Welcome to the next episode of ARC's Smart Cities Podcast, today Jim Frazer, VP Smart Cities and Eduard Fidler, Transportation Analyst interview ARC's own Rick Rys on the impact of electrical energy technology developments in the smart city ecosystem. You can now subscribe to the ARC Smart Cities Podcast through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.
Jim Frazer: Welcome everyone. This is another in our continuing series of smart city podcasts hosted by Arc Advisory Group. I'm Jim Frazer, the vice president of smart cities here at Arc. I'm joined today by Eduard Fidler, who's a colleague of mine and an analyst in the transportation, and energy domain. Our guest today is Rick Rys of Arc. He's a senior analyst here at our organization and focuses on energy technologies and applications. Rick, before we formally get started, can you tell us a little bit about your background and, what you do at Arc, maybe some recent studies you've completed?
Rick Rys: Sure. Thank you. Jim. So my background is as a chemical and electrical engineer. I worked for three years at a chemical plant in Niagara Falls that took salt water and electrolyzed it to caustic chlorine and hydrogen gas - kind of a battery in reverse. I worked for 20 years at Foxboro in Foxborough, Massachusetts as a control system design engineer where we designed, built and implemented, executed, and started up control strategies in a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, power, pulp and paper, food, pharmaceutical. I left Foxboro and became my own one man consulting company in 1996 and I continued to work in those very same industries. In fact, I also left under very good terms and continued to work for the Foxboro company, which by that time became Invensys and then Schneider Electric.
Rick Rys: I worked in a number of oil and gas projects for them as well as many other clients. I also had the chance to work, for several years on a nuclear power plant control systems, including the whole balance of plant and the emergency shutdown systems. For the last four years I've been a consultant at Arc. I've worked on market studies for Arc in the area of operator training, HVAC controls, system integrators and automation suppliers. I also executed studies for micro grids, grid scale batteries and transmission and distribution SCADA systems. So that's pretty much my background. Oh, I should also mention that outside of my direct professional life, I designed to build my own solar NetZero house, which is all electric, including electric vehicles.
Rick Rys: So I have some experience with that and I'm also the light commissioner in our small town of Princeton, Massachusetts where we have to maintain the entire distribution system- so I'm very much involved with maintaining a real electric distribution system for people that complain when the power goes out.
Jim Frazer: That's fascinating. Rick, I also know that you recently completed some work on autonomous vehicles as well.
Rick Rys: Yeah. Somehow I've got to be one of the primary go-to people for, for drones and drone automation. And, as you get into the autonomy issue of drones, some of the same type of issues show up. In fact, some of the more difficult different issues show up, for autonomous vehicle activities. And of course having a car that has enhanced auto drive capability, I have some firsthand experience to see how each new software release improves upon the previous one. And so very interesting to see what the future will hold and at autonomy will make a huge difference in the future.
Jim Frazer: That's fascinating. Hey Eddie, I see that you have a question?
Eduard Fidler: Yeah, yeah, for sure. Well, thanks a lot Rick - I figured we could just start with the electric grid. so there's a lot happening, in the power gen, that utility sector. Can you talk about some of the disruption that the grid is seeing and where that's coming from and where that's going?
Rick Rys: Yeah, that's great. It's definitely in a high state of disruption compared to other industries. One of the key issues is that economies increasingly depend on power. I could imagine that most everyone listening to this podcast would have some difficulty going without power for three or four days. So hurricanes like Maria that caused a lot of damage and put power out for a long time really hurt a lot of people. And so there's always been an issue of cost and cost reliability issues. And also the other disruption is that a lot of places in the world that never had power before, suddenly have power. China and India claim to be nearly 100% powered. The only continent on the planet that has some issues in terms of power distribution is really Africa. The second disruption is the grid power sources are rather disruptive and, and so there are some problematic issues in terms of how we built our electric grid to date. We see coal and nuclear being displaced by lower price natural gas, and then natural gas in turn being displaced by lower cost, solar and wind. The third main issue is really environmental. There's an effort to, reduce CO2 emissions across the whole board, which means, the large CO2 emissions from transport and buildings. We really need a non CO2 emitted generation source. So these things are, are impacting the type of new resources going onto the grid.
Jim Frazer: Rick, this is Jim. so you started talking about some of the larger issues driving generation and distribution of electric power, but maybe can you, drill down a little bit into the impacts of micro grids, of off grid generation and maybe even, some efficiency issues of say the impact of led lighting on public infrastructure.
Rick Rys: There's a lot of issues over the last couple of decades. We even see this in our own town. The amount of electric power we've consumed here in the U S has been in decline. So that's been in decline because of some of these efficient appliances and you know, more efficient utilization and really that conservation and efficiency has been awesome. This has reduced the demand for electricity in countries like the U S where, China and India are getting electrified for the first time - their demand has soared. Going into the future, we would also see that there are likely to be increased demands if you tried to electrify transport. If we started moving from internal combustion vehicles for cars and trucks and, and instead of heating with oil and gas, heating with a heat pumps, et cetera, the projection for electric power of consumption in the future for the U S is increasing to a large extent with how fast these new technologies impact transport and buildings.
