A Radical Distributed Architecture for Local Energy Generation, Distribution, and Sharing

April 25, 2008 - 12:00pm
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The LoCal Project is developing Information Age solutions to the limiting resource of this century: energy. One hundred fifty years ago, humanity was transformed by harnessing energy for machinery and work. Toil by hand became routinely mechanized, inconceivable constructions became reality, and powered transport shrunk the world. A century later, computers brought an equally profound transformation, replacing mundane bookkeeping and obviating libraries, simulating the imperceptible, and placing knowledge at our fingertips. Information processing has sustained a 50-100% annualized growth of capability over the past 30 years. Productivity drives growth in energy consumption, which in turn, impacts the planet and, with rising CO2 production, threatens to alter modern civilization. It is time to rethink this relationship. The fruits of the information revolution must be used for a new foundation for sustainable energy. We apply the lessons of the Internet, for building distributed and robust communications infrastructures, to a radical new architecture for energy generation, distribution and sharing. We introduce packetized energy, stored and forwarded to where it is locally needed, exploiting technology for more efficient energy storage. Like the Internet, quality is achieved end-to-end via protocols over a best-effort, resilient and scalable infrastructure. Distributed management and storage enables dramatic reductions in peak-to-average energy consumption, influencing infrastructure provisioning and investment, and enabling a virtuous cycle of power-limited design. Our architectural building block, intelligent power switching, permits use of diverse, even non-traditional energy storage. Rather than replacing the grid, we overlay it, providing independence from existing generation and transmission systems. Our approach is suited to environments where it is desirable to add incremental generation and distribution, where a centralized infrastructure is prohibitively expensive to deploy as in third world or remote regions (e.g., military or humanitarian operations), or where continued operation in the face of natural disasters is highly desirable (e.g., post-Katrina or post-earthquake disruption of the wide-area energy grid). Management of local demand is also important to dynamically reduce load to remain independent of the grid for as long as possible.

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