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 😉

 

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.

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.

 

Tariff Arbitrage Using Reposit

Wait – what the heck is tariff arbitrage?

The general definition of “arbitrage” is:

… the simultaneous buying and selling of securities, currency, or commodities in different markets or in derivative forms in order to take advantage of differing prices for the same asset.

Clear as mud, hmm? That’s because the definition above relates to financial terms, and those financey guys are wizards of obfuscation.

Pictured: Wizard
Pictured: Yer a Wizard, Gordon!

Enough with the big words though. This is about finance, but not in the way Mr Stock Trading Person above understands it.

The practice of tariff arbitrage for electricity has a much more detailed explanation, but for me it breaks down to this:

Charge my battery when it is cheap, to use when it is not.

“Hang on – you have solar panels! Why do you need the arbithingees?”

I’m glad you asked, random internet person.

Tariff Arbitrage In Practice

Tariff arbitrage needs a set of circumstances to be useful.

Firstly, a battery to store the power. Solar is awesome, but it has issues with needing the sun. That generally means daytime, and not raining.

Secondly, you need the right electricity plan. When I was on single-rate electricity, I’d pay about 23c / kWh around the clock. Now I’m on TOU (Time Of Use), I pay off-peak of around 13c / kWh, and peak of around 33c / kWh.

Third, you need something smart to control all this, like Reposit Power. My Reposit box governs power flows between Solar PV, battery, and grid.

It has a learning engine for my household habits, so it knows when I’ll use power. Additionally, it can look at weather forecasts to see when I’ll have solar energy available.

These are two important things to know, because when I’ll use power and when the sun is shining are going to make a difference for my power bill. Particularly as I pay different rates for power when I use it.

A Graphic Example

Here is a screenshot of the (new) Reposit interface for my battery from this morning. I’ve edited the image to have two labels on it to show the power consumption.

Tariff Arbitrage 28 Oct 2016
29 October 2016 – Battery readout from Reposit web portal

Fairly typical for the household while we’re asleep. The Powerwall slowly draining as it feeds the fridge, any standby devices, and bathroom light for the kids. Only thing that changes is how much is in the battery to start with.

Here is the same screen but with data from the day before.

Tariff Arbitrage 29 Oct 2016
28 October 2016 – Battery readout from the Reposit web portal

Yowzah! It is going UP! And there is a reason for that: tariff arbitrage.

Yesterday, the forecast for Sydney was rain and heavily overcast conditions.

The Reposit software decided, based on the weather and my needs, that it should top up the battery to get me through the day. It uses the off-peak period to do that, and had actually commenced importing at 10PM the previous night.

This is the first time I’ve seen it top the battery right up. As you can see from the rest of the graph, I didn’t get through all this power in peak time. But I was buying it at a much lower cost than I’d otherwise pay.

How Low?

Here are the current rates I’m paying for Diamond Energy on TOU:

Rate Times Cost (c/kWh)
Peak
1PM-8PM weekdays
30.53 (0-340kWh per month),
31.49 (balance of kWh)
Shoulder
7am – 1pm,
8pm – 10pm weekdays,
7am – 10pm weekends / public holidays
24.97
Off-peak
All other times
13.84

Reposit Power aims to lower my costs. This decision to top up the battery is primarily for the peak period of 1-8PM where costs are at a premium. Once you take transmission loss into account (92% round trip efficiency on the Powerwall) I’m still ahead against Peak power cost by a ratio of 2:1.

Everything in between will mostly be taken care of by the trickle of Solar PV I generated during the day, as evidenced by the chart below.

Tariff Arbitrage Solar Gen
Solar Generation 28 Oct – high point noted for reference

This figure of 10.8kWh for the day is a long way from the 40kWh I’ve registered twice so far in October. But every bit counts.

Smoothing the Curve

Thinking about the solar figure jumping around a little, it also brings to light the other aspect of battery usage: curve smoothing.

When we have days with scudding* cloud and intermittent sunshine, a solar PV house with no battery is forced to call on the grid multiple times.

* Totally a word. Look it up.

Once the battery gets some juice in it, I’m less reliant on the grid for a sudden change in conditions.

Combine this with the automation of Reposit Power – where I don’t need to think about when the sun is out or not – and I’m onto a winner!

Reposit Power

System Upgrade

If you’ve ever looked at my System Specs page, you’ll see that I’ve got a fair bit of west-facing roof I don’t use. I decided to get an upgrade.

