Australian households and industries could produce their own clean, green electricity, or draw it from a nearby source, under a new concept for electricity distribution in Australia.
CSIRO's Energy Sector plans to establish a Centre for Distributed Energy and Power that will focus on research and development and marketing to support smaller, localised energy systems - systems that could slash Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by more than half.
The systems, incorporating fuel cells, gas micro-turbines and renewable energy technologies, could range from multi-megawatt capacity that serve major industrial complexes down to the 10 kW capacity for individual households.
"This form of energy supply is strengthening worldwide and is now impacting on Australia," says Dr John Wright, Chief of CSIRO Energy Technology.
"Gas and solar hot water heaters are an accepted part of our homes. Why not a small gas powered fuel cell or micro-turbine that could cleanly and silently provide a family's entire electricity, heating and cooling needs on demand," he says.
While the most common fuel used in distributed systems is natural gas, the technologies involved lend themselves to greater use of renewable energy, such as solar and biomass.
"It is the combination of high reliability and low emissions that makes distributed energy so attractive," says Dr Wright.
Large coal-fired power stations have underpinned the growth of the Australian economy over the last 50 years. Such generators, however, have relatively low thermal efficiency - around 35% - and 8% of this can be lost along the miles of power lines.
"Modern power generation technologies can now be located close to the user allowing high fuel efficiency that can approach 90% in some cases," says Dr Wright.
"Distributed energy systems that provide electricity and heat have the potential to cut greenhouse emissions by well over half.
"The key is to get the most appropriate 'mix and match' energy system in place to meet the customer's needs.
"Often, but not always, that comes down to what is the cheapest option. A telecommunication or computer centre, for example, wants high power quality and stability- absolutely no blackouts. A local government in a regional area may want to make use of a local fuel resource such as waste gas from the municipal dump and lead the way in the use of wind or solar energy. A hospital may want a system that delivers electricity, heat and cooling - a tri-generation system.
"In many ways, the move to distributed generation mirrors that of computers, which were originally large, expensive, inflexible, centralised facilities. New technology put small computers where people worked and created whole new industries. Distributed generation has the potential to do the same for the power industry," he says.
The Centre will build on CSIRO's existing work in fuel cells, energy storage, solar/fossil hybrid systems, wind modelling techniques, gas technologies and network modeling. But the emphasis will be to bring in industry partners and other research groups to provide complete solutions.
"We see a strong role for Australian industry in the development of software and communications systems for distributed power, as well as power electronics, safety and interface systems," says Dr Wright.
The activities of the Centre will be an integral part of CSIRO Energy Technology's new headquarters in Newcastle, but projects will be located on other CSIRO and industry sites, dependent on industry and government interest.
Materials provided by CSIRO Australia. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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