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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  5. Mel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  14. @Hermit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    (watch with the sound turned off)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  27. @Hermit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  32. @Ronald Brak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  35. @Troy Prideaux

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

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

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

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

  36. @Ikonoclast

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

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

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

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

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

    A trvial

  37. @Troy Prideaux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    This paper further suggests that;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  42. @BilB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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