Climate clippings 163

1. Tesla Powerwall explained

    The Powerwall is a 7 kilowatt hour (kWh) lithium-ion-battery system that stores electricity generated from rooftop solar panels (or PV panels) during the day so that electricity can be used at night during the peak-usage times.

Most existing solar panel owners will need to obtain a new inverter to connect with the grid.

While 7kWh will allow for some backup, most households will need to stay on the electricity grid.

    If you already have solar panels, the Powerwall will cost between $12,000 and $12,500 depending on which inverter you choose.
    Energy companies are selling Powerwall packages for between $13,990 and $16,500 (GST inclusive) and with consideration to rebates for small-scale technology certificates (STCs).

To me this makes the cost marginal, with a rather long pay-back period, which “may well exceed the warranty period”. However, prices are expected to halve in the next five years. Some are braver:

    Australia’s first household to add a Tesla Powerwall battery can this week begin buying and selling energy on the electricity market, after the addition of a world-leading software program by Canberra company, Reposit Power.

2. AGL quits coal seam gas, to focus on “energy evolution”

AGL is getting out of the coal seam gas business. Green groups are claiming a victory, but the real reason is that the price of gas is so low they can’t make a quid out of it. So they are taking a $795 million pre-tax write down.

At the same time they are starting up a renewable energy investment fund of up to $3 billion for large scale projects.

    However, despite gushing mainstream media reports about AGL “going greener” the fund aims to do no more than what AGL is required to meet its legislated renewable energy target obligations. It simply shares the cost and risk of those investments with other institutions.

They are an electricity supplier as well as generator, and to date they have had to buy in renewable power to meet RET requirements.

To show that they are genuine, though, AGL have bought a stake in US-based battery storage solutions provider Sunverge, following the purchase of a stake in Australian start-up Solar Analytics, coinciding with the launch of a “solar” component of its smart App.

AGL are also spruiking about the idea of a “virtual power plant”, where they could tap into the battery storage systems of, say, a million customers.

3. Telstra getting into solar and battery storage

Telstra see solar power and battery storage being bundled with phone and the internet in one service.

    “We see energy as relevant to our Connected Home strategy, where more and more machines are connected in what is called the Internet of Things,” Telstra’s head of new business, Cynthia Whelan says in her corporate blog.

    “We are looking at the opportunities to help customers monitor and manage many different aspects of the home, including energy.”

They reckon they are better at servicing customers than the energy utilities.

4. Why batteries will not cause mass defection from grid

Simon Hackett of Redflow thinks homes with batteries will stay connected to the grid. The prospect of sitting in the dark during a week of rain is one reason. Also batteries may not be able to supply your peak demand fast enough. That could ruin a party!

Moreover utilities could benefit and pay for access to home batteries to supply peak power and stabilise the grid.

The key is batteries attached to internet-enabled control electronics in homes.

5. The world is awash with oil

Oil producers, refiners and traders are delivering the same message:

    There are few reasons for optimism. The world is awash with oil. The market is overwhelmingly bearish.

Supply exceeds demand by about 1.7 million barrels a day. Tanks are full and tankers are being hired, filled with oil and anchored.

    Prices will stay low for up to a decade as Chinese economic growth slows and the U.S. shale industry acts as a cap on any rally, according to Ian Taylor, chief executive officer of Vitol Group, the world’s largest independent oil trader. Even refiners, whose profits have held up better than expected, are seeing a worsening outlook.

Here’s the recent price:


And this is how it looked leading up to that dip at the end of 2012:


Yet BP’s annual energy outlook has barely changed after the Paris talks. Emissions will now rise by 23% by 2035, rather than the 25% increase it expected a year ago. Demand for oil will increase, it says.

6. Australian coal is having an “oh sh*t” moment

A report commissioned by the Queensland Resources Council (QRC) found that more than half of the mines producing thermal coal for power stations were losing money. A third of all coal mines are running at a loss. Some 60,000 jobs are at stake.

China’s cutbacks are well known. Indian coal imports, after five years of 20 to 30% annual growth, fell by 28.6% in January after falls of 49% in November and 34% in December.

The QRC are calling for taxpayer support – tax relief, subsidies, whatever.

7. Why solar power is taking over the world

The graph tells the story:


Somewhere around 2005 solar became cheap enough to achieve critical mass. Then it took off.

