Being environmentally friendly is not just about adopting ‘green’ technologies, it also means cutting down on waste. It means a more intelligent use of our resources.
One area that seems to have escaped attention is the national power grid. Yes, much has been written and said about generating electrical power in an environmentally friendly and so on but very little has been said about transmitting this power efficiently in an environmentally friendly manner.1
Ever since governments and business establishments began to generate and supply electrical power on a commercial basis, we have been creating power grids to carry and distribute the power. However, these power grids have always been setup on an ‘as and when required’ basis.
Hardly any planning went into setting up a power grid. As new townships came into being, they simply tapped into the nearest existing electrical power grids and that was that. Scant attention was paid to the efficiency aspects of such a haphazard system much less its overall environmental impact. 2
Because of the haphazard nature of its development, existing power grids were enormously inefficient and dysfunctional. If a certain region had excess electrical power and another had a shortage, more often than not, there was no way to connect the two so that excess power could be transferred to regions with power deficit. 3
Rather than look like a modern day circuit board, the power grids of today resemble the circuit board of a radio of the early 1900’s with their large transistors and electrical wires connecting various components. These were typically non-intelligent circuits. Today even the humble cell phone has enough digital intelligence to make the computer desktop of the early 2000’s look obsolete.
What this means is that we have the technology to replace existing electrical power grids with intelligent power grids that are capable of sensing power requirement and diverting electrical power from an area that has it in excess to an area that is facing a deficit. The technology exists to accept power from a variety of sources and automatically calculate and recalibrate the entire power scenario without the need for human intervention. It does not take a degree in rocket science to realise that when national resources are used inefficiently, the impact on the environment is enormous. 4
As matters stand today, if a certain region produces (say) cheap geothermal power, that electrical power is often fed into a separate stand-alone circuit and only a few households fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the geothermal power plant, benefit from cheaper tariff. There is no way that geothermal power generated in (say) Perth can be shared by residents in (say) Sydney using the national grid.
In fact, something that would appear logical to most humans is apparently quite illogical to the electrical engineers who design, build and maintain Australia’s electrical power grids.
Building environmentally friendly power stations is therefore only 50% efficient. For it to be 100% efficient, it needs to be balanced by an intelligent state-of-the-art environmentally friendly power distribution network. 5
We would have expected that the national power grid to accept electrical power from various sources and the electrical tariff be computed as an average. Why should one region pay an exorbitant tariff because electrical power in that region is generated using expensive coal while another region enjoys cheap tariffs because power in that region is generated by using geothermal heat? The unfairness of the electrical tariff seems to be lost on the government and the businesses that run these power plants.
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Footnotes and references:
2. National power grid of Australia: http://www.geni.org/globalenergy/library/national_energy_grid/australia/index.shtml
3. Inefficiency in modern day power grids: http://www.earth-policy.org/books/pb4/PB4ch4_ss7
4. Sustainable use of national resources: http://www.csiro.au/science/Sustainable-Resource-Use.html
5. Energy efficiency in the power grid: http://www04.abb.com/global/seitp/seitp202.nsf/c71c66c1f02e6575c125711f004660e6/64cee3203250d1b7c12572c8003b2b48/$FILE/Energy+efficiency+in+the+power+grid.pdf