Tell ’em they’re dreaming

The title of a piece in Inside Story on nuclear power in Australia. Readers won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t think it’s feasible in any relevant time frame (say, before 2040). I don’t expect nuclear devotees to be convinced by this (I can’t think of any evidence that would have this effect), but I’d be interested to see someone lay out a plausible timetable to get nuclear built here sooner than my suggested date.

To clarify this, feel free to assume a conversion of both major parties and the majority of the public to a pro-nuclear position, but not to assume away the time needed to generate a legislative and regulatory framework, take proper account of concerns about siting, licensing and so on.

181 thoughts on “Tell ’em they’re dreaming

  1. Hermit :
    Nuclear is safe enough; nobody got an evidently harmful radiation dose at Fukushima but many died in the stressful evacuation.

    Wonderful sense of irony.

  2. On the health results from Fukushima we might start to get an idea of health impact and costs within the decade.

  3. Hermit: “Australia uses nearly 700 Gwh of electricity per day”

    Batteries would not need to store nearly that much. And as BilB noted earlier, much of night time use is hot water heating, and things like wash and dry cycles, which can all be shifted to daytime. An interesting thing to note is a lot of people with feed-in subsidies haven’t necessarily made chose changes, because their bills are net positive anyway.

    And if we really need to (and we will – it’s going to take a couple of decades to transition, not a few years), we fire up a couple of coal plants again for 2 months in winter. Net result: 60-80% co2 emissions from electricity generation eliminated. That’s a big improvement on 2015.

    We do need the will however. The Victorian government was just elected with no environmental policies in its platform at all except for rail building. It would be nice to see them invest $20 million in a trial battery power station in the next three years.

  4. Microgrids on King Island and Oahu Hawaii have used batteries because they are cheaper than diesel generators yet the locals still complain about high power bills. California’s giant battery is not due online until 2021
    http://inhabitat.com/the-worlds-largest-lithium-ion-battery-is-coming-to-southern-california-edison/aes-storage/
    so we’ll know then if the concept is a goer. Mind you California shut down the completely safe San Onofre nuke plant and emissions went up by 8 million tonnes a year.

  5. Happy holidays everyone!

    Hermit, I don’t think we’ll have to wait until 2021 to find out if it’s a goer. Things have been moving a bit more quickly than that around the world. It’s a shame this might not go through now though:

    http://www.dallasnews.com/business/energy/20141125-efh-companies-at-odds-over-5.2-billion-battery-proposal-oncor-loses-ally.ece

    Power line company Oncor appears to have lost a powerful ally in a push to install batteries across the state’s power grid.

    State Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, said Tuesday that his initial endorsement of the $5.2 billion project was misinterpreted and Oncor never told him it was contingent on an increase in transmission rates.

    “We never discussed any raise in regulated rates,” said Fraser, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources. “I am not going to be in favor of anything that raises the cost to consumers or the regulated rates. If the regulated-lines people want to get into the battery business, they need to make it cost neutral.”

    Oncor declined to comment on Fraser’s statements. The company had met with the senator ahead of announcing earlier this month a proposal to install 5,000 megawatts of battery capacity across Texas at a cost of $5.2 billion.

    A study by the Brattle Group, which consults for the state’s power regulator, predicts electricity prices would actually decrease for consumers. But at the same time transmission companies would file for increased rates. That would shift more of the energy industry under government regulation, 15 years after the state Legislature voted to deregulate the electricity market. And were batteries to prove unsuccessful, the cost would fall on ratepayers, not the power sector.

    Hence why it’s so important companies like Samsung have started offering 20 year guarantees on battery life and performance. That doesn’t really seem like a product still stuck in its research phase.

  6. Dunno about Samsung but nickel-iron batteries are too clunky for general use…they last 20 years but also lose charge quickly. If I knew what future feed-in tariffs and daily connection fees would be I might get some with their own dedicated shed. Tesla say a third of their lithium ion batteries will be for stationary use. In my opinion relying on lithium ion batteries is like building a house with marshmallows instead of bricks. Note also
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_787_Dreamliner_battery_problems
    Then there is the thesis of Wiessbach et al that intermittent energy coupled with batteries lacks the EROEI that has characterised economic growth so far. My hunch is that we will conclude realtime generation by Technology X and/or overbuilding of intermittents works out cheaper.

  7. “Dunno about Samsung but nickel-iron batteries are too clunky for general use…they last 20 years but also lose charge quickly.”