Rick Rys: The efficiency gains that we have made led light lighting is certainly a case in point. The thing is that an awful lot of places are fully led, light lit, and so they've, they've gotten those improvements. You know, I'm not sure that I'm not sure that there's a new technology that was quite as impressive as going from incandescent to LEDs. Going into the future, maybe a slightly more efficient LEDs and there are probably a lot of other lighting technologies. Now as far as the micro grids, are going, we can talk a little bit more about that. I will mention that, the whole issue on the electric grid is associated with regulation or deregulation, plays a big role. There's a lot of grids where the grid controlling entity is kind of a country or a government and they just manage the entire grid or there could also allow a number of players to become generators and participate in the grid management.
Rick Rys: for example, we saw the FERC in the U S, the organization FERC federal energy reliability council has a, as a FERC order 841 which basically started to allow grid scale batteries for example, to compete in the wholesale energy market. And suddenly that's opened up, a lot of opportunities for grid scale batteries.
Jim Frazer: Well, Rick on this issue, I know that, particularly in Europe that ownership is a bit more, diverse and as a result, a number of standards have developed there and are quite more advanced than we have here in the U S could you talk about the standards in terms of IEC 61850, and maybe some of the other standards for automated demand response, like Open ADR 2.0,
Rick Rys: Sure. One of the things you'll certainly see in our current electric grids is there is a lot of existing infrastructure that is very durable and lasts a long time. In our substations, we see a lot of older equipment and that older equipment is in many ways serviceable. The things that do happen is where you're putting in brand new substations, it's relatively easy to go to a, standard like the 61850 communication standard that could reduce a lot of the wiring costs. It allows you basically to put fiber optic devices right to the end devices. Things like reclosers and synchro phasers and all of the other electrical switch gear could be directly wired rather than wired analog signals into an RTU/MTU infrastructure. So the, the digitalization of substations, and even the whole distribution network is very important. Obviously to manage an entire distribution system requires, the ISO is the independent system operators, regional transmission operators.
Rick Rys: There are people and control systems looking at the entire air, network and identifying, a number of issues that, need to be addressed, right to efficiently dispatch electric power. And so, part of that efficiency is, we'll get to demand response in a bit, is kind of goes back to an MIT study some years ago that basically said the spot price of electricity varies by dependent on the location and the time. And as a result that, that deregulation resulted in the utilities trying to drive the electric power management economically. By every 10 minutes, for example, here in new England, ISO new England computes the local marginal price and that local marginal price, has a great driver on power. If that marginal price is very high, some manufacturing plants could decide to defer production if they, if they have the option to do that.
Rick Rys: If in some cases the local marginal price technically goes negative. It did this very recently here. And actually you are fined for consuming generating electricity. All right? You would be paid to use electricity. These, these don't, these situations don't happen very often, but all of these issues associated with the management of the grid are very critical and important. demand response is another issue. you know, in the sense that currently we, the electric grid started to be regulated by what's called AGC, automatic generation control, which is basically looking at the frequency of the grid. Very small grids could be regulated by voltage, but a large grids are basically regulated by frequency. And the frequency actually changes depending on the load. A lot of loads come onto the grid.
Rick Rys: Instead of running at 60 cycles, you're running at 59 and a fraction. All of the spinning reserves on that system where have built in governors that will act to compensate for that load. Some plants like nuclear plants can only act in a very short term with, with just the spinning inertia of their turbines. But others like natural gas can actually bring on more resources. Natural gas and coal can burn more fuel to match that load. And so these, these dispatchable, generators are part of that system.
Jim Frazer: Rick, that's it. That's interesting from the perspective of the power generating, entity, can you comment about the spot pricing impact? not only on industrial plants, in here in North America and in Europe, you do have some, larger scale owners, let's call them. We have over a range of municipally owned utilities, rural electrical co-ops that represent one large load. Does that spot pricing also impact them as well?
Rick Rys: The, the ISOs have actually a list of phone numbers of the major manufacturers that have discretionary loads. And when there becomes capacity issues on electrical networks, there are in some cases prearranged relationships so that the numbers of industrial and maybe large commercial units can, will defer load or they, so they are participating in the management of the grid and which by the way, the grid must precisely match, the amount of power being generated with the power being used. Anything be beyond a small mismatch could end up tripping the whole grade and have a blackout. So the thing is, is that already we've seen for quite some time that industrial and commercial users are involved in that. And to some extent they, they are, are motivated by the local marginal price.
Rick Rys: So there's a price mechanism that's involved. In other cases, they are just, look, we need you to shut down. And, and ironically some of that is done by ordinary phone calls to people saying, we're going to we're anticipating that we have a big load coming up. We need you to, to either degenerate or to cut back. All right? And so there's a dispatching function in the grid management systems. Now the other interesting thing is that if we look at going forward, if in fact transportation and buildings become an increase, increasingly electrified, there will be a, a very big necessity for example, to involve them in a demand response point of view. That in many cases, these smaller facilities, individual residences, small buildings, and even many office buildings are, are not really part of the electric grid, load management, even though they may have some discretionary loads.
