Home > Economics - General, Environment > How to solve the solar storage problem

How to solve the solar storage problem

August 22nd, 2012

Australians installed more domestic rooftop solar PV in 2011 than in any other country in the world. Despite sharp cuts in subsidies, that seems likely to continue, and raises the question of how this will effect patterns of electricity demand and in particular the capacity of the electricity system to meet peak demand. I just ran across an interesting infographic prepared by a consulting group called Exigency management which puts the question into sharper focus . Under current conditions, demand peaks around noon, remains high through the afternoon, then has another peak in the early evening, as people come home and turn on airconditioning or heating. Widespread takeup of home solar PV will increase supply at the noon peak and even more in the afternoon, but drop off as evening approaches. The result, in the absence of any other changes, will be a system with a demand trough in mid-afternoon followed by a much sharper evening peak.

Source: Exigency

(More graphics here)

What can be done about this? The first point to observe is that the demand projection is under current pricing rules. Any sensible system, faced with a demand pattern like this would set peak prices to cover the actual demand peak, not the one that prevailed under a 20th century coal-based system. But, price incentives alone aren’t satisfactory in the absence of some way of storing energy. There’s been lots of discussion of more-or-less exotic solutions, but there’s a much simpler answer.

The energy storage solution

Because the evening peak is only an hour or two after the afternoon trough, the simplest response to a big price differential is to set a timer to turn on heating and cooling systems a couple of hours before you get home. The house itself then acts as the storage system. Of course, there are much more sophisticated management systems available, and already routinely installed with central AC systems, but most people don’t use them because there is very little incentive to do so.

This might not be a complete solution (particularly for winter) but it illustrates the central point I’ve been making. We already have most of the technology we need to greatly reduce CO2 emissions, and rapid progress in both PV and wind will soon give us most of the rest. The big problem is institutions and attitudes hanging over from the era of cheap fossil fuels.

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  1. David Allen
    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:20 | #1


    A bigger, more costly, solution was mentioned here some time back but I haven’t heard any more about it. The Transcontinental HVDC connector. Its best feature is the ability for afternoon sun in the west to supply the eastern evening peak and for morning sun in the east to supply the midday peak in the west. Anyone got recent info on this?

  2. Arch
    August 22nd, 2012 at 10:51 | #2

    Yep, and if the incentives on the supply side are right, something like this solar thermal plant with storage represents a way that renewable generators can meet the evening peak. Particularly because the length of time that heat is stored in order to meet the evening peak is not too long. This just reinforces your main point that we already have most of the required technology.

  3. Ikonoclast
    August 22nd, 2012 at 12:00 | #3

    Those who have followed this blog for a few years will know that I once questioned the capacity of solar to provide a near complete power solution for us. I no longer question it, due in part to Professor Quiggin’s analysis of solar power viability. The challenges now appear eminently solvable given current and arriving technology. My main original concerns were not to do with the total amount of solar power or insolation available on the surface of the earth. The amount of that power is vast. It is many orders of magnitude greater than the total energy use of global civilization.

    Rather, my main concerns related to the issue of power density (watts per square meter). Two issues attach to that. The first is the concomitantly large resource requirements for the extensive infrastructure necessary to collect that power. The second is the concern about EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested).

    The EROEI concern is now allayed. At current technology levels the EROEI for solar is about 10:1; 10 energy units returned for every energy unit invested. Some sources I have read suggest that modern civilization (even if it moderates intensive energy use like cars and air-conditioners) needs a positive EROEI of at least 5:1 to sustain itself. It is apparently an economic issue at this level and relates to the proportion of investment required for energy sufficiency versus the proportion of investment remaining available for all other requirements.

    The concern about our ability to build the necessary solar collection infrastructure can also be allayed. For example, the world now builds 60 million automobiles annually. Most of these automobiles are only “necessary” because of poor urban public transport provision and public over-use of autos to facilitate recreation. We could progressively shift from producing 60 million automobiles annually to producing 10 million annually. On a crude “manufactured mass” comparison, with autos weighing 1000 kg on average and solar panels weighing 20 kg on average, 2.5 billion solar panels can be made per annum rather than 50 million cars. Given that cars are considerably more complex than solar panels and require a wider range of materials this is a very reasonable calculation.

    To give you something to go by, the world currently makes about 100 million solar panels per annum. This is not nearly enough to get the changeover from fossils to solar done in time to save the climate from plus 2 degree warming (not that even 2 is necessarily safe). We will have to ramp up globally to something of the order of 2.5 billion solar panels per annum or equivalent in solar installation.

    Land area availability for solar is not a concern. There is adequate unused waste land, arid land and semi-arid land. The footprint required for solar is a tiny fraction of the world’s land surface area. Also, providing night-time power via Solar and other expedients is not a concern. As Professor Quiggin had indicated, much can be done with power pricing and the use of domestic housing’s in-built energy storage like hot water tanks to move the load to match solar generating capacity. Indeed, for (sunny) winter heating, there is no reason why an extra water heating system for home heating cannot be installed. These are called solar hydronics systems. If the gathering area, insolation and heat storage capacity is great enough, the heat reservoir can provide enough heat to warm the house all night.

    Furthermore, the notion that solar can provide no power at night is false in any case. One, solar convection towers actually produce more power at night than in the day. Hint, the relevant heat differential between the surface and the top of the tower is greater at night than by day. These things can generate power 24/7. I’ll let you google “solar convection tower” to find out more. The other main method being pursued is molten salt heat storage and regeneration of electrical power by steam turbines. Thus stored solar energy can produce power at night.

    I am always amazed that nuclear boosters/solar denigrators think that all nuclear engineering and safety challenges are very easy to address and yet all renewable electricity network stability and supply consistency engineering challenges are completely beyond all human ingenuity to solve. It smacks of very selective logic and the cherry picking of objections.

    The real challenges we face are attitudinal, as in corporate and public attitudes, and not physically empirical, at least with respect to solar power.

    The first challenge is fossil fuel industry propaganda, lobbying and obstruction of vital renewable policies. The fossil fuel industry has a vested interest in climate change denialism and solar viability denialism. It faces the classic danger of stranded assets. A stranded asset is one declining in value and worth less on the market than it is on the balance sheet. The stranded asset has become obsolete in advance of exploitation in the case of resource assets or obsolete in advance of complete depreciation in the case of capital assets.

    The second challenge is public ignorance and the denialist-promoted, cliché-driven dismissal of solar and wind power. It is common to meet objections like the “sun goes down at night” and “what happens when the sun goes behind a cloud”. These are uttered with an air of cleverness and finality as if they clinch the whole argument. Such objections are manifestly puerile compared to the many clearly viable solutions available. The greatest challenge will be changing these simplistic negative attitudes installed in people’s minds by corporate propaganda.

  4. Hermit
    August 22nd, 2012 at 12:33 | #4

    Many battlers believe that a Kambrook timer saves money on resistive water heaters. However it is not clear if catching up temperature losses during the ‘off’ period erases any saving.

    The problem with PV for electric heating in winter is the reduced energy capture. At a guess for Melbourne or Hobart I’d say this could be 30% of the summer yield. If PV panels were absurdly cheap a 140 sq.m. roof could be largely covered enabling a battery pack to be charged. Many panels would be switched off in summer as excess to needs. However it may be cheaper for every non-gas house to have a caravan type LPG heater (and CO detector) to get through a bitterly cold night. Otherwise centralised electrical generation mainly coal based seems to be unavoidable for cold snaps.

  5. John Quiggin
    August 22nd, 2012 at 13:17 | #5


    I agree that a gas backup looks like an obvious option in the colder parts of the country. That would still have some CO2 emissions, but if you replace coal-fired always on with a load-following mixture of 50 per cent solar and 50 per cent gas, you could reduce emissions by at least 75 per cent.

  6. TerjeP
    August 22nd, 2012 at 13:54 | #6

    When do you project that we can shut down MRET and scrap other government subsidies and incentives? Presuming we keep the carbon tax at it’s current price.

  7. August 22nd, 2012 at 13:57 | #7

    On the actual physical, solar panel side of things, I’m sure that solar power will better match demand in the future. From the graph, it appears they assume PV installations will contine to be done in the future as they were in the past. That is, optimised to produce the most electricity in the middle of the day. But now in Queensland where the feed in tariff for residential solar is 8 cents a kilowatt-hour and in New South Wales, people have an incentive to install solar systems that more closely match their demand because of the huge difference between what they pay for grid electricity and what they can sell it for. For most people this means a lot more panels will be installed facing west, which means that solar will continue to supply large quantities of electricity into the late afternoon. Eastward facing panels will have a similar effect on the morning hump, as electricity consumption in Australia generally doesn’t pick up until after dawn. While this will reduce the total amount of electricity produced, at today’s installation costs it is still a money saver and will become even more worth it as PV installation costs drop to current German levels and below. Basically, solar will better match demand than it has in the past.

