Earth Notes: On G83-Lite: Solar Nanogeneration For Everyone (2009)
Why not make your own electricity at home? No roof for solar PV? Don't own your home? Maybe those need not stop you.
In the UK, the "G83" standard allows any householder to connect microgeneration to the grid. That's usually solar PV, sometimes wind. G83 allows up to about 4kW. That's a bit more on a bright sunny noon than a fast electric kettle uses. A DNO (Distribution Network Operator) runs the mains electricity supply wires to your home. G83 connection can't be refused by your DNO.
But that connection has to be made by a qualified electrician. And a new system usually has to be permanently wired in. Those two are expensive and annoying. And they don't work for a typical renter in place for a year or so.
(The US government estimated just the "soft" costs such as paperwork to be a bug chunk of solar costs as of 2011.)
Money and Space
Not everyone has the money or space for solar panels. Nor a wind turbine. Not everyone can make big property changes. Tricky for a poor student in a rented flat halfway up a tower block! But there might still be decent sunshine 'going to waste' in a southern window. And lots of people want to be part of the solution...
I'd like it to be easy for almost anyone to do their bit for grid and planet. It shouldn't be harder than buying a new kettle. They should be able to buy a cheap off-the-shelf nanogenerator gizmo. Then plug it into an ordinary mains socket at one end. At the other, connect a solar PV generating curtain liner or solar shutters. Bingo!
These should be cheap and safe and simple to use. They would make use of more urban land to generate renewable energy. They would take the edge off electricity bills. They could also help make homes more comfortable by passively shading and insulating.
Much of the G83 specification is about safety. It is there to protect the owner, the grid, and anyone working on the grid. A pluggable device would need extra safety features. For example, quickly stopping generation when unplugged to avoid delivering a dangerous shock to the user.
I suggest that for safety G83-Lite plug-in nanogenerators should be capped at 100W. This should not limit product design much. It may though avoid issues with bad contacts, long wire runs and old supply meters. 100W may be the best output from one square metre of consumer-grade solar PV material in good sunshine.
The G83-Lite rules might be that each device is limited to 100W peak as above. It would also make sense to limit the number of such devices used in one home. I'd suggest allowing no more than about ten behind one single-phase meter. More could be allowed with permission from the DNO. But at that point maybe a bigger non-lite system would be affordable anyway.
(2017 note: as more intermittent generation sources join the grid "lite" devices should come lower in the grid's "merit order". That means that they have to give way to other preferred energy sources sometimes. They could then help regulate the grid. How? By coming off-line eagerly (but randomly) when voltage or frequency rise by modest amounts for which normal generators stay on-line. Then come back on-line after random delays. It's not quite rocket science!
Retail suppliers may have to allow G83-Lite devices on all their tariffs too, to make G83-Lite work. Maybe with "net metering", which is where the user gets paid retail prices for energy that they generate. It is often not the best policy, but it is simple.
(2017 note: more renewables are coming on-line and subsidies are shrinking. To avoid paperwork, it may be better not to pay the end user at all. Simply encourage them to make best use of what they generate to cut their bill. In any case, don't ding them for having nanogeneration in place.)
Do you have with a south-facing room that needs the curtains drawn in summer? You could nip down to your high street and buy a solar shade to hang in your window and plug in. Voila! Instant renewables and cool.
It's not clear if we can make such devices cheaply enough to pay back. Anyhow, I think that it should be made legal to try! This would be more green 'decentralised' energy. Almost anyone could become a small producer, not just be a consumer.
Some existing devices may already more-or-less meet the technical and safety requirements. But they would need a G83-Lite regime to come in to be used this way in the UK.
This suggestion has been raised, amongst others, with:
- DECC's Red-Tape Challenge (2011/12)
- Ofgem (2012/02)
- the Energy Secretary (2012/05: "Sounds a great idea - will pursue!")