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Monday Message Board

November 24th, 2008

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. I’m still interested to learn if readers are finding the site more responsive following the migration to an accelerated server (of course, feel free to post on any topic, but a brief comment on this point much appreciated). As usual civilised discussion and no coarse language.

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  1. Smiley
    November 24th, 2008 at 14:46 | #1

    As usual no civilised discussion

    That’s the second time you’ve posted that JQ.

    Occasionally I would get server time out errors with the old server, but I haven’t experiences one yet with the new server.

  2. Crispin Bennett
    November 24th, 2008 at 15:58 | #2

    John, from here (Optusnet cable in Brisbane), your site is significantly more responsive since the migration. I often used to open it up in a background tab in Firefox, and read other stuff whilst waiting for it to load up. No need to do that now.

  3. Ian Gould
    November 24th, 2008 at 16:03 | #3

    So as I was wlaking to work this morning past a massive traffic snarl on Brsbane’s south side I got to thinking abotu the domestic solar rebates and the cost of solar power.

    The current quoted cost of a soalr installation for the typical household is apparemtly around $20,000.

    There are roughly 8-10 million households in Australia so it seems to me that without allowing for any savings for am assive increase inscale you could outfit every home and housing unit in Australia with solar panels for roughly $160-200 billion. That’s $16-20 billion a year over ten years or $8-10 billion a year over 20 years.

    Many of our existing coal-fired pwoer plants woudl still be reuired to power industry – and those plants would also be available to porivde bakc-up power to the domestic sector. You’d probably also soem investment in pumped- hydro and other forms of power storage.

    Net cost would be a lot lower than the total cost because of the savings ot households on their power bills.

    There’d also be a big boost to employment since evne if the cells thmselves were imported (and a program of this size could well change that) the structural elments and the installation work would be done locally.

    The residential sector accounts for almost 10% of Australia’s total GHG emissions. So we could reduce emissions by roughly that amount (by the end of the project) for $8-10 billion year (before taking into account either the savings on electric bills or the employment effects).

    Of course, you could likely get a lot more reductions by putting that same money into wind power, fuel-efficiency for cars or repalcing brown coal with natural gas.

    Just some random thoguhts inspired by walking past a house with solar panels in place.

  4. PeterM
    November 24th, 2008 at 17:14 | #4

    Ian The other thing to remember is that the current generation of solar panels drop efficiency over time. After tweny years they will probably be way less then half their original output. So your $8 to $10 billion becomes something like $15 to $20 billion per year by the time you add in this drop plus a bit of maintenance.

    But don’t dispair. Have a look this article for in August’s IEEE spectrum. (http://spectrum.ieee.org/aug08/6464)

    Currently, Solar panels cost about $10 per watt unsubsidised but this article conjectures FS in Arizona have reduced this by an order of magnitude. (Thy are very secretative and are still selling their panel at $10 per watt so nobody really knows their manufactiuring costs.)

    Competitors are trying to replicate FS manufacturing processes andn o doubt will succeeed some time in the near future. When this happens, solar may become much more attractive.

  5. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    November 24th, 2008 at 17:17 | #5

    Coal fired power stations make good baseload power. They don’t make good backup power. The problem with your logic is that there would be a lot of duplication that we don’t pay for today.

    If you want the country to go more solar then it is better to build Solar Updraft Towers along the lines that Enviromission has proposed for Mildura. They would offer baseload power that could be used to displace coal fired power stations.

  6. swio
    November 24th, 2008 at 19:10 | #6

    Site is noticably faster since the upgrade. I too have not experienced any errors since the upgrade when they used to be quite common.

  7. Salient Green
    November 24th, 2008 at 19:36 | #7

    Ian, I agree we need solar electricity generation on all our roofs but solar PV is far from mature as PeterM indicated.

    Solar Thermal generation is much closer and has base load capability yet the concept is not catching on like wind is. A much greater uptake of Green Power through the utilities might encourage it.

    I really aren’t happy with this clean coal stuff when most of the existing coal power stations are so inefficient. Converting to solar assisted, integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) should be the first priority. This would reduce emissions and increase efficiency markedly with the option of CO2 capture down the track if dealing with 1.8tonnes of CO2 for each 1tonne of coal burned proved to be a good idea.

  8. Paul Hodgson
    November 24th, 2008 at 19:39 | #8

    My forecast is that utility-scale solar power (ie, large solar farms) will attract increasing levels of interest and investment in the near future. I am not an economist or an electrical engineer.

    Joe Romm at the admirable http://www.climateprogress.org regards utility-scale solar – which he is now describing as “solar baseload” – as (a) providing the second-best immediate solution (after energy efficiency improvements); and (b) as the most important longer-term source of fossil-free power.

