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Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute is big advocate of decentralized power. He notes that centralized thermal power plants produce power at a central location and then distribute it to the end user via long high tension, high voltage power lines. The electricity then needs to be “stepped down” to lower voltages suitable to household use. This system of distribution is high cost in terms of infrastructure to transport the energy, and much of the energy produced is used in transport. In addition, much of the energy is also wasted at the point of production, reducing overall power efficiency. That is changing to some degree with the development of more modern Combined Cycle power plants as an example of co-generation which have high efficiency turbines converting natural gas into steam with the exhaust and turbine ducting surrounded by heat exchange tubing to convert the hot exhaust gas into energy to power a secondary steam cycle that then powers another steam turbine. Some of these plants have efficiencies as high as 70 percent. Combined Cycle natural gas plants are usually designed as smaller scale peak power plants that provide supplemental power during peak times such as hot summer days.
Advantages of Distributed Power:
- Reduces dependence on large energy companies,
- Reduces energy consumed in transportation of power
- Reduces power loss at the point of production because such systems can use the excess heat in producing electricity to make hot water and heat buildings during the cold months.
- Lower cost solution over the long term because local power production means less money spent on capacity building to transport power along the grid. Distributed systems are usually designed so that they can import power from the grid when they need to and export power when they can. Of course this is contingent on adequate policy and regulation reform so that utilities offer reasonable rates for power production.
- Wikipedia Pages on Distributed Generation/Power http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_generation and Congeneration: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogeneration
- Bright Green Living post about Distributed Power: http://www.socialtext.net/brightgreen/index.cgi?distributed_power