Saying goodbye to the grid
July 23, 2008
A proven air-clearing money-saving scheme is attracting global focus, writes Leesha McKenny.
Allan Jones is a man who has done something that many thought was not possible. The engineer has maybe, just maybe, made the British borough of Woking in Surrey famous for something other than the place where the Spice Girls started their career.
While they were rising through the charts during the 1990s, he was slowly taking their borough off the national electricity grid.
By 2004 he had helped the area cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 77 per cent. His methods were innovative, perhaps, but not new. Some of the technologies he used had been around for more than 100 years. This week he was in Sydney to talk about how he did it.
"We were squeezing the carbon, if you like, out of the buildings from both ends," he says. "We were making them more energy efficient and we were supplying them with low carbon systems.
"Of course, at the time I had no idea it would go the way it did, and just get bigger and bigger."
The idea that caught national and global attention was the borough's successful use of low carbon, or co-generation power systems. First set up in Manhattan in the 1880s, these use gas rather than coal to generate electricity with fewer emissions. Coal-powered energy stations also throw off two-thirds of the generated energy as waste heat. In co-generation, any waste heat from the gas-generated electricity is recycled back into the system. Tri-generation, as the name suggests, takes this one step further by using this heat to cool. In the Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan, both ideas fall under the banner of "green transformers".
Jones says small co-generation substations are built into a city's landscape - in its basements, on its rooftops - to distribute energy locally. In Woking this turned a passive distribution network that fed off a distant national grid into an active network supplying and supporting electricity in its own right.
This was based on an initial investment by council of a fifth of the cost of implementing the project over five years, plus a reinvestment of all savings in the same period back into the process. This was later backed by a public-private partnership.
"By the time I'd left Woking, I'd organised 81 decentralised energy systems, dotted all over the borough and trading with each other," he says. "They collectively became independent and self-sufficient from the grid."
Jones says areas can be organised by energy profiles - homes and business, say, that use peak power at different times - so surplus energy can be traded effectively across the network. In Woking's case, by keeping the power close to where it was used, council was able to bypass middlemen charges generated by inefficiencies in the national grid, and supply energy to households directly at a lower cost, increasing its own income by 400 per cent.
By the time Jones was hired to set up a joint venture project in London as part of the city's plan to cut its emissions by 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2025, it is little wonder many of the world's largest companies - including two oil companies - were submitting tenders to become involved.
"Rather than taking the approach that this is going to cost lots of money,
I turn that coin on its head and say, 'Actually, you can make a lot of money from this - you just need to do things a different way,' " Jones says.
He says London is now drawing in domestic and international investment in green technologies in the order of £3½ billion ($7.2 billion).
"People want to build manufacturing plants for fuel cells, they want to build manufacturing plants for combined heat and power [or] alternative waste technologies - it's creating jobs."
Jones says he is happy for Sydney to pick his brains about the practical and regulatory detail of Woking and London, and hopes that governments will increasingly see co- or tri-generation power systems as a viable alternative to coal. "A lot of what I'm doing now in London is now being copied across the UK," he says. "And Sydney could be in that same position as far as Australia is concerned."
This story was found at: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/07/22/1216492455066.html