Jim Frazer: Well, it's interesting. I'd like to ask you then about, I know that the department of energy, quite a few years ago went to ASHRAE, the American society of heating refrigerating and air conditioning engineers and they issued -I believe it's published. I saw the draft a while ago, it's basically an energy services interface to larger building campuses. And as a result of that, some of the work I had done before I joined ARC was developing a similar but, but much lighter, energy services interface to the public infrastructure on roads, meaning lighting and traffic signals and whatever else might be out there, rest areas. Tollbooths. what's the really the maturity at this point in time, of automated demand response?
Rick Rys: I would say that is a relatively immature in, in some of the things that we've investigated here at ARC, we refer to the entire problem of how to manage the electric grid, in this regard of demand and involve the increasingly important smaller users. If you have a lot of individual residents with solar panels and individual residents with batteries, individual residents with electric vehicles or, truck or bus charging stations and, or buildings that could, that could store energy thermally. These organizations are not typically connected here. This has been described by some as the largest system integration problem of our time. Those that are running those grids do not want to make specific power purchase contracts with every single residence. So there needs to be this intermediate layer of aggregators that can collect and organize a number of people in smaller distribution systems in order to bid into the markets for wholesale price of power. There's all of these different markets that can be participated in and many of those markets are just not open to small players today.
Jim Frazer: It's interesting. I, I've heard it described that the, the electricity industry really is moving from generating the power and counting the electrons at the end of the line to really managing a peer to peer network of intelligent devices and actually just simply managing electron flow between devices on a network, more like an ISP. I could see the challenges that you bring up in terms of, frequency matching. If I'm feeding power from my small micro grid into my network - as well as what if me and my three neighbors will have electric vehicles and we all would like to charge the same time on the same transformer. I could imagine that some difficulties will develop.
Rick Rys: Let me comment on that. You know, as there's already been a, a number of disruptions that I, that I mentioned in the past where, non-dispatchable generation assets like solar and wind are put onto the grid and, solar in particular in places like California and Hawaii have started to be so prominent during the day time that pretty much all the other generation assets on an electric grid are, are, are throttled down to the lowest possible operating point. this is, the famous duck curve relationship, by cow case. So the California ISO that basically shows that during the day the, the, the amount of solar being generated is so high then, and then as soon as the sun goes down, what has to happen is there's no more solar and all of the more conventional bull dispatchable generation, like natural gas plants suddenly have to ramp up at an unprecedentedly high rate.
Rick Rys: And, and so as a result, they will, California and Hawaii and others have kind of tried to maybe, encourage, energy storage for those people that are putting in solar rate in the future so that they can shift, that, generation, interaction with the grid from instead of, dumping power, solar power into the grid, all during the day, they store that power locally. They don't dump it into the, in the grid. And they also, we move power from their batteries at peak load times roughly five to nine. So there's these three curves that I was mentioning. I, I suppose I should mention the one is the duck curve. and that's, that's basically the curve that occurs from a solar generation dominating, the generation of a network. The second one is, I think you kind of touched on it.
Rick Rys: We would, let's call it the dragon curve. You know, individually. the dragon curve is not exactly what the one you mentioned. The dragon curve is basically these high voltage DC chargers, of which a single vehicle put onto the grid, makes a suddenly starts consuming 300 kilowatts of power, right? And so that puts a, a significant spike on a small distribution system. It's not really a problem for larger transmission networks. But then there's the third curve, which is a little bit more problematic. And let's call this one the shark fin curve. And basically, it implies that if we suddenly get a lot of electric vehicles in common use every day and everybody's going to work and coming home at five o'clock and everybody plugs in their electric car at five o'clock, the time period between five and six shows a huge ramp up in power.
Rick Rys: So collectively, the individual car chargers at residence, they're only level two. They are nowhere near 300 kilowatts. They're closer to probably to eight kilowatts. They, these things collectively with hundreds or thousands, potentially millions of cars plugging in at the same time- will put a big problem into the electric grid. All right. And basically could in principle cause black outs, but on the other hand, they also could become quite a resource for evening out the grid and, and I'll bet that probably Eddie has a couple of questions on that.
Jim Frazer: Rick, that's, that's very instructive. that's a very instructive view of the entire generation of distribution architecture and, and a lot of the issues surrounding that. Let's drill down into some of the components of that network. I know Eddie's got a question. go ahead Eddie.
Eduard Fidler: Yeah, yeah. So, well, I'll pick up on a lot of what you said there, Rick. There's lots to digest and it's quite fascinating as always. so you mentioned the renewables piece here where, where renewables, like solar and wind are intermittent. so I just wanted to, to see your, what is your opinion on, on a reasonable roadmap as we necessarily have to increase the levels of renewables and how do we properly integrate that? Do you see nuclear, do you see natural gas with carbon capture as options here for the medium term at least? What are your views on that?