Grid parity has been reached by solar in 20 American states. Probably make that 42 by 2020.

22 thoughts on “Climate clippings 163”

  1. If I ignore costs and look at the overall system, going off grid means:
    1. Clean energy is wasted when the house is producing more power than it needs and the batteries are fully charged.
    2. The grid is unable to house batteries to help stabilize the grid.
    3. A lot of battery storage and/or panels are needed to handle that week of lousy weather.
    Having a small battery and an inverter that can continue feeding power into the house during a blackout is a plus in terms of keeping fridges, freezers, lights, computers etc. going.
    Having a larger battery makes a house more blackout resistant as well as having the potential to help stabilize the grid and reduce the need for expensive rapid start-up standby generation.
    Setting up to stay off grid may make sense for places that are not already connected to the grid or where he connection line is long enough to have significant operating costs.
    What I am hearing at the moment is macho talk about telling power companies where to go and talk from interested tech heads.

  2. On that week of rain issue, set a watching brief on this little gem.

    I am confident that this engine natural gas fuelled is the answer to the intermitency issue. This tiny engine delivers 2.5 kilowatt with higher efficiency that regular ICE’s. It is claimed to be vibration free and quiet. As a water cooled unit this engine running charging a power wall delivers both electricity and hot water. The unit can be designed as a clip on clip off for quick exchange unit servicing and is designed to compete in the Whipper Snipper market ie low cost. Teh resident more expensive component is the generator which has an indefinite life.

    The long and the short of it is that all of the components for easy off grid performance are not yet in place, but it is just a matter of time.

    The liquid piston engine easily out competes grid energy for efficiency and is comparable for delivered retail price. Actually cheaper if I recall from my costing of a year or two ago.

  3. Bilb: You are right, backup generators will improve the economics of off grid power systems and should be acceptable from an emissions point of as long as they only run for a little bit of time a year. However, they have the potential to be fire hazards, particularly in urban environments.

  4. John regarding your first point about “macho talk” about leaving the grid, I don’t think I’m macho but disgust with the power companies would be a motivating factor for me, if I had the option to leave the grid. (I don’t realistically at present because I have electric heating and could not rely on my solar panels in winter, even if I had a battery).

    I’ve said it before but I think it’s worth repeating – most of the electricity companies here in Victoria, including my previous supplier Origin, made submissions to the review of the RET calling for it to be decreased or abandoned. In their submissions they made a big song and dance about the supposed costs and difficulties of adapting solar into the grid, but never once admitted that under current FITs they are paying people 6-8 cents per Kw and on-selling it for 22 cents or more. It was a lie by omission and I thought it extremely unethical.

    Funny I have just been re-reading the original National Competition policy as part of my research, and remembering the great enthusiasm there was competition, markets and privatisation in those days, and how all this would be in the interests of ‘customers’. Well the privatisation of the electricity sector in Victoria is an object lesson – it’s all just the same old thing, privatise profits and socialise costs.

    I think that agenda is also what we are seeing with the CSIRO at present with that guy who has been brought in from the private sector. When these people talk about forming ‘research partnerships with industry’, what they mean is to get the public sector to pay for basic research so that the private sector can then come in and own it when it becomes commercially viable. Socialise costs, privatise profits!

  5. Val, concerning ‘research partnerships with industry’, my son Mark told me yesterday that there are jobs being advertised in universities where applicants are told that by the second year appointees will be expected to bring funds into the university equivalent to 75% of their salary.

    He says what you get under these circumstances is staff who have an entrepreneurial bent rather than good researchers.

    It’s a bit of a new twist to the old ‘socialise costs, privatise profits’ story!

  6. Bilb: Gas is flammable and, unless you want to switch from the electric grid to gas grid would require storage. OK on the farm, not so good in the burbs.
    Val: It is not all macho but I see a lot of macho statements.

    He says what you get under these circumstances is staff who have an entrepreneurial bent rather than good researchers.

    Many of the entrepreneurs are also good researchers. The grants my son has manged to obtain pay for more than his wages.
    Cooperation with industry has been productive in terms of the mining research I have been associated with. however, there is a problem when an approach that works in some cases is applied in areas where it is not appropriate.

