University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Scott Boehnen
The Future of Cleveland's Power Grid as a Smart Grid
The Future of Cleveland's Power Grid as a Smart Grid
Climate change already has affected 85% of the population and will continue to affect every human on the globe (Timsit and Kaplan). Extreme weather changes can be narrowed down to regions, countries, states, and down to a city. Cleveland has been changed in many ways as it is close to a major body of water, Lake Erie. Blue Lake Green City looked at research and data analysis of the weather in Cleveland over 100 years. This data implies that by the end of the century winter temperatures in Ohio will increase 7-12ºF overall and in the summer 6-14ºF. This is comparable to the changes that occurred 12,000 years ago when the glaciers left Ohio. The significance of temperature change in Cleveland is very apparent; winter months will become mostly heavy rain with less rain in summer months. With a lack of rain in the summer drought will occur more frequently, while with too much rain in the winter will cause flash flooding in the cities, leading to financial destruction and potential loss of life.
Such hazards are not the only reasons to fear extreme weather trends. Agriculture will also be disrupted, as it will be wet in the planting and harvesting season but dry during the summer growing seasons ("Climate Change Dangers"). In 2019, agriculture in Ohio generated $5.5 B from crops over 77,800 farms ("Ohio Economic Contribution"). These farms are in danger and so is the entire produce supply chain. These are not the only Ohio plants in danger; 100 years is not enough time for plants to adapt to a rapidly changing environment around them, nor is it enough time for most plants to migrate. Plants migrate by their seeds moving greater distances. Saplings which survive that sprout from the seeds are generally in a better environment; over long periods greater than 100 years a species of plant can move to other locations where they will grow easier. When plants start to die out in the Ohio ecosystems, the entire ecosystem will be affected, including its animals and even other plants that can withstand the temperature changes. Fewer plants are in an ecosystem also results in less carbon dioxide being taken out snowballing the effect of climate change.
Power usage has been a major catalyst for climate change. Each year the federal government is contributing to our demise by funding non-renewable power plants and subsidizing the oil industry. It is as if dinosaurs were paying for the asteroid that caused their extinction. The dinosaur analogy by the United Nations appeared in a PSA (public service announcement). If the government redirected the $20 B a year that is spent bankrolling oil tycoons, they could upgrade our power grid to a more advanced system (George and Johannes). This system would be what is referred to as a Smart Grid; a two-way system that allows energy to flow into a building and extra energy generated by renewable sources to flow out back into the power grid.
Several factors have contributed to climate change; what they all have in common is the inefficient production and usage of energy. Cleveland and the rest of the eastern interconnection power grid are outdated from a lack of willingness to make capital investments. The technology currently being used in the power grid as of now was created in 1882. The system currently works by generating energy at a power plant, then from there it goes to the utilities, then to buildings for usage. Although, the wiring is insulated over this hundred-mile journey a large portion of the energy is still lost. This technology has been updated over time to meet federal relegations, but the technology remains fundamentally the same. About an average of 8-15% of created energy is lost from the power plant to our homes according to the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission). Energy is lost through what is called the Joule effect which is energy being lost as heat. This energy loss is unnecessary, wasteful, and contributes to climate change especially when the energy being produced is 97% non-renewable according to EIA's (Energy Information Administration) reports from Ohio. ("Energy Usage").
The difficulty of improving the energy infrastructure in Cleveland or elsewhere is the fact that such infrastructure requires enormous capital investment. Capital investment is the amount of upfront money needed to be put forward before the money starts to come back from the investment. When capital investment is high it often deters organizations (including the government) from pursuing their plans. The reason any power grid requires large capital investment is it covers so much ground and is always in constant use. The amount of energy each home or building uses is subject to change and power plants do not operate differently based on these trends. Rather electricity bills will be just more expensive when demand is higher. This expense is not usually too great but in extreme cases such as natural disasters, the price can spike. Climate change will affect how extreme natural disasters are. This will increase electric bills in the long term as the demand will remain the same, but supply will decrease (Funk).