    Sigh. The batteries aren’t expected to last 20 years. Their performance is guaranteed for 20 years. They’ll likely be replaced by Samsung at least once or twice during that time.

    Do you see how that changes the landscape, and negates one of your big “unknowns” about batteries? How it makes for a much lower risk investment? A guarantee is a guarantee.

    And the Younicos installations use three battery chemistries, not just li-ion. They’re there to serve multiple purposes on the grid, and variable levels of cycling.

  8. The world got rich when we dug up coal, uranium and conventional crude oil and dammed rivers for hydro. Many times the energy that went in came out of the process. A century or two later we can no longer repeat that approach and energy returns are much slimmer. For battery coupled intermittent energy to succeed that historical pattern of high EROEI would have to be broken. See the end of this article
    http://ourfiniteworld.com/2014/11/18/eight-pitfalls-in-evaluating-green-energy-solutions/

    Someone listening in on Earth from another galaxy might notice that small prosperous countries are the ones talking most about battery powered grids while barely making a difference to their emissions. China and India need to get 2.5 bn people out of poverty in a hurry and they’re talking about high EROEI coal and nuclear.

  9. Hermit, Graham Palmer’s EROI figures are nonsense.

    1) he only modelled with lead-acid

    2) batteries are recyclable

  10. Early in the afternoon on Christmas day grid demand in South Australia fell to 700 megawatts and there was a negative price event for about an hour in the state. At the time rooftop solar was supplying about 30% of total electricity use. This is not the behaviour of a grid which is crying out for more baseload generating capacity. Quite the opposite really.

  11. Nick a more definitive paper in the subject is this
    http://festkoerper-kernphysik.de/Weissbach_EROI_preprint.pdf
    Lots of formulas for the maths minded. I think empirical evidence within 5 years or so will confirm if high power batteries have a serious role to play.

    Ronald Brak I see from SA Power Networks that back in 2009 demand hit 3500 MW. SA solar is now 540 MW I believe (until late afternoon) potentially leaving a large gap. Depending on the ‘success’ of east coast LNG SA’s main energy source gas could double in price. There’s also night and rainy weeks to consider which I suspect you won’t mention. You’re right though that SA may not need any quantitative replacement for gas when Holden close, the ASC winds down, new or expanded mines don’t proceed and young people leave Adelaide for other cities.

  12. Hermit seems most worried about intermittency and the alleged lack of ability of renewable energy to supply electricity 24/7. This challenge can be met by a number of methods working in combination. These methods are;

    (1) A distributed generation system.
    (2) A multi-source system.
    (3) Energy storage.
    (4) 24/7 renewable energy generators.
    (5) Consumption changes (moving peaks).
    (6) Energy conservation.
    (7) Back-up of last resort (Non-renewable.)

    Item 1 – A distributed generation system.

    A distributed generation system (say over the central and eastern states of Australia) provides a wide area over which to collect wind energy and solar energy. The daytime chances of no significant insolation over such an area are close to zero. The 24-hour chances of no significant wind over such an area again are also close to zero. The issue is dealt with by distribution and redundancy or over-capacity. A number of studies, including a Stanford study, indicate cost and energy supply benefits in building significant distributed over-capacity and relying on this to reduce energy storage requirements.

    Item 2 – A multi-source system.

    Having multiple sources of renewable energy is another way of achieving redundancy and over-capacity. Such a system will utilise power from wind, sun, tides, hydro and some (minor) bio-trash.

    Item 3 – Energy storage.

    Energy storage in an electrical-renewable economy does not just include storage of chemical energy for regeneration of electrical power (batteries). The real situation is far more varied and more viable than that. Energy storage includes (some span categories);

    (a) storage for electricity (pumped hydro, batteries, thermal storage, supercapacitors)
    (b) thermal storage as heat or “cold” (molten salt, hot water, ice, pre-cooled environment)
    (c) interseasonal thermal storage as heat or “cold”.
    (d) diurnal-nocturnal thermal storage as heat or “cold”.
    (e) energy storage in chemical fuels (e.g. solar methane generators)
    (f) kinetic storage (mostly flywheels for specialised local applications or energy saving)
    Note: Electrical grids can use specialised flywheel energy storage (FES). Advanced FES systems have rotors made of high strength carbon-fiber composites, suspended by magnetic bearings, and spinning at speeds from 20,000 to over 50,000 rpm in a vacuum enclosure. These are used to smooth and stabilise grid power over short time frames of seconds to minutes maintaining standard voltage and standard AC frequency.

