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some chatter on the National Energy Guarantee and our clouded energy future

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Sanjeev Gupta – making things happen

Canto: I think we need to get our heads around the National Energy Guarantee, the objections to it, and the future of energy in Australia – costs, viability, environmental issues and the like.

Jacinta: Oh no. So what is the National Energy Guarantee?

Canto: Well if we go to the government’s website on this we’ll get a spinned version, but it’s a start. They say it’s an attempt to guarantee reliability, affordability, baseload security, reduced emissions  and further investment into the nation’s energy system. They describe it as a market-based, technology-neutral response to the Finkel Review. They estimate a savings of around $120 between 2020 and 2030.

Jacinta: Sounds a bit vague.

Canto: Well there’s quite a bit of vagueness on their website frankly, but they present information on future projects, such as Snowy 2.0, which sound exciting but we’ll have to wait and see.

Jacinta: So, going to our favourite website on these matters, Renew Economy, I find outrage from the renewable energy sector about the latest government decision on the NEG:

Federal Coalition MPs voted on Tuesday [August 14] to support the National Energy Guarantee that proposes to ensure no new investment in large-scale wind, solar or battery storage for nearly a decade, and also expressed their support for a new government initiative they hope will support new coal-fired generation.

A lot of the critics’ ire is directed at modelling by the ESB (Energy Security Board) – established a year ago ‘to coordinate the implementation of the Finkel reform blueprint’ – which fails to account for major state and corporate investments in renewables.

Canto: And apparently the claimed savings to the consumer are partly based on the reduced cost of renewables which the federal government wants no part of! It’s like not having their cake but eating it too. Interested parties and opposition leaders have asked to see the modelling, and have received nothing beyond a single spreadsheet.

Jacinta: And since we’ve been talking about the OECD lately, this new NEG’s target for renewables puts us behind the majority of OECD nations. Only five of them – including the USA and Canada – have lower targets than us. And yet the potential for reduced emissions here is greater than just about anywhere else.

Canto: Well it’s no wonder that states such as Victoria and Queensland are unwilling to sign up. They have major renewable energy plans in store, and are challenging what would seem to be a baseless federal assumption, that bringing prices down means excluding renewables. In fact the Feds are quite contradictory and confused on the subject.

Jacinta: Well there’s a good chance the conservatives will get rolled at the next election, so I’m hoping that Federal Labor have all their energy plans ready. And speaking of optimism, here in South Australia we’re apparently still on target to be 100% renewable, energy-wise, by 2025. The AEMO has made this prediction in its Integrated Systems Plan, which is a 20-year blueprint for renewables around the country. There are quite a few projects being developed here in SA, including a 280 MW solar plant in Whyalla, courtesy of British billionaire Sanjeev Gupta…

Canto: Yes, Gupta has argued that the Federal proposal, or promise, to underwrite new power stations, which the conservatives have seized on as a way of advancing the coal agenda, can actually be used to build more solar farms with storage – what he calls ‘firm solar’. I don’t think it’s going to be much of a battle though. There’s no appetite for investing in new coal power stations among the cognoscenti. And another company looking to take advantage of the underwriting mechanism is Genex, which is building solar and hydro projects in Queensland.

Jacinta: Yes, the conservative dinosaurs can bellow all they like, and they may even have some popular appeal, but the smart developers and investors are the ones who’ll carry the day, and they won’t be investing in coal. Anyway, Gupta has very ambitious, transformative plans for Australia’s energy system, which he sees – irony of ironies – as being green-lighted by the Federal underwriting proposal, which is neutral as to the source of the energy used. I don’t know how all this works out financially, but obviously Gupta does, and he’s suggesting we could become a truly cheap energy producer, particularly in solar. He envisions 10GW of solar capacity across the country. He’s also keen to build electric vehicles in Australia, which we may have mentioned before, though maybe not in South Australia, which was the original idea.

Canto: And he’s also planning a storage battery near Port Augusta, due to commence later this year, which will out-biggen the recent Tesla battery. And speaking of the Tesla battery, which has been in operation for around nine months now, it might be worth having a look at how successful, or not, it has been.

Jacinta: Well, I’ve found an analysis of its first four months of operation here, on a blog called Energy Synapse, though it’s a bit difficult to follow. It points out that the battery has two essential purposes; first, to provide stability to the grid, and second, to ‘trade in and arbitrage the energy market’. Energy Synapse was only looking at its success in trading. I would’ve thought its first role was more important, but I suppose that’s because I’m not much of a trader.

Canto: What does arbitrage mean?

