Modularity, Standardization & Scalability

Universal Energy works by deploying the best energy technologies we have available into a framework - a team - where each technology is designed from the ground-up to work cooperatively with each other. This enables the strengths of one technology to compensate for the weaknesses of another, and together form an intelligent and flexible system that is more potent than the sum of its standalone parts.

While this approach is ultimately made possible by the extensive technological breakthroughs our society has seen of late, its mindset is founded on three critical concepts: standardization, modularity and scalability.

Standardization, in this case, is a way of building something to a universal standard that’s adopted society-wide. For example: all of your electronic devices are powered by connecting a standardized type of plug into a standardized type of wall outlet.

Modularity is simply a way of deploying something that features the ability to rapidly change configuration using a standardized means. A great example is found in Legos™: each Lego can fasten to another Lego using the same standardized method, but everything from simple structures to architectural masterpieces[1] can built from pieces that modularly fasten via the exact, same way.

Scalability is the ability of a system or method to rapidly scale in size or sophistication. Let's say you have a method to install enough solar panels to power a house. How easily could that method power 10 houses? 100,000 houses? 10 million houses? The more scalable that method is, the easier those questions can be answered affirmatively. This becomes all the more true if the concepts of standardization and modularity are applied.

Standardization and modularity allow us to take a technology and deploy it in a way that can be mass-produced to a uniform standard, providing easy replacement of parts and driving down costs. Recent advances in technology enable us to apply these concepts on far larger scales - especially within energy generation.

  • Mass-produced Gas Turbines

    Mass-produced gas turbines

  • Mass-produced Wind Turbine Assemblies

    Mass-produced wind turbine assemblies

  • Mass-produced Solar Panels

    Mass-produced solar panels

To put this in perspective, most nuclear power plants in the United States were built between 1970 and 1990.[2] That means many of them were designed and built without the aid of a calculator.[3]

The same is true with most power plants and social infrastructure of our society. Further, our power plants today (and, by extension, our civilization as a whole) are fueled by a hodgepodge of sources: oil, coal, solar, wind, uranium, natural gas, geological heat, hydroelectric, corn ethanol, and biomass - as a non-exhaustive list.

Few of these energy production systems work with each other. Fewer still even talk to one another. And each of them were designed and built to order as unique systems with only minimal standardization and even less modularity in design.[4] Each may reflect compliance with relevant building codes, but unlike most every other sophisticated product in our society[5] - no one power plant is identical to another.

It's difficult to overstate just how tremendously inefficient this is.

Whenever a company wants to build a power plant today, they need to find a suitable plot of land, conduct a site environmental review, draft the plant's design, apply for permits and zoning approval. Then they need to hire electricians, plumbers, ironworkers, concrete contractors, carpenters, HVAC technicians, and engineers within myriad fields. Then they need to hire lawyers, accountants, managers, and human resources personnel for all of the above. From there, the company obtains additional funding, insurance underwriting and final approval to engage all of these interacting resources to build the power plant. Yet once completed, the entire effort must be redrawn again from scratch to build another power plant because the requirements and considerations for Plant A are wholly different from Plant B, which are wholly different than Plant C, and so on.

To illustrate further, the following three images cover an eight-year timelapse of the Votgle nuclear power plant in Georgia. It took ten years to build and will cost $25 billion to complete.[6]

  • Year One:

    Votgle nuclear plant construction timeline

  • Year Four:

    Votgle nuclear plant construction timeline

  • Year Eight:

    Votgle nuclear plant construction timeline

These factors make power-generating systems highly expensive to build and maintain - as they would any complex system under such circumstances. Imagine if every vehicle on the road today was designed and built by hand, custom, each and every time. Imagine further that each used not only a different type of fuel, but also a different refueling mechanism and a different method of driving. Our entire system of motor vehicle transport, in such a hypothetical, would be an incomprehensible mess that would cost a fortune in a best-case scenario.

