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36 responses to “Are 10036 renewables possible?”

  1. patrickg

    Thanks Brian, I read Giles’ criticisms and thought them trenchant. I must say, RenewEconomy is fast becoming a daily must-read for me.

  2. Bill

    There is no way 100% renewables is achievable on any practicable basis with existing technology. Solar produces little power in the mornings, or late afternoons, and none at night. Wind only works when the wind is blowing. Other renewables like waste/biogas, pump hydro are far too small in scale to cover the gaps. Even if it was theoretically possible, the capital cost would be at least several times the figure you cite.

    But it is achievable in Tasmania.

  3. desipis

    It’s been a couple of years since I looked in detail, but as far as I know geothermal is still an unproven technology in the Australian context, at least as far as feasibly supplying enough power for scenario 1. The wind for scenario 2 would be more technically feasible but would likely take quite a bit of time to establish a sufficient capacity to rely on for base load generation. If wind is cheaper than new coal for base load generation then it’s the obvious choice for phase in as the coal plants reach end of life. The molten-salt solar plant are also a possibility but the potential for weather interference would mean some sort of backup generation or long term storage would be needed anyway. A wind/nuclear mix probably remains the best way to get away from coal.

  4. faustusnotes

    Brian, did they consider using hydrogen/oxygen fuel to store electricity? It was a popular idea in the 70s but seems to have gone out of vogue.

    An interesting alternative analysis to this would be to add some uncertainty to all the projections, include some estimates (with uncertainty) of the costs of business as usual and savings due to energy efficiency, then run a model to see what range of mixes of different renewables would maximize CO2 reductions while maintaining costs at the business-as-usual level. This would mean there would still be some gas/coal in the mix, but presumably much reduced. The model could then include tolerances for baseload reliability.

    It might not be possible to go 100% renewable at a reasonable cost, but with a proper mix it might be possible to go to a very high renewable proportion, and massively reduce CO2 emissions, at very little extra cost. I think that would be a more interesting question.

  5. patrickg

    Bill I admire your confidence in gainsaying the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

  6. desipis
  7. Doug

    Appreciate the links to commentary on the issue. Illuminating

  8. BilB

    Bill, you sound like a Peter Lang disciple in making broadly dismissive statements like….

    “There is no way 100% renewables is achievable on any practicable basis with existing technology”

    Peter repeatedly claimed that it could cost as much as 4 trillion dollars to go all renewables in Australia. The whole thrust of his argument was intended to discredit solar power in favour of Nuclear energy.

    Well just a few years later efficiencies of solar panels have steadily increased while their cost has plummeted. Electronic energy conversion efficiencies have improved to as high as 95%. Most other renewables technologies have achieved similar improvement.

    One thing that Peter Lang could never accept was that people would buy and install panels for their own use, and was irrationally hung up on the storage issue, as I must say, you also seem to be.

    If you study the graph from the report you will see that Solar Thermal is used for night time energy and not for day time consumption. Geothermal and a range of other energy sources fill the underlying demand and shortfalls in solar delivery, which by the way does not drop to zero with clouds. From my research I believe that this study under rates rooftop solar for both domestic and business. It is readily provable that with current technology rooftop solar can deliver 75% of Australia’s electricity by volume with much of that energy being used for transport purposes, further increasing the CO2 emission reduction achievable from Solar Energy. This is not a matter of opinion, it is fact.

    There are many storage technologies in development to bae added to those that are already proven. The most exciting of which very recently made public was the formation of carbon nanoparticles directly on a polyester surface which when charged delivered real power for significant periods. This process was performed in a standard DVD writer so the laser power required to form the nanoparticle layer was very small. The beauty of this capacitor storage is that every part of the capacitor pile is dominantly carbon. From what I saw of these capacitors, if I had to choose a technology now, this would be it. If this storage system stacks up in the next few years, and take note here we are talking about very short development time threads for most of these technologies, the domestic sector in the near future will not need broad grid connection.

    Consumption timing flexibility will come through vehicle charging timing. You charge your cars in the sunny days. The reduced solar output during low solar periods is still more than sufficient to power household energy demand.

    It is also wrong to assume that business will buy energy entirely from the grid. Business has even more to gain from using their very considerable rooftop space to reduce their costs.

    So I suggest that whatever it is that you think you know about any of this, you recompute with a new solar PV baseline of 35% and 92% conversion efficiencies. Tell us how that works out.

  9. Jumpy

    Pretty shity day for wind power yesterday.

    Not a sceptic denier site ( I hope).

  10. BilB

    Ah, the apprentice.

    Always two there are.

    A bit desperate, aren’t you Jumpy? You found a no-wind day somewhere. And….its dark right now all over Australia. What are we gonna do?

    Fortunately the low wind was due to a high pressure system bringing clear skies so the solar thermal facilities had a bumper day storing heat which are now putting out 150% capacity with the biomass burners providing the extra energy. The geothermal well pumps are winding back from the higher steam throughput status that they were on for nine hours during the day. The wave power plants had also been over delivering due to the waves from the southern ocean storm on the edge of the high pressure system reacting with a low pressure system. Both utility and rooftop also had a bumper energy conversion day and most of the eastern states car fleets are fully charged for the next few days commutes. Hydro was only used for an hour and a half in the afternoon and the lower ponds are being refilled to capacity in the late evening.

