Energy Freedom Project –Part 1
Author: Art Hunter, Ottawa.
A Cleantech Initiative Advancing Personal Energy Efficiency
This is part 1 of a multipart article that will follow the process of development, test and operational use of the Energy Freedom Project.
The five grand challenges, corresponding to the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions around the world are:
- Electricity: How can we deliver reliable, affordable zero-carbon electricity to the world?
- Buildings: How can we eliminate emissions from our homes, offices, hospitals, and schools?
- Manufacturing: How can we make everything we use without emitting greenhouse gases?
- Transportation: How can we get around our communities and the world without emitting carbon?
- Food: How can we feed the planet without contributing to climate change?
This project will address electricity, buildings and transportation at a Canadian householder’s level and be part of the solution to these five grand challenges. Production and management of a homeowner’s energy needs is a significant contribution supporting these five grand challenges.
In Ontario electrical power costs are rising and are projected to continue rising at rates that are excessive to many. Climate change has been widely recognized as already started. Burning of Fossil Fuels is understood to add carbon dioxide, tiny particles and other pollutants to the atmosphere which speeds the rate of climate change and impacts human health. The anticipated dynamic outcomes around the world are not just grim but could result in an all species extinction event (including human) or the lesser impact of an extensive population correction and massive human suffering and misery. Species populations are 1/3 that of preindustrial times and many species have already become extinct. Urgency in action cannot be over stated. Waiting until the urgency is more pronounced is too late. We, as a planet, now have to choose between the path of self-destruction by overconsumption or a more equitable and sustainable future.
This project is a single individual taking action to contribute to the solution. Financing was from personal resources without any contributions from any agency, government, individual, company or any other source. It is acknowledged that many friends, family members, acquaintances, contractors, and suppliers have contributed with their knowledge, skills, insight and encouragement. Without this participation the project would have taken much longer and been considerably more expensive.
Homes are in high density in cities. Cities are where many climate change problems originate, and therefore that’s where homeowner’s solutions are required. This project is a single individual taking action to fortify against threats to personal security due to fear and want based on cost escalations and disruptions in the grid energy flow. Financing was from personal resources without any contributions from any agency, government, individual, company or any other source. It is acknowledged that many friends, family members, acquaintances, contractors, and suppliers have contributed with their knowledge, skills, insight and encouragement. Without this participation the project would have taken much longer and been considerably more expensive.
Energy efficiency, for this project is defined as lower energy consumption. The term “carbon footprint” means the fossil fuel carbon dioxide quantity produced by a personal lifestyle choice or business decision or political action that aggravates an already very difficult climate and health situation. Business as normal cannot continue. Lowering carbon footprints are mandatory. In fact, reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) loading of the atmosphere, as often portrayed by politicians and the media, is insufficient. Humanity must not only slow down adding GHGs to the atmosphere and oceans but we must STOP burning all fossil fuels. Further, extraction of carbon dioxide (also called a “negative carbon footprint”) and other GHGs from the atmosphere is already necessary to guarantee mankind’s survival on planet Earth. Whatever climate change funding problems we have today will pale to the financial and social stresses that we are going to have by rising sea levels, the threat of tropical diseases, and all manner of extreme weather events.
Personal carbon footprints are most pronounced in automotive and home GHG emissions. Certainly behaviour, diet, industrial activity, purchase of any product and many other forms of human endeavour are candidates for carbon footprint reduction but these are beyond the scope of this project.
This project was initiated to demonstrate how it is feasible to substantially reduce a Canadian resident’s home and transportation carbon footprints while generating cash flow to recover the equipment capital costs. Education of sceptics is a major challenge. Some people are firmly wed to burning fossil fuels, possibly due to their investment portfolio, political beliefs, or lack of exposure to relevant facts and come prepared to attempt exposure of any competing technology as ridiculously expensive, impossible and even fraudulent. Facts will be insufficient to change this deeply held but unsupportable belief. Innovation blocking and building barriers to change are their objectives. Some people, as the historic record shows for the anti-smoking campaign, are actively engaged in spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) concerning climate change and ceasing the use of fossil fuels.
It is recognized that 50% of home energy use goes to management of the home internal climate (air quality, humidity, heating and cooling). Further, transportation using gasoline engines is estimated to be more than 10 times more expensive than an Electric Vehicle. It has been reported that 23% of Canadian GHGs are produced by transportation. The Energy Freedom Project puts priority focus on reduction of home and personal transportation GHG emissions.
