Category: Energy

August 7, 2020

CEC Guidelines for Battery Storage

It was with a gentle murmur that the Clean Energy Council (CEC) released its *deep breath* Install Guidelines for Accredited Installers – Grid-Connected Energy Systems With Battery Storage.

Editor’s Note: This post has now been edited for family appreciation. For those who wish to play Sweary Bear, replace any bold-underline-italicised words with whatever pleases you… 

It got a bit of coverage on Clean Energy Council but was otherwise under the radar, perhaps due to the relative nascence of these systems that will be both home- and grid-connected.

NCBI also covered the Case Of The Burning Battery reported in March, which should probably raise a few red flags in the industry about cowboy operators, more than anything.

growatt-1
That wasn’t supposed to happen… 

What I’m told by people on the ground is that the inverter caught fire, not the battery. Not that it matters once you’ve seen the way it was wired up (click on the article link), and where it was located (in a garage). You get a bit more of a feel for how it can go wrong, and why guidelines like this are important.

I’d never install battery storage in my garage because the door faces west, and the heat buildup when you park a car in there is what you might call sub-optimal. Throw in the fact that a lot of the battery storage units being imported are operationally rated to 40oC, and it paints a picture of best practice that most consumers should be able to understand understand.

I will point out the Powerwall is rated to operational temperatures up to 50oC, and then cease this smug digression.

As someone who has been enthusiastically engaging with various parties across the industry, as one of the initial Powerwall owners, I was keen to see how the CEC would tackle such a broad area.

There are a small number of systems in existence already that are completely bespoke, mostly in the sealed lead-acid domain (AGM etc). A number of these are off-grid, and therefore not subject to the guidelines.

In my opinion, the Guidelines have been prompted about the move towards consumer-grade equipment, targeting lithium in particular. It does talk about checking electrolyte levels “if applicable”, but these guidelines weren’t hurried about by AGM or flow batteries, that’s for sure.

Battery Storage Guidelines

After reviewing the document (click here for the PDF) the first time, I was particularly concerned by the general direction of the content.

And when I say “particularly concerned”, I mean “utterly livid”.

Page 17 contains the following (and you can see how raw this draft is, based on proofreading skills on par with my own):

That … kind of makes sense I guess. Looking at the options, and with the understanding my battery storage is mounted on the outside of the house, I’m going with “battery enclosure”.

That should be covered by the IP rated battery chassis and the weatherproof IP rated cover I’ve got, right? Right???

Uh…. What the deuce?

Maybe I need to count to ten, take a breath, and read further.

Maybe it isn’t just some nanny state bull dust gone mad, and that mitigation is in the detail.

Maybe we should skip ahead to Page 20 where we see this:

cec_pg20

I hasten to point out that both AS 62040.1.1 and AS 62040.1.2 are related to UPS. These storage systems aren’t actually UPS, so do we ignore that or not? And what constitutes “all in one” or the term “such as PCE and control gear”?

Back to Page 8 for more reading on definitions:

cec_pg08

Houston, we have a problem. Because we’ve got a lot of battery storage systems out there – and those being introduced – that do NOT meet this definition specifically, Powerwall included.

Some of the other manufacturers have this covered with a single box that I’m aware of, but in terms of outcasts, you’ve also just caged up units like Redflow and I believe Enphase while we’re here.

This is big trouble for manufacturers, who were trying to make batteries appealing using nice cabinets and cases. Now you’re going to need to consider specifications for caging the darn things up, like some kind of sad tiger in an Eastern Bloc concrete zoo, its nobility and grace forgotten.

Installers are going to be even more hesitant. Now all the wiring diagrams have to consider extra metal and framing (pretty good at conducting electricity I hear) as well as adding the cost and trouble to the install process, which will affect end users.

Going further back, into the section on 2 Scope we read:

cec_pg06

Again the (possibly incorrect) alignment with UPS standards, and the assumption that all-in-one systems contain everything, basically back to the panels.

Or does it?

But it also states that all-in-one had to contain the PCE, and reference it again on Page 9 under 3.1.5 Combined cabinet/enclosure the words “An enclosure containing both batteries and PCEs” but saying nothing about the inverter.

So which is it? If “all-in-one” different to “Combined cabinet/enclosure”, then why does the former need to contain the inverter but the latter contain only to the PCE hardware? Does that not automatically create overlap or confusion about where the document’s specifications sit?