    No wind? No biggey.

    The renewable energy system is broad based and very robust.

  11. desipis

    The renewable energy system is broad based and very robust.

    Not to mention the great reductions in demand resulting from the fact that people can’t afford to pay for the electricity and are living in the stone age! Or maybe everyone has an extra $3-10,000/year to cover the quadrupling of electricity charges…

  12. BilB

    Again,………Desipis,……you’re not thinking about this clearly. With panels at 35% efficiency the average size panel will be delivering 400 watts, so a 5 Kw system will be just 12 panels. It will cost a little more but be very affordable.

    My guess is that in 20 years time a house will not be complete if it does not have a reasonable suite of panels. ie everyone will have access to free energy from Solar Hot Water and Solar PV. Buying energy will be optional and whereas it might very well be more expensive, it will be a small cost in total energy consumption terms.

    In 10 years time when electricity is at 30 cents per unit and petrol is $2 per litre, an all rooftop solar powered household (solar heated water, solar PV, solar charged vehicles) will be worth over $8000 per year in offset energy consumption costs.

    The higher those base costs, the greater will be the incentive to fit up with solar.

  13. David Irving (no relation)

    I think desipis had his tongue lodged in his cheek, BilB.

  14. desipis

    Bilb, a 5kW system gets about 20kWh a day. Multiply that by 365 days a year and 30c/kWh and you get ~$2,200 a year. Not $8,000. You might want to try learning basic arithmetic if you want to be taken serious. That and I’m not sure this country needs any more upward pressure on housing costs.

    But I can see with wild assumptions about expensive unproven technologies and phrases like “free energy” and “150% capacity” that you’re expecting future electricity to come from unicorns and rainbows. It’s the “fusion power will be ready in the next decade” thing all over again. I suppose it is true that real engineering can’t compete with that sort of magic.

  15. Tim Macknay

    It’s been a couple of years since I looked in detail, but as far as I know geothermal is still an unproven technology in the Australian context, at least as far as feasibly supplying enough power for scenario 1.

    It just got a step closer.

  16. David Irving (no relation)

    I saw that too, Tim. Pity I bought shares in the other bunch …

  17. BilB

    Clearly, DI, I am a little touchy on this subject. We can’t perform this transition soon enough.

  18. Jumpy

    [email protected]
    Any discussion on renewables with wind expected to carry a fair amount of load should contain the position we are at now.
    The site I put up is not only a snap shot of now ( updated daily ) but also break down by farm.
    Also demand, capacity and supply for the NEM region.
    It’s bookmarked and I refer to it when the subject arises and have linked to it here in the past.
    Any suggestion that I’ve trawled the internet for a ” wind free day ” is incorrect.
    If it soothes you touchiness, yesterdays output was far better than the day before( click the link @10 again).
    If not, try

    Solar–Wind Hybrid Power Plants Approximately Twice As Efficient

    Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/05/01/solar-wind-hybrid-power-plants-approximately-twice-as-efficient/#iLpPZBoKLQ5cKhJV.99

    [Sentence redacted – Ed]

  19. Jumpy

    [Sentence redacted – Ed]

    Yeh, fair call.

  20. nottrampis

    Both your articles are in Brian.

    hopefully you will get some more readers.

    please note my superb musical taste while you are there!!

  21. furious balancing

    Hey nottrampis, if you’re using the Wikipedia model, can you also link is up with the page where you’ve hidden the women authors?

  22. John D

    What a lot of people are missing is that with 100% renewables there will be a lot of time when supply exceeds demand. What this means is that there will be zero cost “opportunity power” available to do useful things like make the low impact, renewable electrofuels that we will need to achieve zero emissions transport without having to divert food producing land to fuel production or give up air transport. (What else could we do with this power?)

  23. John D

    Brian: The transition may have lot less impact on price than we think. This is because the renewables will start by replacing high cost peaking power, not low cost baseload power.
    Solar thermal with molten salt heat storage and backup molten salt heater will provide a very reliable source of peak power and has the attraction of being able to continue to produce power during the early evening peak demand period. This means that it will be replacing the more expensive conventional sources of power for this peak and may actually help drive power prices down, not up.
    It is also worth looking at the graph in this REnewEconomy article on the use of phase change materials to avoid air conditioner driven peaks. For NSW in 2011 the peak power demand for the 3 hottest days of the year was 45% above the average peak for the year. There is a lot more scope for doing smart things to reduce peaks and use the surplus power periods that are a feature of renewables such as wind, solar and wave power.

  24. BilB

    That is a good point on the use of phase change materials, JohnD. Consumers should be calling for phase change panels in their refrigerators and freezers.

    I think it would be useful to point out here that phase change materials do not allow you to store more heat or cold, what they do give you is a stable temperature for the time that the storage material is transitioning from solid to liquid or visa versa. Correct me if I am wrong but the best heat storage substance is ice/water. I thought that Eutectic salts would be but no. It seems to be something to do with hydrogen. The difference is though that eutectic salts can be organised to phase change at the desired point meaning that they can store twice as much heat as water at that phase change point.


