Environmentally-friendly ideas

Here at Synergy Module, we are always looking for good ideas to help the environment. And one good idea that’s come across my desk recently is the building of a DIY home solar panel system by Greg Seaman in the US, who has set one up on his off-the-Grid home. Greg has found that his small system can power all his internet needs (with a router and aerial for wireless broadband), a electric refrigerator (the size of a chest freezer!), a sound system which he can also use to charge mobile devices, battery-powered power tools, and the system even has enough left in it to run a laptop all day. Obviously the great thing about this project is that all of these electrical devices are essentially powered by free energy that did not require any burning of fossil fuels nor release of greenhouse gases into the already over-burdened atmosphere. But other appealing things about the project is that the whole system was built for less than US $1000 or UK £750, is maintenance-free (so far for several years), and the whole system is tucked neatly away out of sight so that it’s not even a blight on the beautiful surrounding countryside.
So what do you need to build one for yourself? Well, I’ll leave the detailed explanations of the actual build to Greg at eartheasy.com, but to give you a quick starter, the main components needed to build a similar system are listed below:

  • Solar panel
  • Charge controller
  • Battery bank
  • Inverter

Of course, you are going to need an array of tools and accessories as well to actually build and fit the system. Some of these tools & accessories you might already have but if not, you will almost certainly have to acquire them. For tools you don’t already have, if you are like me, then you are going to need to do a little research on the right ones to get (which is easily done these days with all the information freely available on the internet). If you are the DIY-type of person, then you know that you are going to make use of building tools in countless other ways over your life time (and that of your kids probably), so it often worth buying the best up front (in my opinion). In any case, below is a list of recommended tools that you should have if you are going to attempt Greg’s home DIY solar panel build:
– power drill and power screwdriver (or drill-driver): probably the most important tool that you will need as you will need to drill lots of holes and use a plethora of screws for the project – read up on local power drill-drivers here.
– power jigsaw: great for all general purpose sawing of several diifferent materials – read some local jigsaw reviews here.
– wiring: needed for wiring between every component in the solar panel system as well as connecting electrical equipment either permanently (like Greg’s fridge) or via wired in power sockets – best value place for wiring in the UK is Toolstation.
– wire cutters and wire strippers: you will be working almost exclusively with electrical wire – for information of which one is the best see here.

DR is the enabling technology…

I have huge respect for Dr. Eddie O Connor but I think he is missing the need for Demand Response. DR is a vital requirement for deep renewable penetration as well as large super grids. I just listened to his address at ASPO-Ireland. He explained that if a wind based grid was large enough then production would be level. Even if this is true, demand is not flat.

I understand that Ireland wants to have 33% renewables by 2025. Since wind farms yield 30% of rated output this means that we will have 110% installed plant versus our average consumption. Given that currently the consumption variation from minimum to maximum is nearly 200% this means that at certain times we will be generating, from wind alone, 146% of our demand. Clearly that will result in large periods of wind farm curtailment.

 As far as I know curtailment was planned to start from this summer for wind farms and we are only on 9% renewables at the moment.

If we are indeed peaking on fossil fuels then 33% renewables is not a destination. It is part of the journey. We need to get to a market of renewables plus nuclear eventually. Even if we have large interconnects from Africa to Iceland we need huge amounts of DR to make this possible.

The electrical grid system has evolved over the last 100 years as a flexible supply designed to meet inflexible but fairly predictable demand. Complicated trading systems have evolved to meet the needs of this flexible supply / inflexible demand market. DR is seen as an ‘ancillary service’. It allows for margins of error or enables peak shaving. However most users continue to use electricity on a single tariff and care little about DR. What if the grid, as we know it, didn’t exist? What if it was being developed from scratch now and the only sources of power were solar, wind, hydro, tidal and wave? This would be described as inflexible supply and demand would have to respond to the variability in supply. In order for this grid to be stable there would have to be huge demand response capability built in. You cannot have inflexible supply and inflexible demand.

