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.


Deeper penetration of renewables onto the electical grid is facilitated by linking regional grids using high voltage interconnects. I am a supported of TREC as you will see from previous posts. I found the following proposal on www.airtricity.com


These interconnects act both as a way of landing electrical energy from offshore wind farms as well as interconnecting the grids on both sides of the link. Full details are available on:-


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.

Synergy Data in Beta

A beta copy of the Synergy Data application is now online and can be accessed with the following credentials. It is incomplete and buggy but it works. Thanks Jason, well done!
user: jsmithy@gmail.com
pass: jsmith

Almost every day, a new update will be deployed so check back frequently.

www.synergymodule.com will shortly be changing from a blog to a commercial Website. But don’t worry, the blog will still be accessible from the menus of the Website. The following graphic is a designer’s idea of what the new Website will look like.


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.

Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC)

One of the problems with renewable energy is the inflexibility of supply. This inflexibility is the very feature that requires EDM which is the topic of this blog. EDM can only go so far in balancing the supply and demand of electricity. Another technique is to builld supergrids that link broad geographical areas so that meteorological variations can be averaged.

In 2003 the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) was founded by the Club of Rome, the Hamburg Climate Protection Foundation and the National Energy Research Center of Jordan (NERC). TREC in cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) developed the DESERTEC Concept of linking African, Middle East, and Northern European states electrical grids into one supergrid using high voltage direct current (HVDC) interconnects.

This is a fantastic idea. I recommend you visit http://www.desertec.org to learn more and to register your approval for the project in their ‘Give TREC Your Voice’ campaign.

Generation Adequacy Report 2008 to 2014

The Eirgrid Generation Adequacy Report 2008 to 2014 was published recently.


The report states that Ireland is facing a tight electricity supply situation:

“The most significant factor influencing this is the poor availability of the generation portfolio. Improved availability performance would greatly reduce the risk to security of supply. However if availability continues at the current low levels, then the system is facing immediate deficits.”

We are moving to less diversity of supply as all new generation capacity planned in the near future is either (Russian) gas or wind generated power.

The report recognises the benefits of moving demand to off-peak hours. “Shifting 1% of annual consumption from peak to off-peak hours would remove the requirement for approximately 135 MW.”

With regard to wind power generation (WPG) the report states. “There is also considerable investor interest in wind powered generation, however, due to its inherent characteristics, it offers limited generation adequacy benefits. Furthermore if WPG is installed at a linear rate of 270 MW per annum there would be just over 1,700 MW installed by the end of 2010. This should be sufficient to enable 18.0% of the electricity requirement to be provided from renewable sources and would mean that the Government’s target of 15% by 2010 is exceeded.”

The problem with wind energy is, of course, that it’s only available when the wind blows. That means that it has very little effect on supply adequacy.

Furthermore the contribution of WPG towards generation adequacy (i.e. Capacity Credit of WPG) has not keep pace with the growth in installed capacity or energy supplied. In fact, while installed WPG capacity has increased by 40% per annum over the last 5 years, in the same period the capacity credit (as a percentage of installed WPG capacity) has fallen from 35 to 24 %, see Figure 4-7. As outlined in Section 2.3(b), this is due to the inherent inability of WPG to behave as a number of fully independent power plants. All WPG in Ireland tends to act more or less in unison as wind speeds rise and fall across the country. The probability that all WPG will cease generation for a period of time (as a result of wind conditions) limits its ability to ensure continuity of supply and thus its benefit from a generation adequacy perspective.

EirGrid recognise the benefits of moving demand to off peak times. They do not acknowledge in the report that energy demand management (EDM) can improve WPG adequacy if the EDM is operated based on actual current wind energy production rather than on tine based tariffs. In particular the possibility of stimulating demand at times of excess wind energy could reduce or eliminate the need for wind farm curtailment.

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.