  7. The gas for most would be underground supplied natural gas which comes from storage elsewhere. The source of the gas in a decarbonised world would be from gasified municipal cellulosic waste ie paper and cardboard etc, to methane. When you run the numbers on the waste that we send to the tip there is sufficient to power Australian households through all low solar periods.

    Out of towners would have to use LPG which is a fossil fuel origin product unfortunately .

  8. So, yes, I am proposing a switch to the gas grid for backup energy and for cooking. I think this is inevitable to facilitate the efficient use of all renewable resources such as cellulosic origin waste material., including sewerage.

    The liquid piston engine will run on a range of fuels including bio diesel, so remote users do have a range of options for the one piece of hardware. The engine you see on the website is just the height of a smartphone. It is very small.

    I am scanning around for energy solutions compatible with log fires, but there not many serious proposals yet. Julius Sumner Miller suggested thermo electric pandels in flues, but our decades of cheap power made that a mere curiosity.

  9. The adoption of home batteries is a bit more interesting than it looks at first glance.

    Firstly, batteries are likely, if not certain to change the face of the grid. That will leave a big fiscal write-down for some of the heavy weights in the power industry. Not limited to government either, unless their sell-off contracts included guarantees.
    Right now to go off grid is barely viable, but for households with sufficient income and resentment of the utilities it can be done. As technologies improve and become cheaper, off grid will grow very rapidly.

    Secondly, every week brings a new rash of ” developments” about batteries. Salt batteries, graphene technologies and more. Researchers, eager to get a seat on the train,announce their often seductive progress but usually the technology is many years away from commercial status. It clouds the present assessment yet is hard to ignore. Future developments aside, the present game looks like it is a pretty good bet, and the odds likely to improve as costs reduce.

    Battery technology is not limited to homes or light commercial power user: look how it is impacting the power tool options. Lithium ion batteries are now in lawn mowers, impact drills, chainsaws and more. The same tech is being inducted into transport at a great pace. Associated with that is the driver-less car. Now I am not sure I’d be comfortable zooming along without a driver, but even if there was a driver, the impact on car ownership could be dramatic. Suppose that there is a pool of community cars. You just order one up as you need a ride. It arrives, you “use” it for the time you want and it goes away for someone else to use. You don’t need to own it. It is likely that such a fleet would be battery powered because it will be cheaper and I expect, the imperative/condition will be for many cars to be electric and charged by renewables.
    That will have an impact on the manufacturing business, the IT sector and of course the oil industry. It will impact heavily upon the incomes of states that rely on oil revenues and so change the political map of the world.
    Developments like the Liquid Piston may provide better options in some cases but I doubt will halt the batter revolution.

    The electric starter motor killed the electric car – now it looks like electric power is set to rise again.

  10. Geoff the Liquid Piston engine is not a replacement for batteries, it is a backup generator to complement batteries in low solar periods. You cannot run a household from a 2.5 Kw output generator source effectively, any overload would stall the engine. Keep in mind that the Tesla Power wall has a delivery rate of 2.5 Kw with short peaks to 3.5, so you are not going to be able to run an electric stove from the Power Wall. Larger air conditioners will overload the Power Wall when the fridge or the washing machine wants some power.

    It is for these reasons that I am highlighting gas as being the backup energy storage medium for the off electric grid solar home. I’ve installed LPG gas to my house for that very reason even though LPG is produced from natural gas. The gas provides energy for cooking and eventually to operate the 2.5 Kw backup generator when the LP engine becomes available. A Power Wall or equivalent is an essential part of the solar home, along with solar water heating (more storage capacity in a 200 litre tank than a power wall) and a cold thermal ballast tank for air conditioning.

  11. The fourth piece of hardware in the solar home after primary solar PVT panels, inverter and PowerWall is a combination module that contains the LP engine backup unit, a small heat pump and two water storage tanks. The two tanks are the household hot water storage and a second tank that stores cold water down to 3 deg C. In Summer the heat pump transfers energy from the cold tank to the hot tank powered by the solar panels, and the cold water provides the cool air to temperature control the house. The cold storage tank allows that system to operate beyond the solar phase of the day. In Winter the heat pump serves to boost the heat level of the hot water tank when the solar collectors can only deliver warm water.

    Heat from the operation of the LP engine also feeds energy to the hot tank. In the most advanced system an auxiliary ammonia absorptive device can use medium level heat to provide cold water to augment the performance of the cold water ballast tank. This can be powered from solar and gas in extreme climate conditions.

