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power saving

Adrian von Bidder made an interesting post in response to my post about Spanish wind power. He correctly points out that power sources that have seasonal variations and which may vary during the course of a day can not be used as the sole power source.

The ideal design would be to have wind power stations that are designed to have a peak power that is greater than the expected use for the country. Then when wind power is slightly below peak the entire use for the country could still be satisfied.

There are a number of power sources that can quickly ramp up, this includes hydro-electric and gas-fired power stations. Such forms of power generation could be used as backup for when wind and solar power are limited. Incidentally one thing to note about Solar power is that it is most effective during the day in summer – which is when there is the highest demand for electricity to run cooling systems. There is also an option for having the sun heat up rocks which can be used for generating electricity at night or at periods of peak demand. So eventually we could have all our energy needs supplied by solar and wind power.

If wind power was designed to exceed the demand at windy times there are a number of ways that it could be used. The first thing to do is to implement billing systems that vary the cost according to the supply. This information could be provided to customers via X10 (or a similar technology). Home appliances could take note of this information and perform power-hungry operations when it’s cheap. Your freezer could cool itself to -30C when electricity is cheap and allow the temperature to rise to -5C when it’s expensive. You could program your washing machine to start when electricity becomes cheap – usually a few hours delay before starting the washing is no inconvenience.

Ideally home power generation from solar and wind sources would be used. There is significant loss in the power lines that lead from power plants to the consumer, so there are efficiency benefits in generating power locally. A wind turbine for a home will give highly variable amounts of power, and the electricity use of a home also varies a lot. So batteries to store the power are required. When you have local battery storage you could use your batteries to power your home when electricity is expensive and use mains power when it’s cheap. Also if it was possible to feed power back to the main grid then home battery systems could be used to help power the main grid at expensive times (if the electricity company reimburses you for putting power back in the grid then you want such reimbursement to be done at the highest rate).

Adrian also mentioned turning devices off when leaving home. It is common practice in hotels that when entering your room you will insert your key in a holder by the door which acts as a master switch for all lights and some other electrical devices (such as the TV).

This same idea could be adopted for home use, not based on key storage (although this would be an option) but instead on a switch near the front door. Push a button and all lights turn off as do human-focussed appliances such as the TV and DVD player turn off (not the VCR), etc. There could also be a night option which would turn off the TV, DVD player, and most lights. Obviously at night you want bedroom and bathroom lights to still work but many things can be turned off.

This is all possible with today’s technology, small changes to usage patterns, and spending a little more money on technology. Currently you can get a basic solar power system for your house for about $10,000. That isn’t much when you spend $300,000 or more buying the house!

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