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Archive for the ‘renewable energy’ Category

a glut of greed – on high gas prices and who’s to blame

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Crisis? What crisis….?

So Australia’s industry minister Ed Husic has come out with a claim that I’ve heard from renewable energy journalists more than once before in recent times – that the gas industry is pocketing record profits while households suffer from record power costs. So what exactly is happening and how can it be fixed?

Husic’s remarks were blunt enough: ‘This is not a shortage of supply problem; this is a glut of greed problem that has to be basically short circuited and common sense prevail.” As I reported before, gas companies are more interested in exporting their product overseas, at great profit, than selling it domestically. All the major news outlets are reporting much the same thing – the political right, under conservative leader Dutton, is blaming the overly-rapid shift to renewables (he wants to open up more gas fields), and gas companies are playing the victim role.

The ACCC has been complaining for some time that there isn’t an effective mechanism to prevent gas companies from selling to the highest bidder, at the expense of the local market. There are, of course, worldwide gas shortages, causing the value of the commodity to shoot to record highs. The Financial Review reported on the situation back in July:

The ACCC says prices for east coast domestic gas that will be delivered in 2023 have rocketed to an average of $16 per gigajoule from $8 per gigajoule. Exporters have also dramatically widened the spread of prices offered to domestic buyers from between $7 and $8, to between $7 and as much as $25. This is despite the fact that the estimated forward cost of production is steady at just over $5.

The government clearly has little control over gas exporters – ‘gentlemen’s agreements’ aren’t really cutting it, and domestic costs are affecting businesses as well as households, adding to the many woes of local manufacturing. So I’ve turned to the ever-reliable Renew Economy website in the hope of hearing about plausible solutions. Their journalist Bruce Robertson, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, is arguing for a gas reservation policy:

Such a policy on new and existing gas fields means gas companies must sell a portion of their gas into the domestic market – rather than putting it all out for export – with an immediate downward effect on prices. Similar to the reservation policy in place for over a decade in Western Australia, the east coast gas reservation policy could be set at $7 a gigajoule (GJ), a price allowing gas companies to achieve a profit over and above a return on investment. In turn, energy consumers would see their electricity bills cut.

It sounds like magic – like, if it’s that easy why wasn’t it done ages ago? The reason Robertson appears to be putting forward is price-fixing and the unwillingness of east coast governments, and the federal government, to deal with it:

In Australia, gas prices are fixed by a cartel of producers on the east coast… – Shell, Origin, Santos, Woodside and Exxon. For decades they have set the price above international parity prices.

It does seem, well, a little unseemly, that Australia, the world’s largest LNG exporter, is having to pay such exorbitant prices for domestic usage – though, in fact, other countries are suffering more. Locally though, South Australia, where I live, is particularly hard hit. Unlike the eastern states, coal plays no part in our energy mix – it’s all gas and renewables, with wind and solar playing a substantial part, more so than in the eastern states. And yet… Sophie Horvath reported in Renew Economy back in May:

A draft report from the SA Productivity Commission finds that despite the state’s solar and wind delivering some of Australia’s lowest wholesale spot prices, prices faced by the state’s consumers were around 20% higher than consumers in New South Wales. And it warns that without the rapid implementation of market and policy reforms, the situation for consumers will only get worse as more and more renewable energy capacity is added.

This sounds, on the face of it, as if SA’s take-up of renewables has backfired, but the situation is rather more complex, as Horvath explains. One problem is variable demand, which ‘produces challenges for the grid’, and another, highlighted by the SA Productivity Commission, is the ‘various market flaws that are stopping the benefits of renewables being passed through to consumers’.

So what are these market flaws? And what are ‘wholesale spot prices’ and why are they so different from the costs to suckers like us? Here’s an excerpt from a ‘Fact Sheet’ from the Australian Energy Market Commission about how the spot market works:

The National Electricity Market (NEM) facilitates the exchange of electricity between generators and retailers. All electricity supplied to the market is sold at the ‘spot’ price…. The NEM operates as a market where generators are paid for the electricity they produce and retailers pay for the electricity their customers consume. The electricity market works as a ‘spot’ market, where power supply and demand is matched instantaneously. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) co-ordinates this process.

The physical and financial markets for electricity are interlinked. Complex information technology systems underpin the operation of the NEM. The systems balance supply with demand in real time, select which generators are dispatched, determine the spot price, and in doing so, facilitate the financial settlement of the physical market. And all this is done to deliver electricity safely.

So far, this bureaucratic lingo doesn’t inspire confidence. Complex systems synchronise and balance everything, both financially and powerfully, ensuring our safety. Praise the lord. This Fact Sheet, from early in 2017, goes on for three and a bit pages, and I’m trying to understand it. Maybe Ed Kusic is too.

Meanwhile, back in South Australia, it was reported a few months ago that…

Tens of thousands of SA households are set to be hit with increased electricity bills after the energy industry watchdog made the ‘difficult decision’ to increase benchmark prices by hundreds of dollars a year.

So why indeed was this decision so ‘difficult’? The Australian Energy Regulator (AER – there are a headachy number of acronyms in this business), which sets the Default Market Offer (DMO) – a price cap on the charge to customers who, shockingly, don’t bother to shop around for a better deal – has increased the cap due to an 11.8% increase in wholesale electricity costs ‘driven by unplanned power plant outages and the ongoing war in Ukraine’. The fact that SA experienced massive power outages in the last 24 hours due to extreme weather conditions won’t help the situation. The Chair of the AER, Clare Savage, advises shopping around for cheaper deals rather than just accepting the DMO. The AEC (groan) also recommends shopping around, and even haggling for a better deal from retailers. The state government, in response to criticism from the opposition, emphasises focusing on the long-term and the ongoing shift to renewables. State energy minister Tom Koutsantonis expresses his faith – “Our government will reactivate investment in renewables as a hedge against price shocks on fossil fuels”.

Great – I can’t wait.

References

SA power bills to rise in cost-of-living blow

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-11-03/ed-husic-gas-crisis-corporate-greed-not-supply-shortage/101610072

SA renewables surge bringing down energy prices, but consumers miss out

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

November 13, 2022 at 12:56 pm

our electric future – is copper a problem?

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So I recently had a conversation with someone who told me that electric vehicles were not the future because – copper. I must admit that I immediately got tetchy, even though I knew nothing about the ‘copper problem’, or if there actually was one. My interlocutor wasn’t anti-green in any way, he was more into electric bikes, tiny-teeny cars, and people staying put – not travelling anywhere, or not far at least. Perhaps he imagined that ‘virtual travel’ would replace real travel, reducing our environmental footprint substantially.

It has struck me that his rather extreme view of the future was an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good. I’m all for electric bikes, car-sharing and even a reduction in travelling, within limits (in fact migration has been associated with the human species since it came into being, just as it has with butterflies, whales and countless other species) but although I note with a certain disdain that family cars are getting bigger just as families are getting smaller (in our WEIRD world), I have no faith whatever that those family cars are going to be abandoned in the foreseeable.

But getting back to copper, the issue, which I admit to having been blind to, is that with a full-on tilt to electrification, copper, the world’s most efficient and cheaply available electric conductor, might suddenly become scarce, putting us in a spot of bother. But will it? That depends on who you talk to. Somehow the question brings back to mind David Deutsch’s The beginning of infinity, a super-optimistic account of human ingenuity. Not enough copper? No problem we can’t engineer our way out of…

Currently demand for copper is outstripping supply, but will this be a long term problem? CNBC made a video recently – ‘Why a looming copper shortage has big consequences for the green economy’ – the title of which, it seems to me, is more pessimistic than the content. Copper has been an ultra-useful metal for us humans, literally for millennia. But its high conductivity – second only to silver, which presumably is more rare and so far more expensive – has made it the go-to metal for our modern world of electric appliances. It also has the benefit of being highly recyclable, so it can be ripped out of end-of-life buildings, vehicles and anything else and re-used. But EVs use about four times more copper than infernal combustion vehicles, and wind turbines as well as solar panels require lots of the stuff, as do EV charging stations, and there aren’t too many new copper mines operating, so…

From what I can gather online, though, there’s no need for panic. Apparently, we’re currently utilising some 12% of what we know to be available for mining. The available stuff is the cheap stuff, and until now we’ve not really needed much more. But new techniques of separating copper from its principal ore, chalcopyrite, look promising, and markets appear to be upbeat – get into copper, it’ll make your fortune!

