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51st State has space for a range of ideas for new energy system

By K Kaufmann

Innovators are, almost by nature, impatient people. What’s here and now is never good enough; they must tinker with it, always looking ahead to how they would do it differently or better.

So, when the first articles appeared about the Solar Electric Power Association’s 51st State Initiative — on clean tech websites such as Renewable Energy World and Greentech Media — many readers did not wait for the official release of submission guidelines on Nov. 17.

Final 51st State
They filled the comments sections to these articles with a range of possible directions and ideas for the initiative, which aims to build a new energy system from the ground up, as if for a hypothetical 51st state where no policies or rules exist.


Which is, of course, exactly the kind of lively, outside-the-box thinking we at SEPA hoped the 51st State would and will continue to generate.

Read more articles about the 51st State here.

Writing in response to Meg Cichon’s article on Renewableenergyworld.com, Gerry Wootton argued that given the United States’ “archaic” grid and generation technologies, “radical solutions seem in order.”

“The overall approach should be one that shifts load down while transforming supply, the former making the latter easier and less costly,” Wootton wrote. “Some regions even have sufficient renewable supply if consumption were only brought down to a more reasonable level. A substantial amount of reduced consumption is available in the form of energy efficiency . . . Another aspect of ‘outside the grid’ is to replace electrical loads such as heating and air conditioning to geothermal, hydrological, solar (non-PV), etc., on a utility basis.”

Similarly, after reading Stephen Lacey’s article on greentechmedia.com, Susan Kraemer envisioned state-funded and -owned solar. She proposed a law that would make every rooftop or piece of open land — residential, commercial or industrial — “a potential energy generator.”

“The solar rights on it would be considered a public good, available for development for the public good,” she wrote. “Rents would be paid to property owners, at generous set rates to compensate them. If the property owner wants to develop their own solar they would still receive this rental payment. After the first capital-paid-back years, this dividend would yield more income.”

Also on Greentech, a writer identified only as Shiggity approached the challenge as if “building a data center, but it would be a decentralized data center.

“The core component of the network would be the utility pole. Every 10th or so pole would have a 3G or higher internet connection/CPU/sensors,” Shiggity wrote. “The key would be real time data collection. With real time data management it is relatively easy to manage fluctuations. Utilities and tech firms would start to blur soon.”

Back at Renewable Energy World, Kent Doering drilled down into the supply chain, coming up with a more efficient possibility for cutting emissions from natural gas via combined heat and power plants, while supporting the local manufacture of solar panels. Developing markets, such as those in Africa, are ripe for such an approach, he said.

“Solar PV needs silicon. Mozambique, Angola, Namibia are all expanding their natural gas and oil production. Instead of flaming off gas or building expensive LNG export facilities, much of the gas will be going into large industrial combined industrial heat-urban power stations,” he wrote. “By making thermodynamic silicon plants combined heat-power, that significantly slashes the costs of locally produced silicon in Africa.”

With the 51st State’s open market, could combined heat and power be a building block for energy production to help build solar supply chains there as well?

Want more ideas for the 51st State? Read this.

We want to keep the ideas flowing and, hopefully, help innovators such as Wootton, Kraemer, Shiggity and Doering connect and maybe even work together. We have launched a 51st State Facebook page, SEPA 51st State, and Twitter feed, @SEPA51st, where we encourage people to post their ideas in any form — videos, infographics, or just quick-hit posts — or share links to relevant articles or reports.

The 51st State website, www.SEPA51.org is also now live with full guidelines for submitting ideas that may be developed into more detailed proposals to be evaluated by an independent Innovation Review Panel composed of a cross section of energy industry thought leaders.

They will choose a handful of top proposals for further discussion and development at the 51st State Summit, scheduled for April 27, in conjunction with SEPA’s Utility Solar Conference, April 27-29 in San Diego.

But, just as the 51st State is open to many possible solutions for building a clean, efficient. affordable and sustainable energy system from the ground up, the initiative also offers individuals and groups many ways to contribute their ideas and give us feedback as we move forward. We want to build a community of innovators who are open to new ideas and impatient to push the boundaries of what many people may think possible.

Visit us, like us, follow us. Join us.

K Kaufmann is communications manager of the Solar Electric Power Association. She may be reached at [email protected].