Rick Rys: So that's kind of like the, the world's toughest problem these days but, but, but I think that arc has done a lot of work here, so we, we do have a, I think a little bit to offer here in terms of being able to look at so many different industries and how they're automated and how they interact together as a, as a unit. We certainly see that coal and nuclear are having a difficult time competing, with natural gas. If you start adding all the stack gas scrubbers and things on coal plants, they can become pretty expensive to operate. If you were to ever get a, a tax on CO2 as a pollutant, coal plants would, would be just absolutely noncompeting. So coal plants are being shut down, left and right, right.
Rick Rys: Nuclear is certainly not emitting and you would think that many people would think that nuclear would be a great way to, to expand our base load and be able to get a carbon free electric grid. And from that perspective, they would be, the only problem is that ever since we have the Chernobyl accident and then the Fukushima accident and, and we've had a few other problems in the, in the nuclear industry with regards to that. As a result of those accidents, there's been a lot of new regulations. For example, the atomic energy commission came up with a number of new expensive regulations that require the nuclear industry to do, to deal with it, additional compensating measures, so that they could tolerate the type of accident that occurred at Fukushima, which was a total station blackout. and, and I don't think that, we had necessarily been adequately prepared for that.
Rick Rys: And at the same time we see that, that although initially there was no tax on carbon dioxide or, or things like this carbon tax, but there was a lot of incentives given to solar and wind. And those incentives have resulted in multiple generations of solar panel, manufacturing technology, the economy of scale of that. And, and, and certainly in the wind turbines where we've gone through four or five generations of, of, of wind turban you know, the, the, the blade regulation, the gearboxes and in some cases without gearboxes. And then finally the generators are converters, that the wind turbines are using. So the wind and solar prices have gone so low that they're very much that they're absolutely much more competitive than coal and nuclear. And in fact, today even quite potentially quite competitive with natural gas, possibly even competitive with natural gas as a peaking asset if you would consider solar and wind along with storage.
Rick Rys: So obviously then one of the biggest problems we have if you start moving to non dispatchable renewables like solar and wind is, is you need to start balancing all of those out. there's a whole range of, of possibilities now that, that come into play and, and obviously, there's been a lot of press recently on a lot of a battery technologies. You know, there's a tremendous amount of grid scale batteries that are available now. You can buy them from all kinds of different suppliers including the instrument and control suppliers, have battery packaging packages available in the megawatt timeframe. I think it was also PJM, ISO area here in the central Atlantic here helped to prove the concept of lithium batteries being useful for frequency control and therefore that helped to, to take up the slack from spinning reserves. So we're seeing spinning reserves from the coal and nuclear getting replaced by good scale batteries that can handle the, those very fast as responding frequency controls. The problem though with lithium batteries is that they get to be very expensive, once you start getting more than a few hours of story. So we still have a big problem of storing power for days, weeks or hours and, and pumped hydro is obviously an option. And, and even conventional hydro operated as a storage asset has some potential in the future as well.
Eduard Fidler: Okay. So I wanted to drill down a little bit about those economics. So you're saying that the price of wind and solar has plummeted and so it's competitive with even nuclear, even gas, but that's only as an intermittent resource. And when you consider the price of energy storage, so the numbers still stack up or where do we stand with that?
Rick Rys: Well some of the big energy storage projects we've seen come in here and we've got a number of utilities in our area that have pulled it in a lithium batteries. They put in those lithium batteries to, typically they're going after the transmission and capacity costs. All right. So those things have generally had a pretty good pay out. There have been some subsidies and you know government subsidies here in, in kind of the state level at least. And, and of course there was lots of subsidies here for solar and wind in terms of tax credits and the, particularly the production tax credit for wind. But the, the, the battery issue is an interesting one. we see in a lot more batteries go out there and we see a few people put in flywheels in. we see a lot of, going in the flow batteries, which have the potential promise of being a lower cost.
Rick Rys: You know, the cost structure of lithium is, they're always talking about this a hundred dollars per kilowatt hour of storage and we're getting down close to that, but still, even at $100 a kilowatt hour, we, we don't have, we don't have enough economics to justify a to basically to handle a grid that's virtually, that starts to get dominated by non dispatchable. Okay. One thing I wanted that thing I wanted to mention is that one of the other solutions to this is to interconnect grids to be a larger, a larger grid. so we see a lot of high voltage DC transmission. We've seen we need to be able to move power from where, where, where it's generated to where it could be used. in the U S we have three isolated grids, the Eastern West and Western and Texas grid. and obviously we're not even connected to, the Canadian grids or the Mexican grid.
Rick Rys: So one larger grid would be much more stable and would, would allow the opportunities to move power generated at one location to others. And that would go a long way, as in many cases a more economical opportunity than, than putting grid scale batteries in. And that even given the, even given the power losses over long distances. Yeah, that that's true. I mean lithium batteries do have the advantage that they have a very high efficiency rating. The roundtrip efficiencies in the mid-nineties, I think some of the other battery technologies, the vanadium redox flow batteries are down in the 60% pumped hydro is in the mid 60%. and, and there's still other options of, of hydrogen ammonia storage you know, and, and a number of other different kinds of flow batteries. I would mention that one of the things that also I think is going to have a big impact is, is the amount of lithium batteries being made for the electric industry will pretty quickly dwarfed the amount of lithium batteries, being made for grid storage and with all these lithium batteries driving around on the highways the utilization of those lithium batteries to interact with the grid in a more interesting way.
