Stelios Stavroulakis – The urgency of peer-to-peer communities for a smooth transition to renewables
The viability of the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources mostly by the funding aid of the state recently overturned pessimistic predictions and over-anxious concerns regarding costs and self-sufficiency. However transition takes place in conditions of high unemployment and the costly and likely not sustainable macro-installations inherited from the mega-plant infrastructure mentality pose additional challenges.
In a future renewable environment mega-plants is likely to be used primarily for waste management. In order to address possible social problems rooted at the nature of transition as well as to further reduce environmental harm, transition should be enforced and accelerated by the rise of peer-to-peer energy communities. We’ll focus on selective issues around peer-to-peer newborn structures in relation to public policy and on a quick outlook of the autonomous unit that constitutes a node in a peer-to-peer energy grid as a short introduction for non-experts.
The origin of the peer-to-peer (peer, P2P) concept is the Internet, a grid of information processing nodes, equivalent regarding availability of resources with distributed control running mostly free software and communicating via open standards. In sum, a technological breakthrough that boosts social change. A peer-to-peer community is primarily a non-hierarchical community of people interested in a field who become experts by sharing knowledge working on projects to produce output that solves a particular social problem for the benefit of society at large. The free software serves as a pattern from which ideas are derived to demonstrate how P2P energy communities become operational. A brief outline of a community model is presented here (in Greek).
Whilst free software is a solution to the social problem of proprietization of knowledge, P2P proposes distributed, internetworking organizational structures as superior compared to centralized hierarchies. Free software thrives today, possibly because when it started, as his founder explains, its enemies understood the impact when it was too late. In contrast, P2P, or at least some of its forms such as file sharing, are heavily criminalized by an alliance between governments and monopolies, who like to call themselves copyright/patent owners. The paradox towards which the weakness of law is leading us is confirmed by studies revealing that copyright owners become parasitic trolls by reaping profit from allegedly illegal data sharing. In other words, it is not the technologies that should be regulated, it is the illegitimized behaviour and this behaviour is often closer to the source where data originates than anywhere else. According to a recent trend, public service organizations such as telecoms or the post office while prohibit access to their online data by web applications, they are allowed to trade their data to private companies and corporations, which in turn sell the data to the public. That is, copies of an otherwise identical set of public and/or private data are repeatedly sold offline at arbitrary prices. These companies and organizations are not authorized to do so. In relation to that, for several months the online postcode database of the Hellenic Post Office seems to violate the database integrity principle and thus not to be trusted. This situation has an impact on other online services and behind this chain of facts is difficult not to see a policy of pushing processes to the market that are by definition outside the market’s nature and capability to handle. Similar concerns can be found in the campaign 4Δ (in Greek). This is just one example of how technology can be used to degrade quality of services or to restrict access to people and here is another, a resurrected remnant of the cold war era. These are examples of negative policies against the public interest and should be clearly rejected.
EU states have shown consistent dedication to planned targets and good practical results within few years that maintain high quality of living while transforming the environment to address climate change. A synergy of implemented, well designed policies leave no room but to become widely accepted. In Denmark the exemplar implementation of renewable energy sources in daily life and the associated policies teach a lesson. In Sweden CO2 taxation introduced in 1991. Although previous experience shows that taxation tools to improve environmental conditions are rather limited, that one proved to be successful. A 9% decline per capita within 2 decades is particularly encouraging and the annual revenue, which is nearly €2b, suggests that the emission decline would accelerate if the revenue is used to fund industrial units willing to switch, thus reducing the overall life expectancy of the tax. Today the carbon tax is introduced also in Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Italy. France follows next year. These are examples of positive policies that should be complemented by peering the energy sector.