Hoping to address these foreseeable problems, the Cuyahoga Country Climate Change Action Plan has chosen to focus on five areas to slow the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. These 5 factors are energy, transportation, land use, water, and health ("The Cuyahoga"). All five of these relate to the fundamental problem of our power grid. 0.81% of cars sold in Ohio, (below the U.S average of 1.54%) of those cars were electric or 4,744 EV's (Electric Vehicles) were sold in 2019. That same year, 5.16% of cars sold in California were electric ("EV Market Share By State"). The reason California had more EV's sold is due to thoughtful governing. California offers many incentives to fuel-efficient and electric car owners. The benifits range from tax incentives, carpool lanes, and public charging stations. If Cleveland were to adopt these ideas, more drivers would feel compelled to buy an EV. Another reason drivers are hesitant to buy EVs even as prices drop is that our power grid was not built to be compatible with EVs, which is another reason why our power grid is considered obsolete. A common misconception about Electric Cars is that they are almost as bad as gasoline cars since they still get energy from fossil fuel being burnt in factories. This statement is true as of now but for long-term solutions, electric cars are better. By replacing how the energy is being put into the power grid then the electric cars will become eco-friendly, but gasoline cars will always be bad for the environment since it is not possible to change gasoline's harmful properties when burnt.
Land use heavy relates to the idea of updating the power grid as will be covered in the proposed solution for our power grid. Although water does not relate to the power grid directly, the purification of water and transportation uses as much as 475 kWh- 1,400 kWh per 300,000 gallons of water ("Saving Water, Saves Energy"). Health is a very broad topic so it is not clear what the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission is referring to, although it can be inferred that they mean public health, which can relate to how energy is created. It is known that the burning of fossil fuels is very toxic for humans to inhale which makes areas near any of those power plants unsuitable for to be residential or commercial development. What if there was a way to eliminate big power plants?
The United States needs to upgrade its power grid and the city that does this first will have a great advantage over other cities, which is why Cleveland should be one of these cities that implements a new power grid despite the required capital investment.
To improve our grid without needing to change everything at once, we would update our power lines to a two-way system. If we use modern technology that was not around 139 years ago when the grid was created, we could prevent energy from being lost and we could make more efficient systems. This concept is referred to as the smart grid; energy will come into homes, and information and extra energy generated from solar panels and micro wind turbines come out of the homes. The information would tell utilities how much energy is used and what for. This system is more efficient, reliable, secure, and greener. The smart grid will make it easier to enable new technologies such as wind and solar power, along with plugin electric vehicles. Any extra energy a house (or other building) generates with renewable energy sources that can be installed directly to the house and the smart grid will give the homeowner money back on each kilowatt-hour they put into the power grid. For example, if a school had a large surface area on their roof, they could install solar panels on their roof. The implementation of the solar panels would cut down the cost of the electricity bill as it does now with our current grid. Unlike the current power grid, a smart grid will put energy back into the grid when less energy is being used, like on the weekends. There are many other innovative ways of implementing energy generation for schools, companies, and homes that owns property with distinct features such as a lake. It is possible to take advantage of a lake with a dam using hydropower to generate energy making money back on moving water. The moving water already has kinetic energy it is a question of whether to make capital invest in this unlimited energy or not. Moving water doesn't go away at night making it perfect for a smart grid.
If more power is being generated at the source (the source being the solar panels on the roof or the lake hydropower) then the excess energy could go two places. One option is to a battery storage unit to use later or, once the smart grid has been built, the power could go back into the power grid reducing an electric bill. If this is done on a city-wide scale, there will be a lot of excess energy being put back into the power grid. All these factors considered, the number of power plants needed will decrease, not as much energy will be lost from generation to usage since it travels less distance (e.g., solar panel on the roof into the house), and almost everyone's power bill will decrease, especially if they install a renewable energy generator on their homes/buildings. With these changes to our power grid, we can combat climate change and save trillions of dollars long term.
