Will the Grid go into a Death Spiral?

You’ve probably heard the term “Death Spiral” applied to many things. Insurance. Economics. Obamacare. TV (or Presidential) Ratings. Whatever.

Recently there was an article quoted by the smartest Wind Turbine in Australia, as seen on Twitter:

I replied, somewhat off-the-cuff, that the “death spiral” was a bit of a furphy, and was subsequently challenged to a blog post about it.

I’ll give it my best shot – but strictly in layman’s terms, and mainly with a view of the Australian market. Apply the lessons where you will.

WestERN Australia Grid Primer

Western Australia, in terms of land area, is big. I’m talking Texas-plus-Alaska big, for those of you playing in the US of A.

While it has a lot of land, it has less than 3 million people. That means a relatively small market for energy provision. They have a local grid (SWIS*) in the heavily populated south west around Perth (pop 1.95M), one of the most isolated cities on Earth.

* South West Interconnected System

The SWIS covers the SW corner of the state, and is serviced by Synergy. That’s right – there is only one electricity company, and its government owned. But you get your choice of two gas companies!

Death Spiral
The gas is also cursed…

Outside of the SWIS, everything else is the responsibility of Horizon Power. That is a big area to manage, and big means expensive.

Large towns (by Australian standards) can be hundreds of kilometres apart, mostly on the isolated coastline facing the Indian Ocean. Inland towns might only exist for mine operations, or reside on historical roads that still provide services for farming or Aboriginal communities.

One bushfire out there, or a car accident into the wrong pole, can cut what constitutes a grid connection in an instant.

A lot of the electricity outside the SWIS is also heavily subsidised. Some communities get diesel shipped in for generators to run in parallel with renewables. Cost price to do so is 60c/kWh once logistics is factored in, and would be unfair to ask consumers to stump up for all of it.

But governments are only able to bear these costs for so long.

WA Government Budget Repair

As another article says,  the WA Government is increasing power prices in order to undertake budget repair. This includes an electricity price increase for consumption per kWh, as well as fixed charges.

The daily charge residents must pay to be connected to the grid will almost double, resulting in a 10.9 per cent rise on the cost from last year.

Of course, being politicians, they’ve blamed the previous government (now the opposition) for “the mess” inherited. Proving the age-old idiom: Politicians can be raving douchecopters.

Prices are also going up in WA on things like public transport, water, sewerage, and other things like port fees.

Consumers never like increases. Particularly in their electricity bill, and especially in the fixed charges.

You can try to make your household import less energy, but its not going to help a set daily fee get any lower. In fact the data shows that energy usage has stopped increasing in recent years in the NEM on the Eastern seaboard.

In some parts of WA, outside the SWIS, they have a cap on solar installations, to prevent network fluctuations. Seems weird that, in one of the sunniest places on earth, they’d stop installing solar panels, right?

Energy stability is key, particularly in a far-flung network like WA. Its interesting to note that Horizon are undertaking trials to regulate solar power flow in the Gascoyne region shortly (there’s that windmill again).

WA is a state with a lot of sun, potential for a lot of wind, but has challenges bringing it to bear in a safe and reliable manner.

The cap on solar installs is something I’m going to address from a market standpoint, in an upcoming post about my time at Renewable Cities Forum in June.

Putting The Article Into Context

The original article quotes Dr Jemma Green of Power Ledger, a company involved in blockchain retail of renewable energy.

“The perverse outcome of increasing the fixed supply charge is that in the short-run you might get more money, but in the longer run you’re going to push people off the network and look for more cheaper alternatives,” she said.

This is a stark warning to electricity generators and retailers. Particularly in the Australian market where prices have risen more than 60% on average in the last decade.

And while Dr Green believes it is a fair way to help the economic state of WA – as a short-term solution – solar households (25% of the state) in particular would feel somewhat resentful.

The point about being a short term fix is important. Governments simply can’t keep forcing consumers to pay more, particularly while solar and storage systems get cheaper.

Would this move by the Government of WA motivate people to leave? Dr Green says:

“… taken to the extreme means the network is no longer getting the revenue needed to support itself and it creates a death spiral.”

A government, or market operator, would be supremely ignorant (or greedy) to miss the warning signs of such a crisis. She has said “extreme” after all.

That is Reason #1 a death spiral is unlikely: despite what we think, the top end of town are not so stupid (or greedy) as to eat their own tail.

Anatomy Of A Death Spiral

To make something spiral (up or down), you’ve got to have some fairly consistent motivating factors. These factors may be constant, or under acceleration.

We certainly have consistent price rises, here in Australia. New South Wales customers are looking at price rises of up to 16% as of this month, as one example.

The quoted figure over the last decade is a jump of prices in the order of 60-100%, partly due to increased network connection costs.

At the same time, we’ve got larger energy providers like Energy Australia posting profits in the tens of millions. So there is a bit of fat to be trimmed there, if needs be.

But will it force customers to leave the grid?

That is probably the wrong question. A more pointed one is: can customers afford to leave the grid?

Certainly not for today’s prices on storage. If you went out and bought a Powerwall 2, and a solar PV system on the larger side (6kW+), you’re looking at about $16K. The number of households who can afford that is in the minority.

Even then, with only 13kWh of storage, the average household won’t make it through a 48 hour period without sunlight. WA gets clouds, too.

Most off-grid types recommend a minimum of 4 days’ storage, plus a generator for emergencies. Now you’re talking about upwards of $30k, because most people don’t fancy sitting in the dark.

Reason #2 the grid won’t death spiral: in the near future, consumers can’t afford to leave en masse. Therefore the network charges, and consumption fees, are still going to keep the grid afloat.

Pardon My French

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

 – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Don’t worry, that will make sense in a minute.

As the landscape changes in our energy network, newer technologies are emerging, and disrupting, the status quo.

repositpower

Reposit Power are one of the companies at the forefront of changing this landscape. The concept of Virtual Power Plants is the here and now, and Reposit, along with other companies, want to make it available to everyone.

At Energy Networks Australia last year, and again at Renewable Cities this year, you could see the shift in thinking.