    While we definitely do not need storage to accomodate a large amont of solar electricity, I think we may still end up with a considerable amount of storage anyway. Again this is because if the large difference between what people pay for grid electricity and what they can sell it for. Apparently electric car battery packs can now store electricity for around 16 cents a kilowatt-hour for stationary uses, which is about the difference buying electricity from the grid and selling it in Queensland with a new PV system. Provided battery costs continue to come down, which I’m sure they will, it may become normal for people to have at least a couple of kilowatt-hours of storage put in when a solar system is installed, as a money saver.

    I think that if home storage starts becoming popular, it may be necessary for electricity distributers to drop the fixed charge for simply being connected to the grid to stop people dropping off it.

  8. August 22nd, 2012 at 14:04 | #8

    Terje, as it currently costs about $110 to remove a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere, I don’t think it would be a good idea to scrap the MRET and other incentives and subsidies while keeping the carbon price at its current level. I think MRET and stuff could be improved and strengthened, but personally I’d prefer to just increase the carbon price. I’m simple minded, so I prefer simple solutions. I do think we can get the cost of removing a tonne of carbon from the atmosphere to under $60 a tonne, but I haven’t actually got around to demonstrating that. (I’m also lazy.)

  9. John Quiggin
    August 22nd, 2012 at 16:32 | #9

    @Terje In my capacity as a member of the Climate Change Authority I have to review this very question. We are holding an inquiry right now and you would be welcome to make a submission (as would other readers). But I won’t express an opinion myself.

  10. TerjeP
    August 22nd, 2012 at 16:44 | #10

    Thanks John. However I won’t be making any submission. I suspect it would be a waste of time given the way this organisation is stacked. Also given the extremely shoddy treatment I received during the Henry tax review I am very disinclined to ever again making submissions to this sort of thing.

  11. Robert Merkel
    August 22nd, 2012 at 17:51 | #11

    One other very simple change would be to reorient solar panels a bit to the west, to delay their peak. For Queenslanders, daylight saving would also shift the solar peak an hour later (it would also shift the demand peak a bit, of course).

    However – and perhaps this is partly due to the differences in where we live – I don’t think this kind of simple scheme goes close to “solving” the solar storage problem. The problem, rather than intraday peaks and troughs, nightmare scenarios that combine consecutive days of very high demand with limited supply from intermittent renewables. The two days before Black Saturday featured top temperatures of 43 and 44 degrees in Melbourne, and nights well above 30 degrees. The result was massive demands for electricity. They were also virtually windless (the wind arrived on Black Saturday, not before) and if I recall correctly at least one had substantial amounts of cloud in the sky.

    Energy systems that are a) affordable and b) resilient to that kind of scenario is where the real problems lie.

  12. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2012 at 17:53 | #12

    We already have most of the technology we need to greatly reduce CO2 emissions,

    Indeed , but it has nothing to do with solar or wind energy when it comes to cooling and heating (depending on climate). Locations from Melbourne to Perth and south don’t need refrigerative air-conditioning. Evaporative is adequate for those locations. Gas heating already generates far less GHG emissions than any kind of electric heating.

  13. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2012 at 18:04 | #13

    @Robert Merkel

    The two days before Black Saturday featured top temperatures of 43 and 44 degrees in Melbourne, and nights well above 30 degrees. The result was massive demands for electricity.

    Indeed, Melbourne’s potential for using evaporative cooling is mainly untapped.

  14. Newtownian
    August 22nd, 2012 at 18:46 | #14

    “If PV panels were absurdly cheap a 140 sq.m. roof could be largely covered enabling a battery pack to be charged.”

    Can I suggest the more logical alternatives provided you are willing to think long term are retrofits such as:
    1- Changing roofs to glass to turn houses into solar thermal collectors in day light.
    2 – Incorporating heat sinks into houses in the form of brick or water walls.
    3- Sorting out the heat/cool air exchange situation.
    4 – Evacuated tubes for space heating.
    5 – Mandating/subsidizing installed invertors to have sufficient capacity for future expansion of photovoltaics as necessary.
    6 – Optimising solar thermal hot water system for mid winter heat collection.

    Then current photovoltaics systems (2 kWh) are much closer to providing enough electricity in Sydney at least even in the winter. The killer is heating of water and air where direct storage and trapping probably makes more sense. I continue to remember a friend’s new north facing solar house in Hobart about 20 years ago needing no space heating because it was designed right. That made me a believer.

    Of course if you are starting from scratch and/or are dealing with big developments you have even more options like Trigeneration.

    On the other hand if you want to power an electric car that 130 m2 might make more sense.

  15. TerjeP
    August 22nd, 2012 at 19:32 | #15

    Sorry to go off topic but this is about saving energy. Rafe at Catallaxy drew my attention to this interview on cutting energy use in automobile manufacture and operation. Very interesting and I thought some here may appreciate it:-


  16. Fran Barlow
    August 22nd, 2012 at 20:31 | #16

    The point PrQ makes about shifting demand patterns and PV gets a run at the conversation:


    (truncated to avoid spam trap)

    The article shows how PV will eventually force the closure of/end new coal plants as uneconomic which, by nibbling away that the peak pricing period will force them into a pricing “death spiral”. Eventually, the price at midnight will equal the price in early mid afternoon. That won’t support coal plants. Gas peakers may be brought in to cover the much shorter peaks. IMO, that will support more wind, wave and perhaps even push households/businesses to start doing their own storage.

    On a separate note Tata’s prototype compressed air car looks very cute — and with a 200km range, capacity to refill in 2 minutes with a minimum of electricity and a price point said to be likely around 10k looks intriguing. OK you get a top speed of about 70km/h out of it, but in the city, who cares? If I can get 3 days commuting out of a 2 minute charge, I like the sound of that. Even with a PV panel for another 2K it’s not that expensive and now it’s effectively zero emissions.

    Tata Compressed Air Car

  17. Chris O’Neill
    August 22nd, 2012 at 20:37 | #17

    @Chris O’Neill

    Locations from Melbourne to Perth and south don’t need refrigerative air-conditioning.

    Of course, that still leaves more northerly and humid locations with a cooling problem, the solution for which I am in fundamental agreement with Professor Quiggin. The scheme I have thought about in the past involved using all the spare power from your own solar cells to power your air-conditioning from sunrise to sunset. Consequence: zero electric storage required. Of course, feeding into the grid complicates matters.

  18. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 07:49 | #18

    Probably nobody reads my “wall of text” posts these days, so I will re-post a couple of my salient points.

    1. The notion that solar can provide no power at night is false. Firstly, solar convection towers actually produce more power at night than in the day. Hint, the relevant heat differential between the earth surface and the top of the tower is greater at night than by day. These things can generate power 24/7. I’ll let you google “solar convection tower” to find out more.

    The other main method being pursued is molten salt heat storage and regeneration of electrical power by steam turbines. Thus stored solar energy can produce power at night. Ninety-nine per cent (99%) of the stored energy can be recovered to generate steam for the steam turbines. Of course, there are further energy losses in the electricty generation process but these losses occur anyway. The extra loss is only of molten salt heat storage is only 1%.

    2. I am always amazed that nuclear boosters/solar denigrators think that all nuclear engineering and safety challenges are very easy to address and yet all renewable electricity network stability and supply consistency engineering challenges are completely beyond all human ingenuity to solve. It smacks of very selective logic and the cherry picking of objections.

  19. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 08:09 | #19

    Experiments are now being conducted with catalytic converters and microbial converters which use sunlight as an energy source and convert atmospheric CO2 and atmospheric moisture, H2O, into methane CH4 and oxygen O2. (CO2 + 2 H2O + energy –> CH4 + 2 O2)

    A little mentioned possibility is the idea of continuing to power internal combustion engines with methane generated by renewable energy. The overall process is CO2 neutral for the atmosphere. The benefit is that we do not need to re-tool or retire the internal combustion engine powered elements of agriculture, the transport system and the industrial economy.

    Of course, this still ought to be combined with reducing private auto manufactures from 60 million globally to about 10 million globally as I advocated in another post. The point of renewable methane would be to power essentials in agriculture, transport and industry in a carbon neutral manner. A methane powered tractor or combine harvester is eminently feasible. Tractors and harvesters powered by battery packs are not feasible in open paddock farming.