There’s also the fact that, though things are changing, the uptake of EVs is still relatively slow. People are generally talking about crunch time coming in that vaguely defined era, ‘the future’. High copper demand, low supply seems to be the mantra, and all the talk is about investment and risk, largely meaningless stuff to impoverished observers like me. In more recent times, copper prices have dropped due to ‘a manufacturing recession caused by the energy crisis’. I didn’t know about either of these phenomena. Why wasn’t I told? Mining.com has this to say about the current situation, FWIW:

Copper prices typically react to the ebb and flow of demand in China, which accounts for half of global consumption estimated at around 25 million tonnes this year. But this time the focus is on Europe, accounting for 15% to 20% of the global demand for copper used in power and construction. The region is facing surging gas and power prices after energy supply cuts, which Russia blames on Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict. The European Union has made proposals to impose mandatory targets on member countries to cut power consumption.

Make of this what you will, I have quoted the most coherent passage in a mire of economics-speak. Presumably, supply is affected by the volatile conditions created by Mr Pudding’s testosterone. So everybody is saying that copper is falling in price, and this is apparently bad. Here’s another quote to make sense of:

Due to closing smelters and falling demand from manufacturers, an excess of copper stockpiles has been building up in a number of Shanghai and London warehouses, also contributing to downward pressure on prices.

Meaning copper isn’t worth much currently, though this is probably a temporary thing. Glad I haven’t anything to invest.

I think the bottom line in all this is don’t worry, be happy. Copper availability for the energy transition is subject to so many incoherent fluctuations that it’s not worth worrying about for the average pundit. Here in Australia the issues are – you can solarise your home no worries. Buying an EV is another matter, since none are being manufactured here, so governments need to be pressured to create conditions for a manufacturing base, and the infrastructure to support the EV world. Storage and battery technology need to be supported and subsidised, as is in fact starting to happen, with a more supportive federal government, and state Labor governments here in South Australia, and in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria.

So, to conclude, having read through quite a few websites dealing with copper as the go-to metal for the transition to green energy (some links below), I haven’t found too much pessimism or concern about Dr Copper’s availability, though there are clearly vested interests in some cases. Australia, by the way, has the second largest copper reserves in the world (a long way behind Chile), and this could presumably be turned to our benefit. I’m sure a lot of magnates are magnetised by the thought.

References

https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/A-Copper-Crisis-Threatens-The-Energy-Transition.html

https://intellinews.com/ev-market-may-create-copper-deficit-219864/

Europe’s energy crisis to drop copper price to two-year low

Driving the green revolution: The use of copper in EVs

Written by stewart henderson

October 26, 2022 at 10:09 pm

an interminable conversation 12: more on hydrogen, and wondering about local power costs

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filched from an anti-global warming dinosaur – all’s fair….

Jacinta: So we’ve learned a lot about the problems with hydrogen as a potential fuel, and its problems as a chemical, in the production of fertiliser, in the petrochemical industry, and the need to clean up such usage, for example the contribution of ‘fugitive methane’ to carbon emissions. We also learned that carbon capture and storage, mooted for decades, seems to be going nowhere, largely due to its unprofitability re the private sector…

Canto: So now we’re going to listen to Rosie Barnes, of “Engineering with Rosie”, at a Hydrogen Online Conference, one of many interactive conferences apparently being planned. I’ve heard Rosie before, expressing some skepticism about hydrogen in general, so I’m surprised that she’s prepared to enter the ‘lion’s den’ of what I naturally presume to be hydrogen advocacy.

Jacinta: Yes I’m not sure I want to listen to the post-talk interactive session of this video, as I’m a bit squeamish about confrontation. Why can’t everybody just be nice and agree about everything?!

Canto: Yeah well Rosie begins with the question – which hydrogen projects should we prioritise?  And she also mentions the hydrogen energy supply chain, which is apparently a liquid hydrogen transport project between Australia and Japan, about which I know nothing.

Jacinta: Though actually we did write about this before, in a piece that now seems haplessly naive (linked below, FWIW). Anyway, the ScienceDirect website has this ‘headline’ in its overview of liquid hydrogen:

Production of liquid hydrogen or liquefaction is an energy-intensive process, typically requiring amounts of energy equal to about one-third of the energy in liquefied hydrogen.

which don’t sound promising.

Canto: But Rosie seems to think the hydrogen future is a bit more rosy these days. Another focus of her talk will be ‘giga projects’, presumably meaning ginormous projects, such as the ‘Asian renewable energy hub’ and the ‘western green energy hub’, about which more research is needed – by us.

Jacinta: So she was hearing a lot of hype, mainly from politicians, a couple of years ago, about all sorts of hydrogen ‘applications’, but mainly about ‘power system balancing’, which hopefully we’ll hear more about – maybe to do with balancing for the variability of wind and solar –  and for vehicular transport. And clearly she didn’t get it, especially in respect of other applications, no doubt, such as home heating. I mean, why hydrogen?

Canto: Indeed. She identified four red flags at the outset – and we need to dig deeper into these. First, ‘will developers keep building wind and solar if prices are negative?’ I don’t know what that means…

Jacinta: Economics is definitely not our strong suit. Actually we don’t have a strong suit. So here’s Wikipedia:

In economics, negative pricing can occur when demand for a product drops or supply increases to an extent that owners or suppliers are prepared to pay others to accept it, in effect setting the price to a negative number. This can happen because it costs money to transport, store, and dispose of a product even when there is little demand to buy it.

Canto: So it’s not immediately clear what that has to do with hydrogen, but let’s mention the other 3 red flags: 2 – will negative electricity prices persist? 3 – round trip efficiency, and 4 – the head start for and rapid improvement of other renewable technologies. Just putting those out there for now.

Jacinta: The questionable nature of the first one is – if electricity production becomes virtually free (negative pricing) then hydrogen production will be virtually free too, using renewables. I think. So the first two red flags are clearly connected. Businesses need to be profitable, so they won’t build (wind or solar) if there’s no market or if the market is saturated. With green hydrogen anyway, the production costs are, or have been quite extreme and those costs would have to come down by a factor of three to be equivalent to ‘dirty’ hydrogen production, to say nothing of cheaper electricity competing for the grid. To wait for the energy to be ‘negatively priced’ and only then use it for electrolysis seemed risky and possibly unworkable. A lot of equipment, etc, for little return.

Canto: Much of this was looking back at 2020 – not so long ago – and looking to Germany as an example of a highly renewable grid, but now she considers our Australian state – South Australia, which produces a lot of wind, first, and solar, second. Over the past 12 months, 65% or so of our grid electricity has been from renewables. Largely wind and solar, rather than base-load renewables (meaning nuclear perhaps, in the case of Germany?)

Jacinta: Yes, presumably nuclear, also hydro could be base load, as presumably it is in Tasmania. Rosie mentioned that we don’t have a lot of geothermal, and that rather shocked me, as I thought there wasn’t much geothermal anywhere, that it was one of those eternally future technologies….

Canto: The USA’s EIA (Energy Information Administration) tells us more:

The most active geothermal resources are usually found along major tectonic plate boundaries where most volcanoes are located. One of the most active geothermal areas in the world is called the Ring of Fire, which encircles the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the geothermal power plants in the United States are in western states and Hawaii, where geothermal energy resources are close to the earth’s surface. California generates the most electricity from geothermal energy. The Geysers dry steam reservoir in Northern California is the largest known dry steam field in the world and has been producing electricity since 1960.