The analysts are vocal because they’re trying to get people to listen. The see a bright future and a market of endless technological possibilities.

The salesman are animated, because they’re trying to set up a market. They see great opportunities to put their products into action, and get that market share.

The industry, both generating and retailing, are a equal parts bemused, scared, and curious.

As we see battery uptake increase across Australia, a lot of these technologies are going to change the market place. Horizon Power are trialing control of domestic solar PV output.

How much easier would that be with a grid scale battery in front? Networks could start doing their own frequency regulation and dispatch, with strategically-placed storage (battery, pumped hydro, train full of rocks, whatever).

They could limit long-term infrastructure spend by tapping user storage in times of need, and at a lower price than it costs to run traditional or renewable generation. And you don’t have to transmit it over kilometres; its right there in the neighbourhood!

If you’re a consumer in 2020, how mad would you be to disconnect from the grid, when you can contribute, and profit, from it?

As old mate Jean-Baptiste said above: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Staying connected to the grid will be as normal tomorrow, as it was yesterday.

Reason #3 the death spiral won’t happen: consumers will eventually become participants.

Rumours Of My Death Spiral Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

Prices go up. That’s capitalism.

Anyone reading this article who isn’t on board with the solar + storage thing is going to accuse me of being a rich man. Of leaving the poor people behind, and forcing those left on the grid full-time to pick up the tab.

And that is certainly a risk that the WA Council of Social Services highlighted when the government announced these price rises. Those who are already struggling to pay the bills are going to be hit hardest.

Of course, it would be nice if prices didn’t go up quite so much as 10-16% in one year. But you can’t blame renewables for that – or you can, but you’ll look like an idiot.

If you want to blame someone, point your finger at the Federal Government’s appalling lack of energy policy.

Death Spiral
Not pictured: coherent, forward-looking energy policy (c) abc.net.au

Look at the State Governments and their mates in the energy industries, lobbying for bigger, gold-plated networks we don’t need.

Now think about the private players who are entering the market. They’re seeking profits, sure, but they’re bringing technology and ideas designed to minimise spending, while maximising value. They’re not interested in a death spiral.

Renewable energy without subsidies is now beating fossil fuels. Distributed microgrids are cheaper (and quicker) to build, and easier to maintain than massive, centralised networks. Even companies like Horizon Power know that, and are putting it into practice.

I don’t think we’re going to see the grid die. I think we’re going to see it grow into something more secure, resilient, and flexible. And the longer term costs of running it will decrease per capita.

The grid will still be there for us, and we’ll be there for the grid. It might get a bit bumpy, so keep your limbs inside the ride at all times.

The Finkel Report

The Finkel Report* was released this week. Those watching the energy market in Australia were keen to see how it framed the future energy discussion.

* aka Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market

Alan Finkel
Hail to the Chief (Scientist)

Alan Finkel is Australia’s Chief Scientist, having taken up that post in January 2016. He’s a pretty smart cookie, too, as both a qualified electrical engineer and neuroscientist.

You can see some more information about the report itself on the Department of the Environment and Energy website. The report runs to 212 pages, but there is an Executive Summary available.

Following hot on the heels of its release, the Chief Scientist appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A program. Along with some politicians and consumer advocates, the opportunity to discuss some details about the report and the energy market generally.

Key Themes

Look, I don’t generally watch Q&A; what started out as a great premise – get politicians in front of the public to make them answer questions on live, national TV – soon turned into this:

The best episodes were those featuring scientists with no politicians. No surprises there. Any episode involving politicians soon turned into a battle of wits between unarmed opponents.

While there were politicians on last night’s showing (one from each major party), the key inclusions were from the consumer advocacy sector.

Voice Of The Consumer

 

(c) Climate Council
Amanda McKenzie

Amanda McKenzie is CEO of the Climate Council. Formed via crowd funding, after the Climate Commission was abolished by the current government.

 

Along with other advocates from Public Health through to Biology and Business, the role of the Climate Council is to provide independent, authoritative climate change information to the Australian public.

(c) ECA
Rosemary Sinclar

Rosemary Sinclair is the CEO of Energy Consumers Australia. ECA aims to provide a voice for residential and small business consumers of energy. Of particular concern to their mission is fair pricing, and reliability.

Of particular interest to ECA is ongoing survey of Energy Consumer Sentiment. This is key to understanding the market as it affects users.

While the two politicians sought to score points, both the CEOs on the panel stayed above the petty bickering. The refreshingly factual dialogue on what consumers want should serve as a reminder to our politicians that their role is to represent us.

The discussion moved to CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage), which seems like a good idea until you look at the economics. Like a lot of fossil-fuel related initiatives, it seems great until apples are compared to apples, as McKenzie said: new renewables beat new fossil fuels.

The Finkel Report, and the man himself, argue that any approach should be tech-agnostic. Therefore we must assume any initiatives that come out of this are economically sound. Coal – in any guise – simply isn’t, even before the healthy impacts are measured.

The most important part of the night were Rosemary Sinclair’s closing remarks. It really sums up our frustration, both at a consumer level for certainty on pricing, and for industry in terms of investment.

We will see where this goes. Hopefully governments at State and Federal level, in light of the Finkel Report, drop the partisanship and legislate for the network we deserve.

Renewable Cities

As I mentioned on twitter, I’ll be attending Renewable Cities in Sydney this week.

With the release of the Finkel Report so close, I predict there will be a lot of interesting discussion. The goal of the forum is to merge minds on the way forward for our ever-expanding cities and towns.

There are workshops on EVs, a few people like Reposit Power will be there, and I’m looking forward to having a chat to people as I seek out the next stage in my career.

I’ll also bang out a few Twitter Live experiences so make sure you’re following @AuPowerwall!

 

SolarEdge Updates

I’ve been a bit busy to monitor my usage regularly, of late. Feeling out of touch, I made a point of checking my solar generation after recent rainy weeks.

It seemed a little low. Usually I hit 5kW around the middle of the day, but was peaking out at 4.6kW. I was contacted by someone who lives nearby with a corresponding fall in numbers.

The only theory we have to go off is lower angle of the sun. Additionally, because there were two weeks of Autumn where we almost never saw direct sunlight, we didn’t see the slow decline over time.