First port of call was Natural Solar, of course.

They looked at the system, and advised placing an extra six panels on the western roof. The same Phono Solar 250W panels would be used, each with a SolarEdge P300 power optimiser.

House Upgrade
Right about… there!

The two existing arrays tie back to the inverter with one string each. The new array would be joined onto the array to the left of picture (western). This made for the simplest install as it didn’t require new wiring to the inverter.

It also provided the benefit of generating from the sun in the afternoon. This is useful in the warmer months where I am more likely to use air conditioning.

Additionally, for those days that have overcast mornings, but sunny afternoons, I’d see the most benefit. Particularly true given the house has a rising ridge line to the east, so doesn’t see much sun early in the day.

With the detail sorted out, we agreed on a date for Splice Electrical to perform the upgrade. James and Nick turned up, and with their usual friendly professionalism, got to it.

While they were here I also got them to disconnect some old PSTN infrastructure that was slowing my NBN connection. Increased speed by 40%! Legends…

A few hours later I was the proud owner of another 1.5kW of panels!

upgrade complete. Now what?

Naturally, with an upgrade of this sort, you’re going to expect some improved results. The system has had a size increase of 30% (1.5 / 5.0 = 0.3). Would I get similar generation increases?

The main factor in all this is still the inverter. The SE5000 in my system is limited to 5kW in any direction. Therefore, expected generation, even with 6.5kW of panels, is limited to 5kW maximum.

I was quietly confident I’d hit this high mark regularly, given I generated 4.9kW or more at points during February and March, and even in May!

However, the panels aren’t in the same orientation as the rest of the system, so what is the effect?

Setting the baseline

According to one source, a solar PV system in Sydney should produce 3.9kWh per kW of installed panels per day. That is under lab conditions.

My initial system setup should (on average) have produced about 19.5kWh of electricity per day. For the lifetime of the system at 5kW, the SolarEdge API reports the following figure:


I hasten to point out that the data is a little murky. The SolarEdge API consolidates “generation” from PV and battery, because of the way it monitors flow.

Therefore, that figure only works if we’re assuming the battery is filled and drained every day. This certainly isn’t the case 100% of the time, but its enough to show we’re in the ballpark.

Another part of this is loss due to inefficiency. The Powerwall is about 92% efficient, meaning I have to spend around 1.5kWh of the 19.5kWh figure on the power going into and out of the battery.

The other factor is the timeline; we’re looking at a period from mid-February to early October. This includes the shorter daylight hours.

With all these factors considered, I’d say this is actually looking like a decent marker, even with the accepted error margin (+/- 10%) in the SolarEdge API.

Effect Of Upgrade

An extra 1.5kW of panels should result in a generation figure of 25.35kWh per day, on average, for Sydney.

The first caveat for this figure: it has been spankingly good weather in Sydney for the last week.

The new panels are also a different orientation to the others, which may affect the figure.

It is also a very small sample in terms of days. In the interests of science, I’ll leave this chart here to update daily. You can check in on it any time you like. A rolling 7- and 28-day chart is also on the Statistics page.

*drum roll*


Average just shy of 33kWh at time of print. Pretty good weather!

A better analysis might be to look at the curves being produced by the different panel setups. The figures aren’t as important as the shape of the curve.

That was from May, without daylight savings. The curve peaks around midday and is generally uniform. Pretty much what you’d expect. Decent result, too.

Now we throw another 1.5kW of panels on the western side, and add daylight saving to shift the curve to the right by an hour.

A small point: that is my record day so far. And its only October. Tee hee!

More importantly, we see the extension of the curve from the new peak around 1PM (daylight savings, remember), through until the late afternoon. We get a lot closer to sunset for generation as well.

The peak 5kW on this particular day hit at 1128 hours, and it stayed there until 1514 hours. The 5kW system infrequently reached 4.9kW, and then only for short stretches.

With the extra panels, not only is the generation figure much higher, but the long afternoon sun really kicks in.

Looking Ahead

As we move further into the warmer months, I expect the 5kW peak to be longer. Most likely, this will result in much more export until the point the ducted air conditioner is required on a regular basis.

I need to develop a strategy to mitigate that. Perhaps running the air conditioner in “continuous” mode on sunny days will help. This aims to keep the house cool, and the thermostat will lower the overall energy requirement.

