Monday, June 21, 2004

Opening Post: "Technological incompatibility" and "Economical uncoupling"

"The technologies that will shape the future structure of the industry are already here, yet many of them are incompatible with current practices. The existing grid relies mainly on large-scale power plants. It isn't equipped to handle new technologies such as small, distributed generation.

Other new technologies, including long-available, setback thermostats; automatically balanced demand; and adjustable speed-motors (all supported by various metering and switching devices) require much more active participation from electricity users.

Some users may want a choice of more environmentally sustainable power than currently provided by existing plants. Others may prefer lower cost, greater control over power availability, or the potential for lowering payout by selling cheaply generated solar or wind power back to the grid.

Similarly, transmission and distribution will involve vast arrays of controllable switches to implement flexibility, many of these being located closer to the users. More localized storage of energy, particularly of locally generated solar or wind power, also appears likely. Such storage will have the fundamental value of enabling the users to acquire energy at a lower price, for use when it's more expensive. With more effective, lower-cost devices, storage could become routine, and potentially widely distributed"

"The Future Power Grid"
Marija Ilic (MIT), in Power Quality, Jun 1, 2002

What Marija Ilic calls "Technological incompatibility" with admirable vision, has been shown unfortunately after the serious events happened in the power industry in the recent years. The creation of the electricity market has been mainly a dialectical process, that up to now only has not been able to promote the investments in necessary capacity to avoid the electric crisis and the massive interruptions of electricity, but has neither been capable to drag the process of innovation of the technologies that were necessary to do it reality. This technological gap is now very evident. While the administrative decisions were implemented simple and immediately sanctioning a new law or regulation, the process of investigation and development new power applications remained stagnant and uncoupled of the economic and legislative reforms of the industry.

Certainly, the history of the electricity industry has been a proud chronicle of technological discoveries and innovations. Everything that has happened in this industry happened because somebody engineered something. Now it cannot be ignored that the recoupling between Engineering and Economics, needs engineers, and Engineering matters should be implied in the policy making and political processes of transformation of the power industry. It has been shown that Financial Economics is not enough.

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