    A number of the above methods reduce the need for transmission of electrical energy by creating the energy or thermal gradient locally where it is needed. Solar hot water systems are an example. Extra solar panels running daytime air-con are another example. These latter can even cool an empty well-insulated house in the daytime at little extra cost (since the fixed capital is already in place and the sunlight is free) so the whole house, contents and even some thermal ballast is cool when the owner arrives home late afternoon. Voila! One of Hermit’s greatest existential concerns is solved that easily!

    Item 4 – 24/7 renewable energy generators.

    Both solar thermal molten salt heat storage generators and solar convection towers can generate electrical power 24/7. Solar convection towers actually work better at night.

    Item 5 – Consumption changes (moving peaks).

    J.Q. Has written about this. There is plenty of leeway to move consumption peak via pricing mechanisms to more closely match natural generation peaks.

    Item 6 – Energy conservation.

    We could easily reduce our energy use by half by conservation and our peak use by half as well by conservation and load shifting.

    (7) Back-up of last resort (Non-renewable.)

    For a long transition phase, which could be up to 20 years or more, we could maintain gas generators for peaks and emergencies. This could last until proven operability and reliability demonstrated the power network no longer needed such backup.

    Final Remarks.

    We could improve energy efficiency such that we cut the energy required to run our economy by about half. We could do this without substantially affecting our standard of living. J.Q has made this point before. I suspect this would halve the EROEI needed to run our economy sustainably thus moving us say from needing a 20:1 energy profit to only needing a 10:1 energy profit. For example, US energy consumption per capita is 7164.5 in kilogrammes of oil equivalent per year (kgoe/a) and UK’s is 3254.1. The transition to a fully electrical economy will play a huge role in enabling the required efficiency.

    Another example:

    “Overall, drive efficiency of the Tesla Roadster is 88% – almost three times more efficient than an internal combustion powered vehicle.” – Tesla Efficiency claim.

    Of course, the power has to be supplied to the vehicles in both cases. The Tesla energy supply chain requires electricity generation at a power station, transmission and then charging. If the power station is a coal power station (though let’s hope not) these are built next to the coal mine so it’s only a conveyor belt and pulverizing mill journey to the furnace. The IC powered vehicle requires oil well production, transport, pumping, fuel refining, more pumping, transport and more pumping to get into a car tank. I don’t have the numbers but I am certain energy costs in the petroleum supply chain are greater.

    Next, we can consider that a Tesla (or other electrical vehicle owner) can easily have additional solar at home panels to charge the car. Most vehicle journeys are metro runabout journeys. In addition, add electric trains, trams and electric trolley buses for mass transit. Add in energy efficient passive design of houses and buildings for more savings.

  13. Briefly the EROEI for PV + batteries is under 2 but wealthy economies have needed at least 7 to get where they are. Battery cars currently have too high a sticker price, perceived lack of range and expensive battery replacement even though running costs are modest. Maybe they’ll never exceed 10% of new car sales. They’ll need to be charged at work or carparks as well as home which is so far not happening. I’d also like to see a cashed up but green tinged EV owner who also refrains from air travel or home air conditioning in the interests of energy conservation.

    We’ll need somewhat more electricity in Australia for electric transport, population growth, heatwaves etc but the third world will need a lot more catch up. AFAIK I know there are no working convection towers and the costly Ivanpah US solar thermal plant is running a third below planned output. The main player for flywheel energy storage (Beacon Power) went broke and in any case their machines store minutes of grid energy not hours or days.

    In my opinion most of these ideas are clutching at straws which is why China and India aren’t too bothered with them. What seems more likely is that we will sleep walk into energy shortages besides coal because we think these forms of salvation will save the day. Somehow they never quite make it, dry rock geothermal being an Aussie example. Look at Germany… $25bn a year in green energy subsidies yet increasing emissions.

  14. It’s solar noon on Boxing Day and rooftop solar is providing about 32% of total electricity use in South Australia. Most of that capacity was installed over the past four years so if we continue at the average installation rate of this period by Boxing Day 2018 the figure could be about 60%. And since there is not much room left for point of use solar to be affected by further declines in feed-in tariffs, decreasing daytime wholesale electricity prices will have little effect on its installation. Of course, we are not limited to installation rate of the past four years.

  15. RB that’s a big ‘if’ since CER figures suggest PV installation for Australia as a whole peaked in 2010-2011. The SA feed-in tariff for new installations is 5.2c per kwh I believe with the likely RET average rebate around $3k in 2015. I read somewhere 25% of Adelaide homes have PV but 80% have air conditioning. I understand in some SA towns and suburbs there is a limit of 5 kw PV per home so as not to destabilise the grid, with Victor Harbor being one such town if I recall.