I’m still finalising the change in payback time on the new array. Due to the move to TOU pricing, it is getting hard to keep all the facts and figures in order.

For the most part, I’m going to keep rolling calculations based on the single-rate plan offered by Diamond Energy. The rest of it makes my head hurt.

South Australian Storms

I’ll keep this pretty short, because the South Australian Storms are consuming a lot of media attention at the moment. This article is a bit of a linkstorm, because people have said most of this more eloquently than I could.

You can pretty much sum up the situation with this tweet:

The state of South Australia here has been hit by what is being described as a 50 year storm. The damage you see in the picture above has contributed to the entire state losing power.

As this article explains, tornadoes brought down critical infrastructure, and the network was brought down as a safety measure. Note that tornadoes aren’t a very common occurrence in Australia.

South Australia is connected to the state of Victoria for power sharing, as part of the South East grid. If the interconnector stayed up, and started demanding power from Victoria, it had knock-on implications for the whole grid.

The Good

Despite the magnitude of the disaster, there are some silver linings to the South Australian storms.

It puts battery storage at the forefront of maintaining a decentralised power supply. One household had their Powerwall running the house until power came back, thanks to Natural Solar.

Reposit Power also had a customer request for power, in preparation for the storm. Why not use the grid import facility of Reposit to grab power before the storm hits? That way, even threats to infrastructure won’t hurt the average household.

While most people can see themselves getting a battery in blackout hotspots, most would never have considered the magnitude of such an event.

Though, in fairness, I suppose most people haven’t seen a storm this big.

The Bad

Of course, it didn’t take some peanuts long to have a crack at the high percentage of renewable energy in South Australia. The state closed its last coal-fired power station a few weeks ago. It has been a nonstop bunfight since.

Renew Economy covered the primary points of attack relating to the South Australian storms. The coal lobby is really bricking it over renewables, and that’s no shock as more coal power stations are going to close.

It is surprising that someone would try to pin this on renewable energy. Particularly as the energy mix played zero part in the problem.

Another good read was from Ketan Joshi, who ran through the speed of truth versus the speed of emotion. Misinformation gets a Tesla Model S, it would appear, while Science gets a bicycle…

The banner image for both articles was this unmitigated rubbish:

The Ugly

It really boils my piss to see this kind of thing go down. You’d think no-one in recorded history had ever had a blackout before. Or that, in some wild universe, humanity has never seen a storm of this scale until solar panels were invented.

Correlation does not imply causation. Maybe some of these idiots should learn something about that.

We’ve got a state suffering the effects of one of the biggest storms in living memory, and people are playing politics, as South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill states so well.

Stay safe, South Australians. Hope you’re back on your feet soon.

Powerwall Six Months On

Powerwall Six MonthsI’ve had the Powerwall six months now, or in fact a little longer. It would be more accurate to say I’ve had a functioning solar PV with battery system for seven months.

That dates back to when my meter was changed over to a basic bi-directional unit. Importantly, it is the date that billing with Diamond Energy started, with full and accurate detail of import and export.

I have had a  total of three bills, the most recent of which covers 52 days from mid-June to early August. It stops there because I’ve moved from single-rate to TOU tariffs, so Diamond decided to make things easier for calculation purposes.

The other two were covered by my blog post back in July. The full quarterly bill naturally received more attention than the one I hinted at in that post. With 174 days of billing data now in the bank, its time to look at a longer period.

This post will put up the basically points of interest from the three bills and their relevant statistics.

Powerwall Six Months Analysis – Part 1

The first bill covered the period of 17th February through to 23rd March.

Item Days Cost Import Export
Total 35 $23.89* 121 322
Average / day $0.68 3.46 9.2

* This amount removes the $20 establishment fee with Diamond ($22 inc GST)

With a connection fee of just over $0.82 / day, and an export tariff of 8 cents/kWh, I was almost covering the connection.

Of course, import was going to hit a bit harder in summer time. The last week of February was a record-setter in Sydney.

The temperature was minimum 26oC / 79oF for nearly the whole week. Frequently the temperature was over 35oC (95oF) in the late afternoon, hitting those big, west-facing windows. I can only sweat so much!

That kind of heat requires air conditioning, which you can see in the red spikes below.

SolarEdge Portal

It probably wasn’t even the amount I imported, more a case of when it was imported.

This is a small precursor to what you can expect from an Australian summer in this part of Sydney region. No ocean breezes this far inland.