    In some cases, particularly in centre pivot irrigation areas, deep underground electric power lines could be run to the pivots and main cable electric tractors and combines might be feasible.

  20. Ikonoclast
  21. Hermit
    August 23rd, 2012 at 08:32 | #21

    I regard ‘death spiral’ theories as rather fanciful, the idea being that low marginal cost or preferentially treated wind and solar will undercut high average cost fuel burners. At some point the fuel burners will decline to provide a backup service unless paid more. The facts speak for themselves; in Germany this week a 2.2 GW brown coal fired power station was opened
    A motivating factor was fear of being held captive to Russian gas prices in order to perform the backup role. Taking a squinty eyed look we notice new coal plant = big while solar thermal plant = small. That’s reality not wishful thinking.

    I suggest east Australian gas will be commercially unaffordable by 2030 or so after years of LNG export out of Gladstone. When gas is gone I don’t see how wind and solar can be much help running a 24/7/365 industrial society. See also the detailed studies by Ted Trainer.

  22. BilB
    August 23rd, 2012 at 09:36 | #22

    For the contrary view to

    “See also the detailed studies by Ted Trainer”

    see many detailed authoritative studies by Germany’s DLR.

  23. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 09:45 | #23

    As regards Ted Trainer, I’ll restate an earlier comment.

    I don’t give Ted Trainer much credibility, I’m afraid. As far as I know, he has no background in economics or any relevant discipline – his academic position is in social work. In a long correspondence with him some years back, I concluded that he starts with his desired conclusion then presents the arguments to reach it. To be fair, his estimated cost for a renewables based solution is now much lower than it was. In fact, he now concludes that an annual investment of 11 per cent of world GDP would be needed, which is obviously feasible. Admittedly, it would be difficult politically to reach this point, but since his recommendations are totally outside the realms of political possibility, this isn’t an argument he can rely on.

  24. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 09:52 | #24

    “When gas is gone I don’t see how wind and solar can be much help running a 24/7/365 industrial society.”

    It’s fortunate then, that Australia is not such a society, as the graphs above show. To be more precise, we aren’t an industrial society, and most industry isn’t 24/7/365. To the extent that we become less so, that’s all to thegood.

    It’s true, as you’ve pointed out many times, that the end of coal and nuclear will make the production of aluminium more costly. But aluminium is a tiny sector of the economy. Even if we ran aluminium smelters on batteries, the effect on national income would be trivial.

  25. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 09:56 | #25

    “Taking a squinty eyed look we notice new coal plant = big while solar thermal plant = small.”

    Germany added about 8GW of solar PV in the first half of 2012, as well as lots of wind. Even allowing for capacity factors, it’s clear that you are squinting the wrong way.

  26. August 23rd, 2012 at 10:13 | #26

    And importing aluminium from Papua or other places is always an option. (It’s a bit easier to build an aluminium smelter in Papua than it is to string a power line under Torres Strait.) I think I’ll ask the Australian government to give the current aluminium smelting subsidies to me. I’ll promise to only use them for good.

  27. Newtownian
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:28 | #27

    @John Quiggin
    Regarding your comments on Ted Trainer John, technically you are correct about his ‘lack of qualifications’. But this does him a diservice of overlooking things he has explored and pushed over the years which the new younger generation (change agents?) reading this might not be aware of but should be made aware of, and might be of interest to you as it goes to the heart of the problem of what future sustainable society and of course economy might look like.

    As a long time ‘Ted Watcher’ I’ve marvelled at his efforts to ‘keep the faith’ in respect to 70s Alternative Technology proposals. When so many rejected explicitly or de facto that brief philosophical period of ‘live simply so others can simply live’ to go and play the 80s stock market, while a few like Ted tried to keep awareness up and push for alternative low carbon/impact living when all and sundry had decided Ferraris were the go. In short he smelt the stench of neoliberalism and its shortcomings very early on and opted for trying to find the big alternative picture, play the social conscience role and argue that technology and economics were there to serve a harmony of human society and sustainable ecology.

    These ideas of course were laughed at in the post 70s reaction to the confusion of that period which led to the current managerialism dominated world – but since then I think in principle Ted has been proved right – so many ‘hippy’ things like solar technology, composting toilets, city gardens etc. which were only images of a future Ecotopia or found in small pockets like the Centre for Alterantive Technology in Wales are now moving into the very big business area – and are probably only the start. So I think his visions if not necessarily his arithmetic on economics needs to be taken seriously.

    Maybe he seems a little left field for trying to be sustainable in Sydney. I have concerns that his alterantive living solutions could not feed 7 billion if implemented globally – but others I know think otherwise. And Ted has some great social experimenter predecessors/critics – Billy Lane and interestingly George Orwell I believe – who were cranks in their own time until the myth makers saw opennings.

    In conclusion Ted operates on the fringe so his ideas in regard to economics will likely have their problematic bits. But this is not a basis for rejecting them outright until you understand fully the sort of intellectual you are dealing with. I suggest rather he shows one outcome of a people trying to think outside current social/economic paradigms – which afterall is your criticism at the moment of your own profession, Economics. Having read a lot on economics over the past 5 years from the view of an environmental manager I have to say you guys have so much you need to change to help us get to a sustainable economy in the future. And I suggest empathising with Ted’s philosophy a bit more might be a way to discover how far things have to change in economics.

    ps thanks for your blog.

  28. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:36 | #28


    I take your point – there’s a lot to sympathise with in Ted’s vision. But it’s almost always a mistake to support good ideas with spurious numbers.

    The big problems arise for me when Ted’s (inaccurate) economic critique of renewable energy is used by advocates of nuclear power like Barry Brook, or by outright denialists like Peter Lang to argue for ideas directly opposed to Ted’s.

  29. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:38 | #29

    A little more on the brown-coal fired power station at Neurath – it’s replacing a bunch of older stations with even higher emissions. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. It would have been far better to shut them down and replace them with renewables or just leave the existing nuclear plants to run a bit longer.

  30. John Quiggin
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:40 | #30

    Definitely, this length is much better for a comment. I agree 100 per cent with your point 2.

  31. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:42 | #31

    Hermit says; “When gas is gone I don’t see how wind and solar can be much help running a 24/7/365 industrial society.”

    This illustrates the fact that you can put empirical evidence in front of Solar Deniers time and and time again and they will simply ignore the empirical evidence. I used to be a Solar Denier influenced by blogs like Ted Trainers but I eventually changed my position on reviewing the empirical evidence.

    A number of posts in this thread have conclusively demonstrated, with associated empirical evidence, that solar power physically can run a 24/7/365 industrial society. It won’t be easy to make the change but it is physically, empirically possible. Whether is societally, empirically possible is another question and one we are going to find out about.

    In terms of the physics, it is possible with attendant big changes. These will include but not be limited to;

    1. Increasing energy efficiency and eliminating much energy waste from our society.
    2. Vastly reducing global manufacture and reliance on private automobiles.
    3. Vastly improving public transport.
    4. Returning to walking and cycling for personal journeys where feasible and appropriate.
    5. Returning, in the West, to a perfectly adequate, healthy diet with low meat consumption rather than greedily pigging out on excess carbohydrates, fats and meats.
    6. Stabilising world population by world-wide elimination of extreme poverty, creating good public health conditions and giving women full education, full equality and full family planning options*.

    *Experience shows these are the factors which stabilise the population by fully enabling women such that they choose to have 2 children on average. (Or the replacement rate of 2.1 on average if you want to be pedantic.)

  32. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:45 | #32

    Oops, I am becoming too long-winded again.

    Must… shorten… comments.

  33. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:52 | #33


    I meant;

    “Vastly reducing global manufacture of private automobiles and reliance on private automobiles.”

    Other global manufactures will have to go up like solar PV, solar concentrating stations and solar convection towers for example.

  34. Newtownian
    August 23rd, 2012 at 10:56 | #34

    @John Quiggin
    (re Ted Trainer economics)

    ” there’s a lot to sympathise with in Ted’s vision. But it’s almost always a mistake to support good ideas with spurious numbers”

    Thanks John I take your point and dont think we disagree at all here. I work in quantitative environmental risk assessment and this problem of harmonising qualitative social analysis with model outputs is one of the great challenges. On both sides there is a nasty tendency to start with a philosophical position and then use the numbers to rationalize that position – rather than ‘objectively’ letting the numbers tell you what might happen depending on the scenarios under consideration and use the latter for ‘decision support’ rather than to force a particular decision. And then for our arrogance we get into the question of what is ‘objective’ and rational?

