Sonnen Versus Human Nature

German battery company sonnen has entered the Australian market, with their sonnenFlat product. I would have written about it earlier, but I’ve been suffering a fairly serious flu that is hitting Australia late this winter.

On the surface, it looks like a fairly sweet deal. Add a Sonnen battery pack to your existing solar array (or buy that, too), and never pay for electricity consumption again.

In return, sonnen get to use the battery storage as they see fit via the concept of Virtual Power Plant (VPP).

There are a few conditions of course, as this article from Solar Choice’s James Martin II points out. I’d also urge you to also read the comments section as Solar Choice provides further information via responses.

My first impression on seeing the details: this is a mobile phone plan, but for electricity. You pay your $30 a month, use up to the “cap”, and then get charged for excess.

So what are the “gotchas”?

For The Provider

sonnen will make some money on battery retail, first and foremost. The consumer pays for the upfront cost of the battery system, as well as the ongoing payment.

In return, sonnen get a VPP, with which they can play in Australia’s energy market.

Sonnen Eco 8
Sonnen Eco 8 (via Natural Solar)

This may include direct retail of energy, but I don’t see it, despite their promises to “kill” the traditional energy model.

When the sun goes down there is no generation available to them as a standalone provider, and the battery users they are supplying “free” power to will take most available demand from storage.

Most likely, sonnen will seek a partnership with an existing generator and/or retailer. There is already talk of sonnen investigating agreements with companies like AGL, one of Australia’s largest energy providers.

There is a bit of VPP talk going around in Australia at the moment in general. It is one of the ways in which we’re going to address how we manage the grid into the future.

It is acknowledged that demand growth for traditional grid generation has tapered off due to a few factors. This includes better energy efficiency, and uptake of renewables behind the meter. Departure of some industries like car manufacturing also contribute.

However, the need for smarter demand management is growing, particularly where the consumption profile is changing for consumers and industry.

Simply put: we don’t consume energy the way we did in the past. Terms like “baseload” are swiftly becoming meaningless, and I’d urge you to place limited trust in people who say it is a priority!

For The Consumer

The obvious advantage is cost savings. By investing in a sonnen system, you can fix the running cost of your household for years, literally.

Paying $360 per annum for electricity would sound like a fairly sweet deal for most, particularly as some consumers have just seen price hikes of up to 20% in Australia.

There is the up front cost that could make the whole conversation moot. Like the arguments around leaving the grid altogether, capital outlay is going to be a deal breaker for a lot of people.

Caveat EmptoR

In one of the comment replies in the Solar Choice article, they note that the “cap” includes ALL usage in the house i.e. not just imported electricity. This starts at 7500kWh per annum for the $30 plan.

For the consumer who can afford the investment, and just want a set-and-forget system, that makes a lot of sense. The consumer doesn’t have to micro-manage the system, and maybe has the option of getting a little bit smarter about their usage to try and fit under a lower cap.

One real risk is for those users who sign up thinking its all about “free electricity”. If they don’t look after their consumption, it will start to hit the hip pocket, and quickly lead to consumer regret.

And what if your household doesn’t consume 7500kWh per year? As unlikely as that sounds with 20.5kWh to play with. What sort of plan do you go on?

It is critical to understand your consumption across the year, before deciding which system or plan to sign up to.

The

Does It Fall (sonnen) Flat?

I’m a consumer who bought a battery without a plan like sonnenFlat behind it. I took some actions to maximise that investment, particularly trying to ensure the house runs lean.

The statistics I’ve compiled bear this out. My consumption figure of ~16kWh / day via the system APIs is lower than the ~21kWh / day I took from my billing data.

The less I consume, the more I can export, which produces direct financial benefit for me. I’d also like to think it lowers my carbon footprint a bit.

This is a secondary problem I see with sonnenFlat: you don’t get any benefit from being smarter or better about your energy consumption. Where is the incentive to use less?

To me its a similar argument to those people who are on-grid, but try to consume 100% of their solar generation. Sure, that’s great if you’ve got a smaller PV system and need to be really smart about your use.

I just don’t see the point in running a device you don’t need to for the sake of using up your solar power. Particularly when you can export it for the benefit of others (and yourself!)

The Good News

I think the concept of sonnenFlat is moving in the right direction in several key areas.

The surety for consumer electricity bills, while not demanding too much of their capacity to understand the system, is great.

The addition of more battery capacity in a VPP adds important ancillary services to the grid. This helps the grid evolve and integrate to these new, smarter services.

 

It also shifts the discussion about batteries further into the spotlight for the “Mum n Dad” consumer. While the Tesla Powerwall created a spark, it was priced only for early adopters. Powerwall 2 suddenly put the financials into reach.

This type of offering – promoting batteries as a service, not just a device – is an important step for consumer markets. One day, batteries and solar will not be a case of “are you getting one?” but more “which one are you getting?”.

The entire retail model is evolving, to the point where you’ll buy your battery and have a plug-n-play installation. Installing solar is slightly more difficult for the average home owner, of course, but it can happen.

IKEA are already offering shopfront retail in the UK, and it will only spread as retailers see profit in the full suite of service provision.

In the absence of anything resembling progressive Federal government policy, all these elements assist our systems to evolve.

More importantly, they help inform our consumers, who are also our electorate.

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 😉

 

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.

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.

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!