Jacinta: Well, thanks for that. Something new every day…

Canto: So Rosie tells us we have had persistent negative electricity prices in SA – which is interesting considering that our household bills are painfully high. She presents a couple of graphics that I don’t fully understand… I certainly can’t understand negative pricing. Clearly not talking about consumers…

Jacinta: I’d like to know why our electricity costs are so high. Right now please. We can get back to Rosie later.

Canto: Well it’s a worthwhile detour to pursue, but it’ll require a bit of research. So maybe next time. So having watched Rosie’s not-so-rosey presentation, without watching the Q & A, because I tend to be a bit squeamish about that format, I find myself wondering…. there was little mention of Prof Cebon’s concerns about the questionable future of blue hydrogen and CCS, or of the problem of fugitive methane in the production of hydrogen from natural gas, or of the obvious failure in the take-up of hydrogen for passenger transport, or of the cost and difficult logistics of hydrogen compression and transport. And as to its possible use in storage, the battery solution seems more likely, surely?

Jacinta: She did point out, either in this talk or her earlier one, that hydrogen often looks like a solution looking for a problem, and this seems surely to be the case for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. It seems that EVs have won that race, and the improvements continue to be rapid. Well, we might pursue the hydrogen issue, and why so many people are hooked on hydrogen, and the details of hydrogen production, and many other issues relating to renewables, for a while yet, but let’s have a look at the cost of energy here in South Australia, where rooftop solar is very popular, and wind farms are kicking up a storm, but our electricity bills are still painfully high….

References

https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/liquid-hydrogen

a hydrogen energy industry in South Australia?

 

Written by stewart henderson

October 18, 2022 at 6:52 pm

an interminable conversation 5: the RET, Mike Cannon-Brookes, and Big Gas issues

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Jacinta: So I’ve heard of this thing called the Renewable Energy Target (RET) – in fact I first heard about it years ago but I’ve paid little attention. Tell me more.

Canto: There’s a government website, the Clean Energy Regulator site, which purports to explain everything. Here’s the briefest statement about it:

The Renewable Energy Target is an Australian Government scheme designed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in the electricity sector and encourage the additional generation of electricity from sustainable and renewable sources.

Of course they have much more to say, in positive-speak, about it all, but a wee footnote at the bottom caught my attention:

In June 2015, the Australian Parliament passed the  Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2015. As part of the amendment bill, the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target was reduced from 41 000 GWh to 33 000 GWh in 2020 with interim and post-2020 targets adjusted accordingly.

I believe the ultra-conservative Tony Abbott was PM in 2015, and the Fossils were calling the shots, as Marian Wilkinson’s The Carbon Club relates. Anyway, it’s a certificate system based on megawatt hours of power generated, and the rather pathetic target was apparently reached, based on approvals of large solar and wind installations, in the second half of 2019.

Jacinta: That’s something perhaps, but the IPCC wasn’t particularly impressed. The Clean Energy Council’s website, Ecogeneration, has boosted the achievement, describing the RET as ‘the most successful emissions reduction policy of all time for Australia’s electricity system’. But it hasn’t had any competition! And ominously, Kane Thornton, CEO of the Clean Energy Council, is quoted as saying ‘the industry doesn’t need new subsidies, we just need certainty’, etc etc, which contradicts everything I’ve heard from Saul Griffith, Mike Cannon-Brookes and others… we’ve been subsidising the fossil fuel industry forever, haven’t we? It’s rebuilding our manufacturing base that needs subsidising. Renewable energy has already become the cheaper option, but we have no EV manufacturing here and only one PV manufacturer.

Canto: Interesting Mike Cannon-Brookes interview in the Financial Review, which introduces the term ESG to me. This stands for Environmental, Social and Governance, perhaps in that order, as factors to be considered in any investment. Which all sounds v positive. And he’s very positive about ESG, which is a positive thing.

Jacinta: Yeah, apparently he’s a billionaire. How the fuck do people become billionaires? Why is it ever allowed?

Canto: Yeah, obviously it’s not just about working hard, like the Congolese in the diamond mines, and various slave populations over the centuries, whose only reward was death. Nature just ain’t fair. Herr Cannon-Brookes is co-founder of a company called Atlassian, which I’ve never heard of. Nor have I heard of their major products, such as Jiro and Trello, which are used by ‘teams’, but I don’t think they play soccer.

Jacinta: Sounds like they’re in the business of business, which is certainly none of our business.

Canto: Yeah, it’s probably all about digital environments. We’re about 40 years out of date. We need to stop reading books, paper is so 20th century.

Jacinta: Anyway, getting back to renewable energy …

Canto: Well this interview with Cannon-Brookes, he sounds pretty sincere, for a billionaire. They’re just people I suppose. If a bit weird. He’s very positive about renewables, and running his business that way, and pretty honest about the issues – like offloading the problem onto others, as he admits to having done, and facing that issue squarely. You know, like Australia exports coal and gas, and doesn’t take responsibility for the emissions. Like Norway.

Jacinta: They don’t have to take responsibility, the way the current system works. Apparently, as of July 2020, Australia became the world’s biggest gas (LNG) exporter, overtaking Qatar. That’s from the Climate Council. It’s hard to keep track of all these organisations. Anyway, Australia was exporting about 80 million tonnes of LNG per year two years ago. According to the latest, it was 77.7 MT (in 20-21 financial year). The article said it has ‘retained its crown’ as the world’s largest exporter. Shouldn’t that be a dunce’s cap?

Canto: So many people are late in getting with the program. By the way, China has taken over from Japan as our number one LNG buyer – adding to our problems with that fascist government. In any case the argument would be – and I’ve heard it stated in a public forum – that we owe our wealth as a nation to these exports, and by extension, to our trading relation with China. .

Jacinta: Well, it’s interesting that the price of gas is rising domestically. Presumably this has something to do with so much of our gas going offshore? And renewables, though growing, are hardly ready to fill the domestic energy gap, right?

Canto: So this is all new stuff to get my head around, but a ‘Bloomberg Green’ video linked below has it that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has produced an interim gas report, a forecast for 2023. It predicts that the supply of gas for next year will fall short of demand by about 56 petajoules – 3% of total demand. This doesn’t sound like much, but with rising gas prices… Anyway the ACCC is recommending that the federal government bring into force the ‘Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism’, pressuring LNG exporters to reserve some of those earmarked exports (70 to 75 percent of production) for the domestic market. Now, some 11% of those exports aren’t covered by long-term contracts – they’re available for those as bids for them, and there might be a few countries bidding, considering the global situation.

Jacinta: Hmmm, sounds like a seller’s market, with impoverished buyers, including domestic ones. So the idea is that the government can intervene to force gas exporters to sell some of their stuff here, with reduced profits?

Canto: Yes, but whether they do is a question. The video goes on to talk about Australia’s new emissions reduction target of 43% on 2005 levels by 2030, with the aim of net zero emissions by 2050. Interestingly, the Bloomberg economist says that while it’s good news to get clear targets after years of nothing much, the targets are still a bit weak. Most notably, only 3% of passenger vehicles sold last year were EVs, and with no manufacturing here in the foreseeable future, the chances of EVs reaching 89% of sales by 2030 – Labor’s target – are surely minuscule.

Jacinta: Yes, but all the other cars purchases would be overseas-made vehicles, wouldn’t they?

Canto: Hmmm, so there might have to be legislation to favour EV imports, as well as plenty of infrastructure… And a turnaround in public attitudes, which I don’t presently see.

Jacinta: Returning to gas, the Australia Institute, which appears to be a left-leaning public policy think tank, has a critique of our gas exporters in another, very brief, video. It just advises turning our backs on gas tout de suite. Forget reserving gas for the domestic market – which might involve something more or less in the form of a bribe to the exporters. Instead, electrify everything, of course. More pronto than pronto, to make up for a lost decade of relative inaction. They describe it as a gas export crisis, in which domestic prices are soaring because so much of our gas is going offshore. A win-win for the gas companies.

