Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wales watching and grid goals

I just returned from a very brief trip to the yUKe to celebrate my parents golden wedding. On the way back to Heathrow, I detoured to the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mychynthleth, west Wales (pronounced Muck-cunth-luth), where I have relatives in large proportion both alive and in the graveyards, this area being my grandmother's birthplace.

CAT was a quiet refuge, as always, from the road and the 21st century madness of urban Britain. It always seems to me to be one of those very few places in the world where everything is exactly as it should be. It also is the most publicly accessible renewable energy research and demonstration facility I know, and one of the most important. I visit regularly, for new knowledge, but not the least for the bookstore, where I can peruse more new books and pamphlets in one place related to my academic specialty than anywhere else I've ever encountered. I always spend as much as I can afford.

It helps that it's just a few hours from my family.

Photos to come. I left my digital camera on a work bench at the barn site. It was none the worst for wear, but I was forced to use a disposable camera for the trip.

I hope to take students to CAT on a field trip next spring, to study the hundreds of renewable energy and energy efficiency demonstrators. I want to have lots more such demonstrators on campus, but there is only me making them right now, so I need students to make some, hopefully learning as they go. Making displays and interpretive demonstrators is a skill we teach here at UC, but we rarely put it into action on our own campus, which is becoming a renewable technology demonstration center in its own right, and needs more signage and displays.

I missed the biggest news story at CAT while I was there: The Center has become it's own micro-grid. I hope one day to make such a micro-grid at Unity College. Micro-grids are one important key to reducing climate emissions, by reducing the huge transmissions losses with on-site generation. Think of it as net metering writ large.

Here's what I found in my morning paper:

UK's first 'island' micro grid goes live in Wales

From the Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Renewable energy created on-site can now be used instead of being exported to the national grid.

The UK's first "island" micro grid system is up and running at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales.

It will allow the centre to use the power it generates itself instead of relying on national grid supplies and help them reduce their carbon footprint.

Centralised electricity systems like the national grid waste around 65% of energy through heat loss in power stations and transmission lines before reaching our homes.

Previously, any power generated by the centre's wind turbines or solar panels was exported to the national grid. Now the power will be used around the Centre, with only the excess exported to the national grid.

"Even if you've got a wind turbine on the roof, if the grid goes down you're in the dark like everyone else," said Alex Randall from CAT.

"We can be on or off grid whenever we like now. At quiet times, our island grid sends any excess to the national grid and at peak times it imports any extra required," said Randall.


And here's the much more lengthy CAT bulletin. It seems to me that Fox Islands, Peaks island, and many other Maine Islands considering wind power, should investigate this new development. It would be nice not to have to cut the power off the next time CMP's lines go down in an ice storm.

Maybe some "civilian" representatives from these Maine communities should accompany the UC students next year on our trip. Write me an email if this interests you.

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