    Regarding your comment of the energy contrarians – Barry Boke is a bit of a puzzle but then he is not alone – I’m thinking here of George Monbiot and other environmental notables in the UK also pushing nuclear including the latest fashion – Thorium.

  35. campidg
    August 23rd, 2012 at 11:44 | #35

    In order to use homes as energy storage other simple and well established technologies would probably be needed. Other posts have referred to solar passive design and retrofitting to achieve greater thermal efficiency in homes but I think these strategies can’t be over emphasised as means of making such an energy storage solution viable. Maybe all us JQ readers take this for granted, buts it’s clear that the wider population does not, else why would something like a national scheme for subsidising roof insulation be needed? Such a simple, cheap and obvious measure should have been standard in all homes since energy conservation first became a big idea in the seventies.

    With regard to a fossil fuel free grid, has the BZE stationary energy plan been discussed here? It’s something I want to believe in but can’t help but think some of its assumptions are a bit over optimistic. However even if they are only correct where they make thorough use of empirical data, the plan could take us to something like 2/3 of way to a zero emmission grid. Some of their solutions, such as an east west grid connection and solar thermal with storage, uave already been raised.

    With regard to the falling costs of solar panels, can we expect cheap prices to continue for the next decade? Recent articles I have read suggests low prices are due what is effectively massive subsidy for the Chinese solar industry via cheap loans from the government. Chinese panels are being sold at cost in a highly competitive market and few firms are making any profit. Will these firms go out of business leading to a big fall in supply followed by a big price increase? Will the Chinese government let this happen? Can it afford to continue subsidising at this level? Can producers outside China survive being undercut this way? Can the industry avoid being damaged either way? Different analysts give different answers to these questions and I would be grateful for any insight anyone has on these issues.



  36. August 23rd, 2012 at 11:53 | #36

    I think it makes plenty of sense to be pushing nuclear if you’re in the UK with weak sunlight and a shortage of places to put wind turbines. It is beyond me why someone in Adelaide would take the same view.

  37. Mel
    August 23rd, 2012 at 12:10 | #37

    I would feel more comfortable with wind turbines if someone could come up with a way to stop them killing birds and microbats.

  38. August 23rd, 2012 at 12:24 | #38

    Campidg, X amount of PV is currently being made in China using equipment that isn’t much good for anything else, so China isn’t about to produce less than X amount. So Chinese supply won’t fall even if subsidies are removed. If the bank ends up owning a plant, the bank will want as much PV produced and sold as possible in order to make the most of a bad investment. Can China afford to keep subsidising at this level? Yes. Can producers outside of China survive? No. Should we be happy about this? Yes. Australians are overall richer as a result of cheap Chinese PV. Basically it’s like China is giving us every tenth (or whatever) solar panel for free and being given stuff for free is not a bad thing, not if you are the givee.

  39. Newtownian
    August 23rd, 2012 at 12:36 | #39

    @Stephen L

    “I think it makes plenty of sense to be pushing nuclear if you’re in the UK with weak sunlight and a shortage of places to put wind turbines”

    From one perspective yes. But another way to look at this (Ted Trainer’s?) is that the UK is overpopulated and way beyond its sustainable carrying capacity – the sort of thing estimated via ecological footprint analysis. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_ecological_footprint
    And its not just them – the Egypt, the Gulf states, Singapore, Java, the Netherlands, India and Bangladesh to name but a few countries which are proportionately way over this sustainability index which ultimately must have an economic ‘solution’ of one kind or another.

    Thus the response I would argue is not nuclear power stations but to reduce the UK footprint (and many others) to the point where renewables are sustainable – living extremely smart or frugally or migration (two cans of killer political/economic pythons rather than worms) seem the obvious options.

    This problematic ecological footprint of the UK (I would argue), and hence the interest in centralized nuclear power, has developed because material and energy imports have circumvented the constraint of local resource availability – a story essentially of (trade) economics. But there has been a price for such dependency as is the case with the US and Middle East oil and is noted above Gemany and Russian gas.

    The economic ideal has of course been free trade with no constraints. But there are prices still such as massive economic and environmental distortions leading to arguably the current excess? power of the mining industry in Australia and biofuel distortions.

    More problems for John to solve I guess.

  40. Newtownian
    August 23rd, 2012 at 12:54 | #40


    “I would feel more comfortable with wind turbines if someone could come up with a way to stop them killing birds and microbats.”

    The attritition is regretable but it should be borne in mind that most of those bird and microbat populations have either been already decimated or actually been made possible (and hence dont belong there arguably) by the greatest ecological impactors of all agriculture and forestry. Even mining hasnt done the damage that these activities have – yet this is somehow lost in this debate.

    The solution? The truth is we havent come up with agreed formulae and principles, economic or otherwise, for how to balance sustaining the natural world and human society. Teh big question for me is to what extent this is an economic zero sum game or whether we can have our cake and eat it so to speak – as well as why Rio20+ was such a failure as evidenced by how far down its priority list the natural environment rated (a trivial component called ‘Oceans’ is the first to be found on page 48 of 81 in the draft communice http://www.scribd.com/doc/96419644/Draft-of-UN-Rio-20-main-text )

  41. Ikonoclast
    August 23rd, 2012 at 13:04 | #41

    Mel :
    I would feel more comfortable with wind turbines if someone could come up with a way to stop them killing birds and microbats.

    I would suggest that major climate change pushed by fossil fuels will kill a lot more birds and microbats than wind turbines will.

  42. August 23rd, 2012 at 13:06 | #42

    The Royal Society for Protection of Birds is building a wind turbine to make precisely that point.

  43. BilB
    August 23rd, 2012 at 13:16 | #43

    Very good point, Ike.

  44. Salient Green
    August 23rd, 2012 at 14:13 | #44

    Estimates I have seen of bird deaths by wind turbines in the US are all under a million whereas bird deaths due to windows-100million to 1billion, house cats-100million, automobiles-50 to 100million, electric transmission lines-up to 174million, agriculture-67million, communication towers-4 to 10million.

  45. Nick
    August 23rd, 2012 at 14:29 | #45


    Of the 20 billion or so birds in the US…

    Building windows apparently account for anywhere between 97 and 976 million deaths a year.

    Transmission lines, anywhere up to 174 million.

    Communication towers up to 50 million.

    Cars kill 60 million.

    Wind turbines account for 33,000 bird deaths a year.

    No idea of the reliability of those figures. Cars seems about right though – works out to every registered car will hit a bird roughly once every four years.

  46. August 23rd, 2012 at 16:13 | #46

    Campigd: The BZE stationary energy report http://media.beyondzeroemissions.org/ZCA2020_Stationary_Energy_Report_v1.pdf is well worth discussing. The aim of the report was to produce ONE credible plan based on commercially available technologies to demonstrate that we can change to a zero emission power production and emission system within 10 years. For this reason, the plan proposes a mix of solar thermal with molten salt energy storage, wind (as well as a small amount of bio-fuels+hydro to fill the rare times when proposed quantity of solar + wind won’t meet demand.) It also requires serious expenditure on the grid to over come the problem of localized wind droughts and clouds – this includes a new HVDC line joining WA with the Eastern states.
    While the BZE plan does include the use of localized energy storage aimed at reducing peak generating and grid demand.

  47. Hermit
    August 23rd, 2012 at 17:41 | #47

    Ms Rinehart has just got approval to mine 30 Mt a year of coal from the Alpha deposit. Assuming that’s thermal coal it means some 30 X 2.4 = 72 Mt of CO2 a year added to the global atmosphere. That CO2 was slowly withdrawn by plants from the primordial atmosphere a quarter billion years ago but will now be far more rapidly re-created by burning the coal.

    Wait up, isn’t 72 Mt more than the 27 Mt reduction required for Australia for the period 2000-2020? My guess it will take a lot of solar panels to erase that increase. I also think it’s time we had a ballsy statement about coal exports from Climate Commissioner Flannery.

  48. August 23rd, 2012 at 18:17 | #48

    John D, I suspect that rather than build the improved transmission that the BZE plan calls for, it might be cheaper to just build some extra PV and use existing natural gas capacity when ever renewables plus whatever form of energy storage is used isn’t enough. Then the CO2 emitted from burning natural gas, plus extra to account for leakage, could be removed by growing plants and sequestering the carbon in them. This might be a cheaper option.

    Of course, I might not know what I am talking about.