Why aren’t inverters caged up or in a separate “battery room”? They’re just as dangerous as battery storage after all. We don’t have all those power switches and isolators for the fun of it – they are to keep the system safe to work on, and the people safe that work on them.

Are the “all-in-one” systems required to have suitable locks under the Australian Standards? Which AS document? This document doesn’t address physical locks required for these enclosures at all. If someone gets an enclosure, battery room, or fenced off area, is it OK to just leave it unlocked? The document doesn’t say. It does assume a lot, though.

My head is starting to hurt. I imagine a few industry insiders are looking sideways at this document, and wondering how they’re going to meet the bureaucratic mish-mash this could turn into.

Where Now?

I understand from speaking to a few people in the industry, that the CEC put this together in consultation with various stakeholders, and that its very raw. I think another round of reviews is required urgently, because this becomes a requirement, not a guideline, as of 1st October this year. Less than 5 months away.

No-one is putting a cage around my Powerwall. No-one is putting a safety sign on it, or near it, either.

The document makes multiple references to ensuring “unauthorised personnel” aren’t permitted access to the battery equipment, and that is a good point.

Rather than putting that on something as quaint as a sign, I’ll just use some common sense: if you’re on my property without my permission, you are unauthorised to be there, much less get close to my solar equipment or other possessions.

If you do not leave immediately, I will authorise my good friend, Mr Pickhandle, to assist you in any way we see fit.

July 31, 2020

Energy Networks Conference

This is a conference for Energy Networks Australia, whose members make up the industry responsible for building and maintaining the poles, wires, pipes, substations, and other media for distribution of electricity and gas services.

“Oh you mean those guys who send me the damn bills every month?!!”

Well, no. That is your retailer and its important to understand the difference. The AER (Australian Energy Regulator) website describes the distribution networks clearly:

Electricity and natural gas distributors own and maintain the distribution networks, including electricity powerlines and power poles, and natural gas pipelines that carry electricity and natural gas to houses and businesses.

Your retailer is the company with the relationship to you. The Distributor – usually referred to as the Network – is the company building and maintaining the hardware.

My electricity retailer is Diamond Energy. I have an agreement with them whereby I pay for electricity usage in my house, including an agreed price per kWh and daily connection, as well as my feed in tariff (FiT) for exporting solar power. If I have any questions over my billing or service, I go to Diamond.

Diamond Energy sell their product to me via a network owned and maintained by Endeavour Energy (the Network or Distributor), who are responsible to ensure the network is up and running. If there is an outage, Diamond talk to Endeavour about resolution, and feed information to me.

The Network is focused on a working system, and the Retailer is focused on a happy customer. Classic, two-layered B2B (Business To Business) situation, operating in parallel with a B2C (Business To Customer) relationship.

On to Energy Networks 2019

I decided it would be pretty cool to take a few days off work, and go see how the big end of town do things. Trains, planes, and automobiles later, I was in Adelaide.

OK,  its DISCLAIMER time: Yes, I was there as a guest of Reposit. No, I was not under any instructions to say certain things or do certain things. You can believe what you wish in that regard, and you probably will!

All I know is I’ve seen the technology at work, and it is good.

While wandering around the displays, I saw a lot of people who are high up in the industry domestically, such as CEOs and COOs and other positions with abbreviations starting in “C”.

There were also overseas players like Enphase CEO Paul Nahi, who was in town to get a look at the scene, and back up their announcements about working in Australia.

Our nation is gunning for a leading role in battery implementation, to go with its solar PV penetration rate. If only our governments would see this and pull their finger out …

Of course, a few ruffians were about the joint like Giles Parkinson and Finn Peacock, to report on proceedings and relay the vibe.

It was slightly unusual that Reposit were bringing a customer to see the Networks, without a Retailer necessarily being in the way. The reasons why are down to what Reposit is offering to all layers of the market.

An Important Step

Things just got real in light of an announcement made last week by SA Power Networks (SAPN), the Network Distributor for South Australia.

They will be engaging 100 households in a Residential Battery Storage Trial in the Salisbury area, in the northern suburbs of Adelaide.

This is huge for customers, as they will benefit from installation of a subsidised system with either a Tesla Powerwall or Samsung ESS battery. Lower bills are practically guaranteed.

It gives the Network an unparalleled look at how battery technology can smooth peaks and troughs, and give them on-call resources in addition to existing generation. It may also help reduce network implementation and maintenance costs.