Rick Rys: In particular, I would mention vehicle to grid technology has a big opportunity in the future that we're not currently taking advantage. None of the electric vehicle manufacturers are supporting vehicle to grid in the U S
Jim Frazer: Rick, this has been a, just a Superbowl review of, of an in-depth in some parts of the, of the distribution and, and mechanics and economics of the electrical infrastructure. can we spend the rest of our, half an hour on, on the components and software platforms that compose this whole architecture and I'll with,
Rick Rys: what's a micro grid and w what's the value to, to end users of a micro grid. It's a very good question because to some extent we're all familiar with micro grids for a long time. You know, before solar and wind and common usage of the term micro grid was used you have a built in micro grid. If you've got a, a little gasoline or diesel generator, I mean that's, that's a standalone voltage regulating micro grid that can, can handle the load, adjust the fuel use to that. But we're not normally considering that a microgrid and in our studies of microgrids, arc tended to focus more on the micro grid control functions. You know, in many of the micro grid market studies, for example, you would see that the, revenue of a microgrid would include the, the revenue for the wind turbans, revenue for the solar panel arrays out in the fields, whatever.
Rick Rys: And you know, revenue for those types of, of generating assets. And I suppose including gas and diesel generators, but, but a micro grid basically has the, you, you could, you could argue that the Island of Hawaii is a micro grid, but really that's a, that's a major grid. So we tend to think of micro grids that as something that might be under about a hundred megawatts and some universities, are up to that scale of a hundred megawatts where they basically could operate autonomously disconnected from the major grid, provide all their own power to possibly with some low shedding here and there, but they could provide all their own power and operate as their own independent entity, generating their power, storing their power, matching, their power sources to their loads. and a critical characteristic of a microgrid is typically to be able to interconnect, although that doesn't have to interconnect.
Rick Rys: But, but most micro grids are interconnected to the grid, particularly a micro grid that is formed by a renewable asset, will often have more generation than they can than their loads require. And therefore it would export power to a regular grid and they would like to be able to do that smoothly. In other words, if the main grid goes down, they smoothly takeover and power their own loads when they're, when their local renewable generation is too low for the loads. They consume all of that local generation to supply their loads and import any additional amount they need, from the grid to, to mat to keep their load satisfied. So the characteristic of, of micro grids you know, tend to support a large number of different situations. on the control layer though, if you really want to get down to the compartmental level we, we talk about three levels of controls for a micro grid.
Rick Rys: We talk about the, the primary level. This is the, the protection level. This is where safety relays and, we, closers and fuses and switch gear are involved to keep everything safe. You know, if you have a short circuit those breakers should open and, and confined the blackout to a small, an area as possible, right? So there's one layer of controls. The, the secondary layer of controls that, is typically involved is in load management and the control of distributed energy generation storage at, at, and, and the load. So there is load centers involved. This is kind of at the inverter level. Many of the inverters include a lot of the functionality to do here. You know, the inverter can be configured for a grid tied configuration or a grid tied with backup configuration and the invertor knows about all of these levels of control.
Rick Rys: Then there's kind of a tertiary level of control where, where a micro grid asset might interact with the grid. And this would be a particularly true of larger micro grids that it might be looking at the, the local marginal price and deciding when to generate, when not to generate. It might also be looking at the, the peak load on the electric grid to know what the transmission and distribution, because if, if a micro grid could, could not, could avoid consuming grid power during a peak load event, it could save a tremendous amount of money on their transmission and distribution costs because transmission distribution costs are typically, conf arranged by the one hour period throughout the entire year that you've used the most power in your distribution system. How will go a long way to determining what your transmission and distribution costs. So, and these can be five or 10, even 15% of your total electric bill.
Rick Rys: and, and by this kind of management level, you could, you could make those kinds of reductions you can substantially reduce the cost of electric power because if you can demonstrate that you do not need a massive wire from the grid to your distribution system to support your load because you, any of you can shave these peaks off with, with your micro grids, then there's a lot of money to be saved. Wow, that's fascinating. so how do micro grids manage the grid stability? Well, on the one hand one of the, one, a lot of the justification for micro grids, it's kind of this concept of resilience. All right? That basically means, if you're the local load out in Puerto Rico, this one area of Puerto Rico that hasn't had any electric power for one year and suddenly you've got your own micro grid operating with possibly with batteries and a diesel generator at the hospital or the police station or whatever critical asset you have.
Rick Rys: But nevertheless, that local load is, is they're serving you from your point of view. You have some power, all right? You have a resiliency for the power. So, there's quite a bit of, of value in, in that regard where a, a micro grid can provide stable, reliable power even when the main grid goes down. So that's kind of from the perspective of the local load. Now, how can the micro grid help the, the main grid, and, and that really would be by responding to, to price signals and interacting with that. The, in principle a micro grid could, participate in the frequency control market in the wholesale market and provide power when the, when the grid needs it. A micro grid in a, in a, a major office building that has the possibility a, for example, some office buildings will, we'll make ice in in a large reservoir, during times when electric power is cheap and available and when peak loads occur, they will utilize that ice to air condition the building rather than use electric grid.