    This two tank system is all one module costing around $5000, but it replaces the household hot water system and the air conditioners , so in a new house installation it would be close to neutral to the total cost of the building.

  12. There is one other very clever idea that came from a climate scientist who as a student in New York face the challenge of heating his flat in that otherwise very cold city. What he and his co students did was make water tanks to place in the windows. The sunlight came through the glass tanks but the infra red heat warmed the water. As the tanks were inside the rooms the heat from the sun warmed the space past the solar period well into the night.

    This was both a practical low cost heating system, and a proof of how global warming works global warming.

  13. Thanks BilB I am pretty sure that’s as I understood it. I was drawing attention to other distracting technologies that keep emerging as having the ability to muddy the waters on any given day. I also recall the excitement of the Wankel and Sarich engines as they emerged. The Sarich engine seems to have melted away but I think Mazda used Wankel engines until just a few years ago.

    You do need backup for a battery system or be content to run without power periodically. Unless you have massive batteries that can run you for a week… Not mentioned very often is the discharge rate and discharge levels of batteries. There are limits to each although flow batteries are less restricted than lead-acid or lithium ion units.

    But if you want a serious reduction in your power costs the cheapest way is to develop an energy awareness mentality. Knowing how much power you are using at anyone time is very helpful to lowering consumption. We use an energy meter to give us real time feedback on what power is being used at any time. On battery systems this is an essential part of energy management.

  14. On rotary engines, There are a few special features of the LP engine. For starters it is a three chamber rotary with just two moving parts, ie no valves, and porting all occurs through the “piston” ( I call it a slide plate) and this feature gives the engine an integrated energy heat exchanger which provides component cooling and greater energy efficiency. Its achilles heal at present is its service life, so far at 1000 hours. That has to go up preferable to around 4000 hours. The engine swap out cost will be in the 100 to 200 dollar regions so it is economic even at 1000 hours.

    I think they are claiming an efficiency of around 33 percent which sits well against grid power efficiency.

    The biggest and best batteries in the world are useless if you do not have the energy to put into them. That is why this is important. But, yes, energy management or load scheduling and conservation are vital parts of the off grid house.

    I recently found a new torch that works very well for me. This torch comes from Gear Wrench, a tool company, and delivers an awesome level of light with a good duration from a choice of two emitters. Other special features are two magnetic mounts, usb charging and a charge level meter. Have a look, it is pretty cool.

  15. BilB this might interest you and others in the forum.
    Last weekend a pitch was made to Daintree residents. Apparently there is a proposal being developed to install a viable power micro grid in the area north of the Daintree River. Grid power has been denied Daintree residents for many years but this might overcome the government objections.

    The explanation is a little shallow for me and I am somewhat sceptical at this stage but we will see.

  16. Geoff, the principle is good, but the numbers don’t add up. Apart from that producing hydrogen to run an ICE is not very efficient.

    I do like their GPS solar tracking system , that is rock solid. I also like their modular construction. Missing is the collection of thermal energy from the same structure.

    The microgrid is also rock solid. I have been proposing very local micro grids as small as one block with a connector cable along the back fences by which to share power around the block. There are a huge number of possible solutions to energy needs once you break out of the broad grid straight jacket. But the grid is fine if it is being managed in the interests of the people. That, however, ended some eight years ago.

  17. That is an interesting concept, Geoff, and would perfectly suit backup power for microgrids. However, there appears to be insufficient evidence of project strength. From what I read there are potential practical issues to do with support of the disc, and starting. It may languish until some new brain power resolves issues. The LP engine project is a little more robust because it is a father and son engineering team building the engine as a sideline to their generally productive business (I believe).

    The shock wave concept originated I believe in Australia over a decade ago but for extremely small coin sized gas turbines. I just had a look to see if that is visible but not so. I do have images of the coin disc turbine in my archive somewhere.

    The reality is that we have to go with the technologies that can reach completion and provide real benefits.

  18. Bilb: Block sized microgrids that connect the DC power from the panels to a central inverter (plus battery?) system may cost less than independent systems. They are also more likely to consume more of the power generated locally.

  19. The other advantage for the local grid is that a wide grid connection is just one connection with a better buying power.

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