The smarts at the centre of systems installed? Reposit.

Bringing The Tech

That’s Dean Spaccavento, one of the founders of Reposit, being interviewed at the stand on Thursday. Good hustle!

In that shot, you can see a Macbook, which is running a live demonstration of the Reposit Marketplace application. This allowed networks to understand the capabilities Reposit from the back end, including the virtual power station concept.

The consumer end was demonstrated with a new iOS app, and as this involved dispatching power from my Powerwall, I made a couple of dollarydoos over the course of two days, which was a nice little bonus.

Together, the applications aptly demonstrated solving the problem for the network, and bringing the user into the circle of trust.

Along with a detailed rundown on how the Reposit Box makes decisions on behalf of the consumer, it provided a really good look at not only how the products work in theory, but how they were going to be applied for the SAPN trial. It is a very tasty thing to get a feel for it, while knowing a real-world scenario available for analysis over the coming months.

In addition to the Reposit team talking about technical aspects of the system, I personally fielded questions about where I sat as a consumer.

Understanding The Customer

For networks, the experience of battery users to date has tended toward those who want to get off the grid altogether, for two primary reasons:

The lifestyle consumer wishes to live in a location the grid can’t service today, typically in a rural area where land is cheaper. The capital cost of extending poles and wires can be prohibitive, so a battery system is often a better option, financially. At the same time, these people seek to build an efficient house, investing up front to ensure ongoing costs are minimal.

The combative consumer no longer wishes to pay for what they see as extortion from either the network, retailer, regulator, or government. Sometimes a combination of two or more. They tend to be older, cashed up, and technically minded. They’re ready to leave the grid at the drop of a hat, regardless of where they’re located.

In both cases, it is a very small percentage of households who can afford to take the option of off-grid living. Most of us don’t have money for enough batteries and solar panels to get us through a week of wet weather, and can’t even fathom being away from the safety of the grid.

Now, with the advent of smaller lithium storage tech, the networks and retailers are going to need to deal with a third type of consumer: the grid-connected battery user.

How to address this?

I suppose, after talking to a few people from the industry, some of whom alluded to specific service issues they were having in their backyard, the message I want to broadcast as a user is: don’t panic!

We Don’t Have Horns

A lot of us like having electricity that is reliable, safe, and affordable. While some might complain about their electricity bill, the fact is electricity still isn’t the biggest cost factor in a lot of households.

We’re not all about to up and leave the grid because Elon Musk mentioned it was a possibility. In a lot of cases, it still isn’t financially practical.

I spent a fair bit of money and solar + storage, and still have days where I run out of battery, or don’t fill it up. So I need the grid, because I don’t want to leave my family stranded. I also need fresh water connection and gas to cook with. This is all part of modern living.

What we want, as consumers, is to be treated fairly when it comes to giving you access to resources that we paid for. After all, it is what you expect in return for your resourcing of the grid.

Mistakes were made when it came to some of the early gross tariffs. Uptake of systems with a FiT of 40 cents / kWh or higher were higher than expected, probably due to poor planning.

That doesn’t mean the users contributing their exports outside those schemes should be given a rate approaching 50% of off-peak, either. It wasn’t our fault the government got a bit trigger-happy and / or gun shy about solar systems back in the 2000s.

Potential Solution

I don’t really have a problem with solar export being paid at rate smaller than the single-rate import tariff. And I realise a lynch mob will be after me for saying that.

It comes down to simple economics: as you can’t guarantee supply of solar from rooftop panels, you can’t expect to charge the same as a guaranteed supply from the grid. That said, 5c / kWh is bloody ordinary.

It might not matter for much longer, because batteries change this dynamic – I absolutely can guarantee the delivery of power from my battery.

It is stored, often idle, and usually ready to go during the day by 1PM, with about 6kWh to deliver outbound. Get hold of another 100-200 users with varying battery types, and that might be a Megawatt or more, to help you fill a hole.

Particularly with Reposit managing my usage, I’m confident that most days I’ll be available for you, provided I’m going to get fair recompense for use of my resources. After all, if you come to me, chances are its cheaper than going somewhere else.

I can see a point in the future where solar feed-in-tariffs are no longer used, because it will so be advantageous to own a battery and keep a steady stream of electrons moving through it, rather than from the panels. Retailers will run to this solution, and networks will benefit.

Its just a question of how the reward will be calculated.