    According to Figure 2-2 in this report
    http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Planning/South-Australian-Advisory-Functions/South-Australian-Fuel-and-Technology-Report
    on a year round basis solar provides 4% of SA electricity, wind 27% and gas 52%. That puts SA wind and solar over 30% penetration which some studies (eg in Ireland) claim to show is as much as can be comfortably integrated. If that conclusion is valid then there is diminished benefit in in SA installing more wind or solar capacity.

  16. Grid demand in SA has fallen to 700 megawatts and solar is now providing 33% of total electricty use or one third of all electricity consumption in the state.

  17. Hermit, you continue in the “shut it down before it gets fully working” approach to alternative energy production evaluation while doing you best to ignore the glaringly obvious that solar and renewables work perfectly well. I can see that your problem is that you are wallowing in a library of grid energy evaluation reports commissioned by energy distributors for the benefit of politicians, reports that take just one point of view for the purpose of maintaing business as usual.

    Fortunately the renewables energy innovators are not listening to such as youself. Battery technology is in a total state of flux to the extent that it is difficult for investment consolidation. Obama’s backing of rapid development is opening up new chemistries almost daily. The chemical and physics sciences have a very clear target and are methodically working through materials properties step by step yielding a steady flow of reports such as

    http://blog.cafefoundation.org/lithium-sulfur-cells-wrapped-graphene/

    …so making pronouncements today about energy storage for the future can only be antirenewable political propaganda. It is plainly obvious from anti renewable predictions compared to technology outcomes that the future will not follow the negative path. Several weeks ago my business partner did a drive from Amsterdam to Schwarzwald, 1300 klm, in a Tesla S consuming 300 kwhrs electricity. That was 4.3 klms per kwhr in a big car. No matter how you look at that represents good energy value even if the energy is sourced from coal. That is not available to everyone yet due to price, but the plug in hybride technology nearly is, and those prices are coming down.

    Hermit, you did a dismissive hand waving exercise in an attempt to make domestic gas fuelled backup power based on the liquid piston rotary low noise and vibration engine seem impossible, but such gestures cannot eliminate progress. Eventually there will be 6 million 2.5 kw energy efficient (30% at 280g/kwhr bsfc with zero transmission losses) backup generators distributed throughout our energy system. That will then be 12 gigawatts of natural gas fuelled power balancing capacity which will serve to reduce the storage capacity required in the distributed energy sector. So with a modest 16 kwhr of battery capacity in 6 million homes, sufficient to store one plug in hybride charge and 2 nights of managed night time energy consumption without running the backup generator, you have a very different national energy infrastructure.

    This might seem like an onerous amount of hardware to make our houses wor, but tha should be considered against the amount of equipment the average Norther Hemisphere house requires just for heating.

    So the combination for Australian households of PVT solar panels, 8 to 16 kwhrs of batteries, an absorptive air conditioner, and a small backup generator into an affordable package is an optimal solution for energy independence and Climate Change mitigation. Now that the solutions are identified the rest is simply a volume production and rollout issue. The cost of this system will be less that the cost of a small car, a modest target.

  18. @Hermit

    You are focusing on all the wrong things.

    1. Batteries are far from the most important element in a renewables energy mix. In terms of grid power, other factors will be far more important. These are;

    (a) wind power as a very good day and night supplement to solar power;
    (b) distributed generation over a wide geographic network;
    (c) redundant generation capacity;
    (d) 24/7 renewable power generators including concentrating solar thermal (CST) and solar convections towers with engineering challenges about a order of magnitude easier (10 times) than the challenge of nuclear engineering;
    (e) molten salt heat storage that goes with CST with only 1% energy losses in the heat storage stage.
    (f) pumped hydro storage;
    (g) energy storage at use site (e.g. solar hot water, day-heated thermal ballast for night heating)
    (h) “cold” storage (really maintenance of an insulated heat gradient) at use site (solar air-con and refrigerating for day use and continued “cold” thermal ballast at night for cooling;
    (i) passive design will save very large amounts of heating and cooling energy requirements.
    (j) load shifting pricing.

    Given all these stratagems, batteries will not be a major energy store for the grid. The largest “fleet” of batteries will be in autos. Thus, the number of electric cars on the road will be what can be supported. There is no doubt we could all live with 1/4 of the autos we possess today on average. Good mass transit would see to that easily.