Electrical power disruptions are common in many places on the planet and some of them have lasted for days or even weeks in North America. Climate change has already made tornadoes common in Ontario and the trend is for an ever increasing frequency of severe weather phenomena, causing more electrical grid disruptions. Being ready to survive (drought, potable water, food, shelter, security) and to assist those in need of support is also an important consideration leading to the initiation of the Energy Freedom Project.
Enhancing public confidence and social acceptance of the technology by using purchased parts or subsystems, borrowed demonstration products or developed exclusively for this demonstration project is important. The behaviour of the local hourly weather conditions, climate variations over the seasons and years, the hourly, daily and weekly activities in the house and the use of transportation are impossible to predict. These highly non-linear forcing functions of energy demand must be perfectly matched at all times with a source of supply in this home nano-electricity grid (EcoGrid has been suggested as a title). A household battery provides the real time instant buffer between supply and demand, provided the battery state of charge is adequate to respond. Thus energy management consists of energy flow controls for both the supply and demand sides of the equation. Much can be automated with supply deliveries from a PV (photovoltaic or solar) subsystem, the grid or a generator (via the battery) while human behaviour can play a critical role on the demand side. For example, closing windows and doors, turning off lights, computers and the television or not running the clothes dryer while having a sauna while using the stove and running baseboard heaters. Lifestyle changes, when supported with evidence of non-optimal demand on the system, could result in considerable energy efficiency benefits. The system design will provide a means to measure energy consumption and clearly connect this to human behaviour. For example: setting of the home’s only thermostat has a very significant impact on energy consumption. The project shall provide for development of an extremely smart thermostat later in the project timeline and address area temperature control.
Recognition of energy usage, with detail down to an individual light switch or appliance, and suggestions for altering consumption, with acceptable comfort and lifestyle changes, is a core driver in the system design with great emphasis put on the software subsystem, data analytics, displays and controls. Energy efficiency, where the energy came from, where it goes and innovations in the Internet of Things shall be used to give the average person the ability to track (and change) their energy usage at least hourly, make it available for smart phone access (sharing, demonstrations, soliciting new suggestions for experiments) and to potentially help reduce the impact of global climate change. The concept of a daily plan based on all the data gathered to date becomes possible to:
- suggest a thermostat management scheme,
- when to heat the hot water,
- when to charge the EV battery,
- how to reduce power consumption from the grid
- other energy efficiency candidates
Imagine a morning email or smart phone app offering these suggestions and the homeowner approves or not the suggestions. This is a high priority objective. Options would be presented with the homeowner firmly in the control booth. In this way, knowledge, based on measurement and facts, will make a contribution to carbon footprint reduction. This reduction shall be given a representative quantity value and this tracked over time to increase the knowledge of the homeowners and other interested parties of the success or failure of intentional acts to improve energy efficiency. This will permit “experiments” to answer the question “What happens when we do the following?” Regular reports shall be prepared using collected data as evidence, to showcase home performance and experimental results. The controlling energy flow algorithms will not be smart until data is collected from the system and it is used to make real-time decisions to improve performance.
A three-year feasibility demonstration is to use rooftop Photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays, modern home battery technology (Tesla lithium-ion Power Wall 2), the existing power grid and a fossil free Condensed Matter Nuclear Science power generator to reduce carbon footprints. Ontario’s power grid generation capacity is almost completely fossil energy free. This project shall provide for almost all fossil fuel free energy requirements for home power, heat, hot water, and urban transportation in an Ottawa home during all seasons. Priority development requirements include cost effectiveness, reliable, safe (human health and property damage), failure tolerant (fail safe), low maintenance, sustainability and ease of use. Saving money and contributing to local environmental sustainability, maintaining household comfort and convenience while achieving the lowest carbon living as possible are fundamental. The process will use an algorithm for automatic controls as well as the option for manual procedures to optimize power efficiency supplied from the grid, solar or generator.
The basic project vision includes:
- FOSSIL FREE: The added energy sources are fossil fuel free (meaning coal, gasoline, oil, natural gas, and any carbon products from millions of years ago that are mainly found underground are not permitted).
