Enbala Blog

Malcolm Metcalfe

Malcolm Metcalfe, Founder and Chief Research Officer Enbala’s founder is Malcolm Metcalfe LVO, P. Eng., a Professional Engineer with close to 40 years of experience in energy and related systems. He is responsible for staying current on the energy market and developing innovative solutions to maximize its efficiency and reliability.Malcolm has worked in a variety of management positions for BC Hydro, Shell Canada and CP/Canadian Airlines. Malcolm was named in the Queen's Birthday Honors List for 1999 and was inducted as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in October 1999.
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Recent Posts

Mitigating Climate Change: Thinking Outside The Box

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Nov 14, 2019 11:18:14 AM

From mainstream media to social media, the world is abuzz with the topic of climate change.  A simple Google search on the phrase today yielded 1,100,000,00 results, and typing “gret” into Google is all it takes to bring up 107 million stories about Greta Thunberg.  This 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist whose lone mission to protest climate change outside the Swedish Parliament has ignited a flame within millions of young people from more than 100 countries who have joined her with demands for climate action and a cry to “listen to the scientists.”

Even those associated with the oil industry are taking up the charge. For example, the former CEO of BP, Lord John Browne, is speaking globally about the need to clean up the atmosphere and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. His new book “Make, Think, Imagine” considers whether our demand for energy has driven the Earth’s climate to the edge of catastrophe and suggests that the same spark that triggers innovation can be used to counter its negative consequences and that it is time to “listen to the engineers.”

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Topics: renewable energy, clean energy, Electric vehicles, energy storage, climate change

Hydro Storage: A Less Expensive Battery

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Apr 30, 2019 2:26:15 PM

I recently reviewed an EPRI document that discussed storage, and by far the largest size storage systems were pumped storage plants.  I wondered why they did not include hydro (non-pumped) storage, as this form of storage is far larger than any other form of storage that is available on the grid now.

Parts of North America, but sadly not all of it, are blessed with mountainous territory that has many rivers and streams that run downhill, and many of these have been harnessed for electricity production. While not specifically intended as storage plants when built, the value of their storage may well turn out to be larger than the value of the electricity that they may produce.

Consider a hydro dam that is 35 M in height with a reservoir that is 10 km2. Discharging the top 1 M of water through a generating station (90% efficient) would release almost 840 MWh of stored energy. This is a small hydro plant, with a small reservoir behind it, yet the storage is almost 840 MWh/M of depth that is drawn from the forebay.  That is in addition to the electrical energy generated for use.

So how does a utility that has no pumps manage to store and return energy?  The process is both simple and efficient.   

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Topics: distributed energy resources, battery storage, renewable energy, climate change, hydro

This Missing Piece of the Energy Puzzle

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Mar 27, 2019 8:25:11 AM

There is no doubt that we are facing real problems with climate, fossil fuels and carbon emissions, but as we look to solve these problems, I think that we need to look carefully at the underlying facts, rather than focusing (as some do) on the short-term elimination of fossil fuel.

  1. The biggest sources of emissions in the US are the generation of electricity from coal and transportation-related emissions (60% of which is for personal transportation). These two sources are responsible for more than 2/3 of total emissions.  Canada is only slightly better, in that its electric system generates almost 60% of total energy with hydro, and nuclear is a large contributor to clean electricity as well.  Canada’s petroleum industry ranks second, behind transportation.
  2. Electricity provides less than 20% of total energy, and the remainder is almost all fossil fuel. The average person gets fuel in three forms: electricity, natural gas and transportation fuel (gasoline or diesel fuel).  Any major reduction in the direct delivery of fossil fuel will be expected to be replaced with electricity, and that may be a big challenge, given the fact that the electric grid at present delivers only about 20% of the total energy.
  3. Many people seem to think that if they can convert their current electricity use to solar energy, the problem will be solved. They tend to forget, however, about heating and transportation fuel. In most cases, the fossil fuel energy is far larger than the electrical energy delivered.
  4. I keep hearing that the problem is someone else’s fault – blame India, China, the oil industry or the government. We all need to look in the mirror – and recognize who the big users are.  The fact is that North Americans are among the largest users of energy per capita in the world.  As “Pogo” would have said, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us!”

There are two areas to look at: the supply of energy and the use of energy.

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Topics: renewable firming, demand management, wind energy, clean energy, energy curtailment, energy consumption management, energy conservation, climate change

Energy – A Fundamental Change in the Grid

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Jun 28, 2018 9:22:00 AM

For more than 100 years utilities have supplied electrical power to customers and have done so with good reliability. The principle is simple. Loads may do as they wish. They may be random or intermittent and generally are not individually monitored by the utility.  Generation, on the other hand, MUST be both dispatchable and monitorable, and electric system operators must be able to manage the real and reactive power from a generator.

Historically, utilities have become very adept at managing generation capacity to maintain a continuous balance between supply and demand. But today, the world is faced with a need to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions, which complicates the supply-demand balance. Most electricity in the US, for example, is generated by burning fossil fuel. This needs to change, along with change to the electricity supply system and the direct customer use of fossil fuel.  We are looking to remove the steady performers, and to replace them with supplies that are intermittent and perhaps random, all the time maintaining a balance between supply and demand.

