More power to you


Rather than writing another article this week about the great Abbott versus Turnbull war on ideology, causing your and my excitement level to maybe rise sharply and rate as ‘slightly interested’, let’s look at some positive events that are occurring right here in Australia.

Even if you have been living under a rock for the past ten years, you have probably heard of Tesla. Elon Musk is the co-founder, CEO and product architect of the company which produces electric vehicles, solar roofs and battery products, and while he might not be the perfect human being, according to his Wikipedia entry, his $15.2 Billion wealth started with a $2,000 seed fund from his father.

In a number of countries around the world (including Australia and New Zealand), you can convert a 6-figure sum into a Tesla vehicle. Apparently, they are quite good albeit expensive. They even have a reasonable range from the battery. When you choose to take your car interstate, Tesla is building a network of ‘superchargers’ which will recharge your shiny new Tesla car in the time it takes to buy a coffee (with an optional smashed avo bruschetta?) as well as a network of chargers at destinations such as motels, tourist attractions and so on that can be used to top up the car while you are otherwise engaged.

While battery or hybrid (battery assisted internal combustion) engine cars are still a novelty in Australia, it isn’t necessarily the case elsewhere in the world. From 2019, all new Volvo’s will have electric assistance or be fully electric. Volkswagen also recently announced that they would be introducing a range of fully electric vehicles in 2020 claiming they had the skills and experience to take on Tesla because of their economies of scale and manufacturing know-how. Nissan, Renault and other companies also offer fully electric vehicles in some countries around the world. Nissan offers the fully electric Leaf in Australia.

The Tesla Model S was the best-selling individual car model in Norway (618 sales) in September 2013 followed by the Nissan Leaf (716 cars) in October 2013, primarily because the Norwegian Government (who wisely invested their mining revenue from oil rather than buying votes as the Howard Australian Government chose to do with the tax receipts from our mining boom) supports free charging stations, eliminates some taxes and vehicle usage charges and has legislated for electric vehicles to be able to use bus lanes. In January 2017, half the new cars registered in Norway were fully electric or hybrid. Certainly, the smaller distances travelled in Norway also helps, but most car trips in Australia are also within the range of most electric vehicles.

Elon Musk was recently in South Australia signing a contract to build ‘the world’s largest lithium battery’ in 100 days, to store the power generated by a wind farm there. He has promised that if the system isn’t working in the timeframe – it’s free (there is sadly no mention of free steak knives also being included if South Australia buys two battery farms). Musk probably has some idea of his chances – certainly you take risks in converting $2,000 into $15 Billion – but it seems the risks he takes pay off more often than they fail.

The first question to ask is – can he do it? While the battery will be considerably larger than the existing ‘largest battery in the world’, the apparent answer is ‘yes he thinks he can’. At the opening of the current ‘largest battery in the world’ installation at Ontario (California), again built by Tesla, their Chief Technical Officer commented
“Essentially, we can go and pour a slab and install the basic wiring, but each one of our Powerpacks is quite self-contained,” said J. B. Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer.

All of the batteries, cooling and safety systems, and other equipment are inside the casings, ready to load onto delivery trucks. “Our vehicle work lays a lot of the architectural foundation for this,” Mr. Straubel said. “It’s not as if we’re starting from scratch.”
In the same article, The New York Times reported
California is on track to have an overabundance of energy during the day, when its many solar panels are producing energy, but that supply drops sharply as the sun sets, precisely when demand rises, with residents heading home to use appliances and, increasingly, to charge cars.

The state’s aging nuclear plants have been closed or are being phased out, putting even more pressure on utilities to find other ways to feed the grid. Storage is a natural solution, utility executives say, helping to smooth variations in the power flow from rooftop customers and when solar falls off and conventional plants have not yet filled the gap.

Ronald O. Nichols, president of Southern California Edison, said the utility was looking for more ways to use that energy, instead of curtailing solar production, “which makes no greenhouse-gas-reduction sense.” By 2024, the California system is expected to have far too much energy for at least a few hours each day, he said, adding, “We want to find a way to use that energy productively, and battery storage is certainly a piece of that.”

The utility’s need for storage was amplified after the sudden closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in 2013. To fill that gap — and fulfill a state mandate to add storage to its energy portfolio — the utility awarded several contracts for battery storage.

When the scale of the 2015 leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in the San Fernando Valley became clear, the commission moved to streamline the process for storage projects. That led to the Tesla project at the Mira Loma substation and an electricity purchase agreement from a similar battery project that AltaGas had installed at its natural gas generator in Pomona. Another large battery installation that was part of the response, from a company called AES for a separate regional utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, is nearing full operation in Escondido.
Sounds like a similar situation to Australia, doesn’t it? It’s also pretty obvious from The New York Times report that California at least has ruled out building any more nuclear (or coal for that matter) electricity generation facilities. While Australia has no nuclear power generation, we do have an aging fleet of coal powered generation plant and the ‘sudden’ closure of the Hazelwood plant threw up a number of concerns that the demand for power especially in the Southern states might not be met during the summer of 2017/2018.