Rick Rys: So the, so you can see that the interaction of these loads and micro grids with the main grid it's kind of a collective thing especially where the micro grid is, tend to be relatively small, but there's some fairly large micro grids that could have a significant impact. And collectively a large number of micro grids, could interact with an overall grid to, to produce a stable thing. That does require a bit of system design to make sure all of these microgrids are behaving in the same way. And, and I think there are, there are, there are some standards that are addressed that. Thanks. Great. Thanks Rick. Eddie, I think it was a couple of questions on, energy storage.
Eduard Fidler: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So Rick, obviously the main focus when people talk about energy storage is lithium. And we talked about that. So you did mention flow batteries. and, and you seem to think that they're quite promising. So if you give us an intro to what flow batteries are and why they comics might pan out there as opposed to lithium
Rick Rys: so, right. Yeah. Everybody's familiar with the local D cell AA cells. The number of batteries that said I have is, is in the hundreds. I have hundreds of these small batteries all over kinds of my electric gadgets of stuff. So, these are basically a solid electrolyte. The chemical reaction occurs and once the chemicals convert from one, kind of a situation to a different electron configuration. so the, once those chemical reactions occur and energy is released, those batteries are dead and you throw them away. Alright, now a flow battery, is a little bit different. You know, basically you can think of a, a flow battery as, as being a fuel cell. Fuel cells consume hydrogen and oxygen that flow into it. For example, there's a Toyota a Mariah is a, is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.
Rick Rys: So basically that hydrogen fuel cell is what's called a flowing battery. It has a flowing electrolyte that flows in the electrolytes. In this case it would be hydrogen and oxygen. Now in the, there's a number of other flow technologies that exist in stationary batteries. I recently toured a vanadium redox flow battery from a, from a local startup here in Massachusetts. And, and there's a number of other companies that are going in there and basically they have, a large, they have a stack. All right, well let's go. So called the stack and electrolytic stack where liquid flows of two different vanadium. valence is one, I think vanadium plus two in one tank and vanadium plus three and the other. And it takes energy to move from one to the other. and as they flow, as electric power is brought into that grid, they basically convert all of the lithium ion.
Rick Rys: excuse me, the vanadium ion, components into a, a different valence charge. And that has an energy storage in a water solution of vanadium. and the, they can reverse that at any time. All right. And, suddenly consume that. And so the, the, the, the power generation depends on the size of the stack, the energy generation, however, it depends on the size of the tanks to store the liquids. And so this has a huge scaling factor compared to lithium batteries, which are for twice the storage capacity of energy, you pay twice the price cause you need twice as many batteries cause the whole battery is, is stored in the battery. But in a, in a flow battery for twice the energy content, you just need bigger tax tanks and you don't need, the difference in the stack.
Rick Rys: But vanadium redox flow battery that I looked at had very fast response. They actually said they could compete in the frequency response market. All right. Mostly because of the way the inverters were arranged that they could immediately change between generating and, and consuming power. So at a very fast rate that these are still a kind of a guess, you call it an emerging technology. There is a definite competition. There's a, there's almost a half a dozen, vanadium redox flow battery companies with different patents. And I, I T you know, intellectual property that are kind of competing to get a foothold. They, their disadvantage of courses that they don't have, the advantages that lithium has in terms of manufacturing production level and the economies of scale of producing these things at scale. So the first lithium batteries, you could expect to be a little bit expensive, but there certainly is the potential that that, F, flow battery, even though it's way too heavy to put in a vehicle, for example, would, would be a, a, a viable solution for electric grids. You know, beyond four hours of storage. You know, lithium is kind of limited to about four hours’ worth of storage for economics. But vanadium is, Lu is say they want to start at four hours and maybe go to dailies. You know, certainly daily storage is a target for vanadium. In other words, all the solar power you can make in the day, it could be stored in the Bay redox flow, battery and power and entity over the whole night until the next sunny day.
Eduard Fidler: Wow. So, so maybe not so much that there'll be, it'll be a winner take all with technology, but maybe a lithium is better suited for a certain segment of the storage market and the vanadium for another.
Rick Rys: Well, I mean, obviously lithium is, is a become very ideal. It's certainly, tended to dominate all the electric vehicles. For example, there's you know, with a, with a few minor exceptions for very high power ranges of things like supercapacitors and you know, and obviously there's also a range of four or five different chemistries of lithium and, and a lot of advancements in the, in the cost of producing a cell, the amount of cobalt going into lithium batteries has been dramatically reduced. And they are lithium batteries that use no cobalt. Right. And cobalt was one of the more expensive components of the lithium battery. And then there's a lot of issues, of course with lithium recycling we are, we all know lead acid batteries and you know, if your car battery's dead, you bring it into the auto parts store and turn it in and they recycle that battery and you get a new battery that was made from recycled batteries that that infrastructure is not yet in place for lithium. But there's certainly being worked on and developed and it's a little bit harder to recycle lithium than it is to recycle led.