Canto: So, is this the situation? Gas companies are in the business of profit. They sell gas overseas, even at the expense of the domestic market, because they can, because they’re owned by private individuals, they can sell to the highest bidder. And If this means gas is scarce domestically, and in high demand, because we’ve become dependent on gas, we haven’t been weaned off it, the gas companies can make another killing on the domestic market? They’re holding us to ransom, so to speak?

Jacinta: Oil and gas companies in the US as well as in Australia are making huge profits currently, due to scarcities caused by war, embargoes and such…

Canto: The Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism was designed to ensure sufficient domestic supply, but it’s not very efficient, and the domestic supply target is too low. Some state governments, notably Western Australia, have a higher domestic reserve, but of course what we need is to switch to renewable-based electric as quickly as possible, to get out from under the control of the fossil fuel barons.

Jacinta: Are gas companies subsidised here?

Canto: Do koalas shit in the trees? Renew Economy has a scathing article about this, posted today. It describes companies like Santos recording super-massive-record profits this year, and the term ‘war profiteering’ is mentioned. This has also been at the expense of the domestic market. Here’s a quote:

Santos categorically stated its project would not affect the domestic market because it would not buy gas out of the domestic market. But that is exactly what it has done. Santos bought large volumes of gas out of the domestic market in the first half of 2022, forcing domestic prices above export prices in the last six months. These actions have generated super profits, gouged from domestic gas consumer and forcing up domestic electricity prices to unaffordable levels. Santos has broken its approval conditions and IEEFA calls on the government to cancel their export licence.

The IEEFA, for our info, is the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. Bruce Robertson, who wrote the Renew Economy article, has a similar piece on the IEEFA website. The thing is, the domestic reserve could be raised, and made non-negotiable (it isn’t at present) without having much of an effect on these windfall profits. As it is, gas companies are largely ignoring existing reserve requirements. The ACCC has the capacity to prosecute but apparently has no intention of doing so. They’re also doing nothing to tackle these companies’ collusion re price-fixing and tax avoidance. There’s something rotten about all this. Clearly we’re not going to wean ourselves from gas as quickly as we should, but we certainly shouldn’t be pumping up and sending off ever more of the stuff.

Jacinta: Well, yes, considering that the aim is to electrify everything, and people are starting to get on board with this, that means no new gas fields, so what are these companies going to do with these massive extra profits, other than line the pockets of CEOs and their immediate underlings?

Canto: Well, there will still be offshore markets for the foreseeable, so keep on despairing. Two months ago, the Sydney Morning Herald ran an opinion piece by Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute, arguing for a ‘windfall profit tax’ considering that some importers are paying ‘more than four and up to 10 times the contract prices’. The Federal Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, isn’t interested. And so the rich get richer, for the time being….

References

https://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/RET/About-the-Renewable-Energy-Target

Marian Wilkinson, The Carbon Club, 2020

RET reached ahead of 2020 target

https://www.afr.com/policy/energy-and-climate/mike-cannon-brookes-on-esg-agl-and-why-australia-needs-no-more-gas-20220616-p5au3b

What the frack? Australia overtakes Qatar as world’s largest gas exporter

https://www.upstreamonline.com/lng/australia-remains-worlds-top-lng-exporter-but-it-could-lose-its-crown-this-year/2-1-1147625

Santos windfall: Australia is swimming in subsidised gas and we’re giving it away

https://ieefa.org/resources/why-government-must-break-eastern-australias-gas-cartel

https://www.smh.com.au/national/all-australians-should-share-in-record-profits-from-overseas-gas-sales-20220608-p5aryk.html

 

 

Written by stewart henderson

August 17, 2022 at 11:16 pm

green hydrogen? it has its place, apparently

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easy-peasy? don’t be guiled

Canto: So now that Labor has won government in South Australia it’ll be implementing its hydrogen plan pronto, I presume. But so many people seem iffy about hydrogen, I thought we might do another shallow dive on the topic.

Jacinta: Yes, we jointly wrote a piece last June on SA’s hydrogen plan (linked below), and a brief interview today with Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest caught my attention – time to revisit and further our education on the subject.

Canto: Yes, a recent ABC article described Forrest’s ‘green hydrogen hub’ in Gladstone in central Queensland. He’s building the world’s largest electrolyser facility there. We’re talking gigawatts rather than megawatts. He expects – by which he means hopes – that the facility will have the capacity to produce 2 gigawatts (that’s 2000 megawatts) of electrolysers per annum, just for starters.

Jacinta: I’m not sure whether to trust Forrest’s hype, but I like his enthusiasm. He reckons he already has buyers for his electrolysers and that ‘the order list is growing rapidly’

Canto: Interesting – Forrest says that the lack of electrolysers has been a problem for a while, and apparently Australian researchers at the University of Wollongong, associated with a company called Hysata, have achieved a ‘giant leap for the electrolysis industry’, with its ‘capillary-fed electrolysis cells’, which have attained 95% efficiency, up from the previous 75%. This was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Communications, so it’s not just hot air.

Jacinta: Apparently electrolysers have been around for quite some time, with very few improvements, so this seems important. The researchers describe their approach thus:

The central challenge was to reduce the electrical resistance within the electrolysis cell. Much like a smart phone battery warming as it charges, resistance wasted energy in a regular cell as well as often requiring additional energy for cooling.

“What we did differently was just to start completely over and to think about it from a very high level,” Swiegers said. “Everyone else was looking at improving materials or an existing design.”

Canto: Reducing electrical resistance – that’s always the key to cheaper and more effective electricity, it seems to me. That was at the heart of the AC versus DC battle, and it’s what has made LED lighting such a vital development.

Jacinta: I still don’t understand LED lighting. Photons instead of electrons, yet still connected to an electric circuit driven by electrons in wires…

Canto: Anyway, returning to hydrogen, there’s a presumably new organisation called the Australian Hydrogen Council, whose website has a frequently asked questions section. The key thing about green hydrogen, or otherwise, is where the electricity comes from to produce electrolysis. To be green, obviously, it needs to be from solar or wind, or hydro. The FAQ section also mentions that the electricity can come from carbon capture and storage, resulting in ‘low to zero carbon emissions’.

Jacinta: Hmmm. We’ll have to do a shallow dive on carbon capture and storage soon. I know that ‘greenies’ are generally highly skeptical, but sometimes I feel a bit skeptical of greenies. Am I allowed to say that?

Canto: A generalised skepticism means looking critically at any scientific claims. But I’ve been thinking about electrolysis, particularly the electrolysis of water, which is key to this clean green hydrogen-producing process, presumably. It’s about ‘lysis’ – splitting, or separating – by means of an electrical current. But to paraphrase Woody Allen, ‘I’m two with science’. Or to put it another way, science is to me like a lover I’m passionate about but can never fully, or even partially, understand…

Jacinta: Well I’ve watched a wee citizen science video about doing electrolysis of water at home. You need, according to these guys, distilled  water, nice and pure, and ‘kosher’, non-iodised salt. Mix it together in a heat-resistant beaker, about nine parts water to one part salt, until the salt dissolves, and insert a couple of spoons attached to a nine volt battery into the mix. The salt increases the conductivity of the solution, as pure water isn’t conductive, much. You’ll need an acid, such as vinegar, to neutralise the alkaline solution that results from the experiment. That alkaline solution is essentially sodium hydroxide, NaOH, aka caustic soda or lye, which can cause burns, so home experimenters need to protect themselves accordingly. Then you insert the spoons, each connected to one of the two terminals of the battery, into the beaker. Bubbles of hydrogen and chlorine gas will form, as long as the two spoons are kept separate. Note that inhaling chlorine gas is a v bad idea, so, again, protection. And best to do the experiment outside. So what is happening here? Salt is an electrolyte, an ionically-bonded compound. The ions are what facilitates the transfer of electrical energy. So what we have in the solution are molecules of H, O, Na and Cl, the molecular bonds having been broken by the electrical current. In this home experiment, the hydrogen and chlorine gases escape into the air, but of course the hydrogen will be captured for energy use in the system being developed by Forrest and others.

