How to solve the solar storage problem

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.

130 thoughts on “How to solve the solar storage problem

  1. Nice.

    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. 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. 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. 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. @Hermit

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

    theconversation.edu.au/whos-afraid-of-solar-pv-8987

    (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

  16. @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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurath_Power_Station
    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.

  20. For the contrary view to

    “See also the detailed studies by Ted Trainer”

    see many detailed authoritative studies by Germany’s DLR.

  21. As regards Ted Trainer, I’ll restate an earlier comment.
    http://johnquiggin.ozblogistan.com.au/2012/04/26/the-steep-path-to-a-nuclear-future/comment-page-1/#comment-173443

    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.

  22. “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.

  23. “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.

  24. 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.

  25. @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.

  26. @Newtownian

    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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.)

  29. Erratum:

    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.

  30. @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.

  31. 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.

    Cheers,

    Cam

  32. 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.

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

  34. 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.

  35. @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.

  36. @Mel

    “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 )

  37. 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.

  38. http://www.fws.gov/birds/mortality-fact-sheet.pdf

    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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=wind-turbines-and-bird-conflicts

    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.

  43. 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.

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