    I live in Canberra. I stopped by a rooftop solar supplier stall at an expo last month and was told that it’d cost me $30K to install a rooftop system that would cater for most of our power needs (which are a little below the national household average, but rather more below the Canberra average. Winters here are cold by Australian standards!). $30K equates to 25yrs of my current electricity bills! I think I’d need to be mad to sign up.

    I’ve got conceptual problems with the DIY model of electricity provision (ie, domestic rooftop and solar water heating solutions). They may be preferable to doing nothing but I’d have to be convinced. I’d simply prefer a utility to provide my electricity – and to do it as cleanly as they can, and suffer some type of financial penalty if they don’t do it cleanly. In the same way, I’d prefer to get my drinking water from a utility that knows something about microbiology and parasitology rather than do it myself. This is the sort of comfort zone we used to expect before greed devoured social policy.

    At the same time, I was speaking over the weekend to a bloke who is headed off to India tomorrow and who tells me his Australian-backed and Indian Government-backed company has set up a factory near Mumbai that could make my $30K of rooftop stuff at a price that would sell in Australia for $9K.

    So: Let’s hope we are entering a phase of creative capitalist destruction where the winners emerge grinners over the corpses of their vanquished foes and where competition drives electricity generation and distribution prices down and where, hopefully, the most triumphant trophies on the wall of vanquished foes are the symbols of the fossil fool industry.

    Must dash: Will continue the rant tomorrow if anyone is interested.

  9. Ikonoclast
    November 24th, 2008 at 20:41 | #9

    TerjeP said, “If you want the country to go more solar then it is better to build Solar Updraft Towers along the lines that Enviromission has proposed for Mildura. They would offer baseload power that could be used to displace coal fired power stations.”

    It’s great that we can agree Terje! You and I are often at ideological loggerheads but on this issue we see the same solution. Solar Updraft Towers or Solar Convection Towers look very promising and are not getting the attention they deserve as a possible solution.

    These towers (theoretically) can produce power in industrial quantities and also produce that power 24 hours a day. They operate on the temparature differential between the ground surface and the top of the tower. This differential increases at night so their power output would actually increase at night. This solution ought to leave fragile, piecemeal, daytime-power-only solar panels for dead. It has the advantages of delivering economies of scale, industrial power levels and baseload consistency 24 hours a day.

    These towers may be in the range of 500m to 1000m tall. Thr world’s tallest buildings are not that far off 500m now so the engineering should not be an issue. I guess we have to wait and see if the economics of these towers makes sense. My gut feeling is that the economics will work in a full carbon tax or emissions trading environment.

    PS. I do not have shares in this technology as yet but after this current crash (2 to 3 years to run I reckon) I would consider it if governments are serious about putting real costs on CO2 pollution.

  10. Ian Gould
    November 24th, 2008 at 21:04 | #10

    “Coal fired power stations make good baseload power. They don’t make good backup power. The problem with your logic is that there would be a lot of duplication that we don’t pay for today.”

    The demand for back up for solar would be overnight, currently those baseload power stations are in many cases running at minimum load overnight and selling off-peak power cheaply because there’s limited demand for it.

    So effectively, the household units would be exporting net power to the grids during the day which is when peak power demand occurs and drawing power from the grid overnight – so they’d be performing the same basic function as current peaking stations.

    ‘Ian The other thing to remember is that the current generation of solar panels drop efficiency over time. After tweny years they will probably be way less then half their original output. So your $8 to $10 billion becomes something like $15 to $20 billion per year by the time you add in this drop plus a bit of maintenance.”

    Actually Peter I’d assume the operative life of the system is on the order of 10 to 20 years so there’d be an ongoing rolling replacement program costing $8-10 billion a year once the conversion was complete.
    In any case, my main point here was to point out the relatively low cost of this quite dramatic program.

  11. Ian Gould
    November 24th, 2008 at 21:13 | #11

    I should have been clearer in my first post – I’m not advocating that we stick solar panels on every roof. But I was surprised to realise how little (relatively speaking) even this very expensive option would cost on a national scale.

    If forced to pick a likely future power source I’d probably go with concentrated solar thermal or concentrating PV.

    There’s a very interesting prototype hybrid system in the US that puts a scaled-down concentrator PV system on a roof then uses water to cool the system which is then used for hot water and space heating.

  12. Ian Gould
    November 24th, 2008 at 21:18 | #12

    I used to be a big fan of the solar tower proposal – twenty years ago.

    Now I’m somewhat more skeptical.

  13. observa
    November 24th, 2008 at 22:32 | #13

    Ian, you need to understand that my 2KW system can be producing only 150-200W of power at 9 or 10 am on an overcast day. The only way it stacks up is me bludging off other consumers and taxpayers and that fossil fuel backup. To the extent that more of us do the same, solar feed in will hit the fallacy of composition wall pretty quickly. Notice the Feds have already means tested the upfront handout for the obvious here too and that was the pre-deficit era.