Jacinta: Well, it’s about trading in a commodity with a fluctuating price. The key for making a quid, of course, is to buy low and sell high. In the battery’s case, you have to buy energy to recharge it, and you sell it to the grid when need arises. That may not be something under your control, so I’m not sure how you can successfully arbitrage in such a situation. From what I can work out, during the period December to March, the battery was getting plenty of use. December can largely be ruled out as a testing period, but January – a high volatility period – and February were pretty successful, March less so. Estimated net revenue for the 4-month period was $1.4 million, which sounds pretty good to me. But presumably the summer months are better for the battery as that’s when the grid is under greatest pressure? It would be great to have a measure of its performance over the winter. In fact, a full 12 month review would probably be necessary, if not sufficient, for testing how well it trades. But the battery’s efficiency, its rapid response time and proven capability in smoothing out the effects of outages elsewhere, has captured the attention of the public and of other investors. People and companies much smarter and more onto this ball than I am, are getting into big batteries – not just Gupta’s Simec Zen Energy, but CWP Renewables in Victoria, and individuals throughout the country who are installing home battery storage to combine with solar.

Canto: And very recently the federal government has been under attack from its ultra-conservative wing for providing any comfort at all to the clean energy sector, and it’s even possible that the Prime Minister will lose his job over it. It’s bemusing to me that a party which always claims to be the pro-business party is at odds with the business community over this, with Abbott arguing for a hostile takeover of AGL’s Liddell coal-fired power station – a kind of nationalisation… It seems Abbott wants the whole nation to be operated on what he calls ‘reliable baseload power’, essentially from coal.

Jacinta: Well, NSW seems to be going through the horrors at present regarding reliable energy. Its a state heavily reliant on black coal, and it’s been suffering power shortages recently because power stations are undergoing maintenance or units are non-operational. It seems the dependence of industry on a few key providers is causing problems, and dispatchable supply from solar and wind is variable. It seems that leadership in co-ordinating the state energy system is lacking. And of course, that’s where Abbott is coming from. So maybe he’s half-right, he’s just hampered by his pro-coal, anti-renewables tunnel vision.

Canto: Meanwhile the NEG is being roundly criticised, indeed summarily dismissed, by all and sundry, and all we can really be sure of is that leadership in the field of energy will come from particular state governments and private corporations for the foreseeable future.

References

https://www.afr.com/news/sanjeev-gupta-crashes-negplus-coal-party-with-14b-green-energy-plan-20180817-h144kr

https://reneweconomy.com.au/gupta-accc-underwriting-idea-may-help-slash-solar-costs-to-20s-mwh-19171/

https://energysynapse.com.au/south-australia-tesla-battery-energy-market/

https://theconversation.com/a-month-in-teslas-sa-battery-is-surpassing-expectations-89770

https://www.smh.com.au/business/markets/tomago-aluminium-warns-of-energy-crisis-as-power-supply-falters-20180608-p4zkbw.html

https://reneweconomy.com.au/full-absurdity-of-national-energy-guarantee-laid-bare-75082/

Written by stewart henderson

August 20, 2018 at 12:38 pm

electric vehicles in Australia, a sad indictment

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Toyota Prius

I must say, as a lay person with very little previous understanding of how batteries, photovoltaics or even electricity works, I’m finding the ‘Fully Charged’ and other online videos quite addictive, if incomprehensible in parts, though one thing that’s easy enough to comprehend is that transitional, disruptive technologies that dispense with fossil fuels are being taken up worldwide at an accelerating rate, and that Australia is falling way behind in this, especially at a governmental level, with South Australia being something of an exception. Of course the variation everywhere is enormous – for example, currently, 42% of all new cars sold today in Norway are fully electric – not just hybrids. This compares to about 2% in Britain, according to Fully Charged, and I’d suspect that the percentage is even lower in Oz.

There’s so much to find out about and write about in this field it’s hard to know where to start, so I’m going to limit myself in this post to electric cars and the situation in Australia.

First, as very much a lower middle class individual I want to know about cost, both upfront and ongoing. Now as you may be aware, Australia has basically given up on making its own cars, but we do have some imports worth considering, though we don’t get subsidies for buying them as they do in many other countries, nor do we have that much in the way of supportive infrastructure. Cars range in price from the Tesla Model X SUV, starting from $165,000 (forget it, I hate SUVs anyway), down to the Toyota Prius C and the Honda Jazz, both hybrids, starting at around $23,000. There’s also a ludicrously expensive BMW plug-in hybrid available, as well as the Nissan Leaf, the biggest selling electric car worldwide by a massive margin according to Fully Charged, but probably permanently outside of my price range at $51,000 or so.

