Local community-based power plants have the purpose of producing electricity for communities and businesses in their immediate geographical areas. Electricity is provided for more than one user. Another purpose is to use one, or a combination of the renewable green energy sources, instead of relying on hydrocarbon-based power from electric utility companies. New types of clean energy, such as compact nuclear fusion, are expected to be included in the future.
Community-based power plants are scalable in size and energy output. One plant can be interlinked with adjacent communities in a way that bypasses the normal power grid, thus reducing transmission losses while increasing system robustness. However, they must be operated by electric utility companies due to the electrical engineering, management and administrative expertise required. The physical power plants themselves may be owned by the local community or businesses being served, by a conglomerate of individuals or industries, by an electric utility, by a local or regional government, or by a combination of these interested parties.
The History Of Community Based Power Plants
Community-based power has many benefits that cannot be realized with electricity transmitted by long distance power lines from larger, central power plants. These benefits are discussed on the web with regard to community systems in the United States and in other countries. These are generally called by acronyms such as “sustainable community based energy systems” and “microgeneration.” The systems are motivated by practical considerations, such as cost and distance from the long distance grid and, also, by environmentally conscientious approaches for low carbon footprints. Due to their advantages, small local community electric power plants could eventually be considered to replace large, regional power plants.
The first sustainable community energy system in the United Kingdom (UK) was implemented beginning in 1991 by the Woking Borough Council, using a combination of energy sources to provide electricity to residential and non-residential customers. The system delivers cheaper energy than can be supplied from traditional long distance suppliers and is part of a plan to cut local carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050. The London Climate Change Agency is planning to construct a similar system in London. A series of projects to produce renewable energy was implemented beginning in 1997 by individuals in Wildpoldsried, Germany and includes windmills, solar panels, hydro power plants, and biogas digesters. The system produces more than three times the power the community needs and is generating a significant positive revenue stream, along with reducing the carbon footprint. One of the objectives of an organization called “Practical Action” in Rugby, UK is to ensure all have sustainable access to renewable energy, while not degrading the environment.
Benefits of Community Based Power Plants
Community-based power plants are able to provide many benefits. One of the most important is to reduce the amount of carbon being released into the environment by using green technologies rather than hydrocarbons, and by reducing the distance over which the electricity has to travel. A great amount of the electricity is lost in power lines when it is converted into heat that is lost into the air. Local production of electricity has little-to-no power loss from transmission through shorter local power lines. Long-distance power lines could become a thing of the past.
Another benefit community based power plants provide is energy independence. In addition to being a consumer of electricity, the community and its occupants can become providers of electricity. One can envision that each community power plant would be able to serve as an electric power charging station for electric automobiles, further helping to reduce the carbon footprint. With “net metering”, excess energy can be sold back to utility companies at retail rates. A report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance indicates that such benefits can be considered to be cumulative and to fall into categories relating to renewable energy (e.g., price certainty; health benefits), distributed power (such as minimizing transmission losses from long-distance power lines, reduced maintenance, resiliency), community scale, and local ownership (e.g., job creation).
Local, community-based power plants could also help to prevent hostile aggression and solve long-identified national security problems. The electromagnetic pulse (EMP) produced by a nuclear weapons detonated over the U.S. could have severe impact on the long-distance electric power grid and result in grave consequences for U.S. society. EMP was identified as an issue in the early 1960s. The U.S. Government’s EMP Commission in 2004 pointed out that although knowledge of EMP effects from nuclear bursts are not new, little was done, however, throughout the Cold War by electric power companies to ensure survivability of the power grid. Instead, the U.S. depended on deterrence for its safety. What is different now is that some states (such as North Korea and Iran) are unpredictable and more difficult to deter. Other threats identified for large power grids include: terrorist coordinated attack with briefcase-size, high power microwave weapons targeted at the same time against switching stations and hostile network hacking of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.