  49. Mel
    August 23rd, 2012 at 19:02 | #49

    Nick, you’e selected an FWS report that is 10 years out of date. According to the Scientific American , the FWS now puts the figure at 500,000 while the American Bird Conservancy notes that the presence of wind turbines is enough to stop sensitive species from breeding in the area.


    As Birds Australia has noted, wind turbines are often located in sensitive areas and there is a concern that highly sensitive and very rare bird species, such as the Tasmanian subspecies Wedged Tailed Eagle, are being killed more often than is reported.

    Many of the birds killed in built up areas are presumably feral or otherwise abundant species.

  50. Mel
    August 23rd, 2012 at 19:06 | #50

    On bats and widfarms in the US:

    “Bat deaths also carry substantial economic consequences. Because of their voracious appetite for insects, bats are excellent for natural pest control. A paper published in the journal Science in March said bats typically save farmers $74 per acre, and the study projects that bat deaths can cost $3.7 billion annually in crop losses.”


    It would be nice if some funding was put into reducing the death rate before wind farms increase one-hundred fold.

  51. rdb
    August 24th, 2012 at 00:03 | #51

    Do the Math’s Solar Data Treasure Trove shows some US insolation data and implied power yields.
    Iron-air batteries audition for grid storage role … if it pans out.
    Adding thermal mass to buildings with Phase Change Materials or using Solar pergolas to shade windows could be a better investment that heating/cooling with grid power.

  52. August 24th, 2012 at 12:20 | #52

    I believe the Royal Society for Protection of Birds that wind power reduces danger to birds through the mechanism of reducing fossil fuel use. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very bright and as a result I have to think through things carefully and after doing so I still find their argument convincing.

  53. Mel
    August 24th, 2012 at 13:41 | #53

    Ronald, the point is that there are many different species of birds and they and they are differentially impacted. You do understand that, don’t you?

    Anyway, I want wind farms to proceed but I would like some bright geek to come up with a solution to the bird and bat kill problem.

  54. Nick
    August 24th, 2012 at 13:55 | #54

    Mel, thanks for pointing that out and for the info. I was figuring your average Jo Nova fan isn’t really that concerned about the sensitivity of coastal rookeries and breeding grounds – that comment was more aimed at their hyperbole on the subject.

    You’re right to highlight the damage that poor planning and lack of environmental concern can wreak, and question the long term viability of wind farms as a desirable solution in that regard (and in any case). Ikonoclast and Fran’s comments in the Arctic Ice thread seem apt here.

    I wonder if there’s a slightly less fashionable sub genre of steam punk which retro-futuristically envisions 100,000s of gigantic subsonic-swinging metal behemoth recreations of 13C Christendom’s proto-machine age writ large across the landscape…it would appeal to me if there were.

  55. August 24th, 2012 at 15:02 | #55

    In the US, NREL looked at the issue of solar load matching quite extensively, and if you allow a slight afternoon increase in temperature in large commercial buildings, it’s possible to do a lot to increase the dispatch efficiency of solar when used as a peaking power source with a lot of other benefits, as shown here. http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy01osti/31179.pdf

    Not sure the extent to which this would apply in Australia. However, in much of California, the ambient temperature will pass upwards through the comfort zone during the day, and decline down through it again at night, in which case, a comparatively small amount of thermal mass is needed to provide enough ‘flywheel’ effect to stabilize temperatures with comparatively little energy input. This is especially true of houses with reasonably efficient insulation.

    Phase change material systems using media as Glauber’s salts can be used to balance heat load http://www.pcmproducts.net/Solar_Heat_Storage_Recovery.htm without excessively high temperatures and have apparently been used in Australia, according to PCM’s brochure.

    I took a very basic approach and just have a radiant heat system embedded in 2″ of concrete over a well insulated wood floor structure, all within the insulated envelope of the house. Coupled with PV, no utilities bills except for an occasional shot of propane fired hot water when it gets down below freezing.

  56. Fran Barlow
    August 24th, 2012 at 16:23 | #56


    Anyway, I want wind farms to proceed but I would like some bright geek to come up with a solution to the bird and bat kill problem.

    Apparently bats are at risk due to variance in air pressure (barotrauma) around the turbines (they rarely collide with turbines). It had been suggested that turning off the turbines during times when winds are very low anyway and in some palces when the bats are in flight (in Germany the bats primarily affected there fly mainly between 18.00 and 20.00 hours) would help a lot. Shutting the turbines down in low wind doesn’t really cost much in practice anyway and you’d only need to do it in places where there were migratory bats and birds.

    Birds reproduce more regularly than bats so losses here are not as serious though in Notrth America, raptoprs and migratory songbirds seem to be most at risk. Siting turbines at some distance from roosting areas would be advisable since it’s apparently the taek-off and landing that is one of the major moments when collisions occur. Birds regularly hit other infrastructure as well so it’s not clear that a bird that is killed contacting a turbine wouldn’t be at risk of hitting a weather station, building or some other object. In North America, bird deaths appear to peak late summer and autumn so one might posit switching off the turbines in at risk areas in those times unless there were very good winds — when birds would be less likely to be in flight. A bit of work has been done with UV paint but the results have been, apparently, mixed.

    In any event, while turbines may well be a peripheral hazard to bat/bird populations, the loss of habitat and threats from feral species (such as cats) toxics in the environment are much greater ones. It is interesting that wind turbines are singled out.

  57. August 24th, 2012 at 16:34 | #57

    Mel, I think the danger to endangered birds might be avoided by not putting wind turbines of a type that are likely to bat them into oblivion near them. But a lot of the bird kill problem has already been solved. It was done by building bigger wind turbines. Now instead of being diced in windmill blades like a badly aimed Don Quixote, the birds say, “Ha! You’re trying to hit me with that clearly visible, slow moving thing? You’ll have to try harder, I’ve got eyes on the sides of my head!” While not fool proof, it is a big improvement.

  58. David Allen
    August 25th, 2012 at 00:14 | #58

    Re: the bird strike issue. California still has, I think, hundreds of small fast spinning small diameter turbines that would really dice anything that flew through them. These have been installed for many years. Do these bird strike stories originate from there? Given the ponderous nature of modern large turbines it is difficult to imagine that they are responsible for significant bird fatalities compared to, say, vehicles, windows and cats.

    It’s a legitimate issue to study perhaps but it’s a more of an issue for concern trolls.

  59. August 25th, 2012 at 11:17 | #59

    I see it’s nearly noon and the price of electricity has recently plunged and become negative in Queensland. Is this because big coal plants find it easier to pay a fine for dumping electricity into the grid than it is for them to cut back on production for a couple of hours?

  60. Ken Fabian
    August 25th, 2012 at 11:17 | #60

    I think we are beginning to see potential energy storage solutions emerging. The push for it won’t come from the big energy companies but, like rooftop solar, will come from consumers. And the end result will suffer from that lack of application of economies of scale that would come from an energy sector that is committed to leading the way. Instead of being the heels dug in opponents they have been so far.

    In Europe, solar homes can and are being fitted with some storage – fitted, they allow PV to run the home and charge batteries when the sun shines with sufficient storage for the evening peak period. With sun shining they won’t require backup for overnight. Excess to the grid, drawing on the grid only when the sun isn’t sufficient. With smart meters used to push up the evening price of power to more than 50c per kWhr whilst power providers push for lowest possible feed in price for solar – 1/3rd or less of daytime retail price – these will have a lot of appeal for homeowners with rooftop PV. This kind of system is making it’s way into the market here too. Grid operators could do the same thing and do it cheaper but I suspect they will resist rather than embrace such a move.

    And we are seeing the emergence of potential technologies for larger scale storage. Isentropic’s pumped heat system (trial plant approved for Sussex in Britain) has claimed costs for storage less than pumped hydro. We are seeing the development of flow capacitors that combine expandable storage with the rapid charge/discharge characteristics of capacitors. Should the developers of Nantenna’s get the rectifying problems sorted we could see both much improved solar cells (day and night in IR bands) as well as the capacity to turn low grade heat direct to electricity, with enormous potential for low cost thermal electrical storage. None receive anything like the funding and support that the scale of the problem deserves and requires, yet even without it the extent of innovation continues to amaze me.

    Ultimately, as long as there is strong acceptance of the need for this energy transition, we can tolerate some level of temporary inconvenience or cost impost during that transition. It’s the coddling of the deniers of the problem that contributes to the belief that our society is so fragile and strained that it can’t manage a firm commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. And that’s based on pretending into irrelevance the long term costs and consequences of climate change.