  14. Steve
    November 25th, 2008 at 12:01 | #14

    In australia at the moment, grid-connected residential PV is about AU$13-$15 per peak watt typically, though you might fluke as low as $10 or as much as $20. (the price has gone up over the decade due to worldwide silicon shortage).

    The size of the system to fully meet your power needs of course depends on how much you consume. The average Sydney home uses about 7,600 kWh per year (source: IPART), (though with a bit of thought and some changes, you can easily reduce to much less than that).

    The MRET scheme assumes that 1kW (peak) of PV will produce 1,382 kWh per year in Sydney (source: ORER), which is as good a benchmark as any.

    So to generate as much electricity in a year as the average Sydney home consumes, you need 5.5 kW of PV, which will cost upward of $70,000.

    The moral of this story is that you should do absolutely everything to reduce your electricity consumption before you think about attempting to fully power your house with PV.

  15. Steve
    November 25th, 2008 at 12:27 | #15

    “There’s a very interesting prototype hybrid system in the US that puts a scaled-down concentrator PV system on a roof then uses water to cool the system which is then used for hot water and space heating.”

    Got that kind of gear in Australia too:
    http://solar.anu.edu.au/projects/chaps_proj.php

    google: CHAPS ANU

    CHAPS = combined heat and power solar

    I can’t see it working commercially myself – not cheap enough, and looks too unsightly on a residential roof, too much maintenance for the mechanical tracker for the set-and-forget residential market.

    I dont know about the medium (ie 20 years) or long term.

    But in the short term, I’m all for a market mechanism picking the winners, and I am guessing that the winners will be:

    1. Wind power (up until grid stability becomes a problem, but we got a ways to go yet. Prof Hugh Outhred at UNSW reckons Australia could handle up to 9,000 MW of wind, currently we have about 800 MW)

    2. Switch to gas-fired generation

    3. Energy efficiency

    4. Large scale high temperature solar thermal (once it is developed overseas where investors have deeper pockets and markets are bigger)

  16. Ian Gould
    November 25th, 2008 at 15:39 | #16

    Steve, it looks like we’re actually talking about the same people:

    “Australian, American and Chinese researchers are exploring the possibility of combing solar thermal and PV on rooftops, a move that could potentially cut the cost of solar energy.

    Scientists from the Australian National University (ANU), Tianjin University in China and Chromasun, a Silicon Valley company with strong Australian connections, will join forces to create roof-mounted solar trough concentrator systems that they believe will be more cost-effective and efficient than previous models.”

    http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/story?id=53981

    “Recognizing the potential market for much smaller devices, together with engineers from Chromasun Inc. and researchers from Tianjin University, ANU researchers are working on developing a cost effective version of a hybrid “microconcentrator” and a protoype has been developed.

    The prototype measures 1.7 x 1.5 x 0.2 meters and incorporates seven mirrors that focus sunlight onto receiver tubes. Blakers said that crystalline Si micro PV cells — with an efficiency of about 20% under concentrated sunlight — will be fitted to the receivers to operate under concentrated x20 – x30 sunlight with water cooling being used to deliver heat to the hot-water tank.

    He said that heat power output of such a system is typically 3 times larger than its electrical power output.

    They are keeping costs low by using off-the-shelf products. “Traditionally, these kinds of systems have been built with expensive, specialist concentrator cells. We’ll be modifying and upgrading commercially available non-concentrator solar cells, which should result in major savings,” he said.”

  17. Steve
    November 25th, 2008 at 18:36 | #17

    Thanks Ian,

    I didn’t know that – its great to see ANU forming those kinds of links, thanks for the info.

  18. November 26th, 2008 at 08:17 | #18

    Another victory for we paranoid conspiracy theorists! Yes, the AFP has been spying on us all this time:

    QUOTE

    A private intelligence company has been engaged by Victorian and Australian Federal Police to secretly monitor internet and email use by activist and protest groups, a report says.

    The Melbourne-based firm was hired by state and federal police and the federal Attorney-General’s department to monitor and report on the internet activities of green and anti-war campaigners, animal rights activists and other protest groups, The Age newspaper reported on Wednesday.

    The company has for the past five years monitored websites, online chat rooms, social networking sites, email lists and bulletin boards, the report said.

    It has gathered intelligence on planned protests and other activities, and many of those on the watch list have broken no laws, the report said.

    It also prepared threat assessments and intelligence reports for government agencies that included material from media reports, speeches, academic journals and publicly available company data, but no private correspondence was monitored.

    Word of the activities of the company, unnamed in the story at the request of its management for fear extremists may target the firm, comes a month after The Age revealed Victorian police had targeted community and activists groups in a long-running covert operation.

    /QUOTE

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