Canto: Yes the salt water is used as an electrolyte, but different electrolysers will use different electrolytes. The US website energy.gov describes three types of electrolysers being used or considered at the commercial level – polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM), alkaline, and solid oxide. The problems with all these types is cost-effectiveness. For example the solid oxide membranes in that type of electrolyser need to operate at very high temperatures – between 700 and 800°C – to function effectively, though promising work is being done to lower the temperature. From what I can gather, the PEM electrolysers are showing the most promise. This uses a solid plastic electrolyte, and for what it’s worth I’ll quote something about how it works:

  • Water reacts at the anode to form oxygen and positively charged hydrogen ions (protons).
  • The electrons flow through an external circuit and the hydrogen ions selectively move across the PEM to the cathode.
  • At the cathode, hydrogen ions combine with electrons from the external circuit to form hydrogen gas.
  • Anode Reaction: 2H2O → O2 + 4H+ + 4e Cathode Reaction: 4H+ + 4e → 2H2

Jacinta: As you’ve said, the cost of electrolysers is a major barrier, and I’ve been unable to find out the type of electrolysers Forrest’s company (Green Energy Manufacturing) is going with. I did find out that Twiggy likes to be called Dr Forrest now, having completed a doctorate in Marine science recently. Also, there’s quite a lot of skepticism about his green hydrogen project.

Canto: Yeah, like there was with SA’s big battery… Stop Press –

The electrolysers produced at the GEM facility will partner FFI’s advanced manufacturing capabilities with cutting-edge Polymer Electrolysis Membrane (PEM) technology developed by NASDAQ-listed company Plug Power to deliver a high-purity, efficient and reliable end product.

That’s advertising blurb from the Queensland government, so we’ll have to wait and see. But getting back to the skepticism about hydrogen as an energy source – what gives? Well, according to Rosie Barnes, Australia’s engineering Wonderwoman, the process of creating hydrogen by electrolysis and then burnng it in a full cell is very energy-inefficient compared to direct or battery electrical energy. That’s three compared to one wind turbine, for example. Also hydrogen takes up a lot of space – remember those massive zeppelins?

Jacinta: Not personally.

Canto: Well, another problem with hydrogen is its flammability. The Hindenburg wasn’t the only hydrogen airship that went up in flames. They can replace hydrogen with helium apparently, but that presents another set of problems. In any case, it looks like hydrogen isn’t going to be the silver bullet for green energy, but it will surely be a part of the energy mix, and with technologies for storage and transport being developed and improved all the time, it’ll be interesting to see how and where green hydrogen finds its place.

Jacinta: Yes I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the projects happening here in Australia, and how the likely change of government at the federal level makes a difference. My feeling is that they’re keeping mum about their energy plans until after the election, but maybe I’m being overly optimistic.

 

References

a hydrogen energy industry in South Australia?

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-28/andrew-forrest-begins-work-on-green-hydrogen-hub-in-gladstone/100865988

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28953-x

The Sci Guys: Science at home – electrolysis of water (video)

https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-production-electrolysis

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589299119300035

https://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/news/people-projects-places/breaking-ground-how-aldoga-is-leading-queenslands-renewable-energy-charge

https://skepticalscience.com/hydrogen-fuel.html

Hydrogen and Helium in Rigid Airship Operations

 

Written by stewart henderson

April 18, 2022 at 5:57 pm

some stuff on super-grids and smart grids

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In a recent New Scientist article, ‘The rise of supergrids’, I learned that Australia is among 80 countries backing a project, or perhaps an idea for a project, launched at COP26 in Glasgow, called One Sun One World One Grid, ‘a plan to massively expand the reach of solar power by joining up the electricity grids of countries and even entire continents’. My first reaction was cynicism – Australia’s successive governments have never managed to come up with a credible policy to combat global warming or to develop renewable energy, but they love to save face by cheering on other countries’ initiatives, at no cost to themselves.

Our state government (South Australia) did invest in the construction of a giant lithium ion battery, the biggest of its kind at the time (2017), built by Tesla to firm up our sometimes dodgy electricity supply, and, to be fair, there’s been a lot of state investment here in wind and solar, but there’s been very little at the national level. 

At the global level, the Chinese thugocracy has been talking up the idea of a ‘global energy internet’ for some years – but let’s face it, the WEIRD world has good reason not to trust the CCP. Apparently China is a world leader in the manufacture and development of UHVDC (ultra-high voltage direct current) transmission lines, and is no doubt hoping to spread the algorithms of Chinese technological and political superiority through a globe-wrapped electrical belt-and-road. 

But back in the WEIRD world, it’s the EU that’s looking to spearhead the supergrid system. It already has the most developed international system for trading electricity, according to the Financial Review. And of course, we’re talking about renewable energy here, though an important ancillary effect would be trade connections within an increasingly global energy system. There’s also an interest, at least among some, in creating a transcontinental supergrid in the US. 

Renewable sources such as solar and wind tend to be generated in isolated, low-demand locations, so long-distance transmission is a major problem, especially when carried out across national boundaries. Currently the growth has been in local microgrids and battery storage, but there are arguments about meshing the small-scale with the large scale. One positive feature of a global energy network is that it might just have a uniting effect, regardless of economic considerations. 

But of course economics will be a major factor in enticing investment. Economists use an acronym, LCOE, the levelized cost of electricity, when analysing costs and benefits of an electrical grid system. This is a measure of the lifetime cost of a system divided by the energy it produces. The Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland used this and other measures to analyse the ‘techno-economic benefits of a globally interconnected world’, and found that they would be fewer than those of a national and subnational grid system, which seems counter-intuitive to me. However the analysts did admit that a more holistic approach to the supergrid concept might be in order. In short, more research is needed. 

Another concept to consider is the smart grid, which generally starts small and local but can be built up over time and space. These grids are largely computerised, of course, which raises security concerns, but it would be hard to over-estimate the transformative nature of such energy systems.

Our current grid system was pretty well finalised in the mid-twentieth century. It was of course based on fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil – with some hydro. The first nuclear power plant – small in scale – commenced operations in the Soviet Union in 1954. With massive population growth and massive increases in energy demand (as well as a demand for reliability of services) more and more power plants were built, mostly based on fossil fuels. Over time, it was realised that there were particular periods of high and low demand, which led to using ‘peaking power generators’ that were often switched off. The cost of maintaining these generators was passed on to consumers in the form of increased tariffs. The use of ‘smart technology’ by individuals and companies to control usage was a more or less inevitable response. 

Moving into the 21st century, smart technology has led to something of a battle and an accommodation with energy providers. Moreover, combined with a growing concern about the fossil fuel industry and its contribution to global warming, and the rapid development of variable solar and wind power generation, some consumers have become increasingly interested in alternatives to ‘traditional’ grid systems, and large power stations, which can, in some regions, be rendered unnecessary for those with photovoltaics and battery storage. The potential for a more decentralised system of mini-grids for individual homes and neighbourhoods has become increasingly clear.   

Wikipedia’s article on smart grids, which I’m relying on, is impressively fulsome. It provides, inter alia, this definition of a smart grid from the European Union:

“A Smart Grid is an electricity network that can cost efficiently integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to it – generators, consumers and those that do both – in order to ensure economically efficient, sustainable power system with low losses and high levels of quality and security of supply and safety. A smart grid employs innovative products and services together with intelligent monitoring, control, communication, and self-healing technologies in order to:

  1. Better facilitate the connection and operation of generators of all sizes and technologies.
  2. Allow consumers to play a part in optimising the operation of the system.
  3. Provide consumers with greater information and options for how they use their supply.
  4. Significantly reduce the environmental impact of the whole electricity supply system.
  5. Maintain or even improve the existing high levels of system reliability, quality and security of supply.
  6. Maintain and improve the existing services efficiently.”