    Nuclear in Australia has to content itself with being the bottom of the barrel backup plan – they have no mainstream political support, especially not from the far Right, who’s hostility to climate action undermines all claims of being supporters of nuclear to replace fossil fuels. That might change if the LNP drops the BS climate denial and unwavering support – even to denying science based reality – for fossil fuels.

  61. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2012 at 12:00 | #61

    Ken Fabian says; “It’s the coddling of the deniers of the problem that contributes to the belief that our society is so fragile and strained that it can’t manage a firm commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. And that’s based on pretending into irrelevance the long term costs and consequences of climate change.”

    Those are very true words. I used to disbelieve that solar could take up the slack when fossils were phased out or ran out because of solar energy density and EROEI issues. That did not make me a fossils booster or a climate change denier. It just made me a doomster. However, as Ken essentially points out above, peak oil doomsters who say solar can never take over are just playing into the hands of the fossils boosters who then say “right, we might as well burn it all then.”

    We have to make the change to solar and stop burning fossil fuels. That is our only chance. Solar can make enough power. With modern technologies, solar energy density is sufficient as is EROEI . Also, there are enough technologies available to store power and spread power provision over the 24 hour period. The trouble is you can present this evolving and emerging evidence to people brainwashed by corporate propaganda and their eyes go blind and their ears stone deaf. They refuse to perceive and absorb the evidence.

  62. Hermit
    August 25th, 2012 at 12:22 | #62

    I guess household batteries could be a case where micro-capital outperforms macro capital. The households just want modest bill savings not enough profit to pay a dividend to shareholders. Multiply that by thousands and it mounts up. Where this helps prevent grid blackouts is the so called house-to-grid H2G scenario. This now seems more plausible than vehicle-to-grid V2G due to the slow uptake of battery cars. Houses can use clunky longlife batteries like nickel iron not short lived but necessarily lightweight lithium polymer for example.

    If a city like Melbourne needs an average of say 2GW to get through a frosty night (electric blankets and all) for say 10 hours that is 20 gigawatt-hours of energy, a staggering amount to get from large scale storage sources, even pumped hydro. We have to consider this if brown coal is ever carbon taxed out of existence. If there is no affordable solution to the energy storage problem then brown coal will still be with us decades from now. I think the answer has to be a large amount of controllable low-carbon realtime generation, whatever that really means.

  63. Mel
    August 25th, 2012 at 13:25 | #63

    @Fran Barlow “It is interesting that wind turbines are singled out.”

    It is true that the WSJ and other right wing rags are experiencing some schadenfreude about the issue and are indeed singling it out but it is equally true that Birdlife Australia and its o/s equivalents have legitimate concerns and the evidence to back up those concerns. You are also making the mistake of ignoring the fact that different bird species suffer differential impacts. Sigh.

  64. Salient Green
    August 25th, 2012 at 19:33 | #64

    Birds have the ability to see the world in ultra violet and it made me wonder if there was some sort of coating which was invisible to humans but visible to birds which could be applied to wind turbine blades.
    Unsurprisingly, someone else has thought of it before me and taken a patent out but I have not been able to find out if wind turbine manufacturers have plans to use it or similar technology.
    Well done Mel for your persistance. While wind turbines kill minimal creatures in comparison with other man-made structures we should not be complacent and solving the problems for bats and birds probably would involve only a couple of PhD students and a fraction of a percent of profits. The technology could then be applied more widely to prevent deaths on other Human constructs.

  65. Ikonoclast
    August 25th, 2012 at 19:54 | #65


    The first question to ask is this. Is all that heating in Melbourne really necessary? Surely, properly insulated houses, thermal underwear, thermal sleepwear and feather-down fitted covers would do part of the trick. In addition, houses could have solar hydronics thermal heating as well as solar hot water. Electric boost would be needed but if Victoria built a few large solar convection towers which produce power 24/7 then the problem would be solved.

  66. Hermit
    August 25th, 2012 at 22:51 | #66

    Maybe the young and fit can and should rug up. However Victoria suspended the time-of-use electricity pricing trial because it looked like the frail elderly would forego heating or aircon in extreme weather. In contrast some people have electric blankets for their dogs.

    I thought convection towers had passed into history like HDR geothermal. The latter of course lost its two main backers this week in the form of Origin Energy and the federal government. Not sure what’s happened to the Mildura Solar Concentrator plant which was about as far from Melbourne as you can get while still in Victoria. Perhaps that’s the where the sun is.

  67. August 26th, 2012 at 12:38 | #67

    If we we end up with a peak in the morning and a larger peak in the evening, it will be good for the economics of Australia’s existing pumped storage. Water can be pumped up hill in the very early morning at low cost and then used to help meet the morning peak. Then water can be pumped up hill in the middle of the day using cheap solar electricity and used to help meet the evening peak. This double pumping is already being done in Germany. Having two peaks in a day with cheap electricity on either side is good for the economics of storage overall. But it is possible that low cost eastward facing PV may end up meeting a great deal of the morning demand.

  68. Hermit
    August 26th, 2012 at 15:01 | #68

    A good starting point for the practicality of pumped hydro for gigawatt-hour level energy storage is this article

  69. August 26th, 2012 at 16:11 | #69

    I think we are unlikely to see new pumped storage in Australia. To me it looks like electrochemical or perhaps thermal storage will be cheaper before long. And of course using natural gas and then removing the CO2 released from the atmosphere is also an option.

  70. Hermit
    August 26th, 2012 at 17:34 | #70

    If it turns that large scale energy storage proves impractical then we will have to generate say half our peak electrical demand in real time in a way that is low carbon and independent of the time of day or year. That can only mean hamsters on treadmills.

  71. Nick
    August 26th, 2012 at 18:04 | #71

    This isn’t a nice video to watch, but it’s instructive as to how larger prey birds – often proteced species – are placed at risk by poor situating of turbines, and regardless of what speed they’re turning at.


    (watch with the sound turned off)

    I take Mel’s point about the effects on different species more strongly now. There’s several species of rare birds in the UK for whom collision isn’t the issue at all – they’ll simply avoid the area completely. It’s the distance they have to travel further up the coast to forage for food…an extra 5 miles each way means less they can bring back for their young, less sleep, less eggs laid and less eggs hatching. Their populations are declining significantly as a result.

    I posted here on the London Array a few months ago…the reason approval of Phase 2 has been held up these last couple of years is the Red Throated Loon populations in those Thames estuaries, and concerns similar to the above. I think I remember the whole thing was possibly going to have to be shifted by a couple of miles…that’s good, afaic. That’s how it should be.

  72. Ken Fabian
    August 27th, 2012 at 08:37 | #72

    Hermit, the household battery as a means to even out fluctuations from solar (time shifting) within the grid is the primary intent with this technology in Europe. In Australia it looks more like a way for owners of rooftop PV to maximise their investment within the context of the reduced commercial and regulatory incentives of hostile-to-renewables electricity providers in combination with governments with hostile-to-climate-action agendas. These systems by themselves can’t eliminate the need for bad weather backup but they do impact predictable daily fluctuations. As part of the capital cost of a new home the inclusion of storage sufficient for a single overnight (just like with insulation, passive heating and cooling, better efficiency) isn’t going to be a bank breaker and will prove themselves to be worthwhile simply for that maximising the value aspect. I expect these kinds of home accessories won’t stay high priced and niche with such strong market prospects. Admittedly it’s an interim partial solution – something that needs to be in combination with growing R&D&D (and Deployment) budgets and incentives for utility scale storage.

  73. August 27th, 2012 at 08:43 | #73

    It is possible to use a type of energy storage with exisiting gas turbines. This is done by using electricity when it is cheap to make ice and later when the gas turbine is used the ice is used to cool the intake air and improve the efficiency of the turbine. Also, if the price of electricity drops low enough, electrical resistance heating can be used to maintain pressure in boilers at coal plants, allowing them to quickly respond when the cost of electricity rises.

  74. Ken Fabian
    August 27th, 2012 at 08:45 | #74

    I meant to add a link to Sol-Ion

  75. August 27th, 2012 at 10:22 | #75

    Ronald: You can go further than making ice and store surplus energy as liquid air. The liquid air is then used a “fuel” for a gas turbine. Higher energy recoveries can be achieved if there is low grade heat available. A 300kW pilot plant has run for 9 months at a Scottish power plant. See: http://www.gizmag.com/liquid-air-energy-storage/18148/

  76. August 27th, 2012 at 10:50 | #76

    Thanks for the link, John D. I haven’t really paid much attention to cryostorage, though I have wondered if it could be used for either emergency generation or energy storage at hospitals and other places where they store large amounts of liquid oxygen or nitrogen.

