How a smart, decentralized Energy Web is essential for managing renewable energy sources

July 6, 2010 By Lisa Zyga feature
The Energy Web is a power distribution system designed for managing a large-scale, widely distributed network of renewable energy sources. The figure shows the interaction of the different parts of the Energy Web, which includes incentives for "prosumers" (producers and consumers of energy) and allows autonomous self-organization of agents due to evolutionary processes. Image credit: Carreras, et al. ©2010 IEEE.

( -- A decade ago, Gnutella, Kazaa and other early peer-to-peer (P2P) systems showed that a decentralized approach to managing large-scale, widely distributed systems could offer many essential advantages compared to the traditional centralized approach. Since then, researchers have taken the decentralized design method far beyond music sharing, applying it to areas as diverse as database distribution and analysis of biological systems.

In a new study, a team of researchers from the Italian research center CREATE-NET has outlined the ways in which decentralized, bottom-up design approaches could play a critical role in managing the complex, massive-scale networks that are becoming more and more widespread. Systems such as the Internet and ubiquitous computing (in which computing extends beyond the desktop computer to become integrated into everyday objects) are two examples of these kinds of large-scale, dynamic systems that operate in open environments with many autonomous users and are constantly evolving.

In their study, the Italian team has discussed the essential features that a decentralized design approach needs in order to support these large-scale networks and provide the necessary degrees of reliability and dependability. As a case in point, they showed how these concepts could be applied to the management of the future generation of Smart Grids, characterized by the inclusion of a large number of distributed and/or . They call the resulting system the Web, which, as coauthor Daniele Miorandi explains, depicts a future in which bidirectional flows of energy will resemble the way information and data is nowadays exchanged on the Web.

The key to the Energy Web design is the bottom-up approach, in which appropriate laws are implemented to allow desired global behaviors to emerge from only local interactions among individual components. In contrast to the traditional top-down approach, which focuses on performance, the new approach focuses on reliability, stressing how to react to internal failures rather than attempting to avoid them. With reliability in mind, desired behaviors include the ability to self-adapt to unknown conditions, to self-heal in the case of failures, to learn from previous experiences, and to self-protect against external threats. These behaviors require that the system evolves through time in the midst of a changing environment that cannot be accounted for in advance - something that the deterministic approach of traditional methods does not allow for.

When applying this approach to the future Energy Web, the researchers explained how mechanisms and methods should be tuned in order to meet the nature and functional constraints of energy transport and distribution systems. Unlike today’s highly centralized energy systems’ architecture, which for the most part consists of a few large power plants supplying energy to a large number of consumers, the future Energy Web is expected to consist of a very different framework. Large numbers of widely distributed, small-scale energy sources (such as wind turbines and solar panels), smart meters in homes that actively manage consumption, and the emergence of “energy prosumers” (citizens that both produce and consume energy) make the future Energy Web look much more similar to the Internet than to existing power grids. By carefully managing our future energy consumption, the researchers hope to bring about cost and energy savings, as well as a reduction in fossil-based energy production, by using a well-planned, decentralized approach.

Explore further: Study says the best energy strategies to meet the world’s growing demand for electricity are green, small and local

More information: Iacopo Carreras, Daniele Miorandi, Regis Saint-Paul, and Imrich Chlamtac. “Bottom-Up Design Patterns and the Energy Web.” IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics - Part A: Systems and Humans. DOI:10.1109/TSMCA.2010.2048025


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1 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2010
You should read my 3 papers on IMEUC, Independent Market for Every Utility Customer, IMEUC - Preliminary Business Case at
not rated yet Jul 06, 2010
People always forget that gnutella, limewire, kazaa etc. were actually awfully slow and unreliable. You didn't bother to search anything rare because even if it was found, you had to wait weeks for the download to complete, only to find that the packet was actually a fake and contained a virus, or it was broken in transit, or the final piece of the puzzle went missing when the only sender went offline at 99.9%.

Sure. The system worked after a fashion, but it was barely useful. If the exact same models were applied to the power grid, you would need to "search" a couple hours for a power producer with available surplus, establish a connection and hope that it doesn't drop out, and then you might get enough power to light a single bulb because the energy is lost in the distance of the grid between you two.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2010
I would go for a distributed energy system. It would be far more trustworthy than centralized power, whole city sections wouldn't suffer brownouts and blackouts. If one power site gets ripped out, another takes its place. Of course, this means we can't have greedy people working the system like so much Enron BS.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2010
The big stumbling block to this idea is the addiction to political and managerial power that the meritocracy has. That group of Presidents, Prime Ministers, Potentates, and corporate executives, current and past, and their entourage who can not imagine the world functioning without themselves at its head. Adequately remunerated of course.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2010
I would go for a distributed energy system. It would be far more trustworthy than centralized power, whole city sections wouldn't suffer brownouts and blackouts.

What most people who use P2P networks will tell you is, that there's a sort of pareto law in action: 80% of the users depend on the last 20% to download any content. Most people are just freewheeling along, not contributing to the network.

When the big uploaders go offline, the well dries up and the servers become a disorganized mess where it is very difficult to find anything worthwhile.

The same thing applied to a power grid would mean that losing the big players, like a large nuclear powerplant, or a big grid intertie would still leave millions of people in a blackout, and the rest would barely scrape by.
not rated yet Jul 07, 2010

I don't think the grid has a choice as DG will happen for 1 reason, you'll be able to make your own power cheaper by far than retail utility prices which are 2-3x's wholesale costs.

The only reason I don't now is my site isn't good as I live in a full coverage old oak forest. But through conservation/eff, insulation, top loading fridge, CFL's, ect my electric/energy is only $24-45/month including charging my EV's.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2010
you'll be able to make your own power cheaper by far than retail utility prices which are 2-3x's wholesale costs.

You might, but the question will still be, can you make enough of it all the time?

Producing something like 3 kW on average is actually pretty hard in a private home, if you need it to be available at all times. If you can only produce 1 kW then losing the grid is a serious matter. One thing you'll lose immediately is hot water, heating and air conditining, because you simply can't support them. (Unless you're using gas/oil for heat)

The thing about micro-production is, that it doesn't stack up nicely. A million people who produce one watt each, doesn't mean you have one megawatt of power available at any arbitrary moment at any arbitrary point in the network. Even if you had the capacity to support all the homes in theory, in reality they all need some input from the big boys on the grid, who can put out gigawatts 24/365.
not rated yet Jul 14, 2010
I don't understand why people are wary of leechers vs producers in this scenario - as the producers of excess energy will charge for it. It's not like a music file you copied from a buddy and uploaded to the internet, and doesn't cost you a dime.

Energy production is expensive, and I doubt very much people will be giving it away for free. I still have my doubts about the ability of alternative energy sources to provide reliable capacity however. I assume this study refers to a future where the tech is more refined/efficient?

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