So, with the continued growth of innovative renewable energy technologies, for domestic and industrial use, and in particular with respect to transport (the development of vehicle-to-grid [V2G] systems), we’re going to have, I suspect, something of a technocratic divide between early adopters and those who are not so much traditionalists as confused about or overwhelmed by the pace of developments – remembering that most WEIRD countries have an increasingly ageing population. 

I’m speaking for myself here. Being not only somewhat long in the tooth but also dirt poor, I’m simply a bystander with respect to this stuff, but I hope to to get more integrated, smart and energetic about it over time. 

References

https://www.afr.com/companies/energy/the-future-of-power-is-transcontinental-submarine-supergrids-20210622-p5837a

Global supergrid vs. regional supergrids

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_grid

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vehicle-to-grid

Written by stewart henderson

March 15, 2022 at 7:33 pm

Electric aircraft? It’s happening, in a small way

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the Ampaire 337

I no longer write on my solutionsok blog, as it’s just easier for a lazy person like me to maintain the one site, but as a result I’ve not been writing so much about solutions per se, so I’ll try to a bit more of that. The always entertaining and informative Fully Charged show on YouTube provides plenty of material about new developments in renewable energy, especially re transport, and in a recent episode, host Robert Llewelyn had a bit to say about electric planes, which I’d like to follow up on.

Everyone knows that plane travel has been on the up and up haha for decades, and you may have heard that these planes use up a lot of fossil fuel and produce lots of nasty emissions. According to the Australian government’s Department of Infrastructure and Many Other Things (DIMOT – don’t look it up) Australia’a civil aviation sector contributed 22 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions in 2016. That’s of course a meaningless number but safe to say it’s dwarfed by the emissions of the major aviation countries. I assume the term ‘C02-equivalent’ means other greenhouse gases converted into equivalent-impacting amounts of CO2. For aircraft this includes water vapour, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, lead and other atmosphere-affecting nasties. More innovative and less polluting engine designs have failed to halt the steady rise of emissions due to increased air travel worldwide, and there’s no end in sight. It’s really the only emissions sector for which there is no obvious solution – unlike other sectors which are largely blocked by vested interests.

So, while few people at present see electric aircraft as the big fix, enterprising engineers are making steady improvements and trying for major breakthroughs with an eye to the hopefully not-too-distant future. Just a couple of days ago, as reported on the nicely-named Good News Network, the largest-ever hybrid-electric aircraft (it looks rather small), the Ampaire 337, took flight from Camarillo airport in California (of course). The normally twin-engine plane was retrofitted with an electric motor working in concert with the remaining fuel engine to create a ‘parallel hybrid’, which significantly reduces emissions. After this successful test run, there will be multiple weekly flights over the next few months, and then, if all goes well, commercial short-haul flights are planned for Hawaii.

Of course, here in Australia, where electric cars are seen by power-brokers as some kind of futuristic horror set to destroy our way of life, there’s no obvious appetite for even wierder flying things, but our time will come – or perhaps we should all give up and invade western Europe or California. Meanwhile, Fully Charged are saying ‘there’s no shortage of aircraft companies around the world [including Rolls Royce] developing electric aircraft’, as well as converting light aircraft to electric (the Ampaire 337 mentioned above is actually a converted Cessna 337). A Canadian airline, Harbour Air, is converting 3 dozen seaplanes to electric motors, with first passengers flights expected by late 2021. These will only be capable of short flights in the region of British Columbia – range, which is connected to battery weight, being perhaps the biggest problem for electric aircraft to overcome. Again according to Fully Charged, there are over 100 electric aircraft development programs going on worldwide at present, and we should see some results in terms of short-haul flights in five years. Perfect for Europe, but also not out of the question for Adelaide to Melbourne or Port Lincoln, Canberra to Sydney and so on. Norway has a plan to use electric aircraft for all its domestic passenger flights in the not-too-distant future.

A name dropped on Fully Charged, Roei Ganzarski, seems worth following up. He says ‘By 2025, 1000 miles in an electric plane is going to be easily done. I’m not saying 5000 miles, but 1000 miles, easily.’ Ganzarski is currently the CEO of magniX, an ‘electric propulsion technology company’, based in Seattle. His company made the motors for the Ampaire 337, I think.

It should be pointed out that UAVs (unmanned – or unpersonned? – aerial vehicles), aka drones, are small electric aircraft, so the principle of electric flight is well established. It’s also worth noting that electricity doesn’t have to come from batteries, though they’re the most likely way forward. Solar cells, for example, can directly convert sunlight into electricity, and in 2015/16, using two alternating pilots, Solar Impulse 2 became the first fixed-wing, piloted, solar-powered aircraft to circumnavigate the globe. Fuel cells, particularly using hydrogen, are another option.

At the moment, though, hybrid power is all the go, and the focus is on light aircraft and short-haul flight. General aviation is still a long way off because, according to this Wikipedia article, ‘the specific energy of electricity storage is still 2% of aviation fuel’. As to what that means, I have very little idea, but this steal from a Vox piece on the topic helps to clarify:

The key limitation for aircraft is the energy density of its fuel: When space and weight are at a premium, you want to cram as much energy into as small a space as possible. Right now, some of the best lithium-ion batteries have a specific energy of 250 watt-hours per kilogram, which has already proved viable in cars. But to compete on air routes up to 600 nautical miles in a Boeing 737- or Airbus A320-size airliner, Schäfer estimated that a battery would need to have a specific energy of 800 watt-hours per kilogram. Jet fuel, by comparison, has a specific energy of 11,890 watt-hours per kilogram.

So, specific energy is essentially related to energy density, and I know that getting batteries to be as energy-dense as possible is the holy grail of researchers. So, until that ten-fold or 100-fold improvement in energy density is achieved by the battery of batteriologists beavering away at the big plane problem, we should at least push for light aircraft and short-haul flights to go completely electric asap. Ausgov, do us proud.

Written by stewart henderson

June 12, 2019 at 9:47 am

all renewable energy by 2050? Hang on a tick

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Sir David McKay, who died in 2016 of stomach cancer, aged 49. A great loss.

The late Sir David McKay, physicist, engineer, sustainable energy expert, Cambridge professor and Royal Society Fellow, has just become known to me through his 2012 TED talk and a lengthier exposition of the same ideas presented at Harvard. These talks were designed, to ‘cut through some of the greenwash’ and provide a realistic account of what can be done, on both the supply and the demand side, to reduce fossil fuel consumption and transform our energy economy.

As I need to keep saying, I’m far from an expert on this stuff, and I’m always impressed by the ingenious developments in the field and the promise of new technology, in batteries and other storage systems – like the compressed air underwater energy storage system being trialled in Lake Ontario, Toronto. But McKay’s contributions are helping me to think more realistically about the enormity of the problem of weaning ourselves from fossil fuels as well as to think more practically about my own domestic usage and the demand side more generally.

While McKay was no renewable energy sceptic or climate change denier, his ‘arithmetical’ view of the future poured a lot of cold hydro on the rosy idea that we’d be living in an all-renewables-powered biosphere within x decades. So I want to take a closer look at some aspects of what he was saying (he also wrote a highly-regarded book, Sustainable energy – without the hot air, available free online).

I particularly want to look at two forms of renewable energy that he talked about; wind and solar. He also talked at some length about two other energy sources, biofuels and nuclear, but I’ve never been much keen on biofuels, which in any case seem to have been largely taken off the menu in recent years, and nuclear, as McKay admits, has a popularity problem – a massive one here in Australia, unfortunately. What I say here about wind and solar will be gleaned largely fromMackay’s Harvard talk, but I’ve downloaded and plan to read his book in the near future.

Mackay has calculated that the current energy production of wind turbines in windy Britain is about 2.5 watts per square metre, and by multiplying per capita energy consumption by population density, you get power consumed per unit area, which for Britain is about 1.25 watts per square metre. This suggests that to cover the consumption of Britain solely by wind, you’d need an area, on land or sea, half the area of Britain. This is clearly not feasible, though of course nobody in Britain, I hope, was ever expecting to have all their energy needs provided by wind. The situation is vastly different for South Australia, two thirds of which is currently powered by wind. SA has vastly more land than Britain and vastly less people.