- ELECTRIFICATION: Electricity must be used for transportation and heat so cost effective electrical power generation and its use is the objective. Ontario has 73 electricity utilities and it is important to collaborate with any or all of them as required as they have considerable change to manage. There is the growth of distributed energy sources, storage issues, grid maintenance and massive growth to accommodate the increased power demands over the next decades.
- PARTS: Development shall use mainly commercially available parts with potential for widespread use by 2050.
- TRANSPORTATION: The transportation vehicle power is to be all electric.
- DE-CABONIZATION: Local deep de-carbonization of the electricity supply, home climate management, water heating and energy efficiency is a central objective. Achieving more de-carbonization is readily achievable compared with gasoline consuming automobiles, natural gas heating of water and management of the home’s internal climate using natural gas.
- GRID DISTRIBUTED ENERGY SUPPLY: The project shall support distributed energy generation grid technologies now and in the future (e.g. energy cooperatives in neighbourhoods, or other grid segments). Distributed Energy Resources (DERs) provide the utility with the ability to avoid generation, transmission and distribution investments. Further they minimize grid losses and reduce the rate of equipment degradation. DERs provide the ability to shift the load from high price to low price times which avoids the production of energy from high-marginal-cost resources. The utility can, with appropriate programs, mitigate renewable integration challenges like ramping up to meet high demands and ramping down to minimum loads (reshape load profiles).
Some typical daytime load variation profiles as seen by a utility supplier:
The grid has been tagged with the term Energy Internet as the complexity increases as customers are both consumers and suppliers who are very interested in behind-the-meter cost reduction. The DER has near immediate greatest demand response flexibility with the ability to adjust charging Electric Vehicles, water heaters, thermostat settings, HVAC, laundry/dishwashers and lighting to aid in load smoothing throughout the day. Software and control of these demands are most certainly achievable targets. Some consumption patterns will not vary substantially with more load smoothing innovations (i.e. heating and cooling are still required even if it is an inconvenient time for load smoothing).
- BENEFITS: Co-lateral benefits, besides the climate change mitigation impacts of eliminating use of carbon fuel, like demonstration of affordable comfortable accommodation, job creation, public health, improved personal cash flows and pollution reduction are often obvious without quantification. Further, the system will provide a substantial amount of sustainability and adaptation that will support future survival strategies when climate change impacts stop being threats and become reality. Predictions of increased intensity, duration and frequency of extraordinary weather events, rising ocean levels, wild fires and drought, food production failures, increasing migration of human, animal and diseases, wars over fresh water, civil unrest, and other horrors are most certainly likely to result in grid failures or substantial disruptions. Energy Freedom means the well water can still be accessed, internal climate control maintained, cooking, refrigeration, personal hygiene, and drinking water can continue. Help to those in need of survival assistance is available. Homeowner adaptability to climate change is highly dependent on reliable and affordable availability of electrical energy.
- COLLABORATIONS: The Project shall encourage national and international coalitions with NGOs, industry, government, individual and academia linkages. Collaborations are possible during the early development phases and since the system is likely to be available for many years, collaborations in the development of experiments (using new sensors, actuators, algorithms, and a wide variety of innovation) in energy management has a readily available platform and skilled researchers standing by to address important human concerns.
- FUTURE INNOVATIONS: The design is to be suitable for rapid adaptation, evaluation or development of new innovations.
- OPEN SOURCE: Information (reports, presentations, videos, pictures) on alternate energy generation, use, safety, resource consumption, lifetime, waste, performance efficiency, and cost is to be fully transparent. However, some suppliers have intellectual property rights that will not be violated.
- EXPERIMENTS: This is just another step towards achieving 100% renewable personal energy use. Many reasonable and affordable updates to this project, including retrofit and personal lifestyle, will be undertaken and evaluated to determine if it advances sustainability closer to this lofty vision. It is recognized that implementation of solutions is often difficult but they are vital and should include collaborations at personal and institutional levels. This project is no different from many other projects. It has been hard to get started and it will be equally difficult to stop adding innovations.
Change the timing of energy use or time shifting a demand, is likely the easiest and largest source of untapped savings since it doesn’t take any additional investments or impact end-use quality-of-life. It simply takes advantage of control technology. Thermostats, EV chargers, HVAC units, and demand-response programs, for example, can all be evaluated with just a few lines of computer code. For example, shifting heating domestic hot water to only a time when the sun is giving near maximum PV output or when the battery has a high charge and sunrise is an hour away, is a top candidate for a small experiment within the broader project. This time shift could avoid wasting available solar energy as the battery is fully charged and there is no useful destination for newly generated excess energy.