Its like seeing someone’s kids only occasionally – can’t believe how much they’ve grown! Their parents see it every day.

SolarEdge Updates

Having not checked anything for a while, I headed over to the SolarEdge Monitoring Portal to compare their results to Reposit. Having a second source for comparison is very helpful to sort out any discrepancies.

Well, there certainly have been some changes! And all of them look like winners.

The first noticeable change was the new Monthly profile for Power and Energy.

SolarEdge Updates
April 2017 to date

There was a period where the “self-consumption” figure wasn’t being reported through some conflict with the Reposit interface. That’s back, which is great.

Added to this is the “From Battery” stat which is quite cool. It features both in the Consumption summary figure, and the bar graph. This is only recent, so I look forward to that percentage figure “from batteries” smoothing out with a larger data sample.

If you mouse-over any of those bar graphs it gives you the details, in kWh, for the days that have been completed. Again – very vool.

I also hadn’t given much thought to the year-on-year comparison before I had enough data. Now its very handy to answer questions I and my near-neighbour have about long-term performance.

SolarEdge Updates 2

For reference, the figures are in the table below for the three months with suitable data.

Month MWh 2016 MWh 2017
February 0.728 0.780
March 0.695 0.617
April 0.523 0.588*

* As of April 24.

What I find really interesting is the March figure; despite having an extra 1.5kW of panels this March compared to 2016, the weather meant I didn’t generate quite as much.

Moving forward, I’m sure subsequent years and months will prove to be most interesting. I love me some data!

Live Baby Live!

They’ve also updated the Overview panel to have near-real-time feeds of consumption. I did a quick screen cap of this and stuck it on my YouTube Channel. I like.

All in all, a great round of SolarEdge Updates as we move toward the cooler months.

 

A List Of Stuff

Realised it has been over a month since my last update. I’ve been kind of busy doing stuff with work, family events, and also putting a Rugby Club through its pre-season setup.

Finding time to sit and think has been a bit hard. At the same time, there is so much happening here in Australia with regards to renewable energy, its difficult to keep up!

Hydro stuff
Thanks to wikipedia

So here’s a scatter gun approach to energy blogging:

Scamwatch Stuff

Part 1 of this is a scam warning. A group listed “50% OFF!” specials for LG panels and LGChem batteries here recently. One example:

LGscam stuff

Now, nobody in their right mind should be writing 7.2kw’s as that’s just bad grammar.

Second issue is they’re using a lower case “w” to represent “Watt” for both panels and battery, which is wrong in every scientific manner.

Third issue is the battery is listed as “kw” instead of “kWh” – always remember that batteries are energy storage. This means they should always be listed with their kWh (kilowatt hour) figure to understand.

Beyond all that, the pricing is just cray-cray, and so is the manner of billing. A friend of mine contacted them and they sent him an invoice for the full $12,990. This is weird as most equipment sales would take a deposit (maybe as little as $1000), instead of the full amount to get started.

As it is, he cold-called LG Australia directly, who were aware of it, but couldn’t say much for legal reasons. He also dug a little deeper on the website with the original promotion to see what he could turn up.

Both leads turned him onto the fact that this wasn’t all that it seemed, so he backed right off. Good move.

The BILLIONAIRE Battery BOOM Stuff

As reported both here in Australia and overseas, some interesting tweet action went down between Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes and Tesla chief Elon Musk.

         

I don’t need to bore you with the details of the tweets themselves; if you’re here reading my blog, you probably saw it go down.

 

However, if you’re reading this from overseas, what you need to understand is that the talk about batteries is going ballistic here.

MCB and Musk really kicked things off for South Australia’s call for grid-scale battery proposals. But the process was also well underway in the state of Victoria, seeking to go large on storage as well.

Several people I’ve talked to in Canberra (our nation’s capital) are saying the phone is off the hook from government offices.

Suddenly people are realising that a smart, integrated grid is a thing we need. The people in power are starting to come around to the fact that coal is going to collapse, and that idiot behaviour about it needs to stop.

Coal stuff
Pictured: idiot behaviour (c) abc.net.au

That is the Australian Federal Treasurer, waving a lump of coal around in our House of Representatives.

Of course, politicians are populists by nature these days, so it remains to be seen whether talk of batteries survives the Next Big Issue they invent.

New Hydro Stuff

And from the book of “Hey! I’m a Populist, too!” comes our own Prime Minister. He’s decided that expanding our big hydro power scheme in The Snowy Mountains* is an awesome idea, and is framing it as “nation-building”

* some of the place naming in Australia is not wildly original…

Lenore Taylor provides a great breakdown in The Guardian on why this is important, in terms of how a leader, thought of as progressive, is still held back by the dinosaurs in his own party. You should read that article. Go ahead – I’ll wait here.

My issue with it is in the execution.

Expanding the Snowy Mountains Scheme in this way is an increase of 2000MW (2GW), which is not insignificant. It’ll cost AUD$2B which is also a pretty fair price.

BUT it will take somewhere between 4-7 years by all estimates. That means it isn’t really going do much more than keep up with demand, if at all.

There is also the danger that the goal posts will have moved entirely during that time. As I posited last year in Agile Energy Projects In The Marketplace: big projects can quickly become unwieldy.

Projects designed for even 30-year life cycles will find themselves at risk of rejection. It will be simply uneconomical to support such inflexible systems.

This is true in a market where things are changing rapidly, and particularly true in Australia, where we are shutting down old infrastructure.

The removal of the “baseload” paradigm is going to become more common, and require a smarter, more responsive network to cater for integration of many new technologies.

Hydro Power is as subject to this brave new world as much as wind, solar, or other sources.

I think we’d be better off kickstarting a solar thermal industry.

Solar stuff
Tower of Power. Wikipedia

Powerwall Stuff

This month sees the Powerwall v2 landing on our shores. It promises to be interesting times as we move from the early-adopter stage into mum-n-dad market.

The housing market is already seeing the potential, with Metricon offering Solar + Storage in home builds in the state of Queensland.