Though I’m sure it’s possible to quibble with Mckay’s figures and calculations, what he brings to the issues, I think, is a global, as well as a particular perspective that can be lost when you focus, as I have, on local success. For example, South Australia has been very successful in its deployment of wind power over a short period of time, and it’s easy to get carried away and think, if we can do it, why not state x or country y? But SA is a state with a small population and a very large area, and plenty of wind to capture. This just can’t be replicated in, say, Massachussetts, with more than three times the population, a thirtieth of the area, and little wind.

So McKay wasn’t offering global solutions, nor was he dismissing local ones. He was simply pointing out the complexity of the problem in physical and arithmetical terms of weaning ourselves from fossil fuels, as well as getting us thinking about our personal responsibilities on the demand side. Solar isn’t much of a national solution in Britain, though it could be in Australia, which could be a net exporter of renewables, as Elon Musk has suggested, but to which countries, and how exactly do you export solar energy? You’d need conversion and transmission and bilateral agreements. All of this while fighting entrenched interests and upsetting long-standing arrangements. Having said this, more people are hopping on the renewables bus and it’s almost becoming unfashionable, in most western countries outside of Australia, to be dismissive of them, a noticeable change in the last decade.

So what’s the point of this post? It’s to heed McKay’s advice that we need to recognise the complexity of the problem, to keep all possible reasonable solutions on the table, to become more aware, as individuals, communities and states, of our energy consumption, and to recognise that there’s never going to be a one-type-fits-all fix. Environments and needs vary widely, so we need to find particular solutions and we also need to find ways of joining and mixing those solutions together in effective networks. It all sounds pretty daunting, but the fact is, we’re already moving in the right direction, and there’s much to be positive about. Technology and engineering are international, and those in the business are hunting out solutions across the globe and thinking of harnessing and adapting them to their own region, in the process building communication, sharing information and expertise and raising consciousness about energy supply and consumption. And another positive is the endless innovation that comes with thinking about energy solutions in new ways, like small, cheap solar panels to provide energy in developing regions, backyard or small-scale wind-turbines in suitable locations, processing waste to fuel, new developments in batteries and EVs, and so on. So, while there aren’t major, mind-blowing solutions to our fossil-fuel dependence in the offing, we are making progress, incrementally, and the effects of climate change, as they become more impactful, will no doubt accelerate our progress and innovation. We have no option but to think and act positively.

portable solar panels can be surprisingly useful, and cheap

In a future post I’ll look at the demand side, following McKay and many others. Having just moved house, and sadly leaving solar panels behind, it’s time to find out where my meter is, and check our consumption.

 

On Trump’s downfall: Fire and Fury, the overly-discussed tell-all book about Trump and the White House, is unlikely to affect Trump’s base though it will hopefully toughen the opposition. Trump’s rating remains below 40% and nothing much has happened so far this year. There’s talk of Oprah Winfrey standing for the Presidency in 2020 – please no! – but Trump will be in jail by then and Americans will have lost their appetite for ‘celebrity’ candidates. I’m looking out for Elizabeth Warren.

Written by stewart henderson

January 11, 2018 at 9:03 am

more on Australia’s energy woes and solutions

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the SA Tesla Powerpack, again

Canto: So the new Tesla battery is now in its final testing phase, so South Australia can briefly enjoy some fame as having the biggest battery in the world, though I’m sure it’ll be superseded soon enough with all the activity worldwide in the battery and storage field.

Jacinta: Well I don’t think we need to get caught up with having the biggest X in the world, it’s more important that we’re seen as a place for innovation in energy storage and other matters energetic. So, first, there’s the Tesla battery, associated with the Hornsdale wind farm near Jamestown, and there are two other major battery storage systems well underway, one in Whyalla, designed for Whyalla Steel, to reduce their energy costs, and another smaller system next to AGL’s Wattle Point wind farm on Yorke Peninsula.

Canto: Well, given that the federal government likes to mock our Big Battery, can you tell me how the Tesla battery and the other batteries work to improve the state?

Jacinta: It’s a 100MW/129MWh installation, designed to serve two functions. A large portion of its stored power (70MW/39MWh) is for the state government to stabilise the grid in times of outage. Emergency situations. This will obviously be a temporary solution before other, slower reacting infrastructure can be brought into play. The rest is owned by Neoen, Tesla’s partner company and owner of the wind farm. They’ll use it to export at a profit when required – storing at low prices, exporting at higher prices. As to the Whyalla Steel battery, that’s privately owned, but it’s an obvious example, along with the AGL battery, of how energy can be produced and stored cleanly (Whyalla Steel relies on solar and hydro). They point the way forward.

Canto: Okay here’s a horrible question, because I doubt if there’s any quick ‘for dummies’ answer. What’s the difference between megawatts and megawatt-hours?

Jacinta: A megawatt, or a watt, is a measure of power, which is the rate of energy transfer. One watt equals one joule per second, and a megawatt is 1,000,000 watts, or 1,000 kilowatts. A megawatt-hour is one megawatt of power flowing for one hour.

Canto: Mmmm, I’m trying to work out whether I understand that.

Jacinta: Let’s take kilowatts. A kilowatt (KW) is 1,000 times the rate of energy transfer of a watt. In other words, 1000 joules/sec. One KWh is one hour at that rate of energy transfer. So you multiply the 1000 by 3,600, the number of seconds in an hour. That’s a big number, so you can express it in megajoules – the answer is 3.6Mj. One megajoule equals 1,000,000 joules of course.

Canto: Of course. So how is this working for South Australia’s leadership on renewables and shifting the whole country in that direction?

Genex Power site in far north Queensland – Australia’s largest solar farm together with a pumped hydro storage plant

Jacinta: Believe me it’s not all South Australia. There are all sorts of developments happening around the country, mostly non-government stuff, which I suppose our rightist, private enterprise feds would be very happy with. For example there’s the Genex Power solar, hydro and storage project in North Queensland, situated in an old gold mine. Apparently pumped hydro storage is a competitor with, or complementary to, battery storage. Simon Kidston, the Genex manager, argues that many other sites can be repurposed in this way.

Canto: And the cost of wind generation and solar PV is declining at a rate far exceeding expectations, especially those of government, precisely because of private enterprise activity.

Jacinta: Well, mainly because it’s a global market, with far bigger players than Australia. Inputs into renewables from states around the world – India, Mexico, even the Middle East – are causing prices to spiral down.

Canto: And almost as we speak the Tesla gridscale battery has become operational, and we’ve gained a tiny place in history. But what about this National Energy Guarantee from the feds, which everyone seems to be taking a swing at. What’s it all about?

Jacinta: This was announced a little over a month ago, as a rejection of our chief scientist’s Clean Energy Target. Note how the Feds again avoid using such terms as ‘clean’ and ‘renewable’ when it talks or presents energy policy. Anyway, it may or may not be a good thing – there’s a summary of what some experts are saying about it online, but most are saying it’s short on detail. It’s meant to guarantee a reliable stream of energy/electricity from retailers, never mind how the energy is generated – so the government can say it’s neither advocating nor poo-pooing renewables, it’s getting out of the way and letting retailers, some of whom are also generators, deliver the energy from whatever source they like, or can.

Canto: So they’re putting the onus on retailers. How so?

Jacinta: The Feds are saying retailers will have to make a certain amount of dispatchable power available, but there is one ridiculously modest stipulation – greenhouse emissions from the sector must be reduced by 26% by 2030. The sector can and must do much better than that. The electricity sector makes up about a third of emissions, and considering the slow movement on EVs and on emissions reductions generally, we’re unlikely to hold up our end of the Paris Agreement, considering the progressively increasing targets.

Canto: But that’s where they leave it up to the private sector. To go much further than their modest target. They would argue that they’re more interested in energy security.

