The $500-a-day service charge designed to kill solar in Queensland  

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RNE has a look at moves in Queensland to shift from usage based pricing for electricity to a model with heavy "service charges" for grid connection, punishing on-premise generation - The $500-a-day service charge designed to kill solar.

Queensland businesses are being hit with daily service charges of more than $500 a day on their electricity bills, in a move the solar industry says is designed to kill the roll-out of commercial-scale rooftop solar across the state.

The charges were quietly unveiled by the Queensland Competition Authority and the state government in July. But their implications are only now being absorbed as business operators do the numbers on proposed solar installations. ...

The changes have horrified members of the solar industry, businesses looking to install solar, and those who have invested tens of thousands of dollar in energy efficiency measures such as LEDs or upgraded machinery.

That’s because, according to Steve Madson, director of Country Solar, one of the country’s largest installers of commercial-scale solar, the new tariffs reduce any incentive for businesses to lower consumption from the grid, either by installing solar panels for their own use, or by investing in more efficiency machinery and lighting.

Madson says the charges appear designed to stop the rollout of commercial-scale solar in Queensland. “The changes are clever in their design,” Madson told RenewEconomy. “They do not actually result in an increase in total electricity costs, and in some cases they actually cause a fall. But they kill the possibility of reducing the bills by installing solar. ”How can they charge $500 a day to read the meter, that is what the daily service charge is after all.”

The QCA, and the state government has long been accused of acting only to protect the interests of the network operators and retailers, and to boost the dividends paid to the government. Last year, as RenewEconomy reported, QCA came out in favour of special tariffs on residential solar customers, even though it admitted that they would be more costly, ineffective, unfair and possibly illegal. But they favoured the move because it would protect network revenues.

The raising of fixed charges has been a common response among utilities fearing the impact of rooftop solar and a “death spiral” of falling revenues on a fixed asset base.

Analysts such as Morgan Stanley have ridiculed the practice of imposing high fixed charges, saying it was ultimately self-defeating and could simply accelerate that death spiral, and encourage people to go off-grid, particularly when battery storage became commercially viable. “There may be a ‘tipping point’ that causes customers to seek an off-grid approach — higher fixed charges to distributed generation customers are likely to drive more battery purchases and exits from the grid,” the Morgan Stanley researchers wrote.

Madson agrees: “In three years’ time (when battery storage improves), this will also be enough for a mass exodus from the grid altogether.”

Humans Need Not Apply  

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The impact of massive automation of jobs seems to be one of the emerging concerns of the past few years - this video from CGP Grey is quite a good summary - Humans Need Not Apply.

Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor?  

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The American Chemical Society has a post on the possible use of hemp in creating supercapacitors - Could hemp nanosheets topple graphene for making the ideal supercapacitor?

David Mitlin, Ph.D., explains that supercapacitors are energy storage devices that have huge potential to transform the way future electronics are powered. Unlike today’s rechargeable batteries, which sip up energy over several hours, supercapacitors can charge and discharge within seconds. But they normally can’t store nearly as much energy as batteries, an important property known as energy density. One approach researchers are taking to boost supercapacitors’ energy density is to design better electrodes. Mitlin’s team has figured out how to make them from certain hemp fibers — and they can hold as much energy as the current top contender: graphene.

“Our device’s electrochemical performance is on par with or better than graphene-based devices,” Mitlin says. “The key advantage is that our electrodes are made from biowaste using a simple process, and therefore, are much cheaper than graphene.”

The race toward the ideal supercapacitor has largely focused on graphene — a strong, light material made of atom-thick layers of carbon, which when stacked, can be made into electrodes. Scientists are investigating how they can take advantage of graphene’s unique properties to build better solar cells, water filtration systems, touch-screen technology, as well as batteries and supercapacitors. The problem is it’s expensive.

Mitlin’s group decided to see if they could make graphene-like carbons from hemp bast fibers. The fibers come from the inner bark of the plant and often are discarded from Canada’s fast-growing industries that use hemp for clothing, construction materials and other products. The U.S. could soon become another supplier of bast. It now allows limited cultivation of hemp, which unlike its close cousin, does not induce highs.

South Australia wind energy jumps to 43% in July  

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RNE has a look at the relentless penetration of wind energy into the South Australian grid - South Australia wind energy jumps to 43% in July.

South Australia’s wind farms produced enough electricity to meet a record 43 per cent of the state’s power needs during July, and on occasions during the month provided all the state’s electricity needs. ... Combined with the state’s 550MW of solar power, it is likely that nearly half of the state’s electricity demand came from variable renewable sources such as wind and solar – a record for a major developed economy.

