The end of state subsidies in the energy sector likely cause a market shakeout as the sector re-orients itself toward a market driven evolution. State staff reductions may include economic regulation agencies such as the production and distribution of electric power. The closure of a state electric power regulator would likely include the repeal of a plethora of economic regulations that could no longer be enforced. Past experience with power deregulation has shown that power prices would likely escalate and include the prospect of prolonged power shortages.
In a market-driven environment that is free from state economic regulation, next-door neighbors could connect private power lines across their shared property lines. The advantage of the economy of scale would likely make off-grid power more affordable for groups of homes and/or businesses, likely resulting in the emergence of a great multitude of independent micro-grids. To counter escalating power prices, groups of businesses may invest in a natural gas fired small turbine engine of about 100kW output, and recover the cost of investment from the sale of power, heat and cooling to other neighboring businesses.
A market may likely emerge in industrial regions for decentralized mini-nuclear power generation technology developed by such companies as Nu-Scale and Toshiba, to provide the electrical power requirements of groups of nearby large power users. These power users may include groups of factories and industries, groups of commercial and/or industrial buildings, single or multiple business campuses as well as groups of institutions. The absence of state subsidy may likely re-orient the evolution of wind and solar technologies to make them more cost-competitive.
Improved Wind Power:
Giant-size kite-sails are able pull ships along routes where powerful winds blow at elevations of some 3000-ft above sea level, with as estimated 60%-70% availability. One test version of the technology involves kite-sails pulling a barge sailing at 7-9-knots and equipped with a hydraulic turbine submerged into the seawater. The turbine drives electrical generation equipment that transfers power into onboard grid-scale storage batteries. The barge stops at port during peak periods to transfer power to the grid, at subsidy-free competitive costs.
Other groups are developing various forms of high altitude and airborne wind power technology that involve airborne and ground-based electrical generating equipment. Airborne wind power technology can access higher elevations winds that blow at greater frequency and at higher velocity. It offers the prospect of generating unsubsidized electric power with 60% to 75% availability, at competitive prices.
Groups such as Kite-lab and Kite-Gen are experimenting with controlled kites that activate ground-level electrical generators, technology that will likely become available at competitive prices and be applicable in rural settings. The technology may also appeal to organized groups of residential neighbors located in a more rural setting, outside of most cities. Kite-driven wind power may also be used for pumping water in rural and remote regions, perhaps also providing for the electrical power requirements of rural villages.
In a market that is free from both state subsidy and state regulation would result in solar power development following a different path. Advances in efficient LED lighting technology provide opportunity for appropriate PV technology and related storage batteries to operate home and building lighting systems. Groups of homes and nearby businesses could share the cost of the PV technology and storage batteries. The low power demand of LED technology drastically reduces the investment needed for PV technology and storage batteries.
Competitively priced concentrated solar thermal power may be used to collect thermal energy that may be transferred into seasonal subterranean storage. It may be used for seasonal heating and the heating of water for domestic and a variety of other uses. Concentrated solar thermal power may also be transferred into storage, using containers of specialized heat-of-fusion compounds that melt at a pre-determined temperature. Such material may have various industrial and commercial applications that would include food preparation and power generation.
Seasonal Geothermal Energy:
A high-temperature, seasonal geothermal installation near Edmonton, Alberta combines solar thermal collectors with an extensive deposit of water logged porous rock (gravel) encased in bedrock. Over the course of the summer, concentrated solar thermal energy raises the temperature of the geothermal reservoir to some 80-deg C. Over the course of a winter where temperatures may drop to minus 40-deg C, the reservoir provides low cost interior heating for buildings in an entire community.
There may be scope to organize entire communities at other locations to adopt such a method by which to provide for winter home heating. In other regions where winters may be quite bearable with zero or minimal interior heating, the need may be for seasonal cooling during the hot summer months. During winter, it may be possible to use heat exchangers to cool groundwater and or water soaked subterranean deposits of gravel and/or porous rock, perhaps to as low as 3-deg C. During hot summers, that cold water may serve to cool the interior of buildings in entire communities.
While citizens may initially protest rising electric power prices, they may come to realize that a bankrupt government may be powerless to re-regulate electric power to reduce power prices. Several jurisdictions that had initially de-regulated electric power to reduce its cost for consumers, quickly re-regulated to contain the rapidly escalating port-deregulation price hikes. The prevailing fiscal environment at the time allowed panic-stricken governments to re-regulate, to pacify an angry electorate that could have otherwise thrown the government out of office.
The new specter of fiscal-crisis driven power de-regulation would likely leave fiscally restrained governments with little choice but to encourage citizens to seek innovative alternative ways by which to reduce electrical power consumption. Such a scenario would likely prevail in regions where population growth exceeds the projected increase in electrical power generation. Citizens and businesses will need to use electric power more productively and with greater efficiency.
The combination of the kitchen stove and the home air conditioner (or electric heater) accounts for the bulk of household electrical power consumption. Washing machines, freezers, refrigerators, home entertainment and lighting add to that power consumption. Consumers have access to LED lighting, LCD television sets and computer monitors as well as energy-efficient freezers and refrigerators that consume far less electric power than early versions of the technology.