  77. Hermit
    August 27th, 2012 at 11:34 | #77

    A parallel to home batteries is the rainwater tank rebate offered by some councils (example. The water reticulation network tops up tanks in dry times while hopefully overall network demand is reduced. However it does not ‘suck back’ as envisaged for V2G or H2G (Wiki B2G) battery schemes. The quarter acre block now considered large may be pushing to have both water tanks and battery sheds. A cool-to-the-touch 10 kwh battery the size of a bar fridge doesn’t exist yet. The Do the Math articles are not hopeful this will improve.

    Agreed nuclear does not yet have a social license here but I see no realistic way that Victoria can wean itself off brown coal (~6GW capacity) given their gas fields are rapidly ageing. South Australia has a 70% wind/gas combination and power prices that will scare away new industry, to wit the Olympic Dam expansion. I think one or both of those States should try a prefabricated nuke (SMR, available circa 2020) ) out of the city limits to see if they go OK.

  78. August 27th, 2012 at 13:28 | #78

    Hermit, the size and heat characteristics of a bar fridge is pretty much what 10 kwh of lithium-ion batteries have now. Check out what is currently being used in electric cars.

    And with solar frequently pushing the price of electricity down to zero during the day and wind often doing the same late at night, I’m afraid the economics for nuclear power will be simply horrid by 2020.

  79. Hermit
    August 27th, 2012 at 17:03 | #79

    RB lithium batteries will no doubt appear in flashy hybrid cars driven by plastic surgeons
    The batteries are too expensive and short lived for household solar.

    There’s a couple of hurdles facing mandated wind and solar. One is the possible election of Abbott who may take his cues from O’Farrell and Baillieu. The other is the possible demise of the RET by 2020. If the RET goes electricity retailers may prefer to pay little or nothing for other people’s solar power instead of being obliged to.

  80. August 27th, 2012 at 18:01 | #80

    Hermit, in the first quarter of this year lithium-ion batteries appeared to store electricity for about 16 cents a kilowatt-hour for stationary use. The difference between the purchase and sale price of electricity for homeowners in Queensland is now about 16 cents. What figures are you using for cost per kilowatt-hour, cycle efficiency, degregation, and discount rate?

  81. Newtownian
    August 27th, 2012 at 18:11 | #81


    “A cool-to-the-touch 10 kwh battery the size of a bar fridge doesn’t exist yet.”

    As I understand it the whole feed-in system was designed to eliminate the need for poor cost benefit home power storage systems. But now the likes of the NSW government (with more to follow one suspects) have decided to game the system by charging us 46c per kWh for peak grid power they supply and then only give us 6 to 8 c per kWh in return.

    So this is a very interesting discussion which is likely to be seen more of in the future.

    The interesting time for revisiting it will I guess come in 2016 just before the current feed-in tarrifs are scrapped and a lot of consumer/producers discover the scale of the unfairness being foisted on us by IPART etc.

    Personally I’m tossing up the following options – upon which maybe you Herit have some comments:
    1. By 2016 presumably photovoltaics and inverters will presumably be cheaper still so it may make a lot of sense to expand a 1.5 to 2 kW system if only out of spite. But what is the practicality?
    2. Replacing/modify all energy guzzling appliances – e.g. changing the solar thermal hot water mains boost to run on photovoltaics electricity. Again how practical?
    3. Replacing the current home heating to run on evacuated tubes (seems practical but cost is a question).
    4. Ensuring all ancillary energy conservation/reduction modifications have been installed.

    At this point I wonder if we would necessarily need 10 kWh of storage?

    Put another way – where does the balance lie between putting money into batteries as against pushing energy management and conservation to the limit?

  82. Freelander
    August 27th, 2012 at 18:16 | #82

    Mel :
    Ronald, the point is that there are many different species of birds and they and they are differentially impacted. You do understand that, don’t you?
    Anyway, I want wind farms to proceed but I would like some bright geek to come up with a solution to the bird and bat kill problem.

    Surely bird bat kill is the sort of problem that solves itself, eventually, at least. Ask the Japanese, this problem, in relation to killing large numbers of whales is essentially self solving.

  83. Hermit
    August 28th, 2012 at 09:23 | #83

    I suggest a criterion for batteries, smart wiring or smart appliances is a payback period of under 15 years. Most of us don’t know if we will still be on this mortal coil by then. It’s easier to impress the neighbours with a shiny new car than a household energy makeover. Things like ground source cooling are much harder to retrofit than build from scratch. We’ve seen that subsidised quick fixes like roof insulation and imposed fixes like smart meters can backfire. That’s why I like the idea of grid energy not much dearer than coal fired but without the CO2. Efficiency is no longer really a problem and pensioners can run their aircons in hot weather.

    Re lithium batteries for houses there has been a suggestion that degraded batteries from the Chevrolet Volt be used for this purpose, replacement cost over $10k I believe. Slight problem is people aren’t buying the cars so the market isn’t there yet. I suggest 10 kwh since a family of four (some with gas appliances and solar HWS) average about 22 kwh electrical consumption a day. Half that amount in storage may still not be enough for a night during a wintry week.

    I referred to the RET Review to be chaired by Bernie Fraser. I should mention one of the panel will be Pr Quiggin.

  84. August 28th, 2012 at 10:12 | #84

    Lithium-ion storage has a payback period of under 15 years in Queensland, using the price of $650 dollars a kilowatt-hour from earlier this year for electric car battery packs. (Lithium-ion batteries used in laptops and other devices are cheaper per kilowatt-hour but not as durable.) In fact, small amounts of storage can have very rapid payback times. This is because a lot of households with PV dip into grid electricity during the day as a result of fluctuations in power use and light levels. A couple of kilowatt-hours of storage can smooth out fluctuations and reduce the use of grid electricity. If a small amount of storage is cycled 3 times a day it could pay for itself in under 4 years. Mind you, that’s not including installion costs.

  85. Ken Fabian
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:18 | #85

    For leveling the day vs night fluctuations I doubt many homes would need 10kWhr of storage. Leveling longer duration weather related fluctuation remains a challenge, however just handling that diurnal variation would give significant benefits, shifting the line where intermittent solar becomes problematic, shifting the backup generators from every night to more widely spaced periods. I’m not convinced that Li-Ion is the best choice for stationary storage, although being compact probably makes it more attractive to sell and easier to fit into existing homes. The particular unit I linked to is made to last 20 years – over that period, especially within a framework of rising carbon prices it could prove to be a sound investment. If it takes off we can reasonably expect retail costs to be reduced.

    The real competition for household storage will be – or should be – energy providers providing storage as a service for rooftop solar owner and doing it at lower costs than putting a battery in every home. I believe there is a trial system of that nature near Lake Macquarie.

    Ultimately the Lithium supply limit will rear it’s head – it’s not that abundant – and it will be something else that supplants the not very well suited to the task lead acid mainstay of electrochemical energy storage. Vanadium flow batteries? Flow Capacitors? Iron-air? Pumped heat? Compressed air?

    I really do think that storage has been the poor relation in the new energy equation and our lack of options right now doesn’t so much represent a limitation beyond which our technology can’t go, it represents a couple of decades of inadequate efforts to invest in innovation to get around those limitations. It’s an area of R&D&D that’s just beginning to get a modicum of serious attention – we perhaps were lured into thinking our grid operators were forward looking and wanted to redevelop the grid to redistribute and load level ahead of renewables to reduce the need for energy storage – as we have been told is both possible and necessary. What they’ve given us is a grid rebuilt for continued, unrestrained growth of fossil fuel based energy. Costs incurred for that blamed, by pollies who should and almost certainly do know better, on rooftop solar and carbon pricing.

  86. Newtownian
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:28 | #86

    @Ronald Brak

    “Lithium-ion storage has a payback period of under 15 years in Queensland, using the price of $650 dollars a kilowatt-hour from earlier this year for electric car battery”

    Ronald – this is now but do you have thoughts on the future economics here. USGS puts Lithium reserves at only 25 million tonnes. How far will this go one wonders?

    There is of course a lot in seawater but its only present at about 0.1 ppm if memory serves me and its extraction would likely be expensive. Any thoughts on the economics and resource constraints on a long term global ‘lithium’ economy – leaving aside for the moment the D-T fusion can of worms.

  87. Troy Prideaux
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:39 | #87

    Wiki puts the reserves at 39 million tonnes.
    I’m not in any hurry to jump back into to investing in companies like Galaxy Resources just yet.

  88. Ikonoclast
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:42 | #88

    The future lies in the utilisation of ubiquitous resources rather than the utilisation of localised and rare resources.

    “Ubiquitous Resources are found more or less everywhere on the earth’s surface (e.g., air, light, water). Localized Resources are found only in certain parts of the world (e.g., copper, iron ore etc.).” – Wikipedia.

    Key ubiquitous resources are solar insolation for energy plus water, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, silicon and silicate materials, sodium, calcium and others.

    I suspect a future sustainable, renewable economy will need to revolve around ubiquitous Resources. Again, this is worth a post maybe sometime in the sandpit.

  89. Ikonoclast
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:46 | #89
  90. Troy Prideaux
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:52 | #90

    Interesting chart. I wouldn’t have picked Li to be more abundant than Cu.

  91. Newtownian
    August 28th, 2012 at 10:57 | #91

    @Troy Prideaux

    Thanks Troy I’ll have to look up their primary source.

    Regarding investing – thats of course another can of worms. If the Arctic/Greenland do keep melting and we experience some severe summer heat waves and drought we might again return to an energy system tipping point where the markets lemmings generate yet another problematic commodity bubble – in Lithium – in which case you could regret your lack of foresight – in hindsight of course – ha!

    This whole resource commodity speculation is both worrying and fascinating to me and of course something for John Quiggin to perhaps do a more directed blog on???

    The boom and bust driven by short term shortage and the merchant bank speculation industry as happenned a few years back with Phosphorus would be fascinating to just watch if it wasnt for the fact that real people are likely to get hurt by this madness.

  92. Newtownian
    August 28th, 2012 at 11:19 | #92


    “The future lies in the utilisation of ubiquitous resources rather than the utilisation of localised and rare resources.”

    The difficulty with this is where and how do you draw the line? We use a lot of these rarer elements to promote sustainability. A classic example – one of many – is light emitting diodes which use all sorts of rare earths. Now maybe and hopefully organic substitutes can be found but this isnt guaranteed.

    Conversely abundant resources arent without their impacts – the best source of Calcium is limestone which is not exactly sustainable and its production is highly CO2 emitting.

    A final trap is we have constructed a world heading toward 10 billion which in my opinion at least can probably only be maintained (though not forever) through energy and high technology inputs. Much as I prefer the notion of living sustainably and agree great efficiencies can be made by living more (economically) sustainably its still a challenge as to how to support that number of people in a decent fashion. Lovins, Brundtland et al. push the high tech + growing the global economy (presumably including energy demand) and propose 4 to 5 fold increases for starters – and they are nominally good guys.

    In conclusion I concur with your sentiments but whether its feasible economically as well as resource wise is not clear to me. And this whole energy storage bit is a fascinating microcosm of the challenge.

    A trvial

  93. Ikonoclast
    August 28th, 2012 at 11:37 | #93

    @Troy Prideaux

    Of course, there are a few things to remember about that chart.

    1. The vertical axis is logarithmic. Probably anything below an abdundance of 10^3 (or 1/1000th less abundant than silicon) is relatively rare.

    2. These are crustal or combined lithosphere, ocean and atmosphere concentrations.

    3.”Ubiquitous” in this context really means “a lot almost everywhere”. So it would include sand (silica and argonite) and water even though there is not much water in deserts (usually) and little easily accessible sand or silica/argonite in the midst of the oceans or in Antartica. Although iron oxides are common in the lithosphere, economically mineable deposits are relatively rare and do not qualify as ubiquitous.

    “Iron ores are rocks and minerals from which metallic iron can be economically extracted. The ores are usually rich in iron oxides and vary in color from dark grey, bright yellow, deep purple, to rusty red. The iron itself is usually found in the form of magnetite (Fe3O4), hematite (Fe2O3), goethite (FeO(OH)), limonite (FeO(OH).n(H2O)) or siderite (FeCO3).

    Ores carrying very high quantities of hematite or magnetite (greater than ~60% iron) are known as “natural ore” or “direct shipping ore”, meaning they can be fed directly into iron-making blast furnaces. Most reserves of such ore have now been depleted.” – Wikipedia

    It’s interesting to note that most reserves of high grade direct shipping ore are already depleted.

    So, we really have to look at what we can make (and grow) with solar energy and the ubiquitous elements and minerals. This is our future. So will our future be a future of (for example) silica and silicon engineering, concrete buildings reinforced with glass fibre or carbon fibre rather than with steel… and so on?

    “Portland cement clinker is a hydraulic material which shall consist of at least two-thirds by mass of calcium silicates (3 CaO·SiO2 and 2 CaO·SiO2), the remainder consisting of aluminium- and iron-containing clinker phases and other compounds. The ratio of CaO to SiO2 shall not be less than 2.0. The magnesium oxide content (MgO) shall not exceed 5.0% by mass.” – Wikipedia.

  94. August 28th, 2012 at 12:21 | #94

    Troy, 25 million tonnes of lithium is only enough to produce about 10,000,000,000 Nissan Leafs, so I would start panicking once we have produced around 9,000,000,000.

  95. August 28th, 2012 at 12:26 | #95

    Ken, I also doubt that lithium-ion will end up the best choice for household storage. But I wanted to point out that even lithium-ion batteries not designed for stationary storage are now cheap enough to be around the break even point for energy storage in Queensland.

  96. Ikonoclast
    August 28th, 2012 at 13:06 | #96

    I have found a paper which suggests known recoverable reserves of Lithium are about 12 MT to 14 MT. This is about half of what Ronald Brak nominates. Still, these reserves are healthier than I would have suspected.

    This paper further suggests that;

    “The alternative battery technologies of ZnAir and NaNiCl are not resource constrained and offer potentially higher performance than Li-Ion.”

    (Look up a pdf paper “The Trouble With Lithium”).

    Na and Cl are certainly ubiquitous resources. I am not sure if Zn and Ni also qualify.

    However, it seems clear to me that a (partial) battery storage economy has very significant transition potential and perhaps even some sustainable potential. (Pun not really intended on that last word.)

    I think with all of these technologies (solar, wind, batteries, molten salt heat storage, even some nuclear perhaps if in very safe situations geologically, geographically, politicially) it is not an either/or situation. We will likely have to use all of the above to transition away from fossil fuels.

    The same reasoning applies to exhaustible mineral resources versus ubiquitous mineral and chemical resources. We will have to substantially use all the former to transition successfully to an economy running on the latter.

  97. BilB
    August 28th, 2012 at 13:14 | #97

    Looking at some of the talk around the Envia battery, though there is nothing up to the minute and that is usually a worry, talks about $125 per kwhr for their 400 whrs/kg batteries. If that comes to fruition then domestic storage is not at all an issue with 40 kwhrs possible for $6000 or less once the Envia’s are available.

    I think that storage is not at all an issue that needs to be”solved”. I’m fairly certain from what I have seen of the many initiatives under way that the energy storage issue will solve itself, in the market way.

    No matter how you look at it JQ was correct at the outset. Use a timer, or just give it time…..problem solved.

  98. quokka
    August 28th, 2012 at 14:21 | #98


    If storage is “not an issue”, then why is Germany building new fossil fuel power plants? These things, once built, are going to be hard to get rid of for decades. In the “market way” coal is displacing gas in Germany because coal is cheaper than gas and carbon has a low price. 2.2 GWe of new coal capacity has just been started up.


    With all the hype, one would have thought that of all countries, Germany should be able to tread the renewables only path. But such is not the case.

    The reality is that storage, other than hydro, is not here on the scale and at a cost that makes it of any significance. Intermittent renewables are likely to be backed by burning stuff for the foreseeable future, except where hydro is available.

  99. Hermit
    August 28th, 2012 at 17:33 | #99

    I’d argue that we’ve done a time-saver version of the latest German move. We thought about shutting down 2 GW of brown coal fired generation but changed our minds. Under ‘contracts-for-closure’ several brown or dirty black coal coal burners put their hand up to be bought out.
    These were Playford, Brix and Munmorah. However when two big outfits wanted in, namely 1.6 GW Hazelwood and 1.5 GW Yallourn, like the Germans we had to think seriously about whether we had enough cheap gas to replace them.

    It looks like the small station Playford will be changed to a solar steam boost. Expect plenty of carbon burning VIP limos turning up for photo ops if it ever happens. So when will Yallourn and Hazelwood be replaced? My guess is circa 2030. Something doesn’t seem to working with carbon tax or the solar mandate.

  100. BilB
    August 28th, 2012 at 22:10 | #100

    It is a short term problem, Quokka, while industry, community, and the market adapts. Your primary assumption in your comment is that the situation is insoluble and therefore permanent. False.

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