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Topics: Solar energy, battery storage, clean energy, grid balance, distributed energy, grid inversion

The Case for Distribution Voltage Management

By Malcolm Metcalfe on May 24, 2018 11:25:23 AM

The California Duck Curve reveals a potential costly issue for utilities and their customers. The annual peak load appears to be continuing to grow -- because it occurs after dark when there is no solar power being generated -- yet energy sales may be declining with the growth of distributed solar generation during the day. This results in the need to continue to expand the grid, but without the sales revenue to support the added capital expense, presenting a Catch-22 that utilities are struggling to overcome.

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Topics: peak load management, demand response, voltage management, distributed energy, VPPs, Thanksgiving, VAR compensation

Energy – A Philosophical Look at Change

By Malcolm Metcalfe on May 9, 2018 8:29:00 AM

For more than 100 years utilities have supplied electrical power to their customers and have achieved this with good reliability. The principle is simple. Loads may do as they wish, but generation the supply — MUST be both dispatchable and monitorable. An operator must be able to start or stop a generator or to change capacity at the touch of a button to maintain a continuous balance between supply and demand.  On the other hand, the loads that use the electric power can be intermittent, unmonitored and subject to starting and stopping at what the system operator would see as near random times. 

Suddenly, the world is faced with a need to reduce or even eliminate emissions.

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Topics: renewable energy, utility future, carbon emissions, Distibuted energy resources

Changing to Clean Energy

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Mar 19, 2018 12:48:34 PM

Introduction

Science has told us that we must reduce carbon emissions if climate change is to be kept below acceptable limits. The transition has led us in many new directions. Most politicians outside the US believe that our energy supply must be based entirely on renewable energy. This alone creates a large issue, in that the electric grid supplies less than 20% of total energy needs. The proposal to replace all fossil fuel with renewable capacity would require a potentially large increase in grid capacity. Ironically, many politicians typically include nuclear generation among the sources to be eliminated. The one bit of good news is that the efficiency of electrical devices is often better than fossil fuel, and the existing grid operation using a generation following load approach results in a system that can deliver more energy.

The results to date have been frustrating, both in costs and performance, and there are many serious problems that may make a complete conversion very difficult. These challenges include a lack of grid and generation capacity to handle the added electrical load, as well as the operation of the existing grid with extensive distributed devices. 

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Topics: Solar energy, renewable energy, wind energy, DERMs, clean energy, virtual power plant, Distibuted energy resources, carbon neutral energy

A Better Way

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Oct 26, 2017 9:03:00 AM

I read Milton Caplan's post entitled "An Inconvenient Reality: Nuclear Power is Needed to Achieve Climate Goals." I can certainly support much of the article, but it seems to miss one very key point and that is the need.

Science has told us that we need to reduce carbon emissions. The trouble starts when the political masters translated that to mean that we need to fully get rid of fossil fuels and switch entirely to renewables – and while at it, we need to get rid of nuclear as well. I wonder where that latter part came from? Nuclear is clean. Why was it lumped in with fossil fuel? Much of the opposition was based on past fears. The movie Pandora’s Promise shows how many of the opponents have, after a careful look, reversed their views..

 

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Topics: Solar energy, wind energy, distributed energy, energy balance, Nuclear energy,

Efficiency and Cooperation

By Malcolm Metcalfe on Aug 16, 2017 8:03:00 AM

I have posted several blogs in the past few weeks, focused on the potential to improve the operation of the electric power grid, reducing losses, and driving the overall efficiency up. Some of the thoughtful comments that have been posted by readers have provided food for thought. One comment was particularly important to this discussion…

“What’s best for players individually is not what’s best for the public and for the system as a whole.”

This comment reveals an issue that may soon be a problem.

For most of the 130-year history of the electric grid, utilities have charged residential customers for energy used and have NOT charged for peak power demand, as they do for commercial and industrial accounts.

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Topics: distributed energy resources, DERMs, virtual power plant, energy efficiency, distributed energy resource management systems, net zero home

Disrupting the Status Quo…  Thinking Out of the Box

By Malcolm Metcalfe on May 4, 2017 8:58:22 AM

A few days ago, I listened to a group of environmentalists on the evening news protesting a plan to build a new bridge that would solve traffic congestion and make it easier for people get in and out of a local large city. The protestors wanted the money spent instead on public transit, claiming that this options had not even been examined, and arguing that their solution would solve the transportation problem without requiring construction of new infrastructure.

I looked more closely at both alternatives. The government and the consultants retained to propose solutions to the problem had advanced several standard options, all of which revolved around either a bridge or a tunnel, while the environmentalists had extended the options by one – adding public transit as a means to achieve a similar result.

This seemed logical until I started thinking about the need to add one other criteria to the equation: the need to reduce carbon emissions. 

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Topics: grid optimization, energy consumption management, distributed energy, Electric vehicles, disruptive thinking, public transit, innovation

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