I could only afford a bottom of the range hybrid vehicle, so how do hybrids work, and can you run your hybrid mostly on electricity? It seems that for this I would want a (more expensive) plug-in hybrid, as this passage from the Union of Concerned Scientists (USA) points out:

The most advanced hybrids have larger batteries and can recharge their batteries from an outlet, allowing them to drive extended distances on electricity before switching to [petrol] or diesel. Known as “plug-in hybrids,” these cars can offer much-improved environmental performance and increased fuel savings by substituting grid electricity for [petrol].

I could go on about the plug-ins but there’s not much point because there aren’t any available here within my price range. Really, only the Prius, the Honda Jazz and a Toyota Camry Hybrid (just discovered) are possibilities for me. Looking at reviews of the Prius, I find a number of people think it’s ugly but I don’t see it, and I’ve always considered myself a person of taste and discernment, like everyone else. They do tend to agree that it’s very fuel efficient, though lacking in oomph. Fuck oomph, I say. I’m the sort who drives cars reluctantly, and prefers a nice gentle cycle around the suburbs. Extremely fuel efficient, breezy and cheap. I’m indifferent to racing cars and all that shite.

Nissan Leaf

I note that the Prius  has regenerative braking – what the Fully Charged folks call ‘regen’. In fact this is a feature of all EVs and hybrids. I have no idea wtf it is, so I’ll explore it here. The Union of Concerned Scientists again:

Regenerative braking converts some of the energy lost during braking into usable electricity, stored in the batteries.

Regenerative braking” is another fuel-saving feature. Conventional cars rely entirely on friction brakes to slow down, dissipating the vehicle’s kinetic energy as heat. Regenerative braking allows some of that energy to be captured, turned into electricity, and stored in the batteries. This stored electricity can later be used to run the motor and accelerate the vehicle.

Of course, this doesn’t tell us how the energy is captured and stored, but more of that later. Regenerative braking doesn’t bring the car to a stop by itself, or lock the wheels, so it must be used in conjunction with frictional braking.  This requires drivers to be aware of both braking systems and how they’re combined – sometimes problematic in certain scenarios.

The V useful site How Stuff Works has a full-on post on regen, which I’ll inadequately summarise here. Regen (in cars) is actually celebrating its fiftieth birthday this year, having been first introduced in the Amitron, a car produced by American Motors in 1967. It never went into full-scale production. In conventional braking, the brake pads apply pressure to the brake rotors to the slow the vehicle down. That expends a lot of energy (imagine a large vehicle moving at high speed), not only between the pads and the rotor, but between the wheels and the road. However, regen is a different system altogether. When you hit the brake pedal of an EV (with hand or foot), this system puts the electric motor into reverse, slowing the wheels. By running backwards the motor acts somehow as a generator of electricity, which is then fed into the EV batteries. Here’s how HSW puts it:

One of the more interesting properties of an electric motor is that, when it’s run in one direction, it converts electrical energy into mechanical energy that can be used to perform work (such as turning the wheels of a car), but when the motor is run in the opposite direction, a properly designed motor becomes an electric generator, converting mechanical energy into electrical energy.

I still don’t get it. Anyway, apparently this type of braking system works best in city conditions where you’re stopping and going all the time. The whole system requires complex electronic circuitry which decides when to switch to reverse, and which of the two braking systems to use at any particular time. The best system does this automatically. In a review of a Smart Electric Drive car (I don’t know what that means – is ‘Smart’ a brand name? – is an electric drive different from an electric car??) on Fully Charged, the test driver described its radar-based regen, which connects with the GPS to anticipate, say, a long downhill part of the journey, and in consequence to adjust the regen for maximum efficiency. Ultimately, all this will be handled effectively in fully autonomous vehicles. Can’t wait to borrow one!

Smart Electric Drive, a cute two-seater

I’m still learning all this geeky stuff – never thought I’d be spending an arvo watching cars being test driven and  reviewed.  But these are EVs – don’t I sound the expert – and so the new technologies and their implications for the environment and our future make them much more interesting than the noise and gas-guzzling stink and the macho idiocy I’ve always associated with the infernal combustion engine.

What I have learned, apart from the importance of battery size (in kwh), people’s obsession with range and charge speed, and a little about charging devices, is that there’s real movement in Europe and Britain towards EVs, not to mention storage technology and microgrids and other clean energy developments, which makes me all the more frustrated to live in a country, so naturally endowed to take advantage of clean energy, whose federal government is asleep at the wheel on these matters, when it’s not being defensively scornful about all things renewable. Hopefully I’ll be able to report on positive local initiatives in this area in future, in spite of government inertia.

 

Written by stewart henderson

August 15, 2017 at 9:51 am