Powerwall v2 promises to really shift the landscape, offering twice the capacity of my unit, for roughly the same price. Other manufacturers are going to need to start offering more capacity or other desirable features to keep up.

Along with the big battery moves, 2017 looks like its going to be a very interesting year. Most predicted we wouldn’t hit this stage until 2020, but here we are!

Many jobs, with new types of infrastructure projects, will be required to make this happen. That means opportunities for people to jump on the train as its leaving the station.

Note: I’m always open to proposals in this regard.

Statistics Stuff

Here in Sydney it has been rather damp the last month or so. Tropical cyclones off the northeast coast of Australia have caused a lot of damage there. The storm train they pushed south has kept the cloud in play for many days.

Looking at my statistics, the last 28 days have seen generation below 21kWh / day, compared to a lifetime average of a little over 23kWh / day.

Consumption is also down, which is in part due to tapering off the pool pump now we’re in the cooler months.

Import is sitting around the average, though I haven’t needed the grid too much. The occasional Reposit Power off-peak import has bumped this number up a little, but I’m thankful for saving a few dollars.

Now that its been a year, with statistics, I’m satisfied that things will just tick along without my intervention. I don’t really have time to watch it 24/7 anyway!

I’ve started overriding my obsession with checking the system every 10 minutes.

Its more like hourly, now 😉

 

Year Of The Powerwall

Let’s get straight to it: 50 cents per day.

That is what I paid for electricity over the 350 days of billing I have since the Powerwall was installed, and my electricity provider changed over.

This is important to note, as the two weeks up to change of provider meant I wasn’t getting any export benefits from my solar panels. Mugged!

The saving is over the $2000 mark, but for the sake of round numbers, let’s call it $2000.

Year Of The Powerwall
OK, so not exactly this good, but pretty good…

To put in perspective what money means to my family: our recent road trip, to central and southern NSW, cost almost exactly that. Essentially, I got my little summer break for free.

Facts And Figures

According to the billing received by Diamond Energy over the 350 day period:

  • Import total was 1349.830kWh (or 3.857kWh / day)
  • Export total was 3807.403kWh (or 10.878kWh / day)

Not quite the 1:3 ratio I was looking for, but that figure is probably no longer simple to calculate, which I’ll explain below.

From the SolarEdge web portal, I have the following factoids:

  • Lifetime energy: 9.1MWh
  • CO2 emissions saved: ~3400kg
  • Equivalent trees planted: 11
  • Light bulbs powered for a day: ~26,200

That is kind of the feelgood stuff, despite the Powerwall not necessarily being “green” as people might imagine.

As with anything, there is a carbon cost associated with production. The early iterations of any battery product are going to be a little bit on the dirty side.

As one example: Lithium ore needs to be shipped from the mine to the refining facility. The refined lithium is then shipped to the cell production facility, which may or may not need shipping to the final place the Powerwall was built.

Tesla are addressing this with “vertical integration” of production, particularly for their cars, but also batteries in general. This means more processes can be done at one site, reducing shipping costs (and therefore carbon c0st) of transporting components.

Other Factors Considered

Keen observers will remember that in October I got more solar panels. That took my total system size to 6.5kW of panels. I just heard a bunch of critics trumpet “AHA!” but keep in mind, I still only have a 5kW inverter.

Therefore the maximum power I can generate is limited to 5kW, though the peak time lasts a bit longer on a sunny day.

It is hard to quantify what effect this has on the system, beyond saying “there is more solar capacity”. As the new panels are oriented WSW they’re not always going to be ruling the roost in terms of efficiency.

Its also a smaller factor than it otherwise would be, having been installed four months out of the year. Granted, they were the sunnier months.

Another consideration is my move to Time Of Use tariffs in the first week of August. This has an effect on two areas of my billing.

If I’m smart enough to “game” the tariffs, and avoid doing anything during peak time, I can save a lot. Unfortunately peak time coincides with oven and air conditioner use, so that’s not always possible.

The billing and the import numbers above will be affected by Reposit Power managing tariff arbitrage. When I import power now, it might be a result of my needs being bigger than the system output, the battery being empty, or because Reposit sees a cloudy day and wants to import some at a cheaper rate.

Putting together the new panels and move to TOU, a better time to revisit this might be October this year. That way, I’d have a true idea of what I can really save with all components working together.

The Vagaries Of Billing

Those out for a bargain will know to shop around with their electricity companies, and see how best to maximise their savings.

Whether that is through generous sign-up rebates, or big discounts for paying on time or via direct debit. It all adds up, and people without solar or batteries can benefit if they do their research.

As I pay such low amounts anyway, discounts don’t add up to much. Pay-on-time discount across the year was $20, and paying by Direct Debit discount was $17.62.

The bigger benefit was referring people on to Diamond Energy, which netted me $105 across the year. Against that, I paid $22 (inc GST) application fee with Diamond, so the benefit was more like $83.

If we add that $83 back onto the billing, it goes from 50 cents per day to 75 cents per day.

I pay about $1 a day to connect to the electricity network, so its still good. There are even a few dollars in GridCredits unaccounted for at this point.

Year Of The Powerwall

When I say “Year Of The Powerwall” I’m not speaking only to the year I’ve had. This year, 2017, marks the landing of Powerwall version 2 in Australia, and overseas.

I’ll level with you: I haven’t really spoken much about PW2 since the launch, because I’m still experiencing some angst.

Year Of The Powerwall
So hot right now…

I thought I’d done OK with my battery, then in the same year, Tesla brings out one TWICE as good.

C’mon Elon… I thought we were mates!

Overall though, this is a good thing. I think we’re about to see the domestic battery market kick off in 2017, with Tesla in front. That is quite amazing, given the prediction was market maturation in 2020. We’re three years ahead!

Talking to a few people getting quotes and installing them, right now there are very few people price-competitive per kWh.

As the manufacturers in Korea and China start their own uplift via vertical integration, prices are going to keep sliding, and competition increase.

This can only be a good thing for the consumer, for the grid, and for energy security and stability moving forward.

And any consumer who is getting a Powerwall 2: I think a zero electricity bill is well within reach.

If you factored in selling power back to the Grid out of the battery, which I think will replace solar feed-in tariffs eventually, you could even turn a small profit.

