The 21st Century Grid
Towards the Future of Energy
A Short history of The Energy Grid
A long, long time ago, before the copper wires and the alternating electron — well, the middle of the 1800s to be exact — electricity was an interesting but mostly a useless thing. That would suddenly change when at the end of same century some bright individuals started toying with early electric lights and motors powered by on-site generators and, in a blink of an eye, electricity became cheap and constantly available — it became an utility— a very valuable one. Such its importance that we have built our society around its use and it’s embedded in every layer of our economic apparatus. We are effectively creatures of the Grid, and the Sun, once the God who used to govern our lives, now watches from above how humanity tames darkness. The grid has become a living thing and we use the energy that flows through its 25 Mkm of transmission and distribution veins at a current rate of 20,863 TWh/year, with little interruption, across all continents.
The architecture of today’s electricity grid is a testament of human endeavour and ingenuity, the sum product of innumerable technological advances, design decisions and political policies over the course of an entire century. Ultimately, resulting in a process full of complexities ranging from technological challenges, political instability, to environmental disruption and national security issues.
Within 150 years, we have found ways to draw out a fossilized black-ish liquid from beneath the earth’s surface, investing massive amount of capital and energy to transform such liquid into fuel, to then transport it over large distances using an ever-growing network of pipelines, burn it in massive — often inefficient—, centralized facilities that turn its molecules into electrons. Afterwards, we transport those electrons over the same large distances across an spiderweb of copper wires to millions of end users, that consume them unaware of the real life magic happening behind such system, and the intricate set of principles, rules and levels of authority that regulate and manage its complex mechanisms.
Principles for the 21st Century Grid
Electricity is intertwined in our world so much that it’s often being described as the “lifeblood of a modern society”. It is key to technological advancement and the underlying infrastructure of a wide range of products and services that are the basis of our day to day life and motor of our economic productivity. However, the fact that electricity can be delivered at reasonable cost to 89% of the entire human population through a century-old architecture is just marvelous feature of engineering merged with complex social policies that promoted reliable supply to all citizens. Now, at the verge of climate catastrophe, the degree to which we can keep providing such valuable commodity and how we manage to do it has to change.
The legacy 20th-century model of centralized, top-down electricity grid dispatch is currently being rethought. A confluence of technological advances and increased computational power (machine learning), the rise of cost-effective distributed energy resources (Solar Generation, Energy Storage, Flexible Loads), an explosion of novel IT solutions and sophisticated software-enabling technologies (ranging from IOT sensors, to smart devices, to Blockchain), are making possible to entirely rethink the way the 21st Century grid should operate, and therefore evolve to a new Transactive Grid, which core framework principles are: The Decarbonization, Decentralization and Digitalization.
With the task of accelerating the global transition to this Transactive Grid we must look at the bigger picture, we must embrace technology transformative effects and enable it to tackle and conquer the challenges ahead.
In the coming days we will discuss how in STOR we believe in those principles, what they entailed and how key industry players within the Energy Sector: Energy Web Foundation, PowerLedger and Grid Singularity to name a few, are building the underlying technology infrastructure that will make them possible.
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