This is the 1st of a 3 part series by Silvia Garcia Alonso on P2P responses to the water and energy crisis. The text is also available in Spanish on her website.
Energy is the engine of our economy. An economy based on growth that permanently demands larger amounts of energy. During the 20th century, especially during the second half of it, economic growth has come hand in hand with the easy access to fossil fuel resources, something that at that time seemed to be virtually inexhaustible.
The economic boom led, from the 50s onwards, to a population boom, to an economic growth acceleration and to a much higher level of energy demand. Oil seemed a panacea, it was not only a source of energy, but its derivatives led to countless new materials, began to be used in the agrochemical industry, in the food industry, textiles, pharmaceuticals, … and above all it was the only source of energy which could be stored and transported in a relatively easy way.
The problem is that the reserves were not limitless, much less, the more the black gold demand grew. Nowadays, in the 21st century no one doubts that the exploitation of the deposits and oil reserves still available, is becoming more and more complex, therefore less profitable. For decades the world has been studying alternative energy sources, the problem is that the study and exploitation of these sources is completely dependent on oil. Some alternatives are better than others, solar versus nuclear, wind against coal, but what about the experiments being carried out to try to find the next panacea? Another source of energy that can be stored easily, which can be used in transportation in order to keep the economy and society of growth. From my point of view, up to now, the two major attempts to find the new black gold, to find the inheritor of oil have been
The first race resulted in one of the major food crises of the last decades (2007-2008). Poor harvests due to climate change, coupled with the growing demand for biofuels, led to a rise in prices of staple foods that had a devastating impact on poor countries where riots exploded in protest against the rising prices. The UN has already warned that this year 2013 is expected to record even a greater foodcrisis.
To insist and widespread the extensive crops of agrofuels only aggravate the environmental crisis and social inequalities in the world. Nevertheless the growth of agrofuels continues its race, in a market where the interests of the energy lobbies coexist with those of companies engaged in genetic modification.
The second race is being run now. Virtually all Western countries have passed bills that allow, on home soil, the extraction of oil and gas through hydraulic fracturing. The risks of fracking remains to be seen, but it’s likely that it increases the access problem to clean water in the developing countries and generates a problem in water quality in the developed countries. The reason is that fracking injects into the underground, using pressurized water and sand, up to 500 toxic, carcinogenic and mutagenic elements that due to the extraction technique itself represent a real risk of seeping into aquifers along with the huge amount of water required in the fracking process that gets contaminated and that the industry ensures can be filtered and delivered back to the network for human consumption. Besides the problem in access to water, the environmental impact of fracking promises to be devastating, which together with the high costs of extraction places this technique as one of the least profitable in the market, being the only advantage the fact that they can supply an end product of similar characteristics to oil, that is to say a product that can be sold as a substitute for oil with the promise of keeping the economy of growth, this headlong flight that has kidnapped our society.
Liquid wars are a reality, the contestants are taking positions and setting the future geopolitical map of the world energy generation and the control of water.
Energy moves the world and the water feeds it, so it’s easy to think that the struggle for control of these two factors will determine our future.
Do we have a choice to take the reins and try to disentangle our destiny from liquid wars? Yes, but it involves a change in the way we live, the way we interact with our habitat, with Mother Earth, with our community. We must return to the path of sustainability and to do it, in terms of energy is necessary to be guided by the following parameters:
The cheapest energy is the energy we do not consume. Energy efficiency criteria should guide the regulation of generation and energy consumption, together with passive strategies techniques.
The basic energy needs should be met by self-production, using renewable energy sources, adapted to each consumer unit habitat.
The energy losses in the transmission and distribution grids worldwide are estimated between 7 and 15% of the generated energy. Part of the losses have a technical origin (transmission lines, power factors, …) and part come from accidents, fraud or administrative issues. The national distribution grids are a burden of the past. Centralization is inherently high maintenance costs and very low levels of efficiency. Energy generation must be originated near the sources of consumption to avoid transport with the losses and energy costs that entail its own transportation and distribution.
The current energy supply depends on governments and large utilities companies. Within the households’ economy, the energy mortgage consumes at least 20% of the available resources. Due to the energy shortage that we face, these resources will only increase as energy prices will tend to be higher in the future. The legislation that applies to the generation and consumption of energy will also turn tighter, so getting energy sovereignty guarantees our economic independence and thus freedom to decide on how we want to live.
These four maxims suggest that the best strategy for the production and supply of energy is a distributed, resilient network, in which producers are as well consumers; a P2P energy grid.
The energy of the future must be a clean energy produced and consumed within multiple networks. Each consumer will be a core production hub whose scope will be defined by the community to which the node belongs. Sometimes nodes will be households, others will cover rural communities, others will be buildings and others urban neighborhoods. Each of these nodes must analyze its energy needs and gauge their production adapting their generation sources to the habitat that surrounds them in order to produce renewable energy with the lowest possible environmental
Most of the energy will be consumed at the time of generation, though a percentage should be stored as well as the surplus in order to ensure supply for the network troughs (whether by natural cycles of renewables or by peaks in the demand).
P2P philosophy applied to the life cycle of energy, provides the same benefits as any P2P network:
Peer-to-peer networks are distributed in order to increase the robustness in case of failures at any node. In the case of an energy P2P network, each of the nodes is a production node, so that the P2P grid is supplied from different points, increasing the redundancy in the generation, the fault tolerance and the availability of energy. In the same way energy storage is also distributed across the grid and any node can use the stored energy following access criteria
established within the network itself.
These networks are decentralized, by definition all nodes are equal. There are not any nodes with special functions therefore not one node is essential to keep the grid up and running. The costs are spread among users, being energy the shared resource. The binding of multiple users on self-production, lowers the investment and installation costs since each node has access to the energy produced by other nodes and benefits from the scale of production and the different time zones of peaks and valleys in demand and energy generation. These energy P2P networks will replace the national grids or at least become a viable alternative for energy groups or self-sufficient communities.
An energy P2P network ensures the independence from the utilities, which means eliminating energy mortgage in households’ or community economies and ensures autonomy from price rising, new laws, limitations or any government regulation on public access to energy, something that will become increasingly common as the energy shortage is becomes an issue over the years.
A P2P energy grid is a resilient network that will enable communities committed to these new
trend, to maintain their quality of life regardless of external factors that otherwise would adversely affect its life.