As always, user experience may vary. Its up to you to make the most out of your investment.

An Addendum

As I wrote earlier in the month, we have had some heat wave conditions here in Sydney, with outside temperatures getting into the high 40s (120oF). That was kind of insane, but it kicked off some GridCredits for me, which is also a good thing.

As we’re moving toward more extreme weather events, having a flexible and robust grid, with user storage available for emergencies, will be important.

Heatwave Conditions Do Not Compute

As we sit here in a rare Sydney heatwave, I decided to blog. Its all I have the energy for.

Temperatures today are predicted to reach 46oC today. That is 115oF for those of you with funny thermometers. Sydney is supposed to hit a record February day, in fact.

As the temperatures rise, the standard position for most people is to turn on their air conditioner and shut all the windows. And that is great; electricity can often be the most efficient way to cool space.

The problem is the load it puts on the grid, and the possibility of blackouts in many areas, as people ramp up power usage in heatwave conditions.

The kicker: Australia has more than enough generation capacity to cover its needs. This overcapacity is only useful when the market operates correctly though, as this video shows.

In a week where the Federal Government decided to use coal as a political football*, particularly on their support of coal over newer technologies, videos like this show how broken the system is.

* That is a really good article by Lenore Taylor above. Stop and read it. Give her a follow.

The good news is: consumers can help save it.

Combating the Heatwave

Normally you’d expect me to go on a rant here about Reposit Power and how microgrids are going to save the world.

The problem is that we’re continuing to consume high amounts of electricity to keep comfortable. If the heatwave conditions continue due to climate change, consuming even more won’t help – it will just make us hotter!

We’re stuck with fossil fuels for now, even while renewable technologies like solar, wind, and storage ramp up. In Australia at least, they’re going to be the majority of power sources until at 2025. Maybe longer.

As we’ve seen from The Guardian video above, the market can be “gamed” by generators, to help drive prices up. Even if you got a million Reposit Power boxes controlling 10MWh of storage, you’re not going to redress a balance of GIGA watts.

Part of the solution has to be a way to use less power. Therefore, instead of microgrids saving the world, I’m going to talk about something far simpler. Many countries in the world already practice it, but for many and varied reasons, Australia doesn’t.

Energy Efficiency

Its a topic that is not nearly as sexy as GridCredits, but in Australia, its probably more important than ever. Let’s start with a quick diagram:

Heatwave

While that is a gross simplification, the basic truth is there:

  1. Inefficient houses are built a lot here (and at high density)
  2. They need more power to keep themselves cool or warm
  3. This needs more power from (majority) fossil fuels
  4. That makes more profit for electricity companies*

* It should also be noted that it means more (moar) profits for home builders, because the materials for less-efficient houses are correspondingly cheaper.

Its a vicious cycle, and its particularly ridiculous in places like Sydney where land is expensive to buy but houses are cheap to build. And once they’re built, they grow in value (but not efficiency) almost overnight.

I understand this because I bought a house three years ago and watched it increase in price 25% in that time. And it isn’t any more efficient today than it was the day I got it.

Except the pool pump I replaced, but that is another (angry) story.

Consumers Will Consume

Nobody wants to spend any more money than they have to on building their home. I dig that.

I lived in a house with two reverse-cycle split A/C systems for years, and always wish I had ducted.

When I got my new house, it had ducted. And the electricity bills were much bigger. But I didn’t put all of that down to the A/C – it was part of the issue, sure, but I had a bigger house with a few more TVs. Yeah, that must be it.

Now that I have the data on what it costs to run, I’m appalled, and looking for alternatives.

The first part was solar PV and a battery system. That has helped slice my electricity bill into tiny little pieces (blog coming soon on that).

To take it to the next step, I’m going to look at making my house more efficient. As I wrote back in March 2016, there are weak points in my house that need looking at.

Those windows on the west side of the house are next on the list, and I’m getting quotes for double-glazing and glass film technologies as we speak.

Advice For The Home Builder

If you’re building a home at the moment – or even renovating – I’ve got some advice for you, on how you can help with this heatwave situation. This covers both your personal comfort levels, and your contribution to the environment.

Look into designing your house right. Make sure you’ve got decent eaves. Windows that aren’t monstrously oversized. Understand the quality of the wall and ceiling insulation and MAKE SURE it covers the garage; many builders don’t insulate the garage, so its a massive heat collector, and can radiate through internal walls.

DOUBLE-GLAZING. Adds to the initial cost of construction, but will reduce your energy costs by 25-50% depending on aspect.

Get the Air Conditioner you NEED. Don’t just get the biggest one or look at the cheapest price. With the weather warming in Australia, you need to be sure that your A/C is smart. Make sure it is an inverter, and don’t worry about the slightly higher initial cost. It will pay for itself in efficiency measures, while electricity prices continue to rise.

If you find its not enough, then installing a small split system in a particularly bad area of the house can be done later. If you buy the big unit, you’re stuck with it for good.

 

 

Also, don’t be that guy who sets it to 21C appropriate. Your house should never really need to go below about 25C to stay comfortable if the thermostat is set up correctly, in the right location. This will save you thousands in electricity costs over the lifetime of the system.

Use ceiling fans and portable fans tactically, to keep air moving around your house. This is also part of using the 25C rule. If the air is moving, it often feels cooler, and the cost to run one is minimal.

Politically Speaking

The last measure you can do is speak to your local member about raising building efficiency standards in Australia.

I was fortunate enough to hear Dr Brian Motherway talk about efficiency at a conference last year. Efficiency is one of the key targets of the International Energy Agency.

Countries like China are ramping up policy and action in this area, as well as decreasing their reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewables.

Those nations that don’t look at the entire energy spectrum are going to be left behind. And what is the point of pursuing a green grid if we’re still wasting it?

With that thought foremost in my mind, I’m going to jump in the pool with a beer.

First Anniversary of Powerwall

This week I’ll be celebrating the First Anniversary of the Powerwall’s installation at my house. How time flies!

I’ve been on holiday for a few weeks over summer, and what a summer it has been. In two words: bloody hot.