Energy efficiency and the transition to a clean, low-carbon energy economy can take many forms. New ideas, suggestions and products will be a constant pressure for incorporation in the next phases. This shall be encouraged but the financial implications, safety, interfaces, software complexity or other considerations will clearly weigh heavily on selection. Collaboration with other laboratories will be encouraged. The term “Live Your Values” applies to the Energy Freedom Project no matter how the project evolves over the years.
There are three types of experiments. The first is the entire project as a feasibility demonstration experiment. During execution of this main thrust, multiple opportunities will arise, as they always do, in order to improve performance in some exciting way. These opportunities come in two major categories titled “internal” and “external”. Internal opportunities are typically those that become obvious as data is collected and analyzed indicating relatively small changes in hardware and/or software that would provide relative rapid (say within a month) assessment of utility. External opportunities are those that require more time to interface with an external organization, like a university or high school that require planning, external funding, offline simulations, tight on-site supervision, and well documented and controlled executions.
It is expected that most experiments will revolve around how data is being used to improve energy efficiency to demonstrate that it is cheaper to save energy than to buy energy.
- FIVE ‘R’s: Recycle, reduce, repair, repurpose and remaining (using leftovers) are the five ‘R’s that will be part of every decision made during this project. Often there is no option but to purchase new but it will be a conscious and regrettable decision.
- ENERGY EFFICIENCY: Energy efficiency (reducing the demand) is often cheaper than adding generation capacity. Technology and behaviour are both prime to reducing demand. This project is focused on the technology of generation and management of the energy flows from three sources. However, energy efficiency will still get priority attention as the data and analysis will be designed to identify energy efficiency opportunities. Then, behaving responsibly and/or new technological capabilities will be given serious consideration. If efficiencies can be managed by the software, then these will become a hard requirement. Behaviour modification and building structural changes are harder to implement.
- CREDIBILITY: Credibility is important. Independent technical audits and verifications will be permitted from time to time. The system design will be such that all totally nonsense commands shall not cause damage (fail safe) but technical audits and verifications will be clearly specified in writing in advance and the project scientist will be present to ensure the prior agreements are implemented exactly. Freelance unplanned switching by unqualified personnel will not be permitted. Wiring inspections and measurements will certainly be accommodated provided they are conducted by technically qualified personnel in accordance with agreed written procedures. The Project scientist will be the ultimate authority in what is permitted and what is not permitted. Safety of personnel and the protection of the equipment is top priority.
- CONTROLLABLE EXPENSE: Energy is a controllable expense. “Advanced energy” includes renewables, smart grid technology and electrification of transportation. By having control of home advanced energy supply and advanced energy demand (consumption down to a light bulb) in real time yields advantages over the normal single source power grid supplying unconstrained demand. These advantages are long term (years) budget certainty and cost volatility avoidance (time of day energy rates, inflation and future proofing based on legislation, utility rate increases, and regulations). This system is complex in design, its sophisticated data analytics, management procedures, software algorithms and hardware reliability is in constant development. This is not a risk free system ready to be deployed in any other location on the planet. It is designed for Research and Development in this one laboratory/residence in order to optimize control of the generation and use of electrical power that is low cost, sustainable and suitable to support a comfortable living space. Energy audits and benchmarking in order to quantify proposed supply solutions and proposed demand solutions, including load time shifting, will be a business proposition rather than just engineering. It is expected that improvements in performance will be achieved over the three-year period of evaluation and development. The important considerations in evaluating a potentially overwhelming variety of development opportunities will be additional system component costs, resiliency, sustainability, safety and power price predictability.
- WHO WILL BENEFIT: It is important to address who will benefit from this project.
1 Hydro One, the electricity utility provider, shall avoid some generation, transmission and distribution investments while still improving their revenue stream through sale of the produced microFIT energy to neighbours. The future is being able to have a tighter interplay between nanogrids, microgrids, distributed energy resources (DERs) and utilities.
2 Ontario Industry vendor partners that participated by supplying equipment (solar arrays, generator, and piece parts) and services (solar installers, electrical technicians, collaborating agencies) could obtain marketing exposure and be recognized as being world class. No specific company would be singled out for extraordinary identification and marketing benefits. Solar energy brings jobs, economic activity, national security and choice to personal energy management.