Getting To Know You

The first step for any Network stepping into this brave new world might be a tighter relationship with Retailers, and disseminating information you have on where the industry is headed with batteries. In turn, they can share with you their experiences, and what they’re seeing out in customer land.

Together, you can get schemes like GridCredits moving, with early intervention to prevent another financial blowout like Gross Tariffs. Can’t leave these things to the government, based on experience so far.

Will you look to have a flat rate like Diamond Energy’s GridCredits 100 scheme? Can you leverage your existing market spot rate calculations to flow through to users or chip a little bit of profit off that? Those are big money questions that this IT guy doesn’t have answers to. Its a work-on for you and the rest of the industry.

It might even be that you need to provide information on the practical costs of peak demand to the consumer base, in order to give users a view that goes beyond a perception of simple greed.

Of course, there are some people you’ll never convince otherwise 🙂

You’re still unlikely to see mass defections from the grid, but as the price of batteries drops, certainly more people are going to investigate the outlay to do so.

Increase in batteries and PV is going to see a decrease in grid usage against projected growth, which is already softening on a per-capita basis. This might affect profitability, particularly where a network needs to be extended to reach a growing population.

power consumption
Power Consumption Per Capita in Australia Credit: Trading Economics 

One of the facets of SAPN’s trial is to look at mitigating network capital costs by using the network resource that is user batteries. I’d be paying close attention to that, particularly where you are responsible for remote networks that require backup diesel generators etc.

How To Engage Consumers?

This is the multi-billion dollar question. As you may have surmised, I’m quite engaged.

Since this whole Powerwall thing landed in my lap, I’ve made it almost my second job to know everything I can know about how to most efficiently use the resources I have.

The rest of your customer base are probably going to tail away from that in terms of knowledge, right down to those who don’t understand the difference between Network and Retailer. They need help.

There is a wealth of data there, in terms of human feedback, that you – and the Retailers – need a relationship with. It will serve you well in the long term.

I shall sign off by imagining myself back in a trendy bar in an Adelaide laneway, hoping everyone looks forward to this bright new battery future as much as I do.

July 24, 2020

Is Nuclear Power Glowing or Just Green?

An interesting conversation happened on twitter around 4 years ago, including a remark from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki in reference to nuclear power, in response to another tweeter.

The other tweeter is someone I’d run across recently when discussing the nuclear arena, so I decided to enter the discussion using my personal account.

Twitter has what I see as an advantage in the 140 character count, as people can’t waffle on, and therefore get to the point (supposedly). On the other hand, it is really hard to have a detailed, productive discussion.

In a previous discussion about nuclear with the same party, it started to get a little heated, then a third party joined in and the whole thing became a waste of time.

In these discussions, I tend to take a pretty neutral view, as I do with battery storage. Its important to have the conversations and have multiple viewpoints, because sometimes its enlightening, and sometimes it can change an open mind.

As one of my first points, I referenced an article on Renew Economy, which sought to dispel some myths about nuclear as a low-carbon option. A lot of this I had heard before, but the author, Mark Diesendorf, clearly put a lot of research into compiling the numbers for that article.

If you look at the comments on that article, there are a lot of people also fairly derisive of nuclear. That is probably not a surprise when the site is primarily focused on Renewable Energy, and I found myself nodding along to some of it.

Thing is, I’m not anti-nuclear power. Not at all. I’m a Sci-Fi fan and in a lot of that material, there are nuclear reactors involved. Some of them are even man-portable reactors designed to power awesome stuff like exoskeletal armour, mecha, or spacecraft.

But we’re not talking about some kind of Iron man style weaponry or interplanetary exploration that people take for granted. We’re talking about boring old this:

Kerncentrale_Doel_in_werking

No laser weapons or sexy, sexy aliens here, scifi fans… Credit: Wikipedia
The Basics of Nuclear Power

Similar to other thermal power stations like coal, we have a production facility generating heat, with turns water into steam and drives a turbine. This needs cooling towers to let the steam escape, and you can see a bunch of wires carrying the power away.

Where the nuclear power plant differs is that the fuel lasts longer. Rather than jamming coal in there regularly to keep the home fires burning, the uranium rods in the nuclear facility will last for years. Under a controlled nuclear reaction, the heat produced is what creates the steam to drive the turbines and crank out that sweet, sweet electricity.

And now you’ve probably just asked the question about how dangerous the radioactive material is, and you’re right. There are potential dangers in nuclear power that other power types don’t face.