Sydney has been experiencing some of its warmest weather on record, with temperatures hitting up to 45oC (113oF) and not cooling down below 30oC over night. Distinctly uncomfortable.

So you end up with successions of hot days, but worse: hot nights.

At least it wasn’t peak pricing that day, being a weekend… Small mercies.

In addition to the anniversary, I’m also due to receive a bill from Diamond Energy, which will cover November through to January.

Putting in a guess right now: I’m going to say about $1.20 a day, excluding referrals. Similar to Winter, but with a bit of a discount for better export. That would be a bill of around $110 for the 92 day period.

Changing Seasons

Summer has definitely had an affect on the system, in terms of import requirements. As I mused back in December, summer would require more import, despite having more sunshine to work with.

Part of the reason is electricity consumption; on the whole, I am using more energy due to cooling and things like the pool pump.

The air conditioner is variable, depending on ambient temperature, and required comfort level. Short of replacing the thing, I’m stuck with needing the grid during summer.

The pool pump is fairly static in terms of use. A set number of hours per day, and roughly 1kW consumption, makes it easy to calculate.

How you handle your pool pump usage is up to individual circumstance. My pump has a flow rating of approximately 19,000 Litres per hour, and a pool of 31,000L capacity. I have a cover on it all winter, except for monthly maintenance, and no trees or other debris issues around the pool itself.

Therefore, in winter I’ll run it for around 90 minutes per day which should turn the capacity over about once. With appropriate chemical balancing, that keeps it clean.

In summer, I’ll vary it a little. During summer peak – where we use it a lot – the run will be 6 hours, timed for peak sun. At shoulder times I’ll start to move toward 4 hours, as we’re not using it as much.

The idea is to let the filter work as hard as it needs to, while retaining good chemistry and clarity in the pool.

Capacity and Usability

Happy to report that the Powerwall is still reporting its full 6.4kWh capacity, same as Day 1 of the system.

The extreme heat over summer also didn’t trouble the liquid-cooled unit. The Powerwall is rated to 50oC, unlike many of its competitors, so even an Australian summer can’t dent it.

Unless you’re crazy enough to put the thing outside. In the sun.

Businessman Laptop Desert
“Gee, the PC fan is really working overtime today…”

What I did notice was the rest of the system struggling to get to full capacity. With a total of 6.5kW of panels on the house, I didn’t always reach the 5kW capacity of the inverter.

Part of that is the panels getting hotter than their efficiency peak of 250C, and part of it is the inverter starting to feel a bit of heat stroke. Even in the shade, on the south side of my house, it gets bleeping warm.

Back in October I was hitting some sweet numbers, but the ambient temperatures were down in that 25 degree range. Everything performs better when its cool.

Post-Anniversary Focus

As the year has worn on, I’ve slowly weaned myself off frantic chart analysis. Its a bit of a pragmatic move, as constantly worrying about my ROI was a bit stressful.

While it was important to keep an eye on the system, I’m moving into a stage where I need to look at the future path, not just the past performance.

That means I’ll be presenting more ideas-based blog here, and there is plenty to write about.

Tesla Energy released the Powerwall 2, which I’ve avoided talking about due to extreme jealousy and consumer cognitive dissonance.

Accompanying that is solar rooftop, which I’ll talk about in a future post.

World-shaping events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are key political events. They have the potential to shape energy policy for years to come.

There are also ideas I’d like to explore in terms of other energy sources. That will lead into producing educational content that I can distribute, through various media.

I’m also aiming to put up more on my YouTube channel, for which I’d appreciate a “Subscribe” if you’re so inclined. Which I’ll try to fit in around the blog itself, work, family, and running a Rugby Club!

It has been a very interesting journey to get here. It wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of time and patience of the following organisations:

Natural Solar

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neonblackSolar Edge Logo

 

Reducing Climate Change Risks

This is my entry to the Masdar 2017 Engage Global Social Media Competition. The aim is to describe which technology will help reduce climate change, and why.

As scientific bodies continue to explore and model the effects of climate change, the technologists, disruptors, and entrepreneurs are seeking ways to combat it. The use of renewable power in the form of wind and solar is one of the key areas.

 

However, a valid criticism of renewable energy is stability: if the sun doesn’t shine, and the wind doesn’t blow, solar and wind are in under-supply. If the sun DOES shine brightly and the wind picks up, the renewable energy grid produces oversupply.

This situation is prominent in the California “Duck Curve”. The belly of the duck is over-generation from solar, while the head of the duck is the consumption ramp for night-time domestic use.

California Duck Curve showing oversupply / ramp requirement paradox (c) GTM

As domestic and commercial solar uptake increases across the world, there is a genuine risk to existing grids. Trying to address this issue alongside a mix of traditional power generation is difficult. Large, traditional generators cannot uplift generation, or halt it, at short notice.

I believe the natural solution is widespread adoption of storage technology.

Domestic storage will mature rapidly over the next 5 years, as household battery options become cheaper, due to vertical integration of the production process. This will be particularly true in established Western housing markets, particularly those dwellings with rooftop solar options.

It also enables the concept of virtual power plants for retailers to access power stored in domestic appliances. In the future, consumers will engage in peer-to-peer trading via blockchain and other smart technologies. The net result is to lower the need for a traditional “grid” and the associated maintenance for poles and wires.

Industrial storage will see positive disruption to hi-tech engineering solutions, using renewable generation. Efficiency has a large role to play here, as innovation across multiple sectors leads to better production engineering.

The volatility of frequency required for running many heavy industries can be offset with larger scale storage. These battery systems act like a buffer, or regulator, in order to provide assurance of stability. Large storage can also be deployed by energy networks in order to back up local power infrastructure.

Transport storage is a key area for addressing carbon emissions. While cars are the major playground for this technology right now, the move to heavy transport, agriculture, and public transport offers a range of other benefits.

I call it “Transport storage” because it offers more than just a way to move people or goods from one place to another. There is the opportunity to place domestic, industrial, and transport storage in synch, to produce a more efficient outcome for renewable energy.

Consider the California Duck Curve I mentioned before. This is the result of “too much of a good thing” when we have an over-abundance of solar PV! What if there was a way to mitigate this?