To my way of thinking the solution is to have realtime pricing on electricity. It may be necessary to let the price of electricity go near zero or even negative at some times to stimulate new markets such as resistive heating and H2 production. Resistive heating as a way of replacing fossil fuel consuption is far better from a carbon perspective than curtailing the wind farms. An obvious market would be municipal swimming pools and public buildings.

Variable pricing will create new markets for low cost electricity and will create both new generation at high cost times (ie CHP or embedded diesel generation) as well as devices that can load shift (ie HVAC and refrigeration).

It is therefore my thesis that DR based on real time pricing is the enabling technology required to move us to a renewables future.

The DR Group

Over the past few months a growing group of parties interesed in DR have started to communicate. We had a teleconference a while back and a meeting is proposed in Tallagh at 11:00am on 28th August, 2008. The text of an email circulated to confirm the time and venue is below. As I havn’t permission to publish names the persons names in the text below are covered in Xs. If anyone else wants to attend they will be more than welcome to do so.


Dear All,

Everyone that replied is available to meet on 28th August 2008 in Dublin. 11:00am has been suggested to allow those travelling from Belfast and Cork to arrive. The response and enthusiasm has been exceptional with many people coming from Belfast, one from England, and of course XXX XXXXX and I will be representing Cork. It seems like there are quite a few closet DR fans.

XXXX XXXXX has kindly booked a room for us at the Synergy Centre in Tallagh. This is on the campus of the Institute of Technology, Tallagh (ITT). A map is available on the following web page.


I am still working at engaging the parties to the Smart Metering project. It would be great if we could get a representative to attend. I will follow up with XXXX XXXXX of CER and XXXXX XXXXXXX of SEI prior to the meeting to see if they want to be represented. If anyone can suggest a Smart Metering contact at ESBN I would appreciate same. I see DR and Smart metering as mutually enabling technologies.

Although not for this upcoming meeting we need to engage the Suppliers also. If anyone has a good contact list (XXX XXXXX??) of suppliers they might circulate an email letting them know that the group exists and asking for their involvement. Suppliers may be interested in DSU projects or might be interested in real time pass through tariffs (ie like PPPT) that reduce their need for hedging. The suppliers buy energy on an SMP that varies by 300% on a typical day and it is often much more yet almost every consumer sees electricity as having a constant price.

Private investment of around €5 Billion is expected in Wind Energy through Gate 3. Curtailment policies, if implemented will cripple this investment opportunity. A key objectives of DR is to facilitate deeper renewables penetration. XXX XXXX has asked IWEA for an opportunity to allow a presentation from our Group to speak at their next conference in The Europa Hotel, Belfast on Friday 3rd October. Andy Frew suggested that we pre arrange future DR Group meetings, one in advance. I would therefore like to suggest the possibility of having the second next meeting of the DR Group on the morning of 4th October in Belfast. Perhaps we could discuss this at the meeting 28th. Will the Suppliers have representatives at the IWEA conference?

We need to bring CHP investors into the discussions on DR also. Demand for hot water and peak loads coinside. CHP generators should use the same technology as DR and react in real time to real time pricing. CHP vendors are telling me they are ham strung by not being able to export surplus energy (at peak times).

Peak Oil has probably occurred and peak gas cannot be that far away. Therefore we must move from a pure flexible supply / inflexible demand model to a more inflexible supply / flexible demand model for electricity supply. The importance of DR and Smart Metering will become vital in this paradigm shift. We will have to add a layer of realtime supply and demand based on realtime pricing signals on top of the existing D-1 planning processes outlined in the current Trading and Settlement Code. (An english translation of the Latin text is due for release soon. It took 1600 years to translate the Bible so thats not bad :-)