The Wikipedia entry on the topic of nuclear power plants clearly outlines the dangers and controversies around nuclear power. I’ll let you read it there, but suffice to say nuclear power plants are large, complex bits of equipment. Humans are human. Accidents happen, if rarely.

Even when things are running well, and safety measures are stringent, you can have episodes like Fukushima, where Mother Nature had a hangover and tripped over the rug on her way to get more aspirin.

So, as far as places-to-avoid-human-error go, nuclear power plants are right up there. Throw in the production of weapons-grade radioactive material using nuclear power plants, and it looks a little scary.

Supporters will point out that there are nations around the world who use nuclear power like France (74%) quite happily, and other countries in Europe who have a high proportion of their electricity generated from nuclear power.  They’re also right – carefully managed, nuclear is a great source of low-carbon power.

I say “low-carbon” because you still need to dig stuff up out of the ground. That is also true of solar panels (silicon and metals), wind farms (steel) and any form of energy generation you like. Everything has a price until we learn how to run things on our own sense of self-satisfaction like this guy (Simpsons fans know where its at).

There are also some options for progress in the nuclear power in terms of better reactors, like the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR). More efficient than traditional reactors, with less waste and fewer safety issues (including less weapons-grade material).

self satisfaction

Yet, there isn’t a single commercial IFR operating in the world, due to cost, and a few red flags about safety that might actually be red herrings. For now at least, the IFR is the pipe dream for nuclear proponents.

Back on topic: so, I had a twitter discussion about nuclear power in general, versus renewable energy specifically. I found it stimulating and somewhat enlightening, via some links that were shared.

My adversary stated quite clearly he wasn’t anti-renewables, instead believing that renewables can’t provide all the power required in growing economies, and would need help in the form of stable, low-carbon nuclear.

The discussion finished amicably, and I went and did a bit of reading about nuclear power, particularly in Europe. After all that, I thought it best to document what nuclear power means to me, and how it compares to the renewable options in the current climate.

I was particularly interested to explore how I felt about it here in Australia, after some time to think.

Ayres Rock, Australia: A Kangaroo warning road sign in the desert near Uluru

Ayres Rock, Australia: A Kangaroo warning road sign in the desert near Uluru

It doesn’t all look like this, BTW…         Credit: Fodors Travel
Nuclear Power Perspective

Let’s forget about the safety thing for a moment, and assume we’re pretty grouse at building and maintaining nuclear power plants. No worries, she’ll be right!

One of the primary drivers of change is economic. Fact.

People generally don’t stop doing a thing until another thing comes along that is better value for money, or at least drops into their available budget.

As a simple example, I remember when power windows were a luxury item on a car that I couldn’t afford. These days, not many production cars still have window winders – technology gets cheaper, more people adopt it, and it becomes commonplace.

Nuclear isn’t getting cheaper, at least not in terms of capital cost to establish. Nuclear power plants cost billions to set up, and with the recent accident at Fukushima, financiers are understandably nervous about pouring that sort of money in.

The European nuclear projects under construction are well over budget and running late. China is gearing up with more nuclear, but finance is never really a thing with them, and besides which they’re also sinking a whack of dosh into renewable energy development, while searching for answers to their fossil-fuel based pollution issues.

Once the nuclear plant comes online, it is actually a very cheap power source, but it still has to be subsidised heavily to pay interest on all those loans in the meantime, and over the lifetime of the facility.

In Australia, where the only reactor we have is for research and medical purposes, nuclear power has never really taken off for the reasons stated in that wiki link. This is another blow to the nuclear lobby, in that while we have oodles of “yellowcake” (uranium) in the ground, and space to build reactors, to do so is widely regarded as political suicide.

Mining of uranium in nature reserves and national parks, particularly areas under the guardianship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is a move that most politicians won’t countenance.

Perhaps that is more emotional than scientific, but if we’re looking to a more habitable planet, maybe we want to stop killing trees and such. Even if the longer term benefit is wiping out fossil fuel usage, what are we saving in that scenario?

In addition, centralised Nuclear power still suffers the same costs as coal for delivery. Poles and wires, substations, links in a chain that is infrastructure and therefore requires maintenance.

You could address some of that by building more power stations of smaller capacity in the appropriate areas, but then the cost per kWh rises due to base capital cost to build. Smaller does not always mean cheaper on a unit level, and you’re still required to get infrastructure built for users to get the power.

