I just returned from Vladivostok, Russia, where I was an invited speaker at a workshop on power grid development in the Asia-Pacific region. The workshop, organized by the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), focused on using microgrids to supply electricity to remote regions of the twenty-one APEC member countries. The meetings were chaired by Konstantin Ilkovsky, a member of the Russian Parliament, and attended by some of the Russian Federation’s top experts on energy, economics, and political science. China, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Peru also sent governmental officials. No officials from the United States attended the meetings.
Microgrids are power grids that are powered by small, dispersed generators, energy storage systems and controllable loads. Often they are configured to automatically disconnect from other power grids and operate independently whenever it is beneficial to do so, such as when the other grid experiences an outage. This important step toward energy self-reliance is the reason Local Energy has long been advocating the breakup of the central power grid into microgrids.
While the overall APEC agenda of economic interdependence and free trade may be politically conservative, the workshop on microgrids evidenced a remarkably progressive agenda for infrastructure development. All of the APEC countries attending seemed determined to expand electricity delivery to remote regions absent the massive coal and nuclear power plants that are hallmarks of central power. A number of presentations focused on the technological considerations for building microgrid networks powered by small, distributed generators, but many others highlighted the sociological and ethical implications of electrification with a focus on meeting community needs and preserving cultural heritage.
For my presentation, I showed how good electricity policy could foster the development of a wide range of innovative technologies for the electricity industry, and how to set a foundation that encourages these technologies to connect strategically to the power grid. Specifically, I showed that given the right policies and regulations, the “system” of individuals and businesses developing and financing energy technologies will self-organize in ways that lead to an optimized electrical power network. Essentially, I showed the conditions under which complex systems take on adaptive and intelligent behaviors, and applied this basic systems theory it to the development of power networks. I am finishing a short report on the topic now, and will post it when finished.
In addition to inviting me to speak about my work at Local Energy, APEC invited four others from the United States: Larry Adams, a Senior Controls Engineer for Spirae, who is helping Denmark develop microgrid controls; Steven Pullins from Horizon Energy, who is developing strategies and technologies for decentralizing electrical networksworking for public and private clients around the world; Peter Lillianthal, who built a widely used software tool for designing microgrids; and Brad Reeve, General Manager of a small electrical cooperative in Alaska that is making great strides with wind energy. Additional presenters came from Korea, Japan, Chile, Australia and the Russian Federation.
I have posted some photos from the workshop here.