While Turnbull and Energy Minister Frydenburg and others are still bashing South Australia around the ears over energy security, the world is clearly moving on. Tim Hollo, the Executive Director of the Green Institute observed on The Guardian’s website recently
For months now, Malcolm Turnbull, Josh Frydenberg, various fossil fuel energy executives and media commentators like Paul Kelly have been rabbiting on about the “energy trilemma”. It’s their contention that energy policy must deal with cost, reliability and emissions, and that it is impossible to achieve all three at the same time. Conveniently, they choose to put emissions at the bottom of this list and bury it under a pile of coal, which they claim is cheap and reliable.

This is not true. Not even close to it. It doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

Renewable energy, which obviously wins on emissions, is now beating coal on cost. What’s more, with an energy grid managed effectively by people who want renewables to succeed, it is no less reliable than fossil fuels. The fact that arch-conservative, Cory Bernardi, was recently revealed to have installed rooftop solar panels demonstrates that these people do not even believe their own rhetoric. They have just chosen to throw truth onto the fire of climate change for political reasons.
While using wind generation to charge grid scale batteries is a new concept for Australia, California has demonstrated that the concept is not only practical, it’s working as renewable energy generation from solar panels on domestic household roofs is being stored in bulk for use in peak periods. Victoria thinks storage is an option as well. The Victorian Government opened a tender earlier this year for up to 100MW of grid-scale energy storage by 2018.

An increasing number of Australians also have solar panels on the roof at home and it is becoming increasingly common to read about large scale solar farms being established particularly in Queensland – near Toowoomba, at Valdora on the Sunshine Coast, near Clare in the Burdekin and near Gympie just to name a few. Origin Energy signed up to purchase all the energy produced from the farm near Clare so the energy resellers are on board as well.

Just as in the US, Australia seems to be embracing renewables, in spite of the government’s less than stellar support for renewable energy and meaningful emissions reductions. While Cory Bernardi claims his solar array installation is for self-sufficiency, solar panels don’t work at night unless there is a battery. According to RenewEconomy, Bernardi is looking at batteries as well
but not until he has monitored his solar generation profile for a while, to work out what size storage system he should get. Very sensible. More points to Bernardi.

Whatever he opts for – and we will keep readers posted on that – let’s hope it performs at a standard higher than the Senator’s opinion of grid-scale battery storage.

“Musk’s numbers and promises (on battery storage for SA) don’t stack up but the SA and federal governments are already taking the bait,” Bernardi wrote in a blog titled “Beware of the Smooth Salesman,” in March.

“After years of peddling fanciful green dreams and endorsing windmills and solar panels as the answer to our growing energy needs, they are close to admitting defeat.

“SA Premier Weatherill yesterday commissioned a new gas power plant and ‘battery storage’. While the proposed power plant isn’t big enough, if it does run out of juice I calculate that Musk’s batteries will provide several minutes’ worth of power before needing a recharge!” he wrote.
While Bernardi is going to install a battery system on his solar system to ensure he has power in the future, he doesn’t believe the same strategy would work on a larger scale. There seems to be a large disconnect between Bernardi’s personal and public actions. Turnbull also has a large solar array on his roof with battery storage.

At this stage who knows if Musk will be supplying Tesla’s battery system for a profit or for free, but the chances of the system failing to store the energy supplied by the wind farm are considerably less than Turnbull, Frydenburg and Bernardi winning the argument that renewable energy is less efficient or more costly than fossil fuelled alternatives.

Trump has justifiably faced scorn from around the world for choosing to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement to monitor and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. In reality Turnbull and Frydenburg are no better, supporting the fraudulent concept of ‘clean coal’ domestically, as Trump has done. Interestingly, Turnbull sided with the majority at the recent G20 Meeting in Hamburg, where the ‘G19’ didn’t support Trumps insistence on including ‘clean coal’ in the final communique.
In confirming a communique had been agreed, Dr Merkel took at pot shot at US President Donald Trump, saying she was pleased all countries – with the exception of the US – agreed the Paris climate accord was irreversible.

She said the remaining 19 countries had made a commitment to move swiftly to implement the accord, and that differences with the US had been "noted".
While Turnbull supports emissions reductions and climate protection measures while outside of the country, it seems he has a different message domestically. As is the case in Trump’s America, some states are going it alone and showing the Australian arch-conservatives up for the self-serving, self-interested rent seekers they really are.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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