During this period I clocked some fairly hefty production figures, topping out at around 34kWh, with several days in excess of 30.

The heat of a Sydney summer makes me a little cautious in regard to power usage. In addition to the extended hours for the pool, the heat will require air conditioning. That means import.

January tends to be the wettest month in Sydney, and storm season. Luckily, for those cloudy days and weeks I’ve got Reposit Power to do the thinking for me.

POWERWALL SIX MONTHS ANALYSIS – PART 2

The start date was 24th March, running through until 17th of June, 2016. This was the big quarterly bill which grabbed the media attention here in Australia, with a few overseas articles published as well.

I won’t go into too much detail as you can read about it here. The key data to consider

Item Days Cost Import Export
Total 86 $50.39 244 736
Average / day $0.59 2.84 8.6
Previous bill $0.68 3.46 9.2
Difference -$0.09 -0.62 -0.6

As you can see, the daily figures show slight decreases across the board.

At my import tariff, this equates to 13.2 cents / day decrease in costs as I’m importing less.

The export is 4.8 cents / day cost increase as I’m exporting less.

This comes out to 8.4 cents per day. The actual decrease of 9 cents per day is due in part to rounding.

Additionally, Diamond single-rate tariffs step up by a small amount once you use more than a certain number of kWh per month.

The weather during this period was pretty good. We had long weeks of sunshine, with few rainy days. The temperatures were very mild, meaning we didn’t need air conditioning or heating.

POWERWALL SIX MONTHS ANALYSIS – PART 3

The latest bill runs from 18th June through to 9th August, or a total of 52 days over winter.

In terms of “winter”, I should mention it never snows here. The closest snow I think fell about an hour’s drive away, in the Blue Mountains. It isn’t frosbite territory, and with the climate warming, isn’t ever likely to be. Short of another ice age, I guess.

We do get frosts, sometimes on consecutive days, and the lack of double-glazing, with basic wall and ceiling insulation batts, does mean the house gets cold. We also have a lot of tiled floor.

This bill gives a valuable insight into the changes that occur, in a period with less sun and more heating.

Item Days Cost Import Export
Total 53 $67.25 288 335
Average / day $1.27 5.43 6.3
Previous bill $0.59 2.84 8.6
Difference +$0.68 +2.59 -2.3

A little over double for daily cost, and the reasons why are fairly obvious.

Import rose by 91%, and export fell by nearly 27%. So it cost me an extra 50 cents per day for import and I missed out on around 18 cents for export. In the ballpark at 68 cents.

There were only a couple of days where we ran the heating longer than an hour or so. With the big motor on this ducted system, that was more than enough to start hitting the import hard.

Next winter, with TOU now in place, we’ll be a bit smarter. I’m talking to Reposit about the best ways to utilise off-peak power, and how their software handles it.

Note: the reason behind the short interval for this bill is replacement of my meter. The GridCredits scheme is reliant on a sophisticated unit, which I’ll put up video of when I get the time.

Summary

Putting all the information into a table gives a nice summary of the solar with Powerwall six months down the track.

Item Days Cost Import Export
Part 1 35 $23.89 121 322
Part 2 86 $50.39 244 736
Part 3 53 $67.25 288 335
TOTAL 174 $141.53 653 1393
Daily avg $0.81 3.75 8.01

Not bad, though of course I have yet to experience a full summer with this system.

Summer will mean more power imports as we use the air conditioning. It also means longer daylight hours. Greater export will offset higher import, to a degree.

Compared to winter, where heating and shorter daylight hours have clearly had an effect, summer should be slightly better. I’m still at the mercy of those 40oC+ days, but at least I can pay them back a bit.

Of course, as panel temperatures rise above 25oC, efficiency will drop. More light = more heat in summer, so I might not see many days above 35kWh with the existing system.

 

Autumn and Spring are looking like the “Kill Bill” (*snigger*) periods for the year. The milder weather and lower heating/cooling requirements are really where its at.

Powerwall Six Months
Not bad for 6th September…

Winter is going to be an issue ongoing, with lower daylight hours, and heating requirements. Summer will still need a lot of electricity imported, but can be offset with big exports.

The real challenge, moving forward, is to maximise self-consumption, and minimise waste. As always.

If I can keep the costs below $1 / day for my electricity, even with recent increases in tariffs, then I’m well on track to save $1900 in the first year. Maybe more after that!