As a final point, I am hugely interested in the concept of TREC (www.desertec.org). Brown, Merkel and Sarkozy are now pushing this plan as was in the news recently. If Europe is linked via the UK into a high voltage DC network then we could in theory become a net exporter of energy especially as night when the solar plants on the south of Europe are off and our loads are at their lowest. I have personally offered my services to TREC to promote their plan in the Irish context if they wish me to do so. As well as securing our energy future this plan has the opportunity of delivering peace in the Middle East and offering income to northern Africa. This plan is proposing 20GW by 2020 and 400GW by 2050. Brown recently said the ‘North Sea could be the new Gulf in terms of its potential to generate wind energy’. This island wants a slice of that action too. Did you know that Middle East sovereign wealth funds are lined up to invest in projects like TREC. Credit crunch me @r53!

The difficulties are not technical they are educational. I would like to see the DR Group contract with a media presenter such as David McWilliams or Duncan Stewart to develop a TV documentary on the global energy changes occurring and what our strategy as an island is, and should be, to meet those challenges. My biggest fear is that the Irish energy debate shrinks down to one of whether we should have a Nuclear Power plant or not. That question is irrelevant. We don’t have a competitive advantage in nuclear technology or production. We have the best wind sites in the world. We should lead the world in renewables. And we should lead the world in the export of Smart Grid and DR technology. I told Enterprise Ireland this, so I did. Didn’t I, XXXXXXX.

I am on holiday this coming week. No international flights, you will be glad to hear. Just a tour of the Antrim coast in a fuel efficient Prius. I will respond to any emails after the 27th July.

See you all soon!

Jerry Smoothie

Synergy Module


021 4854234

087 6681635

Time to invest in wind!

On June 8th 2007, Eirgrid published a paper on wind energy cost implications. See my blog, on 14th June 2007, for details and for correspondence I had with them regarding the, in my opinion, very optimistic price projections for gas. In essence that paper seemed to me to suggest that wind wasn’t fully economical unless gas reached €0.80/therm and the projections suggested that might never happen or if it did it might be after 2020.


A year ago I was confused that no account for risks associated with peak oil or peak gas were factored into the plans. So what happened?


Gas prices now are €0.20/therm higher than they were expected to be in 2026. Is there anyone on the planet that believes gas prices will fall by 30% between now and 2026? If there is I’d like to share their medication.

Vivid Logic

I have been fascinated by a paper published by Phoebe Bright for some time. Everybody has a theory as to how the world (and the Irish) economy will evolve as a result of peak oil and government reaction to global warming. Phoebe is different from every other commentator I have read or listened to in two fundamental ways.

1) She deals with multiple possible scenarios

2) She presents her analysis in a very humorous form

As a result of our shared interest we have started to communicate regularly. I strongly recommend reading her paper, available via the following URL.


Last week, Phoebe sent me an email bringing to my attention that ESB, in conjuntion with CER, have launched an RFQ for the purchase of 2,500 smart meters to implement a pilot project. It is clear from the proposed specification that EDM is envisaged as a research objective of this pilot. Below is the URL to the tender documents.


Pumped Hydro Storage versus EDM

I wanted to compare the cost effectiveness and carbon efficiency of EDM to energy storage using pumped hydro, so I did the following analysis. Pumped hydro storage is about 80% efficient per cycle. First, I was interested to know how big a reservoir do you need for a viable pumped hydro storage facility so I did the following calculation. Then I did some analysis to see what the payback for the investment would need to be.

U = mgh      where

  • U is energy measured in Joules
  • m is the mass of water in kgs 1m cubed = 1,000 kg
  • g is the earths gravitational constant of approximately 10 m/s/s
  • h is the height in meters through which the water is cycled

So if we want, say, a 20MW capacity for 10 hours = 200MWh

1 Joule = 1 Watt for one second

therefore 200MWh = 200,000,000 x 3,600 Joules = 720,000,000,000 Joules

therefore 720,000,000,000 = 10 x h x m   or   72,000,000,000 = h x m

So if we had a reservoir at a height of 100m

m = 720,000,000 kg of a water reservoir

1 cubic meter of water is 1000kg so we need 720,000 cubic meters of a reservoir. Incidentally we would need a water source that could supply or sink 20 cubic meters of water per second depending on whether we were pumping or generating.

