Laura Sanchez 2017-01-12 14:46:49
It was one of those clear days in which early rain had bathed every atom and left the world looking more three-dimensional than usual. I paused during a hike and stood overlooking the velvet folds of California’s coastal mountain range. Raptors rode upwellings in the distance. One of them—a hawk—landed on a distribution tower not far away. Had it not, I may have never noticed that power lines bisected the view before me. I had gazed at the landscape, oblivious to the presence of the 20th century’s greatest engineering achievement—the power grid. They intersect our lives and power our industries, but energy technologies once considered transformational—transformers, substations, and distribution lines—are now so unspectacular that we don’t even notice them. This invisibility has no doubt contributed to our energy infrastructure’s current state of decay. More than 70% of the grid’s transmission lines and transformers are 25 years old or older, according to Gretchen Bakke, author of The Grid. Add nine years to that, and you have the average age of an American power plant. But today, we rely on our energy infrastructure more than ever before. Furthermore, it’s detrimental to ignore the technology that powers our lives, since it’s impossible to fix that which we can’t see. Today, energy infrastructure requires national attention. It needs to be brought out into the daylight from behind substation walls, and into political and economic conversations. An accurate and objective look at the way we generate and move electrons is especially advantageous today with respect to the transformations taking place across the energy landscape. The energy industry is in the midst of the most dramatic period of change that it’s ever experienced in its 100-year history. Advances in distributed energy resources, energy storage products, cleaner-burning fuels, and improved data management are driving monumental shifts. We’re in a metamorphosis of traditional power architectures, equipment, and policies. Advances in energy technology are disrupting the current business models and unidirectional flow of electrons, inspiring us to reimagine the grid’s rigid structure. In this issue of Distributed Energy, we attempt to bring energy infrastructure into focus, shining a light on today’s equipment and configurations, as well as emerging technologies. We address the rapid developments taking place across the energy landscape and acknowledge the challenges that accompany change. In an effort to provide you with the resources to navigate this time of transition, we look at ways to protect mature generation assets as well as the myriad reasons to embrace new technologies. “[…] significant power outages are climbing year by year, from 15 in 2001, to 78 in 2007, to 307 in 2011,” according to Bakke. The age and decaying state of our energy infrastructure makes backup generators an important tool in the digital age. As our world becomes increasingly electron-dependent, reliable power becomes progressively more critical. In “Onsite Solutions” (pg. 24), we outline the extensive rewards of investing in backup generators to support small businesses. Today’s wide range of gensets of varying capabilities allows customers to select the optimal model for their specific needs. Many business owners find that backup power not only makes financial sense, but also inspires customer loyalty and offers their business a competitive advantage. Uninterrupted power is essential in the digital age. Businesses in the commercial and industrial space are encouraged to carefully evaluate and maintain the condition of the turbines that power their industries. Our cover story, “Wheels Turning, Blades Spinning” (pg. 18), offers an up-close look at the maintenance and repair requirements for gas turbine engines—from regular pressure and temperature checks, to watching for indicators such as casing and blade expansion. The transformation of the energy landscape is thrilling. We’re excited to explore the diverse array of generation sources and distribution configurations in this issue. In “Integrating CHP with Microgrids” (pg. 10), we’re reminded of the value of CHP for their baseloading technology—an attribute that makes them a supportive component in microgrid applications. CHP may be the puzzle piece that enables an array of modern grid architectures. Energy storage is certain to be an important part of that puzzle as well. Lithium-ion batteries in particular, with their energy density, light weight, and operational efficiency, are an ultra-expedient, up-and-coming technology. We explore their usefulness in both modern industrial and military applications in “Recent Developments in Lithium-Ion Batteries” (pg. 30). As we reimagine the energy infrastructure of our nation, Lithium-ion batteries are sure to play a significant role. It remains important to train our eyes to see the invisible energy infrastructure before us and to keep focused on our goals as we attempt to find balance between maintaining existing assets and updating them with the integration of new technologies. The time has come to take a clear and critical look at current generation equipment, distribution networks, and business models in order to effectively move forward. In what ways is your organization working to balance maintaining its assets and embracing new technologies? DE
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