A smart grid in Cleveland would allow landowners and homeowners to install solar panels or micro-wind turbines on their property in return for lower electric bills. The weather in Cleveland is not as suitable as Los Angeles' weather for solar panels but the average wind speed of Cleveland is 10.5 mph annually compared to LA's 7.5 mph average. Cleveland gets most of its wind in the January month with 12.2 mph of wind averaged ("Annual Average Wind Speed"). This is not to say solar panels do not work well in Cleveland. Solar panels do not need constant sun and clear skies to function. Cleveland gets 49% sun or 2,280 hours (8760 hours in a year) a year. This is enough to generate power ("Average Annual Sunshine in American Cities"). With solar and wind power combined, plenty of extra energy could be put back into the power grid reducing how many power plants are needed. This will completely get rid of all non-renewable power plants including, oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy. Nuclear energy is considered by some to be a renewable resource. Unfortunately to create nuclear fusion, a rare element uranium, U-235 is required, making nuclear fusion non-renewable. Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has a plan to integrate a smart grid in their city by 2025. Copenhagen's weather is very similar to Cleveland's weather; they have 1,780 hours of sun and they get an average of 12 mph of wind annually ("Climate - Copenhagen"). Copenhagen's government and scientists are certain that a smart grid is a step in the right direction for them even with their below-average sunlight hours ("Smart Grid."). Copenhagen's smart grid will start by targeting the industrial market by offering incentives and lower electric bills to add renewable energy production to their properties.
Copenhagen is not the only city making a change to its power grid. Ithaca, New York recently announced they would be trying to decarbonize their city by funding renewable energy to be added to buildings. The city has already worked with Cornell University to plan on installing renewable energy to 1,600 buildings in the first phase then 4,400 during the second phase. The problem addressed in this plan is trying to find funding for the program. They have solved this in a very creative way. They will use a combination of private equity, state funding, federal funding, and manufacturing rebates to get this program funded. There will be multiple phases for the project. Phase one will cost $100 M and has already been raised. Phase two will cost $450 M and is still being raised, which will become easier once phase one has shown success. Part of their Phase two is to make EV's more available to low-income citizens in combination with the solar panels that will get installed to integrate transportation into the smart grid. Aguirre-Torres Ithaca's director of sustainability believes "We can be a replicable model for a lot of places". If this model was replicated, the cities that choose to do this will enjoy an economical advantage while saving the environment (Root).
As mentioned, numerous times capital investment is what has caused such a delay in an update to the power grid. Many congress members have been opposed to creating a smart grid for years, which is mostly the reason it has not been able to come to fruition. These Congress members do not truly have the interest of the average American in mind, but rather many of them are receiving benefits from oil tycoons. These benefits include campaign funding to maintain their spot in congress or just flat-out bribes. Arguments such as wind turbines killing birds or solar panels cost too much are not logical. A study conducted in 2017 by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service found on average in the U.S. 234,012 birds a year die from collisions with land wind turbines. 2.4 billion birds die a year from cats and 599 million die from collisions with buildings or glass (windows). These statistics prove that wind turbines barely impact the bird population ("Wind…Birds")(Refer to Appendix 1). Solar panels have come down in price 70% over the last decade while oil prices have increased ("Solar Industry"). Without oil subsidies gasoline would cost around $12.75 per gallon which is way more expensive than solar energy ("Increasing Gas"). Most arguments against a Smart Grid can be discredited when compared to the oil industry. Big oil is not profitable but rather depends upon the government's money, taxpayer dollars, and the unnecessary need for oil.
Cleveland must commit to moving beyond our old broken power grid system. Each year lives, money, and the Earth is in jeopardy, all because of a lack of willingness to change an old way. In 2017, Hurricane IRMA struck Florida destroying homes, killing hundreds, destroying ecosystems all in three days. The effects of this one natural disaster were catastrophic. Families had to flee their homes, abandoning all their valuables, including pets. The choice between saving a family dog or escaping a life-threatening situation should never happen to any family. Yet each year these disasters become more life-threatening and widespread. Cleveland may not experience a natural disaster to the extent of California wildfires or Florida Hurricanes; after all, Cleveland is ranked number two as the safest city from natural disasters (Bamforth). Considering Cleveland is not prone to natural disasters, this does not mean Cleveland will forever be safe. Cleveland is located next to Lake Erie, a major body of water. As sea levels rise, Lake Erie will rise and the water cycle will become more rapid creating adverse weather effects, such as severe flash flooding. How energy is generated and transferred around the world needs to change. Cleveland should be one of the first cities to embrace this transformation.