  25. jess

    Sorry, I’m a little late to the party, but I’d like to point out that not all geothermal schemes have to be hooked up to a generator. Our new petaflop supercomputer at CSIRO in Kensington is going to be geothermally cooled using water from shallow aquifers beneath our building here.

    If you believe the press release then it will save about 5 mill a year in power costs. So there’s a significant economic reason for doing these sorts of projects as well.

    Mind you, when the Square Kilometre Array comes fully online, the computer will have to have it’s own power station, so here’s hoping it’s not just a coal-fired one!

  26. BilB

    100% renewable 2 seat aircraft


    These developments are rolling along on a daily basis.

  27. James Wimberley

    BilB: where do you get 35% solar panel efficiency from? You can buy triple-junction cells at this efficiency – if you have Pentagon-deep pockets and extreme requirements for performance at whatever cost. Domestic rooftop solar will always use not the most efficient technology, but the best value for money. For a long time now, that has meant mono – or poly-crystalline silicon. The US NREL chart of record efficiencies shows the rate of progress for each type, and it’s slow for the workhorses, 1% a year at best. These are lab results, production modules lag behind by five or so years, but it’s the same rate of growth. The best mono modules on the market (Canadian Solar) now reach 20%.
    Of course, something marvellous may come out of the labs, carbon nanotubes or something. But prudent public and private policy should not assume and does not need this. Several promising technologies like concentrating PV have failed because on price they could not beat plain vanilla silicon, which now enjoys huge economies of scale. The likeliest scenario is that the future will be like the past: considerably cheaper and slightly more efficient panels like those we can buy now.

  28. Eduardo

    250 TWh/year will give everyone 30 kWh/person/day
    310 TWh/year will give everyone 37 kWh/person/day
    290 TWh/year will give everyone 34.5 kWh/person/day
    370 TWh/year will give everyone 44 kWh/person/day

    I am using a population figure of 23 million.

    You can look at your electricity utility bill to see if this is going to be enough for you. (Remember the above figures are per day)
    So you can get an idea of how much a kWh is, 1 kWh will run one 40W light bulb for 24 hours

  29. BilB

    James Wimberley,

    I did write a reply to your comments earlier but it vanished on posting and i did not have the time to rewrite.

    The chart that you a referring to should identify the multi-junction manufacturer as being Boeing owned Spectrolab who produce 40.5% efficient Concentrating PV elements at less than 50 cents per watt. Spectrolab have just this month announced that they have achieved a flat panel (conventional configuration) efficiency of 38%. No mention of price at this stage but we are talking about a business that is fully aware of the market realities.

    Panasonic also produce 20% efficient panels which are available off the shelf and provide 235 watts per panel.

    Why is the efficiency important? With the need for people in a congested world to live vertically stacked collector area is important. Three story units can with the (averaged and realistically derated) 35% efficient performance make a realistic contribution to the unit block inhabitant’s electricity needs.

    You are completely wrong on the Concentrating PV technology. Complexed technologies based on Concentrating PV can provide over 60% energy efficiency, cost effectively and with today’s technologies.

    The 40% efficient PV Concentrating PV elements have been in commercial use in Australia for some years. These are not failed laboratory experiments.

    This is all very important for public policy development as such policy has to anticipate decades into the future. The problem that we have in this country is that the decision makers are largely all non technical professionals with absolutely no insight for how technology builds upon itself. You sound like one of those people.

  30. James Wimberley

    BilB: “These are not failed laboratory experiments.” I never said they were. They have just as yet failed to carve out a significant share of the market for the reasons I gave: 23 MW in 2010 against 40GW of ordinary PV at the time, or 0.06%. Spectrolab may or may not overcome the commercialisation barrier. I’ll believe their 50c per watt claim when I see it. The Panasonic modules you cite are conventional mono silicon, like the ones I cited from Canadian Solar: that’s the state of the marketable art.
    Researchers innovate; markets prune. Economies of scale and networking tend to limit market innovation, and you end up standardising on a second-best solution like Windows. So far, that’s what the global PV industry looks like.

  31. BilB

    James Wimberley,

    The 50 cents per watt is what Spectrolab quoted me for a purchase over 2 years ago. Don’t wait for some press release, ring them up and ask directly. These are special devices that have to be used a particular way, as I said in the earlier comment and are in commercial use in Australia, but not in huge volume. However, that technology has the potential to service every house in Australia with the ability to supply 75% of Australia’s electricity needs including domestic transport in the form of plug in EV’s.

    No, it has not been done yet in that form, but is a very real solution that would come to life with a national drive towards renewables. It is waiting in the wings for the right kind of commitment. The very special feature of this technology is that with petrol at $2 per litre and grid electricity at 30 cents per unit this system has a displaced costs value up to $15,000 per year where a household is operating 2 EV’s for commuting. The other special feature is that it requires no institutional or government investment (other than seed), the entire cost is borne by the householder who recovers his funds in as little a three years and thereafter has free energy for household electricity, water heating, air conditioning, and personal transport.

    And that is technology that IS significant to public policy development.