This would be a reservoir 300m x 300m x 8 m deep. And for those of us familiar with acres as a unit of area this would be just over 20 acres. I estimate that to build such a reservoir from concrete would take about 50,000 cubic meters or 100,000 tons of concrete and would cost about €15,000,000 to build. Adding another €5,000,000 for pipeline, plant and switchgear would bring the project to a total of €20,000,000.

So given annual maintenance and running costs of €300,000, an annual landowner payment of €200,000, and a required ROI of say 10% to bring investors on board, the annual income required for break-even for the facility would be €2,500,000 per annum or €8,500 per day allowing for some downtime.

Assuming 50% utilisation (i.e. 100MWh generated per day) this equates to €0.085 per kWh. Also a cost allowance for the 20% cycle losses needs to be factored into the cost justification so a cost of €0.105 would be required. So in order for pumped hydro storage to be financially effective a mean daily delta of €0.105 per kWh would need to exist between peak demand and peak generation times. To achieve this cost per unit stored we have factored in very high utilisation figures. These might not be justified. In terms of carbon neutrality, pumped hydro storage is very poor because it uses large amounts of concrete and iron in its construction and it loses 20% of its energy in every cycle.

How does EDM costs stack up by comparison:

If we assume that a capital budget of €10,000 to meter and control 100kW of load. This works out at €100 per kW. Let us assume that each kW of controlled load is used for 1kWh of EDM per day. If we assume a payback period of 5 years, the capital cost is €20 per kW per annum. We therefore have 350kWh of storage for a capital cost of €20 or €0.057 per unit. The consumer (and aggregator) will also require a financial incentive to participate of say €0.05 per unit. This produces a cost of €0.107 per kWh controlled.

On initial costings pumped hydro and EDM seem similar. However EDM has three significant advantages.

  1. EDM produces less carbon than pumped hydro storage.
  2. EDM requires lower duty cycle factors to be cost effective.
  3. EDM reduces the cost of energy to participating consumers.

All in all, I think the case for EDM versus pumped hydro storage is very strong.

Embedded Generation Synergy Module (EGSM) test laboratory.

In my last blog I gave an outline of how I am putting the infrastructure into my home to turn it into an off peak synergy module laboratory. I am also developing a test site for embedded generation synergy module (EGSM) concepts. To get full details on the overall project please visit www.cix.ie.

The normal electrical load at the CIX data centre will be around 550kW. I am planning to put a 1.1MW multi-fuel grid synchronised generator into the CIX data centre. That generator will be controlled by an EGSM and will in effect turn the data centre into a grid stabilisation device capable of either sourcing or sinking approximately 550kW.

CIX will have a 10kV grid connect and a UPS system that will enable it to ride through any power variations that will occur moving from site power consumption to site power generation.

By running the generator on bio-diesel or PPO it is possible to make CIX a carbon neutral data centre. By using the embedded generation capacity in the data centre, CIX will be facilitating the penetartion of wind energy into the Irish electrical grid by improving grid stability.

Off Peak Synergy Module (OPSM) test laboratory.

I am planning to turn my home into a little energy test laboratory so I can experiment with Off Peak Synergy Module concepts at the domestic scale. I have installed a 500 litre insulated stainless steel tank to store hot potable water. I will install a further 1000 litre insulated tank to store central heating water. These tanks mean that I can store enough hot water for one day for both washing and central heating.

I will install a large solar panel to heat the water in both tanks. I will supplement this solar heating with a water to water heat exchanger which will be electrically operated using off peak energy. In the winter this heat exchanger will take heat from a glass covered swimming pool. In the summer, after both tanks are full of hot water any surplus heat will be transferred to the swimming pool.