    One doesn’t have to refrain from air-con (or heating), although I do for 10 months a year in Brisbane. The other two months, I use air-con in one room for about 12 hours a day at most. My solar panels easily power it day and night after allowing for the fact that the grid system is my “battery”. With all the possibilities I listed above it is easy to see how you can get the necessary cooling from solar alone and from a reliable 24/7 renewables grid.

    There are working solar convection towers and working solar thermal concentrating plants. In December 2010, a tower in Jinshawan in Inner Mongolia, China started operation, producing 200 kilowatts. There are several CST power stations around the world.

    It is the fossil fuel capitalists who are holding all this development back. Once their power is broken by new renewable power venture capitalists and/or by dirigist action (any combination thereof will do it) then progress will go ahead quickly. Also holding back this development are the “it’s nuclear or nothing” doomsayers who are actually the fossil fuel capitalists best friends holding out the false hope of failed nuclear power and enabling fossil business as usual.

  19. Hermit: Briefly the EROEI for PV + batteries is under 2

    Rubbish. Wessbach’s 2013 paper took all of its solar cell production data from this source:

    “Environmental Life Cycle Inventory of Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic System Production: status 2005/2006” M.J. de Wild-Scholten, Energy research Center of the Netherlands, Petten, The Netherlands

    Do you think solar cell production might have become just a bit more efficient in the last 10 years? In 2005, there were 1,406 new pv systems installed in Australia. In 2014, there were 153,597.

  20. QUOTE from Beyond Zero Emissions.

    “The authors of Australia’s first significant study into providing 100% renewable energy have welcomed the new report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which has found that it is technically feasible and affordable to run the National Electricity Market with 100% renewable energy.

    “This validates the ground-breaking Zero Carbon Australia plan we launched in 2010, which outlined a way to get to 100% renewable energy in ten years,” said Patrick Hearps, Research Fellow with the Melbourne Energy Institute, at The University of Melbourne.

    The Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, released in 2010 by climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions, and the Melbourne Energy Institute, showed how Australia could run on 100% renewable energy in a decade.

    As in the Stationary Energy Plan, AEMO’s analysis identified that concentrating solar thermal power with molten salt storage is a key enabling technology as its thermal energy storage provides reliable power around the clock.

    “The key difference is in timescales. They model their 100% renewable grid for 2030 and 2050, whereas we are looking at doing it in ten years, based on a responsible reaction time to the threat of climate change,” Mr Hearps said.

    AEMO is the body in charge of planning and operating the electricity networks for the entire eastern seaboard, covering about 90% of Australia’s electricity consumption. Their latest report has modelled supply and demand on an hourly timescale to make sure that renewable energy can meet the same reliability standards as the current electricity system is held to – no more than 0.002% of energy demand unserved over a year.

    AEMO’s analysis projected that wholesale electricity prices would rise to around 12.1-14 cents per kWh for the 100% renewable scenarios. This is similar to the 12-12.5 cents per kWh expected for 2031 under business-as-usual, projected by consultants SKM MMA for the Government’s Renewable Energy Target review.

    “This is now the third recent report to show that 100% renewable energy in Australia is possible” said Mr Hearps. Researchers at the University of New South Wales have also shown the feasibility of 100% renewable energy under a range of scenarios.

    “We can have a reliable, affordable renewable energy future as soon as we want to build it.” said Mr Hearps. “The only barrier now is the political will to start.””

    http://inhabitat.com/stanford-says-100-renewable-power-is-possible-in-california-by-2050/

    Scientists and analysts from BZE, UNSW and Stanford USA all say 100% renewable stationary generation is possible technically and economically. I place more credence in the scientists.

    I don’t say the whole thing will be easy. We also have to do away with most fossil transport fuels. It will be possible even if we have to be much more frugal and produce far less consumerist junk. One thing that will happen is that things will be engineered to last again not to break after a few years.

  21. Good luck with hair shirt solutions to future energy needs. The punters just threw out a modest carbon tax so I doubt they’ll appreciate energy frugality (say 50%) being volunteered for them. The BZE scientists may have the correct formulas but I suspect their lack of real world experience leads to unrealistic assumptions. For example the idea of trains carrying bales of hay to be burned as backup fuel seems particularly daft while other misconceptions are more subtle.

    I suggest academia is one industry that would be sidelined as an unnecessary luxury were we to insist on fickle energy sources. High EREOI is what pays for the secondary services. The authors you cite would have to write reports from home in between stints of manual work. Fortunately Germany is doing the experiments for us
    http://theenergycollective.com/stephenlacey/2175906/snapshot-germanys-electricity-mix-solar-capacity-reigns-coal-generation-sustain
    Note elsewhere it is predicted the UK will replace Germany as the strong man of Europe. Perhaps the UK has got its thinking straight.