Peering the energy sector
Replacing fossil with renewables and given that the available time for substitution before oil depletion is rather limited, it seems that a first stage transition, if successful, will be completed before research results turn on the green light for the wide use of hydrogen carriers. We inevitably fall at a lower energy level because the same amount of energy input results in fuel less than what fossils produce today. To mitigate the concerns, it is worthy mentioning that today’s daily energy consumption is enforced by certain policies that favour corporations instead of individuals at artificially high levels since price signals in this case are misleading and low monetary costs do not leave room for technology innovation, which is critical for improving efficiency and dealing with the environmental cost. Energy consumption based on fossils by going down 0.5% each year starting today for the next 50 years to provide additional energy input to the transition lowering the energy level by which renewables may find it possible to achieve self-sufficiency in a timely fashion, would still sustain the current economy with no severe turbulence. The reduction is possible first and foremost by shifting away from industrial methods in agriculture into following movements such as De-growth, Permaculture and Transition Towns which, at least for Europe, may revive the deserted countryside acres and rationalize the design of urban environments.
In a renewable strategy a P2P energy node is defined as an autonomous consumer’s unit, not necessarily matching a single property. Today’s technology fuses the producer and the consumer side, providing small size generators for any type of property opening opportunities to walk away from harmful business models and shaping instead energy communities to manufacture and deploy low-cost innovative energy solutions for habitats. Licenses for open hardware designs aiming at a ‘copyleft’ of the patent law emerging in a fashion similar to that pioneered by GPL for the copyright law and there are open design generators using renewable sources already installed under those licenses demonstrating proof of concept. Also the price drop of photovoltaic cells has already reached a parity with coal in California, Hawaii and Japan. So there is fertile ground for startups.
Interested parties could use publicly available documented processes like the SHPEGS project towards interface standardization, to make or order the necessary parts and manufacture their systems locally. Prototyping tools for Physical Computing can be used to create sensors and controllers to enable larger systems to interact with the physical world.
The plethora of social movements, many more than the ones named above, emerging with speed that the established authorities find it difficult to follow, is a sign that we are observing a revolution, which is rather rooted to a knowledge diffusion from the world of experts to the citizens, a process imposed by technology than by some political or business subject that keeps expertise behind walls. It is a slow transition from simple to more complex processes that emerge out of the exchange of ideas among a very large number of people. The blooming of locavolts now in the energy sector and of locavores before in agriculture is another evidence of replication and spread of the self-organising meme. These organic, or grassroot as they are often named, movements is very likely to cause the Berlin Wall syndrome, which is the internal collapse of traditional authoritative mechanisms, business models and institutions, which while continue to function absorbing resources, they are incapable of fulfilling their mission and become no longer useful for anything to anyone. An instance of modeling the future of energy is the calculation of the photovoltaic installation area required by an autonomous energy node fuelled solely by solar power. This is also the starting point for the design and construction of home-made photovoltaics.
The calculated solar irradiance averaged over three years from 1991 to 1993 in South Europe delivers power 200W/m2 according to this entry. It is a low value compared to the geolocation data found in PVGIS Solar Irradiation Data for the same area at 25 deg inclination. Although the majority of solar panels are 20% efficient today, that is 40W/m2 of solar collector, nanotechnology may push this number upwards. The rounded total sum of the estimated domestic energy consumption is Εc = 20000kWh per year for temperate climates possibly for a 100-120 m2 household of 3-4 inhabitants.
A solar collector receiving 1 Watt of solar power can generate energy
which means that 11.4kW of solar power or 285 m2 installation area of solar panels is required to satisfy the annual energy needs of the presumed European household, an approximation of the minimum installation area of a hypothetical P2P solar power node. A 25% reduction in Εc and by doubling solar cell efficiency, shrinks the required installation area to 53.5 m2. By adding wind turbines and exploiting geothermal energy wherever feasible this figure can be reduced further. The general formula for calculating the photovoltaic cells installation area is:
If power is used instead,
: the total domestic energy consumption (Wh)
,: the nominal and real solar power required to satisfy the domestic energy consumption (W)
: the solar panel efficiency
: the geolocation value of the average solar irradiance (W/m2)
Although the legal, economical and technical conditions for establishing networks of P2P energy communities are approaching maturity, the public policy is lagging behind and these communities cannot grow if they are constantly punished or ignored. For minimizing complications, while replacing energy sources, immediate action in various levels is necessary.
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