earth. additional heating and cooking from wood stoves. Save the coal for smelting.

    '3rd world' cultures teaching 'us' how to live in harmony with the earths resources...

    ...but we'd always want more, so we'd have more children to provide for us and then we'd steal the resources from them...
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Prosine 1800 and Exeltech 1100, 660 ah 24v ForkLift battery. Off grid for @16 of last 17 years. Assorted other systems, and to many panels in the closet to not do more...lol
  • stephendvstephendv Solar Expert Posts: 1,571 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    There are examples of 2 British Islands that get the majority of their power from renewables. A mixture of wind, hydro, solar and backup diesel:

    http://www.windandsun.co.uk/Projects/eigg.htm

    http://www.windandsun.co.uk/Projects/foula.htm
  • Eric LEric L Solar Expert Posts: 262 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    I'm a bit concerned about Germany and Japan going hyper-solar as I don't think they've thought through the consequences.

    Yep, it's already a problem in Germany:

    German Power Grids Increasingly Strained

    If you were starting from scratch and trying use renewables, I think you would need to design the grid around some type of fossil fuel generation for night time or low-production periods. If the energy needs were large enough, the ideal for now might be natural gas generation, which can very quickly come on-line, unlike nuke and coal, and as we know NG has become relatively cheap.

    Of course if the island had a good hydro source that would be a no-brainer.
  • fix_it_guyfix_it_guy Solar Expert Posts: 26
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    I would definetly base my new city on renewable energy sources. I think that fossil fuels have slowed down our engineers and creative inventors and scientist because it has made making power to easy at the cost of being finite. If there was no such thing as oil or gas we would be much more advanced by now as far as electrical production, transmission, efficientcy use and storage are concerned.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    fix_it_guy wrote: »
    I would definetly base my new city on renewable energy sources. I think that fossil fuels have slowed down our engineers and creative inventors and scientist because it has made making power to easy at the cost of being finite. If there was no such thing as oil or gas we would be much more advanced by now as far as electrical production, transmission, efficientcy use and storage are concerned.

    Actually the availability of high-density energy from fossil fuels drove technology to advance further and faster than anything else in history.
    The problem is that its continued availability (even though we know it is ultimately a finite resource) and ignorance of the long-term costs has pushed society into complacency over taking the necessary actions to advance further. On the whole people only ever get the "wake up call" when suddenly the power goes missing (wide-spread electric outage) or the price jumps (oil embargoes). Once the temporary loss/inconvenience is alleviated or absorbed we return to the old bad habits.
  • fix_it_guyfix_it_guy Solar Expert Posts: 26
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    Actually the availability of high-density energy from fossil fuels drove technology to advance further and faster than anything else in history.

    It's funny how I think you got my point and didn't at the same time. What I mean is that fossil fuels influenced science to take the easy road to energy creation. In my opinion we should have been tackling these "New Technologies" a long time ago.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    fix_it_guy wrote: »
    It's funny how I think you got my point and didn't at the same time. What I mean is that fossil fuels influenced science to take the easy road to energy creation. In my opinion we should have been tackling these "New Technologies" a long time ago.

    People, like energy, always take the path of least resistance.
    They won't go searching for the better way if there's already an easy way.

    Half the people in the world who use fossil fuels don't even think there's a reason for exploring alternatives at all. That's a fairly intractable mindset to deal with.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,362 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    I think I would go solar thermal with molten salt storage and distributed PV in combination. Totally renewable and no external energy source needed. Of course if the geology was correct pumped hydro or geothermal would also be good in combination with distributed PV.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,520 admin
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    370,000,000 people in India just had a major blackout (upwards of 15 hours). Electrified trains not running--so commuters stranded.

    About 1/3rd of the homes in India still do not have grid power.
    The Confederation of Indian Industry said the outage was a reminder of the urgent need for the government to fix the power sector, ensure a steady supply of coal for power plants and reform the electricity utilities.Transmission and distribution losses in some states are as much as 50 percent because of theft and corruption by employees in the power industry. India's Central Electricity Authority reported power deficits of about 8 percent in recent months.
    ...

    The blackout, the worst to hit India in a decade, began about 2:30 a.m. when the grid covering eight northern states crashed. Officials in Uttar Pradesh, where the problem was believed to have begun, said the grid could not keep up with the huge demand for power in the hot summer.
    But Shinde said he was not sure exactly what caused the collapse and had formed a committee to investigate.
    ...
    New Delhi residents were roused from sleep when their fans and air conditioners stopped, and came out of their homes in the heat as the entire city turned dark. Temperatures in the city were in the mid-30s C (90s F) with 89 percent humidity.


    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • KeithWHareKeithWHare Solar Expert Posts: 140 ✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    Here's an example of relatively small solar in Haiti. One of cell phone companies, Digicel, has installed solar street light cell phone charging stations.

    I don't know if there is a fee for charging a cell phone, but this one was associated with a Digicel vendor.

    In this case, there is no power grid, so the installation solves a problem for community members, as well as adding a street light. All in all, a great marketing move.

    It is quite possible to survive without a refrigerator or running water. However, one ends up spending a lot more time obtaining water and food.