Eduard Fidler: Hmm. Okay. I see. I think, I think the other, the other top of that comes up. you mentioned if you're in a sunny area, you're producing solar power all day, you might want to store that for later. there's a lot of talk around using electrolysis and using hydrogen as a storage mechanism and then using that hydrogen as the basis of a fuel for transport or for industry or something like that. what are your thoughts on that approach?
Rick Rys: Well hydrogen, is a very unique substance. All right? And, and has a tremendous amount of energy storage. Right? In fact, one of the, one of the interesting, puzzles I often give to people is why is it, and you'll find why it's related. Give me a minute to, to show how this, this flows together. Why is it that most of the fuel in your car is not in your gas tank and immediate people's responses? What do you mean? All the fuels in the gas tank, there is no other people. Well, you're wrong. All right. Because you're driving through your fuel. That was cars, gasoline and diesel cars do very poorly on the surface of Mars or the moon where there was no oxygen. And in fact roughly three pounds of oxygen from the air for every pound of gasoline goes into that car.
Rick Rys: Right now if you have a hydrogen powered, that difference is, is you know, instead of carbon, which weighs 12 plus two oxygens at 16 molecular weight each, you have oxygen weighs 16 with hydrogen at two, you basically have eight to one eight pounds of oxygen for every pound of, of hydrogen consumed. So hydrogen has a huge advantage that it doesn't have to store most of the fuel. It's the hydrogen and unfortunately has this huge disadvantage that its energy density is so low that it's really hard to put it in a small volume. You know, if you need it to have a hydrogen powered car with gas at atmospheric pressure, you'd need to tow a blimp. All right. And the Mariah has to put very high, pressure carbon reinforced tanks. But for grid scale, there is some possibilities that you could see a hydrogen and an also, there are other chemistries besides hydrogen.
Rick Rys: Ammonia is one of them. you could use electricity to make a hydrogen and you still have the issue though is storing that much hydrogen. You know, typically in order to store it, you have to compress it. you'll also have some issues of the, if you're using electrolysis to make hydrogen, your, your round-trip efficiency is much worse than say for example, with lithium you know, you'd be the, the fuel cell alone is 60% efficient. So by the time you, you, you electrolyze at 60% efficiency to store it and compress it and then take the that energy back out and back through a fuel cell, that's only 60% of it. Efficiency gets to be a very, very low, for that. But in many cases that still is quite tolerable. you know, where it would be better than, than, curtailing wind or you know, curtailing wind or solar outright weight where you're just wasting the power.
Rick Rys: you could certainly look at some options for that. You know, you also mentioned carbon capture. You know, carbon capture has some possibilities. You know, there are, they're, they're probably most practical in a an integrated, combined cycle guests vacation type of, of network. There are a few new fuel cycles. I think it was called one called the album cycle that, have the possibility of kind of, basically being able to consume hydrocarbons and vary a bit more efficiently, making power and capturing the CO2, but, but generally that, that, that adds to the cost of that. But it certainly could be an option because it's so difficult to scale up the, the resources of solar and wind to, to that level of scale.
Eduard Fidler: Wow. Yeah. The, the economics are, are kind of fascinating when you mentioned that if there's an inefficient torturous path for hydrogen, but if you're in a remote solar field where the marginal cost of energy is, is nil or next to it and you've more power, they know what to do with that actually make sense.
Rick Rys: I'm not sure that's the, and you just have not seen until now so that, yeah, I mean they're spending a lot of effort to improve that calculation. There's the acronym, LCO E levelized cost of energy to help to try to take some of those things into account. But, but obviously if you have specific situations for example, in China, in the Mongolia area, they put in massive amounts of wind, but they put so much wind in that they found they were curtailing it 15 or 20%. And that was a situation where, where they said, well we, we need to put a hundred megawatt vanadium redox flow battery. I'm not sure if that bladder, it batteries operating yet, but they basically thought they could, significantly we do curtailment because they're just dumping that power. They're just wasting 15% of all the wind turbans they just put up.
Rick Rys: Wow, what does curtailment look like? Actually, how do they physically power? So the electric grid suddenly has way too much power than they need. So they're basically saying, we need to, excuse me. Has way too much load to be able to, to let me see how I can explain this. Electric, we had operator and ISO that suddenly have way more power than they need for the loads. All right? In which case they start to back off all of their generating capacity but they can't back off a nuclear plant. Nuclear plants run steady. They can only back off coal plants so much and even natural gas plants have to stay running. They don't have a huge turndown so they still have to run it some fraction of their full scale load. And basically there's, there's tons of solar and it's a windy day to somebody's got to shut off power because there is nobody consuming that much power.
