Some unwelcome good news

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

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

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

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

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

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

119 thoughts on “Some unwelcome good news

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  4. @Hermit

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

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

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

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

  6. @Robertito

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

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

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

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

  9. @Troy Prideaux

    Yes

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

    A bit of a subsidy would help here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  14. @m0nty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    See also telephony in the rural third world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  24. @m0nty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  28. @m0nty

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

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

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

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

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

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

    All very good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  35. @Fran Barlow

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

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

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

  36. @Ikonoclast

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

    Worth a look, IMO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A lot of questions – and some interesting answers.

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

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

  39. @Ken Fabian

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

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

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

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

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

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

  40. @Hermit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Off grid not equal libertarian.

  46. @Donald Oats

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

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

  47. @Donald Oats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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