“Very seldom do you get people who get mad as hell about electricity prices and go off grid. It simply costs too much..That may well be the case in mainland USA, where electricity prices are relatively benign. But in Hawaii, where electricity prices are three times higher, customers are..reportedly leaving the grid in droves. So is the US military, which plans to take the K-Bay marine base north of Honolulu off grid by 2015, and install a 50MW biofuel plant (powered by papayas) at another army base.
Why does this matter to Australians? Hawaii and Australia have a lot in common. Both are islands, both have plenty of sun, and both have really high retail electricity prices – Hawaii because it relies on imported fuel and Australia because of its massive network infrastructure, much of which may be surplus to requirements – and both have falling energy demand. And both have energy companies warning about the ‘death spiral’ of the utilities business – which is what is expected to happen when increasing numbers of consumers choose to either leave the grid, or significantly reduce the volume of electrons they draw from it..
In Australia, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has now brought that issue to the political front page by focusing on the massive infrastructure costs and the apparent greed of the government-owned distributors…”People should be able to use what they want when they want it, and cut out expensive services they don’t need,” Gillard said…”
The Hawaiian Electric Co (HECO)says that ‘customer self generation’ – solar PV or co-generation – and technological developments such as energy storage would mean its businesses will lose customers. Clearly with a smaller rate base prices would rise, probably causing even more people to opt out of a centralised grid.
Energy companies would be ‘sucked down into a bottomless vortex and ultimately fail as a viable investor-owned corporation,’ says HECO.
Might an alternative to the centralised energy grid be clusters of users, possibly in conjunction with a swimming pool or industry, storing power for mutual benefit?
Sydney apparently has one of the most ambitious emission reduction plans of any Australian government. It aims to reduce its dependence on the grid from 2006 levels by 70 per cent by 2030 using Trigeneration.
The federal government recently announced two grants totalling $8.75 million to support the installation of trigeneration at the Green Square development, Prince Alfred Park Pool and Town Hall House.
“Tri-generation is the production of electricity, heat and cooling in the one process. Typically this means a gas fired generator producing electricity and heat with the exhaust heat going to an absorption chiller which produces chilled water and hot water for air conditioning or alternatively the heat is used to heat a swimming pool.”
..our brave new world