Yet that's exactly how we have approached power generation. Our national power grid today is comprised of 7,600+ decentralized power plants[7] that are each uniquely built to order. They're owned by 3,200+ competing utility companies[8] that transmit electricity through 450,000+ miles of high-voltage power lines, relay stations and transformers[9] that are managed by private companies, public utilities, or varied combinations of both.

Few of these systems talk to each other, fewer still work together, and they remain both vulnerable to cyberattacks[10] and are in dire need of upgrade[11] - a cost that, in the most conservative estimates, will reach into the trillions of dollars[12] if performed with past approaches.

As an understatement, it makes the chaos of a Where's Waldo? puzzle seem downright orderly in comparison.

This state of affairs prevents us from rapidly scaling our energy generating capabilities, which limits the energy available to society and significantly increases its cost.

There is a better way

Recent manufacturing advancements can today allow us to dramatically evolve our approach to building power-generating systems. Instead of spending 10 years and $25 billion to build a nuclear power plant, we can today design a small modular reactor with cutting-edge software and mass-produce it on automated assembly lines as identical iterations of a product model - much as one does a toaster. All that would be required to deploy such a technology - or a thousand mass-manufactured models like it - would be transporting it to a suitable location, fastening the system to a prefabricated installation point, and turning it on. 10 years? Try 10 days.

We know that we can do this because we're already doing it today in other industries. Take commercial aviation, for example.

When one thinks of an error-intolerant system, meaning that it can't ever fail, it's tough to find a better example than commercial aircraft. The standard of safety isn't 99.99% - it must be 100.00%, 100% of the time. Notwithstanding the indictable corner-cutting[13] of the 737-MAX model that brought the Boeing corporation to its knees,[14] Boeing and Airbus have been mass-producing commercial aircraft with a 100% safety rating for some time. Boeing's Everett, Washington manufacturing facility, for example, routinely churns out aircraft on a weekly basis. Their capabilities have gotten to a point where they can mass-manufacture a complete 737-800 jet aircraft every nine days.[15]. Their flagship 787 Dreamliner aircraft can be manufactured to completion in as few as seventeen days.[16]

  • Boeing Everett construction one
  • Boeing Everett construction two
  • Boeing Everett construction three

This is a hyper-complex piece of machinery that can't ever fail, under any circumstance. Yet today, we're able to build one faster than Budweiser makes a bottle of beer.[17] Mass-manufacturing power-generating systems is no more difficult, nor more error-intolerant, than mass-manufacturing commercial aircraft. And that's exactly how Universal Energy seeks to build the power plants of tomorrow.

By designing the technologies within Universal Energy to incorporate modularity and standardization, we can leverage the concept of cogeneration, the concept of using the waste energy of one technology to power something else. For example: diverting the waste heat energy from a coastal power plant to desalinate seawater into fresh water. Desalination is presently a costly and energy-intensive process, yet when it’s powered primarily by waste energy, energy requirements and costs drop drastically.[18] The same is true thereafter to use desalinated seawater as a source to extract hydrogen fuel through electrolysis.[19]

  • NREL REopt model:

    NREL REopt

  • China's cogenerative TSMR project:

    Chinese cogeneration with thorium

  • Universal Energy's "Cogeneration Plant" concept:

    Universal Energy Cogeneration Plant Concept

Each technology within the Universal Energy framework is designed to be modular and standardized to easily connect and work with others from the ground up - while maintaining the ability to rapidly scale in size on-demand. This empowers us to push the bounds of cogeneration, allowing our energy infrastructure to efficiently produce both energy and resources in the same footprint. This will do to energy and resource production what technology has done to most other consumer products: increase availability, lower prices, and advance quality over time.

With this in place, we can use an abundance of inexpensive, clean energy to synthetically produce vital resources and build a world spared of the constant conflicts that stem from the merciless realities of scarcity-driven need.

To read more about how Universal Energy integrates modularity, standardization and scalability to help build a clean energy future, click the link below: