Home > Environment > Some unwelcome good news

Some unwelcome good news

May 3rd, 2015

The announcement by Tesla of a new home battery storage system, called Powerwall, costing $3500 for 10KwH of storage, has been greeted with enthusiasm, but also a good deal of scepticism regarding its commercial viability, which depends in any given market on such things as the gap between retail electricity prices feed-in tariffs for solar PV.

This is missing the forest for the trees, however. Assuming the Tesla system comes anywhere near meeting its announced specifications, and noting that electric cars are also on the market from Tesla and others, we now have just about everything we need for a technological fix for climate change, based on a combination of renewable energy and energy efficiency, at a cost that’s a small fraction of global income (and hence a small fraction of national income for any country) .

That’s something hardly anyone expected (certainly not me) a decade ago. And, given how strongly people are attached to their opinions, and especially their public commitments, there is bound to be a lot of resistance to this conclusion. Based on the evidence available a decade ago, people drew some of the following conclusions:

(a) decarbonizing the energy sector will require radical economic changes which will entail the end of industrial society/capitalism as we know it
(b) conclusion (a) is true and therefore climate change must be an enviro-socialist hoax
(c) any solution must involve a return to nuclear power on a massive scale
(d) any solution must involve the development and deployment of a “clean coal” technology
(e) a market-based solution will require a very high carbon price, say $100/tonne

I was in group (e), and was still talking about prices up to $100/tonne as recently as 2012. But it’s easy to revise a price number downwards in the light of technological change, much harder to revise strongly held and publicly stated conclusions like (a)-(d).

So, I’m not going to bother trying to demonstrate the assertion that a technological fix is now possible – from past experience, demonstrations of such points are futile. Rather, I’m going to spend some time thinking about the implications for the next round of global climate policy, and what constructive contributions I can make to getting Australia back on tract.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    May 3rd, 2015 at 17:37 | #1

    I was in group (a). I am now in group (f). There are other possibilities you have not canvassed. There are several other biosphere limits which will present serious challenges. I am not saying these challenges are insurmountable. I am saying they are still of serious concern.

  2. May 3rd, 2015 at 17:45 | #2

    We also learned this year that CO2 emissions may have decoupled from growth, which is a good sign. I also saw a recent report of a new technology to produce diesel from sunlight, air and water (carbon neutral diesel!) which could lead to carbon neutral shipping.

    i was never in group a) but I still don’t believe little technological fixes and a carbon price alone are enough – we are still going to need serious legislation and significant intervention in markets to achieve our goals. Full electrification of homes is a good start but it won’t solve the problems in concrete, aviation and agriculture … but the news this year is promising (even if the temperatures are not!)

  3. john goss
    May 3rd, 2015 at 18:26 | #3

    The techno-optimist in me is pleased that technological change has come to the rescue again, but the moralist is me is disappointed that threat of climate change hasn’t forced a significant change in the socio-eco-political system. Ah well. Santa claus doesn’t always give us what we want.

  4. May 3rd, 2015 at 18:30 | #4

    So will this allow you to go off grid?

    A typical 4 person household uses ~20KwH per day. Assuming you use rooftop solar you should be able to produce your daily needs with a 3Kw system, and the battery will look after night time use.

    But that does not taken into account bad weather. So maybe its not enough.

    Nor does it take into account greater energy efficiency, which will push things in the other direction.

    Mind you, if you live in a remote location and currently use a diesel generator for your power, I’m thinking this looks pretty attractive.

  5. Geoff Edwards
    May 3rd, 2015 at 18:32 | #5

    Thanks Prof John.

    I was and remain in group a. Although a shift to electric transport away from liquid fuelled transport is a significant improvement (because electricity in principle can be generated renewably), carbon is not the only element at hazard. Reportedly world global production of zinc fell 300,000 t short of demand last year; and there are no major new zinc mines in the pipeline. Peak copper would be not more than a couple of decades away, if current trends in growth were to continue (which they won’t). Society can knock over one bottleneck after another, but so long as the policy imperative remains for expansion under debt-fuelled capitalism, technology can do only so much.

    (As an aside, neoclassical economics, in holding that societies can be modelled by aggregating individual transactions, downplays the existence of economies of scale. The trend to home-based solar systems bothers me somewhat because the diseconomies of scale in having every house power itself with all that zinc, copper, lead, steel, aluminium, silicon whatever flies in the face of the economies of scale that are achieved by a grid. Indeed, economies of scale are so important, that the state took over the task of establishing a general grid and did not leave it to local generators. I haven’t seen much analysis of this problem and would like to see some balance sheets that tally the energy and materials expended in setting up a home-based system (and perhaps replacing it in 20 years’ time) compared with similar statistics for a centralised plant).

    Arguing in a different direction, given that transport becomes necessary when people or goods are separated from where they are wanted, the best solution is to localise so that supply lines are short as possible. This cannot be done without radical restructure of the current economy.

    The mainstream media (notably Murdoch) errs by jumping to conclusion b in the light of the inconvenience of a. Solutions c and d are seized upon in an attempt to shore up response b and prove the greenies wrong. This agenda is almost all ideological (although some credible scientists still support solution c).

  6. Ikonoclast
    May 3rd, 2015 at 19:38 | #6

    @Geoff Edwards

    “The trend to home-based solar systems bothers me somewhat because the diseconomies of scale in having every house power itself with all that zinc, copper, lead, steel, aluminium, silicon whatever flies in the face of the economies of scale that are achieved by a grid.”

    That’s an interesting issue. It might not be so simple as an economies-of-scale argument. Take the case of hot water first and then we will get back to the case of electricity. In theory, in a very high density urban area, it might be cheaper to heat water centrally and pipe it to each dwelling or at least to do this centrally in each unit block and pipe hot water to each dwelling in a block of units. In practice, with less dense living, transmission losses (water cooling as it is piped at distance) mean that it is very likely more efficient to generate hot water at each site, especially when using free fuel (sunlight).

    With solar power, there would also be a “density-cutover” if I can call it that. At a certain sparseness of population, it would be cheaper (and take less materials) to have solar generation at each house rather than long transmission lines (and power losses along the way) to get the power there.

    In addition, even an urban grid system could gain benefits from being a hybrid grid with both macro and micro producers of power. It would take a while to draw out all the possibilities and I would only be speculating. One can see certainly see reliability improvements in a hybrid grid by having household back-up for blackouts.

    One has to ask too, do we always go for economies of scale? Communal cooking would be more efficient than household cooking (at least in some senses). Do you know any suburban communities who have given up home kitchens and set up a community cook-house? There may be some of course but they would be rare in suburbia. The community eateries we call “restaurants” are dearer to eat at than eating at home. Why don’t economies of scale work there? I can think of some reasons; for example, our labour is free at home and restaurants charge a convenience premium and even a snobbery premium.

    I am no economist. I guess many other issues (other than simple economies of scale) affect these issues.

  7. bjb
    May 3rd, 2015 at 20:40 | #7

    Given Elon Musk’s track record everywhere else, this storage tech is likely to work sooner rather than later.

    It’ll be interesting to see in the Land of the Free, how the existing power companies react. No doubt even though business always bemoans government regulation and “red tape”, you can bet they’ll be quick to call on legislative protection for their businesses (as Musk has found with trying to market his Tesla cars direct to the public).

  8. Ivor
    May 3rd, 2015 at 21:33 | #8

    I have no doubt that future technology can replace coal-fired power and petrol internal combustion engines in developed economies.

    But, to impact on CO2 concentrations it needs to distributed all through Asia, Africa, and South America.

    How is this plausible?

    Climate change is now so embedded, based on a range of greenhouse gases plus concrete construction in the developing world, that the World now needs to remove greenhouse gases, and not become complacent based on such pin-prick developments as new storage batteries for the world’s rich. Surely this just reduces the rate of increase.

    Climate change is a function of elevated greenhouse levels in the atmosphere compared to the eighteenth century. This is the real issue.

    How does anything being developed today gives us hope that greenhouse gas concentration will fall back to these levels over the next 100 years?

    Science rules – there is no alternative.

  9. Megan
    May 3rd, 2015 at 21:38 | #9

    The “Thomas Edison” Wikipedia entry is a good read, too long to reproduce here.

    It’s fascinating how there are always several dynamics at work.

    Some choice extracts:

    After devising a commercially viable electric light bulb on October 21, 1879, Edison went on to develop and electric “utility” designed to compete with the then existent gas lighting utilities.[65] In 1889 he patented a system for electricity distribution and on December 17, 1880, he founded the Edison Illuminating Company. The company established the first investor-owned electric utility in 1882 on Pearl Street Station, New York City. It was on September 4, 1882, that Edison switched on his Pearl Street generating station’s electrical power distribution system, which provided 110 volts direct current (DC) to 59 customers in lower Manhattan.[66]

    As Edison was expanding his direct current (DC) power delivery system he began receiving stiff competition from companies installing alternating current (AC) systems. From the early 1880s on AC arc lighting systems for streets and large spaces had been an expanding business in the US. With development of transformers in Europe and by Westinghouse Electric in the US in 1885-1886 it became possible to transmit AC very long distances over thinner and cheaper wires, and “step down” the voltage at the destination for distribution to users. This allowed AC to be used not only in street lighting but also in lighting for small business and domestic customers, the market Edison’s patented low voltage DC incandescent lamp system had been designed to supply.[67] Edison’s DC empire began suffering from one of its chief drawbacks: it was suitable only for the high density of customers found in large cities.

    Edison took advantage of the public perception that AC was dangerous and teamed up with the self-styled New York anti-AC crusader Harold P. Brown in a propaganda campaign, aiding Brown in the public electrocution of animals with AC as well as supported legislation to control and severely limit AC installations and voltages (to the point of making it an ineffective power delivery system) in what was now being referred to as a “battle of currents”. The development of the electric chair was used in an attempt to portray AC as having a greater lethal potential than DC and smear Westinghouse at the same time via Edison colluding with Brown and Westinghouse’s chief AC rival, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company, to make sure the first electric chair was powered by a Westinghouse AC generator.

    Thomas Edison’s staunch anti-AC tactics were not sitting well with his own stock holders. By the early 1890s Edison’s company was generating much smaller profits than its AC rivals, and the War of Currents would come to an end in 1892 with Edison being forced out of controlling his own company. That year the financier J P Morgan engineered a merger of Edison General Electric with Thomson-Houston that basically put the board of Thomson-Houston in charge of the new company called General Electric (dropping “Edison” from its name). General Electric now controlled three quarters of the US electrical business and would go on to compete with Westinghouse for the AC market.[73][74]

    It’s a great story. Just like today, there’s corporate/Wall St self-interest, lies/propaganda/PR etc.. and nothing really rules but the “free market”.

  10. iain
    May 3rd, 2015 at 21:50 | #10

    “So will this allow you to go off grid?”

    You’d hope so, since you won’t be able to legally go on grid with it.

    “KwH” It may seem a nitpick, but, seriously, hard for anyone to even read past that. kWh.

  11. Geoff Edwards
    May 3rd, 2015 at 22:11 | #11

    @Ikonoclast

    I generally agree with your analysis Ikonoclast. Economies of scale in materials and energy are not necessarily correlated with economies of scale in labour. My own musings about the benefits of localisation were based on accepting diseconomies of scale in labour for the sake of saving materials and energy. Indeed, the trajectory of Western technological progress has more or less loosely tracked the replacement of human muscle power with machine power which requires external energy. Given that concentrated sources of external energy are now limiting, but the world is awash with underutilised human labour, we will need to wind back that process, optimistically without winding back the liberties that technological progress including the Internet have brought.

    And economies of scale do not trumpet every other consideration. They are just one of the factors that need to be taken into account; and I don’t believe that neoclassical economics is up to the task of modelling them adequately.

  12. derrida derider
    May 3rd, 2015 at 22:29 | #12

    I was always confident that controlling carbon emissions was feasible at relatively small economic cost (and even a $100 a tonne tax is, in the big picture, a small cost). For better or worse it was never going to require dismantling capitalism, especially because capitalism’s biggest feature is its adaptability. But:
    a) it may be even cheaper than I thought.
    b) I thought PV solar would never be the main substitute for coal, and it’s beginning to look like I was wrong. In particular, recent developments in solar have priced nuclear out of the race.

    Still, we’re not quite there yet, and absent decent carbon pricing we may still not get there. Especially as the politics of getting even a modest carbon price enforced internationally remains awful – the temptation for countries to free ride is just too strong.

  13. derrida derider
    May 3rd, 2015 at 22:40 | #13

    @Megan
    Megan, it seems to me the story of the War of the Currents is one the free marketeers, not we lefties, would want to push. Edison tried every financial trick in the book, had far better PR than Westinghouse, had more politicians in his pocket too, but he went broke because of market realities. He was flogging an inferior product and all his tame legislators, financial chicanery and PR stunts could not overcome that engineering handicap. That is capitalism at its best.

  14. Paul Foord
    May 3rd, 2015 at 22:43 | #14

    There are people using battery storage who are on the grid currently, the requirement is that thaeir battery system can be isolated from the grid in case of a power outage. Tesla will make this more affordable.

  15. Robertito
    May 3rd, 2015 at 22:47 | #15

    I know us greenies love to go on about this, but what about the Jevons paradox? Surely this means that more than ever we need a stiff price on carbon to ensure these potential gains lead to reduced carbon emissions and not just larger houses/cars/bodies for the West.

  16. Collin Street
    May 3rd, 2015 at 23:04 | #16

    > He was flogging an inferior product

    Kinda. I know bits and pieces of the story, but basically it was impossible to design an AC system that was good for large variable-speed motors and lighting until the development of power semiconductors after the war. Too low a frequency and the flicker becomes intolerable; too high and you get nasty induction effects from the sorts of electric motors you could control the speed of. This is why so much railway electrification is DC, btw.

    [and then they developed rotary convertors, which could turn AC into DC pretty straightforwardly…]

  17. Mark Pawelek
    May 3rd, 2015 at 23:23 | #17

    “So, I’m not going to bother trying to demonstrate the assertion that a technological fix is now possible”

    <- Your faith is so strong that you don't need to provide evidence for your belief. As I recall, you've argued for evidence-based policy in the past. What made you change your mind on this?

  18. May 3rd, 2015 at 23:40 | #18

    @Geoff Edwards
    There are still problems, yet with innovation in the materials and performance of battery and solar panel technology.

    What is not mentioned is that girds that will be created that are neighbourhood and community based, perhaps running on the basis of a gift economy. If my neighbour abandons his wood fire burner, and I am to supply power for his heating in his well insulated house, it is a win-win outcome. My solar panels are a sunk cost. If the demonstration effect works either by others either setting up there own girds or joining in, then the neighbourhood benefits, not just in reduced pollution and a healthier environment.

    Libertarians, for example, will take to this idea, and will thereby be more likely to accept the science of climate change. Economies of scale, I have noticed, tend to reduce the quality of democracy and human rights.

  19. Megan
    May 4th, 2015 at 00:01 | #19

    @derrida derider

    I don’t think you and I looked at that story the same way.

    When I see:

    “…we lefties…but he went broke because of market realities…. That is capitalism at its best.”

    I see neo-liberal free-market worship, economic rationalism etc…

  20. Donald Oats
    May 4th, 2015 at 02:32 | #20

    I’ll wait until it is in the can before whooping for joy. Still, Elon Musk has been very determined on this front, and has had the capital to do it his way. Big jump from here to there, but perhaps a significantly smaller leap than a decade back.

    As Megan has hinted, there is still the VHS vs Betamax issue…though if he is able to get to full production fast enough, perhaps he has that resolved as well.

    Ironically, by pushing hard for a shutdown of local (petrol/diesel) car production early, it might make it easier for electric cars to push into the Australian market.

    On a separate but related note, our local council has been surveying households/apts to determine how people get around, and how they use public transport, etc. They want to find ways of reducing cars on roads even more.

  21. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 04:41 | #21

    @Robertito

    The Jevons paradox isn’t relevant here. We are replacing a polluting energy source with a clean one at a modestly higher cost.

  22. rog
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:14 | #22

    Re a) Jeremy Grantham has some interesting views on Malthusians vs Cornucopians

    https://www.gmo.com/docs/default-source/public-commentary/gmo-quarterly-letter.pdf?sfvrsn=8

    I’ve no doubt that once big money turns its attention to renewables (and this seems to be happening now) anything is possible.

  23. Hermit
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:35 | #23

    It seems every few years we clutch onto some new form of salvation for the clean energy problem. When that disappoints we abandon it and cling to another. Only five or so years ago the salvation du jour was hot dry rock geothermal power. There was talk of it replacing coal. Now all we have is a couple of abandoned experiments in the outback
    http://www.geodynamics.com.au/Resource-Centre/Our-Videos.aspx

    Alas this observation seem completely lost on the techno-optimists. I expect we will have a verdict on home batteries well before 2020. If they too disappoint you’d have to think something else will be the new favourite. Meanwhile solutions that might actually make a difference become less affordable as time and capital are frittered away.

  24. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:38 | #24

    “Only five or so years ago the salvation du jour was hot dry rock geothermal power. ”

    Say what?

  25. John Chapman
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:46 | #25

    Thanks John. John

  26. Uncle Milton
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:50 | #26

    Even with these batteries, solar panels and reasonable pricing, who here is going to be brave enough to disconnect from the grid?

  27. Steve
    May 4th, 2015 at 08:58 | #27

    @John Brookes

    a 3kW system won’t produce 20kWh a day. Not on average over the year. Closer to 12? For a remote area power supply, batteries are not typically sized just to cover nighttime lack of sun. They are sized to give you x days of power if the weather is no good, based on your loads.

    A 10kWh battery sounds small even for residential remote area power supplies (RAPS) to date and remote area households would rarely use anything close to 20kWh a day, too expensive, they’d mostly be < 10kWh/day).

    But even with a reduced load, 10kWh of storage wouldn't let you go off grid with any kind of reliability for a stretch of inclement weather. That's why a lot of RAPS systems have back-up diesel generators, as well as batteries and PV.

    I guess you could buy multiple tesla batteries, but just having 10kWh is more about smoothing out your daily load on the grid perhaps. And even then, it doesn't sound like it offers guaranteed smoothing – hard to smooth your load when its been cloudy for 2 straight weeks. The battery would be empty. I guess it would still smooth your load if you charge the batteries from the grid as well as the PV (which is a demand management measure rather than a renewable energy measure then). So its more about having batteries to minimise your trouble to the network operators, rather than having batteries to go off grid of maximise your use of solar.

    These are just some on the fly thoughts on a monday morn.

  28. May 4th, 2015 at 09:08 | #28

    I suppose I was in the e)-camp but I thought that the first 50% or so of emissions cuts might be relatively cheaper but the cost curve rises more and more steeply. Technological progress on renewable energy and storage has come faster than I expected but I wouldn’t say that it is a technological fix for the problem yet, though it does make things easier. There is the question of materials for some of these technologies if deployed on a large scale which have been mentioned here and what would happen to their costs. Then there are all the industrial processes and agricultural etc. emissions that would have to be converted or cut if we are to have a chance of hitting a 2-3 degree target, given the expansion in demand for currently emissions producing activities that will happen still in developing countries. 2 degrees seems to mean getting to negative net emissions in the second half of the century.

  29. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 09:21 | #29

    @Hermit

    For the record, here’s my form guide from 2009. On geothermal

    Exists on a small scale already and this could be expanded with modest technical progress. But the contribution will still be relatively modest.

    ” 2 degrees seems to mean getting to negative net emissions in the second half of the century.” Agreed. Basically this means near-zero carbon from energy, net reafforestation, and lower methane emissions from ag – given the short residence time of methane that translates to lower concentrations. None of it easy, but all feasible at modest cost.

  30. Paul Davison
    May 4th, 2015 at 09:24 | #30

    Process emissions will indeed be a challenge as David points out. Consider that China has consumed more cement in less than 6 years than what the U.S. consumed in a century. that’s a lot of CO2 for which there isn’t yet scalable low cost alternatives on the horizon in the same way that renewables are for power generation and soon transportation. it’s the last 40-50% of emissions that will really require some significant and rapid technological breakthroughs.

  31. Steve
    May 4th, 2015 at 09:25 | #31

    10kWh is half a day storage for the average family, and maybe a couple of days storage for an extremely energy efficient household. So not enough storage to go off grid, and therefore not yet the complete solution for climate change – even if the residential sector was the whole problem, which it is not.

    From a green point of view, it doesn’t necessarily have much impact, because PV system owners can already use the grid as a battery, so it wouldn’t stop green kWh from being dumped, that isn’t something currently happening. It just means that you get to use your own green kWh instead of exporting them at a cheap price, but the overall green kWh generated and used remains the same (no discussion of embodied energy in fabrication). It isn’t enough storage to guarantee load without the grid.

    I wouldn’t think the economics of avoiding grid export makes spending thousands on a battery worth it.

    I guess from a demand management point of view it offers some smoothing in that you won’t be exporting to the grid, but that battery isn’t big enough to stop you from needing to put a load on the grid, especially after rainy weather such as the last few weeks.

    For the technology to be a “fix” for climate change, I think batteries need to be bigger and cheaper still (batteries for industrial loads?). We already have battery storage for residential PV and have had for decades, its just that its always been expensive.

  32. Hermit
    May 4th, 2015 at 09:58 | #32

    What CSIRO thought about geothermal a few years ago
    https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP126201&dsid=DS2
    Table 1 shows the potential for ‘dry’ ie granite which maybe adds up to 4 GW. Table 2 shows the potential for ‘wet’ mostly sandstone not volcanic rock like Rotorua NZ. Back when Marn Ferguson was energy minister (now a gas lobbyist) he gave developers plenty of Treasury cheques. Origin Energy also spent big.

    Apart from a hobby sized unit in Birdsville there is effectively 0 MW of geothermal power operating in Australia. Back in 2010/11 the talk was of it providing 25% of Australia’s electrical needs. What I’d like to know is what will keep the lights on and power electric cars by mid century when AGL and others tell us coal will be on the nose.

  33. Hermit
    May 4th, 2015 at 10:09 | #33

    The 2011 techno-optimism fad also gets a mention here
    http://www.coolibahconsulting.com.au/TiP/2015/05/02/ret-go-round-20/

  34. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 10:22 | #34

    “What I’d like to know is what will keep the lights on and power electric cars by mid century when AGL and others tell us coal will be on the nose.”

    Perhaps you should re-read the OP, rather than flogging dead horses.

  35. Ikonoclast
    May 4th, 2015 at 10:24 | #35

    @John Quiggin

    If we are replacing a polluting technology with a “clean one at modestly higher costs” then doesn’t this imply a price penalty on the dirty technology (taxes or ETS) and/or price incentive (subsidies) for the cleaner technology?

    How much is the world doing in this regard? The last figures I looked at indicated subsidies for oil and coal were still much higher than subsidies for clean energy technology. Also, taxes or ETS setups re CO2e still tend to be no more than token jokes. Australia is a clear example in this regard.

    “In its 2015 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency expressed its concern at fossil fuel subsidies, the dismantling of nuclear power stations and the 80% increase in demand for electricity by 2040.” – Euractive.

    I agree with the concern about fossil fuel subsidies but not about the concern re nuclear power stations.

    “Each year, the world’s fossil fuels industries receive 550 billion dollars in subsidies; four times more than the renewable energies sectors. In the context of the fight against climate change, the IEA raises doubts over the prudence of these investments, and calls for greater investment in renewables.” – Euractive.

    The problem here is the ongoing subsidy of fossil fuels. In real terms, we are not serious until we end fossil fuel subsidies and put a real cost on CO2e.

    Our current political economy system (oligarchic corporate capitalism) seems to be responding to the need to change at a snail’s pace. Claims that changes in the political economy system are not needed are wrong. It is precisely the ownership, command and control of the system by an oligarchic elite that is the problem and makes necessary change so difficult. Markets are currently distorted by and in favour of these elites. Markets could work well to achieve our necessary goal of de-carbonisation of the economy if they were not so badly distorted in favour of the dinosaur fossil fuel interests.

  36. Simon Fowler
    May 4th, 2015 at 10:52 | #36

    Note that these aren’t designed to be an off-grid solution (though you could build an off-grid system using them – given the price and the ten-year warranty this will probably be a common choice). They’re designed to be an energy levelling system, and the larger (10kWh) system is intended as a short-term battery backup for a household – i.e. across a short power outage. You can also stack them, up to something like 9 packs.

    If you had a grid connected solar system combined with some of these, you could make extra money using these to sell power back to the grid at peak pricing – depending on the pricing peaks, you could actually make a significant amount of money doing that (I’ve seen peak numbers in the tens of dollars per kWh). It’s possible to do that right now with Reposit Power (http://www.repositpower.com/), and with even a small storage system it would be much more profitable.

    Simon

  37. May 4th, 2015 at 10:53 | #37

    “communal cooking” is a very big thing in my city. we call them “restaurants”. But i agree centralisation isnt always the most efficient solution especially when u have high transmission liss.@Ikonoclast

  38. m0nty
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:14 | #38

    john goss :
    The techno-optimist in me is pleased that technological change has come to the rescue again, but the moralist is me is disappointed that threat of climate change hasn’t forced a significant change in the socio-eco-political system. Ah well. Santa claus doesn’t always give us what we want.

    john, don’t listen to your moralist self. He wants widespread misery in exchange for advancement of your ideology. This is the sort of evil thinking that should not be engaged in by the left.

    Uncle Milton :
    Even with these batteries, solar panels and reasonable pricing, who here is going to be brave enough to disconnect from the grid?

    Why would you disconnect if you’re producing enough power for yourself, since there will always be times when you’re producing more than you need, so you can sell it back to the grid?

  39. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:29 | #39

    @Paul Davison

    Yes, the growth of less developed nations (as was China) is a bigger problem than most seem to realise.

    The proper measurement is per capita CO2 emissions, and China emits less than half that of US citizens on this basis – but more than the EU.

    The real problem is depicted here: CO2 Sources and Sinks

    The world emits 40 GTpa, but the land sink is stuck at around 10 GTpa

    The ocean sink is also limited at around 10 GTpa.

    So the atmosphere is forced to accept the rest – 20 GTpa, and with increasing trend.

    To get back to 1900 levels we need to:

    1) level off emissions now
    2) remove what is there and
    3) reduce emissions by 7/8ths.

    Unfortunately CO2 emissions even at the 1900 level, still cause global warming, particularly if the sinks are relatively saturated.

    How can we reduce emissions by 80% if we still permit coal mining, gas extraction and oil exploration?

  40. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:29 | #40

    @Paul Davison

    Yes, the growth of less developed nations (as was China) is a bigger problem than most seem to realise.

    The proper measurement is per capita CO2 emissions, and China emits less than half that of US citizens on this basis – but more than the EU.

    The real problem is depicted here: CO2 Sources and Sinks

    The world emits 40 GTpa, but the land sink is stuck at around 10 GTpa

    The ocean sink is also limited at around 10 GTpa.

    So the atmosphere is forced to accept the rest – 20 GTpa, and with increasing trend.

    To get back to 1900 levels we need to:

    1) level off emissions now
    2) remove what is there and
    3) reduce emissions by 7/8ths.

    Unfortunately CO2 emissions even at the 1900 level, still cause global warming, particularly if the sinks are relatively saturated.

    How can we reduce emissions by 80% if we still permit coal mining, gas extraction and oil exploration?

  41. Ikonoclast
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:37 | #41

    @andrew

    Yeah but resaurants are dearer not cheaper than home cooking. This would be true unless you avoided the capital costs of having a kitchen at home.

  42. Happy Heyoka
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:46 | #42

    While I like Tesla’s gadget, and I do think domestic storage is a good idea – I have a problem with this : I have always read that the world just doesn’t have enough Lithium for us all to have one of these.

    So, yes, nice gadget. No, it won’t scale. But definitely a sign-post pointing the right direction… maybe some other chemistry in a similar package.

    (on the up side, we seem to mine a lot of lithium here in Australia?)

  43. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 11:50 | #43

    @Happy Heyoka

    I disagree with Tim Worstall on lots of things, but he knows his rare minerals. He says there’s no problem, just the usual issue that no one bothers proving up reserves until there is a market.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2014/08/03/is-there-enough-lithium-to-feed-teslas-gigafactory/

  44. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:22 | #44

    It’s Time…

    Time for a reality check, people

    Toy for Rich Green People

    We cannot rely on billionaires to develop technology to solve GHG’s. They will just produce the products that will maximise profits.

    Consequently the innovations will not flow across the globe where they are needed more.

  45. Jim Birch
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:34 | #45

    You were right not to bother 🙂

  46. rog
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:38 | #46

    You would think that a 4kW solar system would be sufficient to power 2 x Teslas plus using solar hot water would reduce present daily consumption.

    In a Sydney winter a 4kW system should produce 18kWh per day.

    Including an inverter a top of the range 4kW system installed should be ~$8000.

    Those figures for the US seem to be high, 30kWh per day.

  47. Michael Harris
    May 4th, 2015 at 12:44 | #47

    Re that “Toy for Rich Green People” Forbes article, the comments are much better than the actual article, as various people (with varying degrees of politeness) point out a few of the author’s misconceptions and misunderstandings.

  48. MikeH
    May 4th, 2015 at 13:27 | #48

    Above. Musk’s objective is to decarbonise the economy, not to facilitate disconnection from the grid. It appears some commenters are confusing the two. In a future renewable world, the grid will become more important not less e.g. The SA-Vic-Tas inteconnections allows wind, hydro and to a lesser extent solar electricity to be moved from where it is in excess to where it is needed. As the German researchers have noted, it allows the grid itself to function as a giant battery.

  49. MikeH
    May 4th, 2015 at 13:34 | #49

    Re Lithium availability, this photo of a vast Lithium lake in Bolivia would suggest that whatever you read was a beat up from the renewables haters who are already hard at work dissing Musk and the Powerwall.
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/05/pictures/130501-bolivia-lithium-reserves-pictures/

  50. Robertito
    May 4th, 2015 at 13:35 | #50

    @John Quiggin
    I guess with my Jevons paradox comment I was making a techno-optimistic assumption, which is that at some point this sort of technology will lead to electricity which is competitive in price with coal generated power. So then what will happen to all the coal that would have been used to produce that electricity? It will become cheaper, no? Especially when those who own it, and own the supply chains for it, find cheaper ways to dig it up. And then we’ll find more creative ways to waste it.

  51. jungney
    May 4th, 2015 at 13:45 | #51

    JQ: your typology of responses seems a bit brutal. The closest to my view is a –

    (a) decarbonizing the energy sector will require radical economic changes which will entail the end of industrial society/capitalism as we know it

    Except that my response was more like “uh-oh, I thought something like this might happen” followed by a desire not to see the end of society/capitalism as we know it but a transition to a steady state economy where ecological sanity (conservation) became central to economic activity.

  52. Hermit
    May 4th, 2015 at 13:47 | #52

    I believe currently installed PV is Australia has a nominal output of about 4 GW i.e. what can be achieved in the middle of non-winter sunny days. Our average power demand is about 24 GW (residential and industrial) with the overnight minimum in the eastern states (NEM grid) about 17 GW. Residential demand causes an overall electric demand peak typically around 8 pm local time in mild weather when direct solar is nil.

    Daily eastern state electrical demand is currently less than 700 Gwh however that seems likely to increase with population growth, extreme weather, electric car charging, abandonment of gas appliances and perhaps desalination. Supposed we wanted just 3 days or 2100 Gwh = 2,100 million kwh of electrical energy storage. The capex at $350 per kwh would be 2100m X $350 = $735 bn.

    But the wind and the sun will always be there some will say so we don’t need 3 days storage. The last week in March mainland wind power was under 10% capacity. Even sunny Queensland has poor weeks for solar output e.g. last week. I wouldn’t wait for batteries to save us.

  53. MartinK
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:05 | #53

    @MikeH
    I believe the issue with the lithium lake is that it is harder to extract than the current Chinese sources, and that the infrastructure would be starting from scratch, but that it is viable.
    Also lithium is not a rare element, and I don’t think it is considered a rare mineral either.
    I probably got most of this from Worstall’s articles. Wasn’t aware he was such an expert, but he always seemed to know what he was talking about.

  54. Salient Green
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:08 | #54

    @Hermit

    “Table 1 shows the potential for ‘dry’ ie granite which maybe adds up to 4 GW.”
    You need to take a closer look at your reference. Just one out of the 43 areas has a maximum installable capacity of 98,000 MWe, (98 GWe) twice Australia’s current generating capacity. From the very beginning of the report in the Executive Summary “The combined maximum installable generating capacity is over 5,500 GW.”

    To the subject at hand, the tesla batteries are very elegant, compact, relatively light and cheap for lithium batteries. This all makes them a game changer. Ironcore batteries though are far, far better economically for stationary use.

  55. 2 tanners
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:25 | #55

    Tesla’s current device is not a grid disconnection facility. In the US, energy providers are currently or preparing to charge differential prices in peak demand periods and this means that adopters will be able to economically offset peakenergy costs, as well as avoid blackouts and brownouts which appears to be a real concern amongst the digitally connected. The sticker price for this is well over $3500 – that includes significant state subsidies, so it’s probably not yet economically feasible. Key word in that sentence is “yet”.

    Lithium batteries are old news, and although technological replacements are not yet on stream, the push from mobile phones and tablets for higher efficiency, higher capacity, longer life products has already shown progress in the labs. Some are still lithium based (or lithium oxide, but with novel core structures) other use known materials not yet in large supply but capable of manufacture such as graphene.

  56. John Quiggin
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:28 | #56

    @Robertito

    That’s correct, but not really related to Jevons. The drastic decline in the price of coal since 2011 is in part due to competition from renewables. Once price falls below extraction cost, the coal stays in the ground.

  57. Troy Prideaux
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:37 | #57

    Happy Heyoka :
    While I like Tesla’s gadget, and I do think domestic storage is a good idea – I have a problem with this : I have always read that the world just doesn’t have enough Lithium for us all to have one of these.
    So, yes, nice gadget. No, it won’t scale. But definitely a sign-post pointing the right direction… maybe some other chemistry in a similar package.
    (on the up side, we seem to mine a lot of lithium here in Australia?)

    If you’re concerned about the supply of lithium, you can always invest in companies like Galaxy Resources (cheap as chips at the moment) albeit with bad management. I, like John, don’t believe there’s any issue with global Lithium supply and it’s only a matter of time before another chemical tech takes its place or maybe they’ll crack those ultracapacitor issues to render chemical tech obsolete (not holding breath but…)

  58. Peter T
    May 4th, 2015 at 14:51 | #58

    It’s good news. With regard to JQ’s typology (a through e in the post), I don’t particularly wish for the fall of the system (such changes are always costly in life), but I still fail to see how a global society that devotes considerable resources to first restoring and then maintaining a long-term sustainable ecological balance (eg reforestation, controlling invasive species, removing coastal development, rebuilding topsoil, limiting nitrogen use, drawing down CO2….) will look anything like our current arrangements, economically, politically or in ethos.

  59. Ivor
    May 4th, 2015 at 15:17 | #59

    @Troy Prideaux

    Yes

    Getting the price-to-the-customer below the price of fossil fuel is all that is necessary to make a major impact on one component of the problem.

    A bit of a subsidy would help here.

    But how does this roll-out across the globe in the next 10years?

  60. Hermit
    May 4th, 2015 at 15:39 | #60

    @Salient Green
    Which proves my point. Geothermal coulda been 5,500 (?) GW but in fact is 0 GW.

    Assuming other parameters worked out (FiT, daily connection fee etc) the problem with heavier batteries (not wall mounted) is how much you can fit in a quarter acre block. The model ecological citizen of the future needs max roof panels, a vegie patch, RW tanks, grey water recycling and a garage to charge the EV and perhaps house the heavy batteries. Oh yes and a good job to pay for all of it. Flat dwellers, renters and poor people need not apply.

  61. Robertito
    May 4th, 2015 at 16:20 | #61

    @John Quiggin
    Ahh, but as we’re not talking about efficiency of coal use, the Jevons paradox doesn’t apply. Thank you for replying!

  62. Troy Prideaux
    May 4th, 2015 at 16:48 | #62

    Hermit :
    The model ecological citizen of the future needs max roof panels, a vegie patch, RW tanks, grey water recycling and a garage to charge the EV and perhaps house the heavy batteries. Oh yes and a good job to pay for all of it. Flat dwellers, renters and poor people need not apply.

    I think with a bit of entrepreneurial imagination, there are potential options for example: the company I work at looked at solar and liked the feasibility from a 5 year finance plan. The company didn’t own the building, so we agreed with the landlord to increase rents up to the our average monthly electricity bill costs for him to supply a solar system capable of powering our total daily ops for say at least 6 months of the year. So, he finishes up with a solar powered building after 5 years which he fully owns, we get free electricity for 6 months of the year (although pay that in extra rental) and pay substantially less for the remaining 6 months +we get the Feed in Tariffs (esp on the weekends). We’re slightly worse off financially for those winter months, but not significantly.

  63. Salient Green
    May 4th, 2015 at 16:58 | #63

    @Hermit
    Your point was that Geothermal was some kind of fad for providing clean energy to the world and that this battery storage thingy is no better.
    I disagree on both. When Geothermal was being hyped, as it had to be to attract investment, it was before the GFC. They struck problems with the casing at about the same time as the GFC, drying up investment. Despite this, Geodynamics went on to achieve proof of concept.
    The government has put more funds into the utterly failed CCS schemes than Geothermal which is still being pursued in places where investment is more forthcoming. Under Macfarlane and then Ferguson they were always pushing against the wind and uphill for funds.
    Solar PV and battery research is attracting $billions from many $multi-billion companies and that is a good thing as it is taking us where we need to go. If that sort of effort was directed to Geothermal we would have a large scale plant operating today. It may still happen and I hope it does as it is a much cleaner load following technology than gas turbines.

  64. Aardvark
    May 4th, 2015 at 17:05 | #64

    Its disappointing to see the conversation on renewals not really looking at the cost and benefits of scale and the potential environmental problems of battery manufacture and disposal. I would expect it might be preferable for households with solar to remain grid connected and lower the fixed costs for all users. Surely self-sufficiency would require installation of excess capacity with battery storage. On a large scale, or at least large enough to cause stranding of grid assets, this would simply be substituting excess generating capacity at great cost for transmission capacity. I suspect the real problem is that many residents lack the ability to undertake a reasonable NPV analysis and go for the glossy statements of saving thousands of power bills. Would be interested to see a robust economic analysis of the cost and benefits of grid connection versus grid bypass before we travel down a path of allowing residential network disconnections.

  65. Uncle Milton
    May 4th, 2015 at 17:16 | #65

    @m0nty

    Why would you disconnect if you’re producing enough power for yourself, since there will always be times when you’re producing more than you need, so you can sell it back to the grid?

    Because the more people use their own roof-generated electricity, the more you will be charged just to stay connected to the grid. This will be necessary to cover the costs of the grid (not the energy costs).

  66. Robert Merkel
    May 4th, 2015 at 17:40 | #66

    In the suburban Australian context, I wonder whether it will prove more cost-effective to go off-grid, with a combination of solar, battery, and a natural gas generator as backup.

    According to its specs and what I’ve been able to find on natural gas prices running a backup generator on natural gas has a fuel cost of around 32c/kWh. Yes, that’s a hell of a lot more than the fuel cost per kwh of an industrial-scale gas turbine, but that doesn’t matter if it’s only a backup. It’s still in the same ballpark as retail residential electricity.

    That suggests to me that off-grid with NG backup might become an attractive option to many households in the not too distant future.

  67. Salient Green
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:02 | #67

    @Aardvark
    I agree but it’s where a government with vision needs to step in. People who cannot produce and store their own PV power will need the grid even more when EV’s are widespread. A lot of money and resources could be wasted on inadequate systems and storage by home producers before some sort of plan involving future EV requirements is brought to bear, given the lack of vision in both major parties.

  68. Robert Merkel
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:07 | #68

    Here’s a thought – wonder what Tesla has just done to the value of the “poles and wires” privatisation planned by the NSW government?

  69. m0nty
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:11 | #69

    @Uncle Milton
    As others have pointed out in this thread, it’s far more efficient to let the grid act as your battery, as that invokes economies of scale.

    Perhaps that goes against the extremist anti-capitalist bent of some posters here, but it’s the most rational economic response.

  70. Happy Heyoka
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:15 | #70

    @John Quiggin
    Good to hear… I read the Tim Worstall link. I’ll have to investigate where I read that argument and who was making it.

    I guess it’s time to invest in Lithium and Power Semiconductors then 🙂

  71. john goss
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:21 | #71

    It won’t always be the case that the grid will be part of the most efficient solution, especially for those situations like new suburbs where the grid hasn’t been built yet. Also country areas where the cost of maintaining a very expensive grid may well exceed the costs of a gridless solution. If the market is allowed to operate we will see all sorts of solutions to low carbon energy supply emerging.

  72. Collin Street
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:29 | #72

    > Also country areas where the cost of maintaining a very expensive grid may well exceed the costs of a gridless solution.

    See also telephony in the rural third world.

  73. ratee
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:32 | #73

    What if the grid suppliers do what they are in the business of doing, supplying baseload electricity, and develop their own distributed battery farms which they charge during the low demand periods and then reticulate to a smaller market during high periods. Their economics of scale might allow this to save on huge peaking transmission lines and when the householder’s solar is not sufficient.

  74. Happy Heyoka
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:39 | #74

    @m0nty
    You say “anti-capitalist” and I say “rugged individualist” 😉

    Either way I think there are good reasons for maintaining the grid and having “grid level” storage.
    I’m not sure that “economies of scale” quite applies. Plenty of “economies of scale” apply in making ten thousand shipping container sized storage units and they would each have the capacity to meet substantial instantaneous power requirements (which I think you were getting at).

    As far as as distributed storage in homes selling back to the grid being the “most rational economic response”; personally I think that the market works more on points of inflection – if we head off down the path where that feedback path Uncle Milton alluded to gets progressively worse then we will just continue down that path and the grid will unravel at the edges. At which point it’s hard to wind back and take “the other path” because we let that infrastructure run down.

    I don’t think that’s a particularly great way to go but rational or not, it’s a possibility.

    How to avoid that without throwing a wedge of cash at the fossil fuel incumbents is where we seem to get tarred with the “anti-capitalist” thing.

  75. Ikonoclast
    May 4th, 2015 at 18:57 | #75

    @m0nty

    This might be true so long as the grid corporations (public or private) don’t start charging high connection fees and offering very low prices for power purchased off home solar. If they do this (which I think is quite likely due their standard greed, stupidity and desire to discipline and control consumers and show consumers who is boss) then they will chase people away to become independent of the grid. I for one will sign off and go off-grid. I need a private pole to bring power in. When that pole needs replacing I will do the numbers. It might be better for me to go off-grid, especially if the corporate cowboys start charging high connection fees.

  76. TerjeP
    May 4th, 2015 at 19:49 | #76

    So in the end the solution is technological innovation. Assuming there was a significant problem to start with and assuming this does represent a solution. I seem to recall plenty of critics of government programs saying as much. So was John Quiggin wrong all along?

  77. m0nty
    May 4th, 2015 at 20:12 | #77

    @TerjeP
    What Elon Musk is doing is not actually technological innovation. The parts for the Tesla home battery are off the shelf, with standard battery cells by Panasonic. The only novelty is that he’s taking a loss on the battery units in the hope of making his profits on the sale of more vehicles.

    If the same Moore’s Law kind of effect that has led to the collapse in price of solar PV cells due to the massive investment in supply capacity and R&D by the Chinese can somehow be replicated for batteries – which appears to be largely dependent on the very different physics of the two technologies – then you can say innovation was the solution. Right now, Musk is working normal economics.

  78. m0nty
    May 4th, 2015 at 20:16 | #78

    Ikonoclast :
    @m0nty
    This might be true so long as the grid corporations (public or private) don’t start charging high connection fees and offering very low prices for power purchased off home solar. If they do this (which I think is quite likely due their standard greed, stupidity and desire to discipline and control consumers and show consumers who is boss) then they will chase people away to become independent of the grid. I for one will sign off and go off-grid. I need a private pole to bring power in. When that pole needs replacing I will do the numbers. It might be better for me to go off-grid, especially if the corporate cowboys start charging high connection fees.

    You are talking about the normal operation of market forces, which theoretically should match demand with supply such that the grid is still the most attractive option for the vast majority in urban centres. The wrinkle there is the potential for regulatory capture by the small amount of suppliers, which happened in the recent gold plating fiasco.

    The scenario brings to mind the 95% of the population that the Labor NBN was supposed to cover with cable, satellite being left for the remotest 5%. And we all know how that plan turned out.

  79. Fran Barlow
    May 4th, 2015 at 20:31 | #79

    @m0nty

    Speaking as one of the more strident anti-capitalists, i see no intrinsic ethical merit in going off-grid. If anything, it sounds like some sort of populism/Individualism, which, inherently privileges/authenticates on the basis of geographic/cultural proximity. In this vision, ‘locally’ produced power is more authentic/better (ceteris paribus) that power supplied from some other place by remote corporations.

    There could be extrinsic reasons for going off-grid e.g. Not practicable to be on grid, cost competitive, greater certainty about energy costs, resentment at paying high grid connection costs or unrelated to technical need, grid supply is particularly dirty etc …

    Certainly, notwithstanding the impressive drop in battery prices, it’s going to be an expensive business to go off-grid if you want to duplicate the service you get from the grid, at least for those of us living in urban areas. I’d probably need to double my PV and have about 30kWh of potential storage, and at $0.80 per day for grid charges and 22cents per kWh I wouldn’t be paying that back in a long while.

    As others have pointed out, it makes far more sense to sell your surplus to the grid and buy back off-peak. Home (and industrial) storage (along with, perhaps, vehicle storage) can offer the grid valuable smoothing and foreclose the need for more (redundant) fossil capacity, which in the long run we ought to want. We ought to press for fair trade between those collecting energy on their rooves or supplying it from vehicles to the grid and drawing it down. It seems to me that the cost of supply at a given moment should be the same in each direction (or very close). I’d like to see grid charges bundled into the cost of supply (since these are not really optional anyway). That would make it a good deal easier for people and businesses to make rational decisions about their power usage.

    Elon Musk has apparently set Tesla the aim of lowering the cost of storage to about $100 per kWh by 2020, and some observers think Tesla can get there. He’s also talking about his batteries going into rival vehicles, which is exciting for the diffusion of e-vehicle technology. He also has rivals using non-lithium technology working in a similar way in China and Korea, so people might like to wait a while and see what happens. Fairly obviously, if it’s feasible for a householder to trade at a profit with the grid, then it’s feasible for an energy retailer to do so, since they could buy storage at a discount rate. That in turn should force grid service prices down and undermine FHC in grid supply (since more non-FHC will in practice be available).

    The diffusion of more cheap storage should also strengthen the business case for less despatchable energy sources, since they can reckon with selling a greater proportion of their output.

    All very good.

  80. m0nty
    May 4th, 2015 at 21:22 | #80

    @Fran Barlow
    It seems to me that going off-grid is about the most libertarian thing you could do. You reject being a member of regular society and live off your capital investments without contributing anything back to the collective wealth of the populace. “I got my battery, bugger you Jack,” indeed. The hypocrisy of claiming rugged individualism while you are dependent on the latest technological advances of society only underlines the pure libertarianism of the decision.

  81. SJ
    May 4th, 2015 at 22:03 | #81

    The commercial viability is a no-brainer, even for grid connected customers in Sydney. The difference between Energy Australia’s peak and off-peak tariffs is about $0.40/kWh. This figure is ridiculously high, but it is what it is.

    Charge the Tesla battery off-peak, and use the energy during peak, and you could save $0.40/kWh x 10 kWh/day = $4/day. $4/day x 365 days/year = $1460/year.

    Allowing for exchange rates, cost of the inverter, etc, we’re looking at a payback period of 3 years, or an internal rate of return of upwards of 30%. That’s a heck of a lot better than earning 3% on a bank deposit.

  82. john goss
    May 4th, 2015 at 22:18 | #82

    I don’t think TerjeP that the innovation would have been as rapid without government programs. Both government research programs and government incentives like feed-in tariffs, rets and other subsidies were important factors in driving the innovations that led to cheaper solar. The private sector was crucial too, but government programs did get us to where we are quicker than if it was private sector alone.

  83. May 5th, 2015 at 01:05 | #83

    @John Quiggin
    Going to negative emissions, as urged very plausibly by Hansen and 350.org, does seem to require a carbon price. What’s the basis for techno-optimism here? Reforestation is a known quantity, but that can’t be said for other sequestration technologies. The same goes for shipping and cement, though direct reduction steelmaking may be bankable.

    Short take: we can decarbonize almost all electricity and land transport using known technology at little, and possibly no net cost. That’s most of the way – 80%? The last 10% or 20% of carbon emissions will be more difficult and expensive, going negative even more so. But JQ is right: the immediate prospect is much brighter than it seemed five years ago. The roadblocks are 20 years ahead, and a modest R&D investment would make them more tractable.

  84. May 5th, 2015 at 01:14 | #84

    Terje: the innovation in solar and wind was mainly paid for by the governments and taxpayers of the USA, Germany and Japan. The lower costs of solar result from very large subsidies for early deployment in Germany; in wind, the USA and Denmark also contributed. The learning curve in offshore wind is being coercively financed by British electricity consumers. Real capitalism works (when it does) because of large and continuous government intervention.

  85. May 5th, 2015 at 02:52 | #85

    It’s already too late for this to be a “Year 2K rollover” kind of situation, if the Antarctic has begun to slip slide away. Time will tell how many of the possible consequences of what we’ve done so far are already baked in.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_2038_problem

  86. TerjeP
    May 5th, 2015 at 04:10 | #86

    m0nty :
    @Fran Barlow
    It seems to me that going off-grid is about the most libertarian thing you could do. You reject being a member of regular society and live off your capital investments without contributing anything back to the collective wealth of the populace. “I got my battery, bugger you Jack,” indeed. The hypocrisy of claiming rugged individualism while you are dependent on the latest technological advances of society only underlines the pure libertarianism of the decision.

    Monty – libertarians want to be free of excessive government not society. That you conflate government with society is representative of the problematic thinking that goes on around here.

  87. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 05:23 | #87

    @Fran Barlow

    There can be some intrinsic merit in permitting eclectic solutions. These eclectic solutions may be selected on any or all of financial, geographic or personal grounds. There is certainly something anti-capitalist and anti-corporate in dencentralised, independent production of power by single owner/producers and even collectives (called body corporates) in flat blocks.

    That said, I am on record here as saying a hybridised and networked power generation system will likely be our best option overall. I mean hybridised both in terms of types of reneweable generation (solar, wind, biowaste etc.) and in terms of large and small generation nodes all networked.

    What I am concerned about is the corporate backlash to this. This backlash will very likely include cartel behaviour, buying political influence, predatory pricing and various coercive measures to lock people into grid power based on fossil fuels.

  88. Fran Barlow
    May 5th, 2015 at 07:59 | #88

    @Ikonoclast

    I’ve just signed up with ‘Powershop’ which through Meridian is apparently able to source 100% renewables. The prices seem comparable with AGL and they even pay a small commission to ‘Get Up’.

    Worth a look, IMO.

    Disclosure: apart from my broad sympathy for Get Up and periodic donations to them, and my cultural interest in cleaner energy production, I have no interest in how people respond to this suggestion.

  89. Ken Fabian
    May 5th, 2015 at 08:27 | #89

    So many implications arising from this kind of technology, it’s hard to know where to start; but, isn’t the biggest impact that to our confidence in renewable energy? Even before a single unit has been sold! Go Mr Musk!

    It’s the price of course. It looks very affordable. If it falls out as an actual under AUD$5,000 for the 10kWh version I would seriously consider getting one or maybe two, and add more solar to go with it. Add a capacity for even limited self supply during blackouts and that’s more attractive again. And what happens if such a home energy system can make use of low cost off peak as well – charging overnight in anticipation of overcast conditions instead of being a greater daytime draw? These type of devices are encouraged in places like Japan for that capability to draw off-peak power to reduce demand during the peak. I think the problem will be keeping up with demand.

    It’s the impacts on the grid that I’m most interested in . Going off grid would not be my first choice and would depend on how reasonable the retailers are about providing bad weather backup power to such an otherwise self powered home. I think punitive charges for that service would only encourage that jump and I expect I would not be alone. Yet access to a growing accumulation of PV and storage ought to be something a creative power company could make good use of. But perhaps the future home owner will bypass energy retailers completely and have automated systems that trawl for best prices – and quietly engage in buying, storing and selling power to optimise costs.

    How much is bad weather backup power services to an otherwise self powered home worth? What is the excess fed back to the grid worth? If solar is already forcing daytime power prices down in sunny weather, will the combination with storage force prices down for the evenings following sunny days? Will plant that fires up to deal with the evening demand end up not firing up except after bad weather? What will that do to the economics of such plant? What impacts when it’s the most suited to backup services to renewables – gas plant probably – who’s economic viability is most effected? How do we shift the burden to the dirtiest coal plants?

    A lot of questions arising, including how reasonable the expectation that Tesla’s pricing is merely the beginning and it will get even cheaper? Certainly we can expect PV to keep getting cheaper, and as it becomes increasing integrated into plug and play solar roofing sheets, wall cladding etc, and see greatly reduced installation costs (sharing them with building construction).

    A lot of questions – and some interesting answers.

  90. Hermit
    May 5th, 2015 at 08:41 | #90

    I wonder how long the peak-offpeak spread will last. From a perusal of power plans the margin generally seems less than 24c per kwh. Note upthread estimates of the cost of lithium battery storage range from 15c to 35c per kwh, the latter meaning it’s cheaper to use the grid. Last year presumably under pressure from power companies the Queensland Competition Authority granted hefty increases in charges. However more recently the federal Australian Energy Regulator has ordered price cuts and moratoria on increases. Perhaps the NSW election result depended on it. Will AER ‘fix’ the peak-offpeak spread?

    A possible development is time variant pricing so prices peak in heatwaves and cold snaps. That sounds like a boon to battery owners. However with just 10 kwh storage you can only run an air conditioner or electric heater for a few hours. These extremes would need to be short lived with the cheaper power input source available after a day or two to recharge the battery.

  91. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 09:46 | #91

    @Ken Fabian

    The ideal situation if pricing and location permit will be to have a “smart solar system” connected to the grid. To fully sum it up this system would have;

    (a) grid connection;
    (b) battery back-up;
    (c) inverter;
    (d) programmable electronic “smart system”.

    With a genuine smart system, it can be progammed with known prices (for buying and selling electricity from/to the grid). It could also be programmed to;

    (1) Keep the house powered at all times so far as possible;
    (2) Maintain a set reserve in batteries if possible.
    (3) Buy power from the grid when it’s cheapest.
    (4) Sell power to grid at best price.

    In addition, a smart system could take a weather forecast feed 24/7 and calculate how high the battery storage reserve needs to be kept (even factoring in probabilities for blackouts with severe weather). Why not have wind generators too? Sometimes, when it’s dark it’s still windy.

    Also, the family car being electric will be part of the energy storage system. Bad weekend and blackouts? Stay at home, use the car power too to run the house if needed.

  92. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 10:03 | #92

    @Hermit

    Taking Brisbane as an example, you could run your daytime aircon from another solar panel array. That would be in addition to the array providing general power to the house. The idea would be to cool the house (or selected rooms) all day and to cool extra ballast water or some other energy dense medium for night-time “cold ballast”. A properly insulated and sealed room or home will stay cool and de-humidified all night.

    I have run this experiment on a well-insulated large room downstairs. If the aircon is started at about 10 am and run until sundown, the room subsequently stays comfortably cool all night. I don’t have water ballast but this room has a concrete foor with tiles. These end up very cool and provide adequate “cold ballast” all night.

    So, for night-time comfort you do not store energy in batteries to run a night-time aircon, you “store” cold. More correctly, all day you move heat out of the rooms, walls, air and thermal ballast (water, concrete, tiles, stones) via daytime air-con. All this thermal ballast then keeps the room cool all night by absorbing heat. This works very effectively.

    Not all energy or energy gradients have to be stored in batteries in a home system. The solar hot water system stores heat. Thermal ballast cooled by day can “store” cold. The solutions are there if one gets one mind out of the single track that everything has to work the same as grid powered logic might seem to dictate.

  93. m0nty
    May 5th, 2015 at 10:11 | #93

    TerjeP :
    Monty – libertarians want to be free of excessive government not society. That you conflate government with society is representative of the problematic thinking that goes on around here.

    I did not mention government at all in my post, TerjeP, so there was no conflation. Libertarians seem to me to subscribe to the Thatcherite dictum that there is no such thing as society. They want to enjoy the free lunch of all the rights and privileges that society has provided for them, without fulfilling their part of the Rawlsian social contract by paying it forward for those who aren’t so fortunate.

    What I was conflating was society with the market, or holding up the grid as a communitarian manifestation of both of them at once. Going off-grid is thus inherently libertarian, because libertarians effectively want to repudiate the concept of the collective. A contentious point, no doubt, but we’re not here to say boring things.

  94. Jim
    May 5th, 2015 at 10:55 | #94

    Was the state Government wrong to kill of privatisation of electricity assets? I can see a few stranded or significantly under-utilised generation and transmission assets on the Government’s balance sheet in a few years……

  95. Ken Fabian
    May 5th, 2015 at 11:21 | #95

    Ikonoclast – weather prediction will probably be the basis of upstream supply/demand prediction services; we wouldn’t want to do it ourselves, but a few minutes a day to add our own personal preferences and predictions about discretionary energy intensive activities could refine things even more – no driving plans for electric car may free up a proportion of it’s storage for other purposes including resale of power during demand peaks.

    Privately owned storage could even be leased to power suppliers for demand management purposes. But I suspect our big electricity players are not so creative as to do so and – especially given continuing mainstream political support for stalling on clean energy – will maintain their focus on protecting the commercial viability of existing Fossil Fuel investments.

    Just as I suspect PM Abbott is willing to hold firm to his anti climate action line and even be the wrecker at Paris in the expectation of being vindicated by a climate science denialist clean sweep at the next 2016 US election, our big power companies are willing to continue treating renewables as the enemy in the expectation that mainstream politics will continue to obstruct and delay a commitment to clean energy transition on their behalf.

  96. Troy Prideaux
    May 5th, 2015 at 12:07 | #96

    Jim :
    Was the state Government wrong to kill of privatisation of electricity assets? I can see a few stranded or significantly under-utilised generation and transmission assets on the Government’s balance sheet in a few years……

    That’s a very good point Jim. There are some parallels with the Telstra sale re: the future usefulness of copper (their primary source of revenue at the time). I was originally against the T3 sale, but it seems to have turned out ok. However, I can’t see us coping seamlessly without a power grid and as others have noted, it’s a fantastic battery especially if home batteries were connected to it over a vast area.

  97. Donald Oats
    May 5th, 2015 at 14:55 | #97

    @m0nty
    Actually, you are conflating libertarian with communitarian: going off-grid does not in any way affect your capacity to contribute to the collective needs/wants of society—all you are doing is using less power (i.e. zero) from private sources (as power distribution via the grid is done through retail companies).

    Back in the old days, we used to grow vegetables in our back yards, and have several different kinds of fruit trees, even grapes. We also knew all our neighbours, and knew Mr Telford the green grocer, whose van would drive down the street, regular as clockwork. The choice to grow some or all of our vegetables did not lessen our contact with our neighbours. Today, on the other hand, neighbours are so transient they hardly qualify for the term. There are no backyards for all the street’s kids to play in, or to grow anything at all. The nearest footy oval is out of bounds except when a match is on, and it costs a bloody fortune, if you can get the tickets at all—and you still can’t kick a ball with the kid.

    Off grid not equal libertarian.

  98. Ikonoclast
    May 5th, 2015 at 15:26 | #98

    @Donald Oats

    I agree. Self-producing is not equal to right-wing libertarian.

    Right-wing libertarian = assumed right to own eveything while others have nothing.

  99. Fran Barlow
    May 5th, 2015 at 16:07 | #99

    @Donald Oats

    I think you can make the case for going off-grid fitting within a RW libertarian paradigm without asserting that those who do like the idea see it that way. To me it seems to be a kind of populism — a preference for the local rather than the relatively foreign. There is a sense of asserting control over one’s domain. Interestingly, the official ideology of North Korea is called ‘juche’ which translates as ‘self-sufficiency’. It is at least implicitly a very inward-looking perspective.

    I can certainly understand the desire for clean hands though. If one sees the grid as a vehicle for subverting the environment one individual response might be to wash your hands, figuratively speaking, by going ‘off-grid’.

    What this tells us, IMO, is that such perspectives are ethically complex and ambiguous and likely to appeal to people who’d differ greatly on public policy and its legitimate provenance.

  100. Donald Oats
    May 5th, 2015 at 16:45 | #100

    @Fran Barlow
    Indeed. The different perspectives manifest as different reasons/justifications/motivations for going off-grid, and while the different ideological drivers behind those perspectives might be mutually exclusive when taken as a whole philosophy, that doesn’t stop a specific circumstance from being disinterested, with respect to the gamut of ideological filters we apply.

    In other words, going off-grid can look good for several reasons, each of them compatible with one ideology but not necessarily with the range of ideological positions humans take. I might like the notion of saving money, or I might wish to reduce my environmental footprint, or it looks like the done thing now, or I subscribe to the Good Life idea of self-sufficiency, or it is a spiritual thing, etc.

    Just knowing someone has chosen to go off-grid isn’t a great predictor of their ideological adherences, I think is what I’m trying to say. I think my brain went off-grid for a bit there…

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