Karen and I bought this house nearly two years ago and it has oil fired heating which I will now replace. Living in the country, I have access to waste timber so I bought a wood burning stove and installed it in our living room. In return for some work this will give about another 5kW of heat for evenings where the heat pump cannot cope with very cold weather.

It takes 1kW to raise 1 litre of water one degree C in one second. Therefore a 3kW output heat pump would require 167 seconds to raise the temperature of the water in the tank by 1 degree C.  This means that a 3kW energy supply would require about 2.5 hours to raise the water in the tank by 50 degrees C. Therefore this potable water tank can be seen as a 7.5kWh energy storage device. Our larger water tank for heating can be seen to store 15kWh of energy.

I drive a Toyota Prius car. I am interested in various articles that talk about plug in hybrids and I plan to purchase a kit to convert my hybrid to a plug in. I then expect my Synergy Module to charge my car each night with low cost electricity.

As Ireland has an abundance of sites for commercial wind energy exploitation, I see no ecological advantage to installing a wind turbine at my home. However if PV solar panels drop in price I am hoping that my Synergy Module may trade some high cost day time electricity for low cost night time electricity and reduce my overall energy bills.

An Irish Solution to an Irish Problem

Ireland has a unique characteristic from an energy perspective.  We have the best wind energy of any location in the world but we are unable to exploit it because of the mismatch between demand and supply. There is no flexibility in wind energy supply and to date there is very little flexibility in electricity demand. This problem is very well described in ‘Pumped Hydro Energy Storage to Support Wind Energy Penetration in Ireland’. Currently this paper is available at :  http://www.ucc.ie/serg/pub/PS-R2.pdf

Recently there has been significant interest in and investigation of pumped hydro energy storage in Ireland. I have not heard mention of the the use of energy demand management (EDM).

There are two organisation in the USA to support professionals and companies involved in energy demand management :-

  1. The Peak Load Management Alliance   http://www.peaklma.com/
  2. Demand Response and Advanced Metering Coalition   http://www.dramcoalition.org/

The most publicly visible commercial organisations in the US involved in EDM are EnerNOC Inc. (www.enernoc.com) and Comverge Inc. (www.comverge.com). Enernoc currently claim to have 650MW of customer owned diesel generator power under their control for grid stabilisation. Comverge claim to have 4.5 million demand management modules installed.

Although there is a place for both, I believe that EDM is a better solution for grid stabilisation, than pumped hydro, in Ireland for three reasons:

  1. It has very low capital cost because it uses existing resources
  2. It does not have the losses (typically 20-25%) or capacity limitation of pumped hydro
  3. It can contribute to carbon emissions reduction when combined with a bio-diesel / FAME/ PPO project

Hello World

Hi there. Welcome to Synergy Module.

This blog is intended as a forum for ideas on energy generation, conservation and management.

One day in 1973, during the middle east oil crises, I sat in a field opposite a garage and watched people queue for petrol. I was fourteen years of age and I knew that the world was going to run out of oil during my lifetime. My passion was engineering and I decided to devote my life to energy. So I became an electrical engineer to solve the world’s looming energy crisis!

Surprisingly electrical engineering took me into electronics, computers and software. Also surprisingly, the world didn’t run out of oil as fast as futurologists in the 1970s were predicting.

While in university I worked for a while with a wind energy company but once I graduated I moved into semiconductors and later computers and then into software. Only now, thirty four years after that life defining moment am I returning to energy as a field of study and business. It is like meeting your first love in later life and starting to rebuild your relationship while realising that the intervening years had been barren in some way.

I have formed deep opinions about energy generation, conservation and management. This blog will be my journal to get these ideas into the public domain. One idea I particularly want to focus on is the stabilisation of the electricity grid by demand management. Electricity is going to grow in importance as a method of delivering energy. Traditionally, energy has been produced flexibly to meet inflexible demand. A significant problem exists in energy management if we start adding energy sources such as wind, solar and wave power that produce electricity inflexibly. There is an excellent entry in Wikipedia on energy demand management.