The average shopping mall in most countries has a roof space in the hundreds of square metres. They also contain hundreds, if not thousands, of car spaces.

If we add solar panels on that roof space, and storage in the basement, we can effectively create a curve smoothing apparatus by plugging in a suitable number of EVs during daylight hours. A similar system could be used by places of work for the benefit of employees.

Such a system would draw not only from the local (mall rooftop) power, but also spill excess renewable energy into recharging the transport network in other places. This might take the form of powering connected public transport – like electric buses or trains – on site, or via the grid.

All the while, this large-scale storage and renewable generation helps flatten the belly of the duck during the day. When people return to their homes at night, they can cut the head off the duck using their domestic storage.

Storage, along with the associated smart management technologies, provides the cornerstone for a renewable energy future. The combination of increased efficiency, and reduction of fossil fuel burning, is undeniable.

Recalculating Payback Time

As mentioned in October, I got some new panels, so I thought I’d have a quick run at recalculating payback time.

No doubt the new, west-facing panels, are having a positive effect on electricity generation. As the days get longer in Summer, clear days are cranking out 2-3 times as much as the house consumes!

Of course, its not all gravy, with this last week in December producing two extremely hot days above 36oC (~97oF), followed by two days of rain. The former item consumed a lot of air conditioning, while the latter didn’t generate a lot of PV energy.

I’d love to have a Powerwall 2 to ride all that out! But I make do with having a grid connection.

Payback Parameters

The new panels were $1320 including GST. That takes the total system cost to about $18k at this stage, now including 6.5kW of PV, inverter, Powerwall, and Reposit.

That is an increase of roughly 8% over the original cost.

Generation capacity has increased by 1.5kW / 5kW = 30%.

That figure is a bit fuzzy because the existing panels don’t face the same direction as the recent additions. Also, the inverter I have is limited to 5kW of throughput. So chances are I won’t use all of that capacity across the year. Let’s call it 20% as a “real” figure.

Regardless, the main point is looking at the cost increase over the capacity increase. Extra funding of 8% has allowed my system to gear up by a potential 20-30% in terms of generation.

This shows what anyone experienced with solar will tell you: panels are cheap. Get as many as you can, with the biggest inverter possible.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I now have data on finalised billing to cover about 70% of the year.

It shows my electricity cost – including daily connection fees – at roughly 71 cents per day.

Summer is yet to be added to this data set. Like winter, the primary environmental control (my ducted air conditioner) will get usage. I also have a pool pump that runs more in summer than winter.

Looking at historical bills, I tend to use about 3% more in Summer than Winter. Whether that still holds true depends on a lot of factors, particularly seasonal variance. Maybe we had a warm winter last year? I can’t remember.

This may not be significant in the face of increased solar generation:

  • Self-consumption can increase with longer daylight hours
  • Export can increase with higher generation capacity

 

Taking a Stab At It

Alright, so putting my analytical neck on a chopping block, here is what I think will happen.

Disclaimer: I am cheating a little in that I have data from Reposit Power to guide me on the days I know about since the last bill. To balance that out, not all my billing days were time-of-use (was on single-rate until August), so I’m flying blind in other ways.

As I’m writing this, I have realised just how many moving parts there are! This is going to be tricky, so let’s start with actual data.

Looking at the Statistics page of the site, fed by SolarEdge API, I can see my lifetime system statistics. All of which is very interesting to look at, but only two matter; import versus export.

Payback
Summary Import and Export – second week of December, 2016

These two factors are Summer in a nutshell. Increased import, possible reduced export. The daily average covers each day in the last week (up to 16th December, inclusive).

If we add the 3% increase I am predicting for summer from my historical billing, it doesn’t change the import much. The lifetime import has only been around 3kWh per day, so 5.47kWh per day represents an increase of 2.5kWh.

With peak tariff, this could be as high as 90 cents per day! Shoulder rate and offpeak rate make it 69 cents and 35 cents respectively.

I also need to factor in that Reposit Power imported a few offpeak kWh on Friday morning, so will call the extra import 2kWh per day. I’ll use the peak tariff rate to established increased costs of 75 cents per day.

On the flipside, I don’t think the 9kWh export figure is accurate due to the amount of cloud we had over the two days. The lifetime average is about 11kWh. To this, we add the 20% of our extra generation capacity to arrive at 13kWh per day.

“Wait a second!”, I hear you cry, “you’ve already had those extra panels on for a couple of months!”

Yes, I agree. However, we’re now hitting peak summer, so given my 20% figure was a fuzzy projection, based on 30% increase in capacity being the limit, I think it still works.

Again, looking at the statistics, you can see the 28-day retrospective is 13.92kWh. So I’m sticking with about 13kWh per day, keeping in mind I’ll be self-consuming a bit more than usual with the pool pump running.

An extra 2kWh per day exported is 16 cents in reduced costs.

Combine the two of those, and we had 75 – 16 = 59 cents per day.

This is extra, over the historical average of 71 cents per day. This brings us up to $1.30 per day for the summer bill.

Remember, I proposed a 3% increase of Summer over Winter, based on historical billing. The “Winter” bill I received back in September was $1.27 per day.

If you add 3% to that, you come out at $1.31 per day, so I’ll be keen to see if I get that close to my estimate of $1.30.

But What About Payback Time?

Very good question. I’ve just added $1320 capital cost to the system, and spent the last couple of hundred words speaking about Summer only.

Using the summer figure I calculated above, and wrapping that up into the billing I’ve received, puts the annual cost of electricity at my house around $310 as I’ve stated previously.

That is a saving of roughly $2k per annum over my old billing from last year. With the system cost now at $18k, that is a 9 year payback on simple calculations.

However, Autumn and Spring are the counterpoint to the Summer and Winter electricity burn for cooling/heating. Those times of year need to be exploited.

If my exports climb by 20% for both those seasonal bills, then the gains per year could be quite gratifying.

The two bills I have for these periods work out to 59 cents per day (March-June using single-rate tariff), and 24 cents per day (August-October on time-of-use).