I still haven’t exactly dismissed nuclear as an option, but when you’re talking about the political and financial hurdles it faces in Australia, it looks like a very difficult climb. In a lot of ways, nuclear power has missed the window in Australia, and its hard to see how it can catch up.

This is particularly true when we look at the potential for renewable energy.

Renewable Energy

The fact is, renewable energy is getting cheaper, and more widespread, every day. Critics roundly mock the subsidies needed to establish “free” energy, while failing to look at their own backyard, often strewn with coal that the taxpayer funds.

Politically, fossil fuels are used as a battleground for jobs – particularly the mining industry – though I often wonder how many of those jobs are funded by the taxpayer, as a percentage. The mining magnates seem to fluctuate between reaping massive profits, or crying poor and sticking their hand out. Nice work if you can get it.

974569-gina-rinehart
“Makes me money AND kills the environment – winning!” – (not) Gina Rinehart… Credit: Foxsports

In Australia, we’re seeing in increase of large scale solar farms, as well as wind farms. There is even some solar thermal around the place, while our wave power tech is getting noticed around the world.

Jeez we’ve got some smart units in this little nation.

So, with the price of solar panels dropping significantly as per Swanson’s Law, and other renewable energy efforts cranking up, we need to look ahead to the year 2020 in the shorter term, because the next step is just around the corner.

Storage has been given a shot in the arm with the announcement of Tesla Powerwall, and it has allowed many other players to stick their hand up and remind people they have battery systems, too.

The price of storage is also falling, and going to fall further. We’re talking about a multi-billion dollar industry that sits ready to launch in households across the world, not just Australia.

We’re best positioned to use it, because we have the sun, the high electricity prices, and the highest consumption of coal per capita in the world. Which is, quite frankly, awful. We need to have a look at ourselves…

We’ve got a population largely distributed along the coast, but also rural communities who struggle for services and maintenance of their power and communications networks, not to mention roads and transport infrastructure.

So its natural to start there, I reckon.

We already have people who live independent from the power grid, because they were faced with a location with no existing infrastructure. In some cases, the cost to run power would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, just for an individual home!

So we scale that up, like the moves to take suburbs or whole towns off the grid. This can also translate into backup power for towns at the end of the line, or in known trouble spots where natural hazards or aging equipment may cause issues.

The power sources can be any form of renewable energy, provided housing efficiency measures are put in place, along with battery storage of suitable size and chemistry. There will be teething issues, but these places stand to benefit the most in the shorter term.

The next step is to establish suburban micro-grids, using solar + storage in suburban areas, lowering the cost of infrastructure and maintenance longer term. Companies like Reposit Power are already looking into enabling this technology in Australia.

As an aside: I’m bemused that we don’t have a situation like San Francisco, where solar panels are now required by law on buildings 10 storeys or under.

With installers like Natural Solar getting into consumer-grade power storage for solar, this will snowball, and allow consumers to wrest back some of the control from the grid.

That is, of course, if “the grid” exists as more than a marginal concern for many users in these neighbourhoods of the future. The grid will likely become an enabler for local people to share a power community, all things going well. Perhaps even export their power if another grid needs it.

And traditional, centralised power? Delivering electricity from hundreds of kilometres away will have its place. For a time. In light of the adoption rates of storage, it cannot be otherwise.

However, in the wide brown land, with ample sunshine and inflated electricity pricing, it seems more likely that our independent streak will gradually wean us off big network power. As a primary feed, anyway.

Having a power station hundreds of kilometres away will seem ludicrous, when you can make your own right on your roof, or the guy down the street can do it for you.

The poles and wires of yesteryear will gradually be marginalised; a chorus line dancer grimacing out a smile, while the lead actors renewable energy and storage bow at the front of the stage.

Here in Australia, it probably won’t matter what is burning inside that power plant.

Coal is dying, while trying to take us all down with it.

Nuclear is the Delorean of our time – everyone knows its cool, and can do some great things. Its never going to appeal as a real option to more than its collection of fans, and with its inescapable history in Australia there for all to see, it won’t be able to get back to the future on current projections.

back-to-the-future-slice

You don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to figure that out.

July 15, 2020

Energy Consumption – A Consumer Outlook

Though not generally a political type, some of the stories I am reading about the energy market give me pause for energy consumption into the future.