    In the long run grid versus stand alone depends on the amount of power needed and ability to survive with intermittent power. Powering the grid from solar & wind is a "simple" matter of engineering and maybe some new energy storage technology.
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    where that nation is and its climate there will determine much of what should or should not be done acknowledging the gray areas for the degrees of each. an island down in the west indies will handle things a bit different than say iceland. and islands can't do some things that countries in mainland continents can do such as hydro, but i dispute this to a point too as micro and mini hydro should work well for some. you just won't be able to have the grand coolie dam fit in most island nations.

    consistent power will be needed on a primary basis and most renewables are not consistent. the inconsistent renewables would certainly be able to supplement.

    then again as bb. pointed out that some have 0 power and need to travel great distances for just a little bit of it and they could rearrange their lives to suit when power from inconsistent renewables are available such as that of solar. it depends on the type of lifestyle we would be talking of as poorer nations would be like i last described, while those with % already probably have it now and you would need to consolidate and standardize the power of that nation to try to supplement it with more consistent, reliable, and quality power.

    i look at this as an exorcise in thought and i dream of hitting the lottery just to live better (includes trying to be more self sufficient) as dreams of being an island dictator go beyond mine.:D

    ps- what does building a city from scratch got to do with it when you talk of countries?
  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    One of the problems with solar is that along with the advantages of scalability that solar enjoys also come the disadvantages. Just like for a small system, going off grid with a city sized PV system requires electrical storage facilities that may very well be far more expensive than the PV generation hardware, and for a very large system that's a very large problem. If I were going to design a city sized PV system it would be grid tied. :D
  • stephendvstephendv Solar Expert Posts: 1,571 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr

    As ggunn pointed out, storage is generally a problem with solar and wind, but if you're designing it from the ground up then you could build some load control into it from the start, e.g.: tariffs that change by the minute based on the supply and consumers that can intelligently decide when to turn on or off (isn't this what the "smart grid" is supposed to give us?). I liked the idea of refridgerated warehouses used to store food that could cool slightly more when there was a surplus and then let themselves warm up slightly more when there's a shortfall. Same principal could be used for domestic coolers and maybe even AC units. Opportunity charging electric cars would also help shift the load.
    Perhaps you could even incentive citizens to install their own storage systems so that they can claim a higher FIT rate if they sell when demand is higher (so they'd be incentivised to install their own battery based systems).
  • techntrektechntrek Solar Expert Posts: 1,372 ✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    BB. wrote: »
    370,000,000 people in India just had a major blackout (upwards of 15 hours). Electrified trains not running--so commuters stranded.

    The next day the grid went down again, this time leaving 600 million w/o power... http://articles.cnn.com/2012-08-01/asia/world_asia_india-blackout_1_power-grid-worst-blackout-full-power
    4.5 kw APC UPS powered by a Prius, 12 kw Generac, Honda EU3000is
  • inetdoginetdog Solar Expert Posts: 3,123 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    ggunn wrote: »
    One of the problems with solar is that along with the advantages of scalability that solar enjoys also come the disadvantages. Just like for a small system, going off grid with a city sized PV system requires electrical storage facilities that may very well be far more expensive than the PV generation hardware, and for a very large system that's a very large problem. If I were going to design a city sized PV system it would be grid tied. :D

    And even with grid-tie, some storage component in the system is still needed. Changing the output of a conventional power plant is not instantaneous and running at partial capacity can be inefficient. If you have to bring a peaker plant on and off-line it takes even longer (15 minutes +). Since load changes will average out to move slowly, that can be accomodated. But a storm front or cloud bank reduces most of your solar component suddenly, the grid will suffer. The only option the grid will have without a storage component will be a brownout or intelligent load shedding.
    SMA SB 3000, old BP panels.
  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    inetdog wrote: »
    And even with grid-tie, some storage component in the system is still needed. Changing the output of a conventional power plant is not instantaneous and running at partial capacity can be inefficient. If you have to bring a peaker plant on and off-line it takes even longer (15 minutes +). Since load changes will average out to move slowly, that can be accomodated. But a storm front or cloud bank reduces most of your solar component suddenly, the grid will suffer. The only option the grid will have without a storage component will be a brownout or intelligent load shedding.
    That's right, of course, but my comment was (mostly) in jest. Grid tied systems are current sources which pump out whatever they can and depend on the grid's spinning resources to act as voltage sources to take up the slack or back off as necessary to keep the grid voltage constant. I went to a Solar Austin meeting a while back where an ERCOT (Texas grid) official described the difficulties they have dealing with wind (and to a lesser extent, solar) contributors to their system as they turn off and on. It's non-trivial. :D
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    ggunn wrote: »
    That's right, of course, but my comment was (mostly) in jest. Grid tied systems are current sources which pump out whatever they can and depend on the grid's spinning resources to act as voltage sources to take up the slack or back off as necessary to keep the grid voltage constant. I went to a Solar Austin meeting a while back where an ERCOT (Texas grid) official described the difficulties they have dealing with wind (and to a lesser extent, solar) contributors to their system as they turn off and on. It's non-trivial. :D

    That's something of an understatement.
    The man who is largely responsible for the control software for the grid (whom I happen to know) described it as "a nightmare".
    They can, to a fairly accurate percentage, predict load demands according to the input data available (historical weather and usage patterns). They know exactly how much power can be produced by any given source at any time (and how long it takes to ramp it up/down).
    There is zero data to help them model the unexpected and varying input from solar & wind. The greater these sources are relied upon for power the greater the difficulty in predicting grid requirements. The lack of ability to store energy from this source and regulate its use according to demands make for a major concern, to put it mildly.
  • inetdoginetdog Solar Expert Posts: 3,123 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: If you were building a city from scratch, would solar be more economical than the gr
    The lack of ability to store energy from this source and regulate its use according to demands make for a major concern, to put it mildly.


    Hence the interest in exotic large-scale storage systems like molten sulphur batteries! Even something like pumped water storage cannot handle very quick fluctuations in the load.
    SMA SB 3000, old BP panels.
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