The other key factor was full operation of Reposit Power with TOU tariffs, with is another massive advantage along with GridCredits. I can import very cheap power for anticipated poor days of PV generation.

Along with the extra generation capacity of my new panels, this shunted the power per day figure down by nearly 60% for Spring over Autumn.

If this holds for next year, and the Autumn power bill goes down to under 25 cents per day, it will mean for half the year I’m paying $44 for electricity. For the other half (Summer and Winter) I might be paying about $240.

An annual power bill of $282 sounds a lot better than the $2300 I was paying a year ago. And shifts simple payback under 9 years, by a few months.

The addition of these panels doesn’t look like a big deal on the face of it, but I’ve been fairly conservative in a lot of estimates.

I haven’t taken into account any GridCredits I receive, or the Diamond Energy Customer Referral fees I might get. So perhaps under 8 years is possible once the whole-of-environment changes are considered.

Christmas 2016

I’d like to thank everyone who has popped in for a look at the blog this year. Thanks for the connections on Twitter as well!

It has been quite an interesting 11 months since I got the Powerwall installed, and I’ve certainly learned a lot.

I have made an effort the last few years to put up Christmas lights, and copped sunburn, cuts and scrapes doing it. But its definitely worth it for the look on the faces of the local children.

I would like to wish you and your families a safe and happy holiday season, wherever you are.

Springtime for Positive Billing

As per my tweet earlier in the month, the new bill came in, and it is really  the definition of positive billing.

It is the first bill I’ve received with TOU (Time Of Use) tariffs, which changes the landscape a bit for me.

I already have data from Reposit Power about billing estimates on a daily basis. While they’re pretty sharp, the guys doing the billing are where it counts. I wanted to see how close all the estimates – including my own – would be to the truth.

The net result is a deposit into my bank account (yesterday) of $50.25.

Positive Billing Spring
Billing Summary November 2016

The Breakdown

The fixed costs were as follows, excluding GST, for the 84-day period.

Item Quantity Price Amount
Service connection fee 84 days 98.90 c/day $83.08

Usage over the period at the various TOU rates came to the following (all amounts are excluding GST).

Item Qty (kWh) Price (c/kWh) Amount
Peak – Rate 1* 24.962 30.5300 $ 7.62
Peak – Balance 0.000 31.4900 $ 0.00
Shoulder Rate 76.635 24.9700 $19.14
Off Peak 74.584 13.8400 $10.32

* This covers the first 340kWh / month

I imported only 176.181kWh over an 84-day period. That works out to just under 2.1kWh per day during that time. Only 0.3kWh in peak tariff period!

There were a couple of rainy days in a row that I recall. One of those coincided with hosting a family event, using the oven, and dishwasher a couple of times. As it was the weekend, shoulder rate tariff applied.

Factors in my favour are summarised in the table below.

Item Qty Price Amount
Net feed-in tariff -1099.299 kWh 8 c/kWh -$87.94
GridCredits -5.04 kWh 100 c/kWh -$ 5.04
Renewable Reward 84 days -8.710 c/day -$ 7.32
Direct Debit Discount 3.0 % -$ 3.60
Pay on Time Discount* 7.0 % -$ 6.75
Diamond Referral  2 -$35.00 -$70.00

* This amount is calculated against the previous bill

The export figure is massive at nearly 13.1 kWh per day! Its worth noting that the new panels I got in October covered about 25 of the 84 days in this billing cycle.

The first lot of GridCredits were applied to this bill, and that $5.04 is handy for knocking the top off that peak tariff.

Once you throw everything into a pile, and calculate GST, you get the balance of -$50.25. Diamond will credit your account for any amount of $50 or more owed. For the first time ever I have positive billing for electricity in my favour!

About those referrals…

Yes, Diamond have a pretty generous referral scheme. Both the existing customer and new customer get a $35 credit which is pretty sweet. Long may it continue!

Having just one of those per quarter could help the electricity bill head drastically toward zero. The question is, how many friends and family can you tap into on a regular basis? 🙂

Let’s remove that $70 amount from the equation to look at the regular money.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

You know the deal...
You know the deal…

We now have an electricity bill of $19.75, or 23.5 cents per day, which is even lower than my first full bill in July.

When you export enough energy to cover your service connection fee, you’re doing pretty well.

When you self-consume most of the rest, and only bring in a very small amount of peak power, that is obviously much better.

The Powerwall is essential to this plan, because it avoids peak tariffs using Reposit Power for tariff arbitrage.

That said, summer reality is starting to hit. As I write this, the outside temperature is creeping up toward 37oC (99oF). The air conditioner is running. Cloud cover is building as we head into the afternoon, and peak power tariff kicks in.

I’m taking this opportunity to experiment with the ducted air conditioner. I need to determine how to minimise cost without unduly affecting comfort levels.

Billing cycles will now fall roughly into quarters ending in October, January, May, and August. I need to think about maximising the two “good” periods, and mitigating the damage during peak summer and winter.

Of course, climate change might make the summer period even worse. That is something scientists already say is being felt, and will only increase.

The cosmic ballet goes on...
The cosmic ballet goes on…

Positive Billing Into The Future

How will things look this summer? There will be more sunshine than in winter, but more electricity consumption as well.

The data I have for the year ending January 2016 (when the system was installed) suggests summer usage is a couple of percent higher than winter.

Will this be offset by any exports I do? How does the temperature affect this calculation in terms of air conditioner use? Pool pump running? More events in warmer weather?

These are questions I can’t yet answer.

For now, I have 258 days of finalised bills, with a net electricity cost of $113.28 with referrals. That’s 43.9 cents per day for electricity, so I’m pretty stoked.

Even without the referrals, the figure is 71 cents per day, which is lower than my connection fee, and works out to $260 a year for electricity.

Even extrapolating the summer quarter as $1.30 per day (higher than winter), it works out to around $310 per year.

That still puts me in the box seat for a payback under 10 years, so its all systems go for now.

Relentless Self-Promotion Bit

Hey did you catch my recent video? I did a bit of off-road driving a couple of weekends ago. I’d love some more subscribers to my YouTube channel, so I can make more videos of things relating to solar panels and my own interests.