Smart Electric Grids

While this project's frameworks are designed to sustainably generate energy and produce resources, their ability to accomplish this goal on a large scale is made possible in part through their support of a smart, redundant electric grid. Leveraging the core mindsets of modularity, standardization and cogeneration, each framework is intended to help build an indefinitely scalable energy network that both reinforces and eventually replaces the now-aging electric grids that have made our advanced society possible.

Especially in the context of municipally integrated renewables, this approach enables cities to "detach" from external energy-generating infrastructure by zeroing out their demand on regional electric grids. Once this deployment expands to the point where cities can reliably generate and store more energy than they consume, they can function as power-generating entities - effectively as nodes on a network. Combined with other technology suites such as cogeneration plants and The National Aqueduct, the aggregate power generation from each framework can create separate grids that operate in parallel. Multiple grids could then redundantly service the same area, which makes them both reliable and capable of operating intelligently to respond deftly to spikes in energy demand. This is a stark departure from our power infrastructure today, which is both antiquated, failure-prone, and made to order as a custom effort.

As is frequently touched upon by this project, our national electric infrastructure is a mess. It's comprised of 7,600+ unique power plants[1] that are owned by 3,200+ competing utility companies[2] that transmit electricity through 450,000+ miles of high voltage power lines[3] and millions more miles of low-voltage power lines. Most of these systems are proprietary, few if any share any means of standardization or interoperation and most if not all are built on-site as custom entities. As a direct consequence, whenever a power line goes down (storms, transformer overload, accidents), any location in a given service area will go dark and will remain so until new power lines are constructed or a workaround is built. Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, New York City after Hurricane Sandy and most of Texas in 2021 after a statewide winter storm stand as glaring testaments to this reality.

But large-scale blackouts are far more frequent than the cataclysmic examples that make national news. Due to the difficulty of preventing disruptions, electrical outages leave an average of 500,000 Americans without power for two hours or more on any given day.[4] Beyond the immediate implications to public safety, this presents significant economic damages. The aforementioned 2021 winter storm in Texas caused an estimated $130 billion in damages[5] (and more than 100 deaths), which by itself eclipsed the $80 billion the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated blackouts cost the U.S. economy each year.[6]

Addressing these problems with yesterday's methods will be both daunting and expensive. By some estimates, it will cost upwards of $1 trillion to improve U.S. electric grids to simply meet demand by 2025.[7] Universal Energy and its supporting frameworks can change that with a far superior value proposition than simply replacing our infrastructure as it exists today. A stretch of renewable-integrated highway median or solar road canopy does not need power lines - they are the power line. The same is true with the interconnecting pipelines of The National Aqueduct, a central business district covered with solar windows, or the redundant integral connections of cogeneration plants. They each comprise their own redundant electric grid that can connect with and extend others. This allows each individual framework to function as an independent node to deliver or route power where it is needed most.

Upgrading our national electric infrastructure with such systems - and the responsive management software that can oversee their intelligent operation - provides several important side benefits. For starters, it increases the security of our electric grid multifold. To see how, review the following images that compare today's electric grid (at a regional scale) with smart grid concepts:

  • Regional Electric Grid:

    Regional electric grid

  • Traditional v. Smart Grid:

    Current grid compared with smart grid

  • Smart City Grid Concept:

    Smart city grid concept

In today's grid configuration, if a primary power line or substation were to be disabled, the entire section of the grid they serve would go dark. Our electric grid is thus vulnerable to environmental disasters, terrorist attacks or freak accidents. Yet integrating renewable energy within public infrastructure on a large scale - backed up by base-load cogeneration plants placed in frequent intervals, our grid would become substantially more reliable. Wide swaths of it would have to be destroyed in order for it to stop functioning completely – making it far more resilient than our current approach to electricity transmission.

Moreover, a modular, redundant electric grid allows for improved power management by municipal utilities, affording secondary methods that can be engaged as needed based on spikes in demand or less-frequent blackouts. Municipal authorities would also have an ample supply of usage data that can help create predictive models for intelligent system design. Paired with today’s sophisticated computing and accompanying software, this allows energy management to become more automated and efficient. It allows for the system as a whole to be upgraded more effectively, as the specific information the system provides can help determine the areas to best concentrate on for improvement – allowing energy networks to organically, and intelligently, evolve.

Reducing Intermittency

Today, one of the largest obstacles to effective use of renewable power is the question of intermittency – referring to an energy source that’s not continuously and instantly available for conversion into electricity. Solar and wind power might be able to generate lots of energy, but if demand spikes at a time when they’re not functioning (at night or on non-windy days), their utility wanes significantly.

Batteries, in turn, can only offer so much utility - not only because they have significant material and cost implications (from acquisition to disposal) - but also because they are location-dependent. A battery in Boston doesn't help a blackout in Baton Rouge. A particular focus of Universal Energy is integrating smart, responsive electric grids within the National Aqueduct as a parallel nationwide energy source that can engage on demand. It would also be backed by a baseload power network of cogeneration plants, which by themselves present tremendous energy for nominal use and external resource production. The combined result is a saturation effect, as each power source stacks on the other – and an integrated backup – to each generate energy from each other in parallel. Intermittency is thus removed as a primary obstacle, as the entire system is "instant-on" from at least two of three energy sources (integrated renewables, cogeneration plants.

To read more about how Universal Energy integrates smart electric grids to help build a clean energy future, click the link below: