Norman Hoffmann

Norman Hoffmann

When I first started using computers, only large centralized mainframe computers were available. Communicating with the computer required using punched cards and a card reader the size of a large desk.

Then Jobs and Wozniak revolutionized the situation with the personal computer. Now the bulk of computing is done on smaller computers dispersed among business offices, academic labs, and home offices. The current large mainframe computers largely are dedicated to those tasks requiring specialized applications.

The evolution of computing is an excellent model for bringing the generation of electricity into the 21st century. Our current power generation model with huge power plants transmitting power to large geographic areas is now as obsolete as are centralized mainframe computers. The blackouts in the northeast and the complete failure of the Texas electrical system are testaments to the need for change.

Establishing reliable energy availability requires decentralized energy sources to augment and even replace some of the large power plant facilities. This can be accomplished with local instillations of renewable anergy via solar and wind generation.

At the smallest scale, we have home installation solar power systems that can meet not only the needs of the home, but on most days feed electricity back into the power grid. The more sophisticated of these systems include batteries that can store energy for use during the night or when the power from the grid fails. I personally have two friends who have home solar systems. The larger of the solar systems has batteries that can provide the house with essential energy for several days in the event of a power failure from the grid.

Then there are larger scale systems that are either in place or could be installed. Biltmore Estate has a nine-acre solar array that produces about 20% of the electricity required for its operations. Large building such as grocery stores and factories have rooftops that might support solar instillations that could supply a portion of their energy needs and provide some backup supply if the larger grid goes down.

At a still larger scale, there are windmill systems that can be installed on farmland near cities. In Illinois, there is a windmill array near Champaign-Urbana. Farmers can farm the ground around the windmills and get paid a yearly rental fee which is much larger than the yield they would get from the small area taken up by the windmill’s footprint.

The argument against wind power is that the wind does not always blow. A large Tesla battery instillation in Australia stores electricity from wind and solar power for use when energy production is low. It has eliminated blackouts in the area. The battery “farm” has been declared a total success and saving millions of dollars that would have been needed for more power plants.

A less developed strategy for storing energy from wind or solar is to use excess energy for electrolysis to brake water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can be used as fuel to power generators at night or when the wind does not blow.

The bottom line is that renewable energy sources can be scaled from a home to business to larger decentralized instillations that can provide energy at the local level. Such instillations can supplement traditional energy production, and also provide local backup energy if the large power grids go down. Decentralized power production is not only practical, it can avoid at least some of problems with the current power grid system.

Norman Hoffmann lives in Waynesville.

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