In some regions during hot summer weather, it may be possible to place awnings or outside drapes over large windows to greatly reduce the amount of solar thermal infrared that will enter into buildings. The combination of filtering sunlight before it reaches the windowpanes and seasonal geothermal cooling would greatly reduce summer electrical consumption in entire districts. Unlike incandescent lights that generate heat, LED lighting emits practically no heat, reducing the demand on home cooling systems.
Bio-fuel and Natural Gas:
At the present time, the low cost of natural gas allows it to be used at low cost to provide for home heating and for kitchen stoves. During winter, stoves fueled by wood and bio-fuel pellets can provide home heating while also serving as a kitchen stove. The heat from the top of some wood/bio-pellet stoves can also energize a solid-state thermo-electric converter capable of generating some 250W - 500W of electric power at a thermal efficiency of around 6%.
Thermo-acoustic engines of equivalent output may operate at 35% - 40% efficiency converting heat to low-frequency sound waves that activate a linear alternator. The electric power would recharge batteries used to provide power to LED lighting systems. Several neighboring residential units may share a single set of batteries to spread out the cost, the cost of which would be comparatively low given the low power demand of LED lighting.
Citizens living in developing countries have access to modern bio-fuel stoves on which to cook, technology that can be marketed in developed nations that face a severe fiscal crunch and the potential for major disruptions in electric power. Bio-fuel and natural gas can also energize modern absorption-refrigeration cooling technology that may serve as refrigerators and for the cooling of buildings. Such fuel will also energize several types of small-scale thermal engines that are either being developed or becoming commercially available.
There is potential to implement a variety of methods by which to reduce the amount of electric power used in food preparation. People in some regions may choose to increase their consumption of raw food while decreasing their consumption of cooked food. The use of pressure cookers, convection ovens, multilevel stack-pot cooking and cooking in pots with insulated sides and lids would reduce electrical consumption involved in food preparation, by an estimated 60% to as high as 80%. There are several methods by which to reduce the amount of electrical energy required for home food preparation.
Placing the ring of a spring-loaded baking pan around a pot on a stove element can greatly reduce convection air currents along the side of the pot, while placing an inverted metal mixing bowl on its lid will further reduce heat loss. The same approach may be applied to multi-level cooking, with a post of boiling water on the bottom level surrounding by a spring-loaded ring, several levels of steamers and a double boiler on the top, covered by a lid and inverted mixing bowl.
Applying such methodology to a pressure cooker can reduce electrical power consumption by over 80% as compared to a stockpot of equivalent capacity. The high handles on some pressure cookers allow it to be transferred to a deeper pot of larger diameter, where the high handles resting on the rim of the larger pot. With 2 to 3-levels of insulation surrounding the hot pressure cooker and its contents, it may require 3-hours for the food temperature within it to drop from 100-deg C to 75-deg C, by which time the food will be cooked and with reduced energy consumption.
Convective heat loss from a kitchen increases demand for air conditioning or related cooling during hot summer weather. Reducing that heat loss through very basic insulation can reduce both the amount of energy required for cooking and the demand on the home air conditioner. During winter in cooler climates, some households may the heat from their wood and pellet stoves for cooking, while other homes switch to natural gas.
Managing Higher Power Prices:
Assume that the combination of cooking and air conditioning (electrical heat during winter) accounts for 90% of a power bill of $200, that is, $180. Cost escalations that result from deregulation could raise that power bill to $1000, with $900 allocated to food preparation and heating/cooling. The combination of LED lighting technology, a change in the building heating/cooling technology and more productive cooking methods, could reduce that $1000 electrical power bill back down to $200.
While the end of power regulation may result in higher power bills, it could prompt the development of a wide variety of techniques to reduce household electrical power usage and new technologies to achieve that objective. As long as electrical prices remain low, most households are unlikely to invest in techniques and technology that will reduce electrical power consumption. If large numbers of households have easy access to such information could, it help a large percentage of home consumers adapt to future increases in the price of electric power by implementing new energy efficient methods at home.
Marketing campaigns could prepare consumers for the inevitable escalations in power prices following a shift to subsidy-free, regulation-free electric power. Several governments that face severe fiscal restraints may have little choice other that to exit several formerly regulated markets, including electric power. Such governments once assured citizens of low-cost electric power and other low-cost services that were being subsidized through escalating government debt.
It may be a foregone conclusion that the spook of cost escalations will appear following the closure of state agencies of economic regulation. Citizens will need to endure the appearance of such a spook by having access to information that may guide them as to how to reduce their power bills through a variety of affordable, low-cost strategies that may be posted on internet web pages. The use of such strategies will give a vast segment of the population the ability to undertake initiative to use energy more frugally.
The evolving fiscal situation in several nations riddled with massive national debt may leave governments with no other choice than to sell off state enterprises and deregulation national economies, including electric power. Post-deregulation power prices may indeed escalate over the short-term, except that such market-driven power prices would literally invite new players into the power market over the long-term, with the prospect of eventually reducing the power prices. There are a variety of alternatives by which to lower the energy bills for each household and business enterprise in a high-priced electric power market.