This seriousness will result in a mostly wordy bit of prose, quoting some people and websites more clever and studied than I, with no pictures (sorry).

The leadout story this week from my point of view was Giles Parkinson at Renew Economy, discussing the QLD regulator’s rejection of the increase to FiT (feed in tariff).

The findings of the QPC are not a surprise, given its past and current attitude to solar and the networks generally. It and other state-based regulators are criticised for seeking only to protect the interests of the incumbent network operators and gen-tailers.

There is even talk in the report of cuts to tariffs, rather than a holistic approach toward balancing energy consumption and transport patterns.

Those who consume energy can also produce it, after all. Clean power sold for energy consumption locally has a wide range of benefits, not the least of which is reduction in future infrastructure investment costs (which consumers will bear).

NEM annual consumption

When you also consider the health benefits of low-carbon energy, you start producing a compelling financial argument beyond comparing (green) apples with (carbon) apples.

Big economies like China and India could derail The Paris Agreement for the rest of us, if they continue as-is. The good news is, those countries are considering implications beyond cost-benefit of network and employment, on behalf of their growing populations as energy consumption increases.

It would be grossly unfair if the West denied these growing economies, particularly in the Third World, a chance to power their nations. The question is whether we let them continue with old technology, or help lead them with new, to the benefit of all.

If I may digress gleefully for a moment, another article from Giles at Renew Economy has some of the best quotes I’ve ever seen in regard to Base Load power, from the Chairman of Chinese State Grid Liu Zhenya:

… fundamental solution was to accelerate clean energy, with the aim of replacing coal and oil. … the only hurdle to overcome [for base load power] is ‘mindset’ … there’s no technical challenge at all.

When you consider he was addressing a group heavily invested in oil and gas, that is solid gold from Mr Liu.

And yet, here in Australia we have campaigns running like Little Black Rock which purports to fly in and save our way of life. That is in spite of coal tanking globally, putting several projects by local and foreign companies under threat.

Indian company Adani, who were due to develop the massively controversial Carmichael coal mine, are looking to shift their focus to renewables, as one example.

Which brings me to the next in a long line of great article quotes from Renew Economy, this time in relation to something a little closer to home.

AGL is now working with 68 households in Carrum Downs, Victoria, to get a better understanding of energy management technology, solar, and storage.  The trial is aimed at reshaping grid usage through smarter use of devices, as Jason Clark from AGL says:

“If peak demand can be reshaped through minor changes to customer behaviour, network companies may be able to delay or avoid major investment that would put upward pressure on energy prices, while maintaining the same levels of supply reliability,”

This is a very interesting move from a retailer, and parallels a development in my own little world.

A few weeks ago, a nice chap from Endeavour Energy called to see how the Powerwall was going. After some general enthusiasm from both parties, the point was reached: they wanted data about household energy consumption as it relates to storage. They wanted my help to prepare for their infrastructure planning.

I’m usually pretty wary of these things, and I know some would be tempted to laugh in their face and bid them good day.

Yet, I agreed, and expect my install to be joined by others.

It is important that the infrastructure companies understand what is coming from a planning and engineering point of view, first and foremost. This will hopefully give them insight into how to most efficiently build future networks.

Stop sniggering, you lot. I’m serious!

I accept that the electricity retailers, in particular, will try and jack prices up in response to decreased revenue from people going solar at an accelerated pace. However, at the same time, purchase cost for solar hybrid will drop through research, development, and most importantly competition.

The next logical step for the energy triumvirate (government, wholesalers, retailers) would probably be removal of subsidies for renewables. This creates an environment where solar is suddenly more expensive, and so people stay on the grid, and state-based energy consumption.

I would argue that removal of subsidies is inevitable as the cost dives, and the government starts looking at penny pinching (they’re not going near negative gearing for a while at least). The only question is timing. Will the consumer market make this move possible before the electricity Illuminati ask for it?

(wait – elecminati? Uh… nope… )

Overarching all this, home electricity storage is moving into the mainstream. Large companies like Samsung, Panasonic, and LG are on board after seeing what a host of smaller ventures could achieve.

A suite of electric cars will be coming onto the market over the next few years, from mainstream manufacturers such as Volkswagen and Daimler as well as the continued development from Tesla, the Model 3.

Regardless of the engineering shortcomings of Lithium batteries pointed out by some very clever people, this isn’t a science fair. With apologies to The Simpsons, you don’t win friends with a big steel box, full of lead-acid gel cells weighing 50kg each. Consumers won’t go there in numbers.