  22. @Hermit

    It’s not at all a “hair-shirt” solution. To continue your metaphor, I would say if it works it’s about owning 10 ordinary shirts not 50 fancy shirts.

    Plenty of data has been shown to you on these J.Q. blogs demonstrating that the nuclear renaissance cannot happen in time to prevent global warming and indeed further demonstrating that under current conditions the nuclear renaissance cannot happen at all. These current conditions are mainly once-through fuel cycles in Generation II reactors. Further, recoverable uranium deposits will be substantially depleted by about 2055 by Gen II once through fuel “cycles”. It’s not even a cycle if it goes through just once.

    Current data indicate that nuclear power is doing all the energy lifting it can do and cannot be significantly ramped up to Gen IV before 2035 at the earliest. And the chances for that transition look bleak. Without massive subsidies and massive state insurance guarantees nuclear fission is not financially viable.

    If the nuclear renaissance cannot happen or cannot happen in time, then another solution is required. Barring nuclear fusion which even if it happens will need longer lead times than Gen IV fission, the solution clearly is renewable energy. This is the case IF the transition can happen in time and IF the energy profit is sufficient to maintain some level of global civilization.

    If the renewable energy transition is not feasible then we collapse back to some earlier level. However, matters would be worse then of course because the earth does not now have the primary resources especially forests, game and fish that supported the transitions feudal to mercantile and mercantile to industrial.

    The bottom line is we have to continue pushing renewables development as fast and far as we can. If it works we save something. If it doesn’t we know the outcome. Concurrently, China is pushing nuclear reactor development as hard as it can in any case and the USA is pushing fusion research. If these bear fruit, implementation on a significant scale is something like 50 years away. Renewables can and are replacing fossil fuels now. The danger is of course we remain so energy hungry we use all the fossil fuels too. A change there will require deliberate forgoing of fossil fuels. This should occur when fear trumps greed. It’s better to be alive with 10 plain shirts than dead with 50 fancy shirts.

    The other very real possibility is in the economics of it all. Renewables may not be cheaper to utilise than gushing oil wells but they are certainly cheaper to ultilise than tar sands. The current price drop in oil means tar sands are for the time being uneconomic. Once renewables can drop energy prices permanently below hard-to-recover oil prices, it makes no sense to extract this hard-to-recover oil. The same goes for coal.

  23. Hermit,

    You continue in the “shut it down before it gets fully working” approach to alternative energy production evaluation while doing you best to ignore the glaringly obvious that solar and renewables work perfectly well. I can see that your problem is that you are wallowing in a library of grid energy evaluation reports commissioned by energy distributors for the benefit of politicians, reports that take just one point of view for the purpose of maintaing business as usual.

    Renewables energy innovators, fortunately, are not listening to such as youself. Battery technology is in a total state of flux to the extent that it is difficult for investment consolidation. Obama’s backing of rapid development is opening up new chemistries almost daily. The chemical and physics sciences have a very clear target and are methodically working through materials properties step by step yielding a steady flow of reports such as

    http://blog.cafefoundation.org/lithium-sulfur-cells-wrapped-graphene/

    …so making pronouncements today about energy storage for the future can only be antirenewable political propaganda. It is plainly obvious from anti renewable predictions compared to technology outcomes that the future will not follow the negative path. Several weeks ago my business partner did a drive from Amsterdam to Schwarzwald, 1300 klm, in a Tesla S consuming 300 kwhrs electricity. That was 4.3 klms per kwhr in a big car. No matter how you look at that represents good energy value even if the energy is sourced from coal. That is not available to everyone yet due to price, but the plug in hybride technology nearly is, and those prices are coming down.

  24. Hermit, you did a dismissive hand waving exercise in an attempt to make domestic gas fuelled backup power based on the liquid piston rotary low noise and vibration engine seem impossible, but such gestures cannot eliminate progress. Eventually there will be 6 million 2.5 kw energy efficient (30% at 280g/kwhr bsfc with zero transmission losses) backup generators distributed throughout our energy system. That will then be 12 gigawatts of natural gas fuelled power balancing capacity which will serve to reduce the storage capacity required in the distributed energy sector. So with a modest 16 kwhr of battery capacity in 6 million homes, sufficient to store one plug in hybride charge and 2 nights of managed night time energy consumption without running the backup generator, you have a very different national energy infrastructure.

