By Neal Collier
Utility power began with a fight between AC and DC systems. Thomas Edison promoted DC distribution. His ex-employee Nikolai Tesla, the real Tesla, came up with the AC system for George Westinghouse. Both sides advertised how dangerous the other way was! What a way to promote a new industry!
Power stations were not the huge plants of today. They’d be tucked into a building on a corner and lines would run out a few blocks in each direction. There was no grid. The first microgrids?
DC lost out because you just couldn’t send it very far without a voltage drop. AC could counter the drop with transformers to boost the voltage. With this extended range, The power plants could be bigger and send the wires out further. Plants were also interconnected and the grid was born, making for more reliable power…except for country folks.
Country folks had to make their own electricity, usually using a gas generator like the Delco Light Plant, a Jacobs or Wincharger windmill, using battery for storage, or even a small hydro plant. Henry Ford had a hydro plant on his estate. These systems were the forerunners of the independent power plants you and I are building with the clean and quiet solar systems. They fell by the wayside when the Rural Electric Administration began subsidizing power cooperatives for the rural areas.
The power companies started dabbling with solar when they saw how many of their customers were adding solar. Prices dropped and then solar became cheaper to build and WAY cheaper to produce power, even when they had to buy batteries, which are now all the rage. The power companies began building solar farms. Then they started a campaign to discourage or even prevent US from building solar capability for ourselves. Recent power industry sources now openly admit this.
Here is something a little funny, though. They seem to be on the verge of dismantling the grid system, at least on a small scale. Recently, an Australian power company was faced with upgrading a line to the boonies. Instead, they cut that project and installed small solar plants at the far end of the line. The customers saw no difference and the power company both saved money and still retained control of the power. You have to wonder why the ranchers didn’t just make their own solar plants and be done with power bills. Closer to home, a long line in the Appalachians avoided an upgrade by adding battery. This morning, I see a report that ConEd, Mr. Edison’s company, is working on alternatives to upgrading lines that are struggling under peak conditions. It won’t surprise me if they eventually add solar in the mix. Puerto Rico’s thoroughly screwed up system seems to be moving to solar and microgrids.
So, the question is, if the power company admits that solar is the way to go and solar is cheaper than conventional generation, why isn’t everybody doing it? Probably because of the upfront costs or maybe the word just hasn’t gotten out that the upfront costs aren’t that bad. John’s sales guys have payback examples for their package systems. Take a look and you may decide it is time to cut out the middleman, or at least have some backup and independence in the event of a utility power failure. My lights don’t go out. Ever. Not for 25 years. NICE.