If they did, companies like AGL would have run consumer trials years ago. Endeavour Energy wouldn’t ring nerds like me to see if they could, pretty please, get some data out of my system. The game has changed. A sexy, compact lithium battery with enough media coverage has seen to that.

In the near future, the government will have angry energy retailers on one side, and big corporates on the other, both looking for profits.

The government will have to start thinking, and hard. Particularly as consumers are presented with more, and cheaper, options for managing consumption of their energy.

And, just quietly, a penchant for throwing out incumbent governments…

We may have some short-term pain as our present members of parliament flap their arms about renewable energy, complain about imaginary wind farm illnesses, and so on. They have lobby funding to protect, after all.

This year feels like its going to be massive for renewables in Australia, and across the world. All it needs is companies like AGL and Endeavour Energy to continue to reach out to customers. At the same time, we should be involved willingly, to ensure that we’re getting a say or at least know what is going on.

Meanwhile, all of us need to start putting pressure on governments to get with the program. Follow websites like Renew Economy and One Step Off The Grid to stay informed about the news, views, and general interest stories.

Look at your energy consumption. Check your power bills and see if there is something better out there for you. Educate yourself, and others, to make a difference.

May 27, 2020

Reducing Climate Change Risks

As scientific bodies continue to explore and model the effects of climate change, the technologists, disruptors, and entrepreneurs are seeking ways to combat it. The use of renewable power in the form of wind and solar is one of the key areas.

However, a valid criticism of renewable energy is stability: if the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow, solar and wind are in under-supply. If the sun DOES shine brightly and the wind picks up, the renewable energy grid produces oversupply.

This situation is prominent in the California “Duck Curve”. The belly of the duck is over-generation from solar, while the head of the duck is the consumption ramp for night-time domestic use.

chart

California Duck Curve showing oversupply / ramp requirement paradox (c) GTM

As domestic and commercial solar uptake increases across the world, there is a genuine risk to existing grids. Trying to address this issue alongside a mix of traditional power generation is difficult. Large, traditional generators cannot uplift generation, or halt it, at short notice.

I believe the natural solution is widespread adoption of storage technology.

Domestic storage will mature rapidly over the next 5 years, as household battery options become cheaper, due to vertical integration of the production process. This will be particularly true in established Western housing markets, particularly those dwellings with rooftop solar options.

It also enables the concept of virtual power plants for retailers to access power stored in domestic appliances. In the future, consumers will engage in peer-to-peer trading via blockchain and other smart technologies. The net result is to lower the need for a traditional “grid” and the associated maintenance for poles and wires.

Industrial storage will see positive disruption to hi-tech engineering solutions, using renewable generation. Efficiency has a large role to play here, as innovation across multiple sectors leads to better production engineering.

The volatility of frequency required for running many heavy industries can be offset with larger scale storage. These battery systems act like a buffer, or regulator, in order to provide assurance of stability. Large storage can also be deployed by energy networks in order to back up local power infrastructure.

Transport storage is a key area for addressing carbon emissions. While cars are the major playground for this technology right now, the move to heavy transport, agriculture, and public transport offers a range of other benefits.

I call it “Transport storage” because it offers more than just a way to move people or goods from one place to another. There is the opportunity to place domestic, industrial, and transport storage in synch, to produce a more efficient outcome for renewable energy.

Consider the California Duck Curve I mentioned before. This is the result of “too much of a good thing” when we have an over-abundance of solar PV! What if there was a way to mitigate this?

The average shopping mall in most countries has a roof space in the hundreds of square metres. They also contain hundreds, if not thousands, of car spaces.

If we add solar panels on that roof space, and storage in the basement, we can effectively create a curve smoothing apparatus by plugging in a suitable number of EVs during daylight hours. A similar system could be used by places of work for the benefit of employees.

Such a system would draw not only from the local (mall rooftop) power, but also spill excess renewable energy into recharging the transport network in other places. This might take the form of powering connected public transport – like electric buses or trains – on site, or via the grid.

All the while, this large-scale storage and renewable generation helps flatten the belly of the duck during the day. When people return to their homes at night, they can cut the head off the duck using their domestic storage.

Storage, along with the associated smart management technologies, provides the cornerstone for a renewable energy future. The combination of increased efficiency, and reduction of fossil fuel burning, is undeniable.