Jacinta: They have a responsibility for providing security but not for reducing emissions? But it’s governments that signed up to Paris, not private enterprises. The experts are pointing this out with regard to other sectors. More government-driven vehicle emission standards, environmental building regulations, energy efficient industries and so forth.

Canto: And the Feds actually still have a renewable energy agency (ARENA), in spite of the former Abbott government’s attempt to scrap it, and a plan was announced last month to set up a ‘demand response’ trial, involving ARENA, AEMO (the energy market operator) and various retailers and other entities. This is about providing temporary supply during peak periods – do you have any more detail?

Jacinta: There’s a gloss on the demand response concept on a Feds website:

From Texas to Taiwan, demand response is commonly used overseas to avoid unplanned or involuntary outages, ease electricity price spikes and provide grid support services. In other countries, up to 15 per cent of peak demand is met with demand response.

Canto: So what exactly does it have to do with renewables?

Jacinta: Well get ready for a long story. It’s called demand response because it focuses on the play of demand rather than supply. It’s also called demand management, a better name I think. It’s partly about educating people about energy not being a finite commodity available at all times in equal measure…

Canto: Sounds like it’s more about energy conservation than about the type of energy being consumed.

Jacinta: That’s true. So on extreme temperature days, hot or cold – but mostly hot days in Australia – electricity demand can jump by 50% or so. To cope with these occasional demand surges we’ve traditionally built expensive gas-based generators that lie idle for most of the year. For reasons I’m not quite able to fathom, at such extreme demand times the ‘spot price’ for wholesale electricity goes through the roof – or more accurately it hits the ceiling, set by the National Energy Market at $14,000 per MWh. That’s just a bit more than the usual wholesale price, about $100/MWh. Demand management is an attempt to have agreements with large commercial/industrial users to reduce usage at certain times, or the agreements could be with energy retailers who then do deals with customers. Of course, bonuses could be handed out to compliant customers. The details of how this offsets peak demand usage and pricing are still a bit of a mystery to me, however.

Written by stewart henderson

December 9, 2017 at 9:07 pm

an assortment of new technology palaver

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I like the inset pic – very useful for the Chinese

Western Australia lithium mining boom

I’m hearing, better late than never, that lithium carbonate from Western Australia is in big demand. The state already provides most of the world’s lithium for all those batteries used to run smart devices, electric vehicles, and large-scale storage batteries such as South Australia’s Tesla-Neoen thingy at Jamestown (now 80% complete, apparently). Emissions legislation around the world will only add to the demand, with the French and British governments planning to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, following similar plans by India and Norway, and the major investments in EVs in China. Australia’s government, of course, is at the other end of the spectrum re EVs, but I’ve no doubt we’ll get there eventually (we’ll have to!). Tesla, Volvo, Nissan, Renault, Volkswagen and Mercedes are all pushing more EVs into the marketplace. So now’s the time, according to Money Boffins Inc, to buy shares in lithium and other battery minerals (I’ve never bought a share in my life). This lithium mining boom has been quite sudden and surprising to many pundits. In January of this year, only one WA mine was producing lithium, but by mid-2018 there will be eight, according to this article. The battery explosion, so to speak, is bringing increased demand for other minerals too, including cobalt, nickel, vanadium and graphite. Australia’s well-positioned to take advantage. Having said that, the amount of lithium we’re talking about is a tiny fraction of what WA exports in iron ore annually, but it’s already proving to be a big boost to the WA economy, and a big provider of jobs.

battery recycling

Of course all of this also poses a problem, as mentioned in my last post, and it’s a problem that the renewable energy sector should be at least ideologically driven to deal with: waste and recycling. Considering the increasing importance of battery technology in our world, and considering the many toxic components of modern batteries, such as nickel, lead acid, cadmium and mercury, it’s yet another disappointment that there’s no national recycling scheme for non-rechargeable batteries. Currently only lead acid batteries can be recycled, and the rest usually end up in landfill or are sent to be recycled overseas. So it’s been left to the industry to develop an Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI), which has an interesting website where you can learn about global recycling and many other things batterial – including, of course, how to recycle your batteries. Also, an organisation called Clean Up Australia has a useful battery recycling factsheet, which, for my own educational purposes I’m going to recycle here, at least partly. Battery types can be divided into primary, or single-use, and secondary, or rechargeable. The primary batteries generally use zinc and manganese in converting chemical to electrical energy. Rechargeable batteries use a variety of materials, including nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride and of course lithium ion chemistry. Batteries in general are the most hazardous of waste materials, but there are also environmental impacts from battery production (mining mostly) and distribution (transport and packaging). As mentioned, Australian batteries are sent overseas for recycling – ABRI and other groups are trying to set up local recycling facilities. Currently a whopping 97% of these totally recyclable battery units end up in landfill, and – another depressing factoid – Australia’s e-waste is growing at 3 times the rate of general household waste. So the public is advised to use rechargeable batteries wherever possible, and to take their spent batteries to a proper recycling service (a list is given on the fact sheet). The ABRI website provides a more comprehensive list of drop-of services.

2015 registrations: Australia’s bar would be barely visible on this chart

EVs in Australia – a very long way to go

I recently gave a very brief overview of the depressing electric vehicle situation in Australia. Thinking of buying one? Good luck with that. However, almost all motorists are much richer than I am, so there’s hope for them. They’re Australia’s early adopters of course, so they need all the encouragement we can give them. Journalist Timna Jacks has written an article for the Sydney Morning Herald recently, trying to explain why electric vehicles have hit a dead end in Australia. High import duties, a luxury car tax and a lack of subsidies and infrastructure for electric vehicles aren’t exactly helping the situation. The world’s most popular electric car, the Nissan Leaf, is much more expensive here than in Europe or the US. And so on. So it’s hardly surprising that only 0.1% of all cars sold in Australia in 2015 were electric cars (compared with 23% and rising in EV heaven, aka Norway, 1.4% in France and 0.7% in the US). Of course Australia’s landscape’s more or less the opposite of compact, dense and highly urbanised Europe, and range anxiety might be a perennial excuse here. We have such a long way to go. I expect we’ll have to wait until shame at being the world’s laughing-stock is enough of a motivation.

Adelaide’s Tindo

I’ve been vaguely aware of Adelaide’s ‘green bus’ for some years but, mea culpa, haven’t informed myself in any depth up until now. The bus is called Tindo, which is a Kaurna aboriginal word meaning the sun. Apparently it’s the world’s first and only completely solar powered electric bus, which is quite amazing. The bus has no solar panels itself, but is charged from the solar panels at the Franklin Street bus station in the city centre. It’s been running for over four years now and I’m planning to take a trip on it in the very near future. I was going to say that it’ll be the first time I’ve been on a completely electric vehicle with no internal combustion engine but I was forgetting that I take tram trips almost every day. Silly me. Still, to take a trip on a bus with no noisy engine and no exhaust fumes will be a bit of a thrill for me. Presumably there will be no gear system either, and of course it’ll have regenerative braking – I’m still getting my head around this stuff – so the ride will be much less jerky than usual.

So here are some of the ‘specs’ I’ve learned about Tindo. It has a range of over 200 kilometres (and presumably this is assisted by the fact that its route is fixed and totally urban, so the regen braking system will be charging it up regularly). It uses 11 Swiss-made Zebra battery modules which are based on sodium nickel chloride, a type of molten salt technology. They have higher energy density, they’re lightweight and virtually maintenance free. According to the City of Adelaide website the solar PV system on the roof of the bus station is (or was – the website is annoyingly undated) ‘Adelaide’s largest grid-connected system, generating almost 70,000 kWh of electricity a year’. No connection to the ‘carbon-intensive South Australian electricity grid’ is another plus, though to be fair our grid is far less carbon intensive than Victoria’s which is almost all brown coal. South Australia’s grid runs on around half gas and half renewables, mostly wind. The regen braking, I must remind myself, means that when decelerating the bus uses no energy at all, and the motor electronically converts into an electrical generator, which generates electricity with the continued forward motion of the bus. There are many more specs and other bits of info on this Tindo factsheet.