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Internet-like energy system becoming reality

Oct 9, 2007 - Paul Hanley - The StarPheonix

Several years ago, the futurist Jeremy Rifkin predicted the world would build an energy system that would resemble the Internet.

The Internet is, of course, the worldwide, publicly-accessible series of interconnected computer networks that consist of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business and government information networks. People everywhere can link to the Internet, put information in and take it out.

Along these lines, Rifkin's energy "internet" would link to millions of energy producers, not just the few big producers and millions of consumers linked to today's energy grids. Utilities would become primarily managers of complex energy flows.

This vision is rapidly becoming a reality, with thousands and soon millions of people and companies throughout the world producing power-using solar panels, wind turbines and other technologies -- and feeding excess production into the electrical grid. Similarly, people, co-ops, companies and communities are beginning to produce their own heating and transport fuels, such as biogas, ethanol, biodiesel and solid fuels. One innovative leader is California, with its million solar roofs program.

Environmentalists have been urging SaskPower and the provincial government to open up the grid to private producers for some time. This approach has been gradually adopted, starting with larger co-generation facilities and wind farms, as well as several smaller pilot projects. SaskPower's Small Power Producers Policy was designed to accommodate customers who wish to generate up to 100 kilowatts (kW) of electricity.

Access to the grid has been opened wider now that SaskPower will allow net metering. Net metering refers to offsetting a customer's electricity consumption against that same customer's production of electricity. This applies to customers interested in generating their own environmentally-responsible electricity from wind, low impact hydro, biomass, flare gas, solar and heat recovery systems. With a net metering system, electricity flow is measured through special meters.

Net metering is part of the recently expanded Green Power Portfolio, which will help Saskatchewan achieve its goal of producing 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The portfolio includes:

- The expansion of wind generation, with a goal of an additional 100 megawatts by 2012. SaskPower will also establish a Wind Power Integration and Development Unit, to further study wind deployment in the province.
- Delivery of waste heat recovery projects from natural gas compressor stations, with a goal of 50 megawatts by 2010. - Delivery of biomass projects using forestry wastes, with a goal of 20 megawatts by 2010.
- Phase three of the Environmentally Preferred Power (EPP) Program will be launched, to solicit additional renewable power projects from the private sector.
- More energy efficiency and conservation programs, with a target of reducing electricity demand by 300 megawatts by 2017.

All this will be complemented by adding up to 400 megawatts of simple cycle natural gas-fired generation (SCGT). This method produces up to 50 per cent less carbon dioxide per megawatt hour than conventional coal-fired generation. SaskPower will offset the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with the operation of these turbines through a carbon credit system yet to be established. Emissions of sulphur dioxide, particulates and mercury are near-zero, and nitrogen oxide emissions will also be reduced compared to coal.

SCGTs will enable the integration of additional wind power into the electrical system since the ease of turning production on and off complements fluctuating wind power.

SCGTs are flexible with respect to location, helping to reduce the need for new transmission lines. The turbines will be installed in areas where electricity is most needed.

Another related development is the $320 million Green Future Fund from the sale of the province's stake in NewGrade Energy. The money is being allocated to four areas: $100 million for conservation and efficiency; $125 million for carbon capture and storage in the oil and gas and electricity sectors; $75 million to increase the use of renewable energy; and $20 million to reduce methane and other emissions from the oil, gas and agricultural sectors.

All these measures are positive moves to a more complex, diverse, stable and affordable energy system based on renewable sources. The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007