    This might seem like an onerous amount of hardware to make our houses wor, but tha should be considered against the amount of equipment the average Norther Hemisphere house requires just for heating.

    So the combination for Australian households of PVT solar panels, 8 to 16 kwhrs of batteries, an absorptive air conditioner, and a small backup generator into an affordable package is an optimal solution for energy independence and Climate Change mitigation. Now that the solutions are identified the rest is simply a volume production and rollout issue. The cost of this system will be less that the cost of a small car, a modest target.

  25. I hope these little generators are quiet because I’ve already has murderous thoughts about people who hold parties in a woolshed across the gravel road from me. Not so much because I wasn’t invited but because the low frequency noise of the generator gets on your nerves late at night.

    They say the suburban quarter acre (0.1 ha) block is shrinking. To be a model ecological citizen you’d need max panels on your roof, a productive vegie garden, somewhere to charge the EV, greywater recycling, rainwater tanks and a battery bank. From what I can see Tesla propose to house one of their car batteries in what looks like a 300L fridge, also with a cooling system. Good thing cats are out of favour as there won’t be enough room to swing one. Too bad also for renters and apartment dwellers as they miss out on most of this.

    Perhaps some of this will happen to an extent. Then as the song says they go and spoil it all in this case by burning maybe 2000 kwh thermal carbon energy on an interstate plane or car trip. Personally I think gas fired ceramic fuel cells would be better in homes as there should be no noise. Japan has one I think. However as we speak we’re flogging our cheap gas overseas so that option will fade with time.

  26. It seems an opportune moment to repost something I wrote on;

    The Ubiquitous Resource Economy.

    Our global economy must eventually run solely on renewable and ubiquitous resources. In addition, the waste generation associated with resource use and production must be fully assimilable and degradable. All waste not recycled at the industrial level must be absorbed and recycled by the earth’s natural systems without significant damage to the biosphere or ecosystems. Some resources, like fossil fuels, cannot be safely used up in their entirety due to the long term damage they will do to biosphere systems like the climate. All non-renewable or limited and non-ubiquitous resources will dwindle and peter out if their use continues. Recycling of materials can ameliorate this problem but recycling never recaptures 100% of the material in question. Some proportion is always lost and dispersed in unrecoverable quantities.

    Only renewable and ubiquitous resources offer humanity any long term prospects for maintaining global civilization. This is whilst terrestrial and solar conditions remain sufficiently benign for human civilization to continue. A renewable resource is a natural resource with the ability to reproduce through biological processes or replenish through natural processes in a time scale useful to human generations. Resources which will eventually fail after vast periods of time, e.g. solar power when the sun explodes or fails can be considered renewable resources for all practical purposes.

    Ubiquitous Resources by definition are found everywhere and in large quantities on earth. Key examples of ubiquitous resources on earth are solar energy, visible light, air, water, oxygen, silicon (as silica), nitrogen, carbon, sodium, chlorine, calcium and some others. We might add items like cellulose, carbohydrates, starches etc. from plants. Useful bacteria and viruses might also be termed ubiquitous resources. Not all of these items (where they are elements) are available in their free state. The graph of elemental abundances in the biosphere and crust of earth is some guide to this. However, even some abundant elements (like iron) are not economically recoverable except at specific locations. All such elements along with the rarer elements are correctly termed localized resources.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Elemental_abundances.svg

    Seawater is a good source of key ubiquitous resources in addition to water itself if sufficient energy is available to extract them. “The four most concentrated metal ions, Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and K+, are the only ones commercially extractable today, with the least concentrated of the four being potassium (K) at 400 parts per million (ppm). Below potassium, we go down to lithium which has never been extracted in commercial amounts from seawater, with a concentration of 0.17 ppm. Other dissolved metal ions exist at lower concentrations, sometimes several orders of magnitude lower. None has ever been commercially extracted.” – Ugo Bardi. Chlorine is also extracted from seawater or more precisely from treated brine. The ions Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and K+ can be economically extracted at that time.

    Localized Resources are only found in recoverable quantities in certain limited parts of the world (e.g., copper and iron ore). These localized resources are limited (though in some cases the limits are very large) and non-renewable. Eventually all economically recoverable, limited and localised resources could be exhausted and scattered. Substitutions for many of these are feasible. For example iron (for steel) and also aluminium for construction can both be substituted with carbon fibre and glass fibre reinforced polymers. Carbon and silica are ubiquitous resources. Epoxy (the most common polymer) needs propene (also known as propylene or methyl ethylene) and chlorine as the basic feed stocks for manufacture.