Rick Rys: And ISO will issue a command. And as I think that every one of these assets that is an ISO registered asset must have a, a, a point of connection and a responsible entity that can shut that load off. And in fact, even our wind turbines in our local town, from time to time, when that the local marginal price went negative, we were like, find $15,000 just for running and generating our wind. We, we now have that under a much more sophisticated control system where we have somebody watching that 24, seven and they will disconnect that load. And even though it's windy, we stop generating. Wow. Yeah. These are issues that didn't really exist and 20 years ago, well, I mean, the grid problem of balancing always existed. You know, you still always had the issue but, but with large generating capacity, they kind of solved it with you know, with, with spinning reserves and, and, and, and there was, so, there always was a complicated, automatic generation system, but that, but the, the whole issue of base load and spinning reserves is being, being served by different types of entities today. So it is definitely, definitely seen a lot of changes. And a lot of people didn't realize that, that these kinds of changes are occurring. certainly the people that operate the grids. And the grid regulators, throughout the world have become very good at this. You know, China has become very good at this with such a huge grid expansion that, that is underway there. And, and also in India.
Jim Frazer: Well, Rick, it's been, it's been a great hour of just a very fascinating information. do you have any, the last thoughts that you'd like debt, debt, perhaps subjects we didn't cover? I know, you, you and I, before, before our recording today, we talked about, participation from smaller players for, for the demand response applications. We'd like to address that or, or anything else.
Rick Rys: Yeah. And I think if I'll just an idea to give a little bit more of a futuristic view you know, as an electric car owner, I would like to be able to participate and help my grid, but I'm not, not, not kind of allowed to do that. And I've been talking to a few, aggregators out there and, that are trying to get involved with a number of smaller players. I talked to a, a small company called ohm connect in California. They, and they basically, they bid into the, some of the wholesale energy markets and they have 100,000 individual customers that are residential customers and they basically ha have developed a, an iPhone game delight app so that all of these customers will suddenly get a text two hours from now. Peak load is likely to happen.
Rick Rys: We need you to, conserve power. Alright. And they are play this thing like a video game because now they're competing with neighbors, competing with other groups of people and they get gained points by going down and turning their air conditioners, throttle setpoint down or deferring charging of their electric vehicle or shutting their hot water heater off. So they've, they basically accumulate these points and if they're really at a, at a situation where this is the one peak hour, they get bonus points. And so there they encourage people to participate in a demand response environment, as a video game. And at the end of the month, the aggregator gets paid by the utility by demonstrating that he has in fact reduced load, which is, which is verified by smart meters and a base calculation that shows each one of these players in fact gained points based on reducing power from their base load over the last year. And I think you're going to see a lot more of this in the future. This is relatively rare here. We don't have that. That doesn't happen in very many locations yet and it's still very a very early in the development. But I think there's a lot of space and room for aggregators to interact with the larger number of users, the smaller users at the residential and small commercial level. And, and, and make it fun to play this, this game and, and help the grid be stable at the same time.
Jim Frazer: Rick, that's fascinating that that gamification, approach to that. recently, Edward and myself were on a call with a, an operator of, of an electric vehicle charging platform and they've begun going out to, to the energy market and bidding for power and they're going to be a power aggregator and distributor to their own Evie chargers.
Rick Rys: Absolutely. I think a Eve the projection of [inaudible] sales vehicles, you look at, there's an awful lot of electric vehicles suddenly starting to come out. All right. We're seeing every major of vehicle manufacturer making a relatively serious commitment toward electric vehicles. You certainly see it with Volkswagen following their diesel scandal. you know, Mercedes is their volleyball's there. You know, the, obviously there's established players like Tesla and Nissan, that, that are out there and the Chevy bolt. so we certainly see that these electric vehicles are there. They will become more opportunities with that much energy storage driving on the highways and parked at night on used and, and some of the other issues of autonomy of, of those vehicles. there's going to be a lot of opportunities for, for them to participate in the future. Right now, most of them, there's no, there's no opportunities.
Rick Rys: They come in, plug it in, they don't, the fact that they're, they're plugging in at peak load and, and costing their local distribution system money because they increased their peak load the, the distribution companies that are not yet have yet to figure out how to incentivize them. And it fairly incentivize them to, to be part of the electric grid management. And, and certainly if you can make it fun with a video game, that would be a lot more fun than, cause most people are just not looking at their electric meter. They really want to just take that electric power for granted and, and ignore it. But, but I would say there's one other statement there that's to make it fun and to make a, an economic incentive. You know, voltage moves, electricity, pressure moves, fluids and money moves people and, and money with a game incentive is even better.
Jim Frazer: Wow. That's, that's, that's a great end note,
Rick Rys: Rick. I like that. I like that a lot. Rick.
Jim Frazer: Great. Well, Rick, this has been, we're, we're up at the top of the hour. This has been a fascinating, discussion with you. We expect to be invite you back - and to those listeners out there, keep, keep tuning in for additions of the arc, smart city viewpoints, podcasts. and if you'd like to reach out to arc, we're online at www.arcweb.com. Feel free to contact Rick or myself, Jim Frazer, our, Edward Fiddler, and I like to put out a thanks today also to our sound engineer Tom Cabot who's in the background processing things today. We look forward to seeing you all again on a future edition. Thank you very much for attending today. Great. It was great fun. Thanks so much.