3 The world knowledge base will receive a stream of peer reviewed technical papers and internet postings (Website, blogs, YouTube, social media).
4 Participating universities and other researchers will have access to a real Canadian residency that is functioning, calibrated and a well instrumented field trial laboratory for future experiments.
5 A possible Canadian industrial entity may wish to commercialize all or some of the innovations developed, calibrated, verified and demonstrated during this project.
6 Home owners, students, politicians, media and the curious will have the ability to have first hand visitations to see what is possible and to suggest future home energy management experiments supporting personal disaster preparedness and cost savings.
7 The owner of the property and the electric vehicle will have substantial independent energy adaptability, sustainability, climate change mitigation and cost savings. There will be decreased personal anxiety, fear and want due to disruptions, legislation or threats impacting the grid power flow. There are similar market political manipulations of gasoline and natural gas prices and availability. Increased freedom to make independent personal energy management decisions is the basis of this project.
The basic energy freedom outcomes shall include:
- Increased resilience of the home by:
- No further concern about cost variations, outages or rationing from the grid power provider or gasoline suppliers,
- Efficient, intelligent, safe and automated electrical power generation, storage and use that is untethered to the grid or any fuels infrastructure,
- Lower living costs without significantly impacting lifestyle or comfort,
Identifying and prioritizing investment and actions for increased home resilience.
Engaging with multiple stakeholders, including local, provincial and national government officials, civil society and the private sector, leading to awareness raising and increased coordination on home resilience methodologies
Encouraging learning while developing some recommended best practices for Canada.
- Reduced carbon footprint and a recognized personal contribution to mitigating the impact of climate change,
- Adaptability to the ravages of climate change is increased,
- Hard evidence (data) supporting conclusions that will be useful knowledge for those interested in off-grid technologies or home energy efficiency,
- A real occupied suburban home energy management laboratory, suitable for more R&D, is available for qualified researchers for years in the future.
- An increase in knowledge in homeowner energy management while eliminating the use of fossil fuels.
To develop fully transparent hardware, software, data, data analysis and operating procedures that shall demonstrate that technology is already available to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of a Canadian family home by controlling the internal climate as well as providing family transportation. A three-year demonstration of deep decarbonisation is the mission.
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
The project formally started in October 2016. In early December 2016, the time of release of this essay, the Project has the following near term milestones:
December 2016 – Software released for automated control of 2 kW PV system and Displays & Control Panel available for manual and automated command and control. (weather delay threat)
December 2016 – Installation and commissioning of a 10 kW PV system under Hydro One’s microFIT program under automatic control. (weather delay threat)
January 2017 – delivery of Tesla Power Wall 2 battery
February 2017 – delivery of 5 kW Generator
March 2017 – first software control tests
The below picture of the mission control centre shows five monitors connected to three computers, one running Linux, a second running Windows 10 and the third running on a Raspberry Pi 3 (connected to the 43” wall mounted monitor. (Already in stock but yet to be connected: quantity 2 Raspberry Pi 1 computers, quantity 2 Raspberry Pi 2 computers, quantity 1 Arduino Mega 2560 Controller)
In the middle of the controller’s station is the white Displays and Control Panel that is to be populated with energy flow meters, switches, LED lights and labels. To the left is a software development and soldering station.
Part 2 of this series will provide some detailed specifications and functional requirements with some block diagrams and pictures showing the finished D&C Panel. A brief Status Report will address the build status and schedule.
Subsequent parts of the series will cover integration of the major components and some early performance data. Over the three-year demonstration, regular documents will be released describing “experiments” with measured data supporting conclusions and recommendations for the next phase of this Research and Development Project.
Bio: Dr. Art Hunter was a member of the Telesat Canada’s spacecraft design team for Anik A, Deputy Manager mechanical systems for the Communications Technology Satellite (Hermes) and Project Manager for the Canadarm project at the National Research Council of Canada. He has a broad knowledge of many technical disciplines including Information Technology (PCs to networks), Mechanical, Electrical, Aeronautical and Civil engineering, mining machines (like Tunnel Boring Machines), cosmology, physics, healthcare non-biological technologies, biology, indoor climate control, and non-fossil fuels energy generation (emphasis on Low Energy Nuclear Reactors and its associated technologies).