    We have already seen that chlorine is a ubiquitous resource given adequate energy for extraction. Propene is currently produced from fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and, to a much lesser extent, coal. If these fossil fuels are conserved for industrial feed stocks rather than wasted by burning them, then propene production for epoxy is assured for a very long but not indefinite time. In the distant future, should all fossil fuels be used up for feed stocks, synthesis of propene from cellulose or pure charcoal from sustainable forests or from inorganic carbon sources like limestone, dolomites and carbon dioxide might be possible. Large quantities of energy would be required. Recycling of waste carbon fibre epoxies would have to occur probably through high temperature furnaces achieving complete combustion and producing useful energy.

    Some metals would seem to be needed indefinitely for the maintenance of a high technology society. For example, iron, copper and aluminium would seem to be needed for as long as a high technology electrical economy would continue along with lithium, zinc and neodymium. I am not sure how this supply of metals can be maintained indefinitely given the exhaustible nature of these resources, their non-ubiquitous nature in practical recovery terms and their slow dispersal given the impossibility of 100% effective recycling. How do we eventually make electrical machinery (generators, motors, transformers, inverters, transmission lines etc.) without metals? That is a question to exercise our minds but it might be solvable in the future by advances in carbon, silicon and polymer technology along with nano-engineering applications. It’s hard to know at this stage. Alternatively can iron, copper and aluminium etc. be recovered indefinitely in a sustainable, renewable, ubiquitous fashion?

  27. Of course, Hermit,

    Any generator that is to be used as a household item needs to be as quiet as a refrigerator. The design of the LP engine lends itself to that as the operative slide plate acts as a heat exchange and muffler as the gasses flow through the slider on one side for the intake and the other for the exhaust, it is a very clever innovation. The only limitation is the, at present, 1000 hour between refits, but that will change with experience and materials development. This engine is a perfect configuration for ceramics which, if true, would significantly increase its efficiency and running life. The advantage of an engine sep up to charge a battery bank is that its design performance can be optimised as its running speed is fixed, so that speed can be selected for optimal fuel economy, and the silencing becomes easier for resonance management.

    The point that I am making is that the future grid will be nothing like its origins, and most of the arguments put up in support of BAU are totally irrelevant. As an example the extensive discussion about energy production cost is the smallest part of the delivered product, especially since the retail price has more than doubled over a five year period. When I hear people quibbling about energy sources when the cost is 3 to 5 cents per unit (if that is in fact true) when the delivered price is 25 cents it is clear that business rational is absent.

    Future grid operators will have to rethink what their optimal business model is operating in concert with distributed energy, or see their business shrink to a third to be a boutique industry with massive overheads relative to its turnover.

  28. I think our energy supply will be more of what we have now but with loathing and resentment. Coal will be our main source of electricity for another 20 years. Batteries in cars or homes will be too expensive and short lived. We’ll simply drive less and cut our electricity use to bare bones. There will be crises before 2030 over the amount though perhaps not the price of oil and gas. Since politicians are listening to the dreamers not the pragmatists we’ll probably dither ourselves to a standstill.

    2015 should illustrate this. There will be less hydro and gas will go up in price so we’ll burn more coal despite a quiet economy. Solar installations will slow to a trickle and only a handful of electric cars will be sold. Hardly a revolution. Maybe it will start the following year or the one after that.

  29. Indeed 2015 will be interesting,Hermit.

    According to David Evans, Novarians and Catallaxians, 2015 is the year in which we plunge headlong into a new ice age. The French news is telling me right now that snow has hit the alps motorways bringing trafic to a halt in Albertville, and Derby too it seems. Absolute proof of an ice age. Denialists every where will be popping the champaigne, realists will be waxing their skis.

    I don’t doubt at all that coal will persist for decades, it will, however, steadily reduce over the decades as older power plants are retired. The question is the pace at which distributed energy systems are taken up. I’m quite certain that there is a huge body of people keen to participate but who are holding off for more advanced systems to become available.

    Time will tell on several fronts.

  30. @BilB
    I especially like the section of the article where they mention the cost per watt of electricity from solar panels, comparing 1977 to 2014:

    For solar power, meanwhile, the numbers are way more dramatic. The authors cite a stunning figure from Clean Technica: From 1977 to today, the average cost of a solar panel declined from $ 76.67 per watt to $ 0.613 per watt!

    That’s in USD, but even so. There’s still plenty of scope for further innovation in solar panels.

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