Spain, for instance, this week, said that in July solar made up 8 per cent of its power supply, spread evenly between concentrated solar thermal and solar PV – while wind energy contributed 16.8% of the overall energy generation mix.

“With more than 40 per cent of the state’s power demand provided by wind energy for the entire month, it is clear that large amounts of renewable energy can be added to the system without the need for extra backup generation to be built,” Clean Energy Council acting Chief Executive Kane Thornton said in a statement.

Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record  

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WorldWatch has a report on the global solar power market - Solar Power Installations Jump to a New Annual Record.

The year 2013 saw record-breaking growth for solar electricity generation as the photovoltaic (PV) and concentrated solar thermal power (CSP) markets continued to grow. With over 39 gigawatts installed worldwide, the PV solar market represented one third of all newly-added renewable energy capacity, write Worldwatch’s Max Lander and Climate and Energy Intern Xiangyu Wu in the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend (www.worldwatch.org).

Solar PV installations nearly matched those of hydropower and, for the first time, outpaced wind additions. Even though photovoltaics continue to dwarf CSP capacity, the CSP market also had another year of impressive growth. By the end of 2013, a total of 19 countries had CSP plants installed or under construction.

Consumption of power from PV and CSP plants increased by 30 percent globally in 2013 to reach 124.8 terawatt-hours. Europe accounted for the majority of global solar power consumption (67 percent), followed by Asia (23.9 percent) and North America (8.1 percent). Worldwide, solar consumption equaled 0.5 percent of electricity generation from all sources. ... In July 2014, global PV module spot prices reached an all-time low of $0.63 per watt. For the first time, Asia overtook Europe as the largest regional market.

While global PV module production increased by only 3 percent over 2012, module shipments jumped by 24 percent, signaling an easing of oversupply problems.

Prospects are bright for solar development as prices continue to fall and approach grid parity in an increasing number of contexts. Rooftop solar is already less expensive per megawatt-hour than retail electricity in Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, and Germany. Estimates now also show that PV has become price-competitive without subsidies in 15 countries. For2014, solar installations are estimated to reach 40–51 gigawatts.

Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery - and the news isn't good  

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The SMH has a look at the recent appearance of mysterious giant craters in Siberia - Scientists may have solved the giant Siberian crater mystery - and the news isn't good.

Researchers have long contended that the epicentre of global warming is also farthest from the reach of humanity. It’s in the barren landscapes of the frozen north, where red-cheeked children wear fur, the sun barely rises in the winter and temperatures can plunge to 50 degrees below zero. Such a place is the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, translated as “the ends of the Earth”, a desolate spit of land where a group called the Nenets live.

By now, you’ve heard of the crater on the Yamal Peninsula. It’s the one that suddenly appeared, yawning nearly 60 metres in diameter, and made several rounds in the global viral media machine. The adjectives most often used to describe it: giant, mysterious, curious. Scientists were subsequently “baffled”. Locals were “mystified”. There were whispers that aliens were responsible. Nearby residents peddled theories of “bright flashes” and “celestial bodies”.

There’s now a substantiated theory about what created the crater. And the news isn’t so good.

It may be methane gas, released by the thawing of frozen ground. According to a recent Nature article, “air near the bottom of the crater contained unusually high concentrations of methane — up to 9.6 per cent — in tests conducted at the site on 16 July, says Andrei Plekhanov, an archaeologist at the Scientific Centre of Arctic Studies in Salekhard, Russia. Plekhanov, who led an expedition to the crater, says that air normally contains just 0.000179 per cent methane.”

The scientist said the methane release may be related to Yamal’s unusually hot summers in 2012 and 2013, which were warmer by an average of 5 degrees Celsius. “As temperatures rose, the researchers suggest, permafrost thawed and collapsed, releasing methane that had been trapped in the icy ground,” the report stated.

Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?  

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DeSmog Blog has a look at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico - Has The Gulf Of Mexico Hit Peak Oil?.

There are enough articles on the “myth of peak oil” floating around the Internet to fill a book; and there are enough books on the subject to fill a small library. One of the common threads throughout these publications is their lack of credible sources, because not only is peak oil real, but we’re rapidly approaching that threshold.

An example that is smacking the United States and the oil industry in the face right now is floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a new government report, oil and natural gas production in the Gulf has been steadily declining for the last decade. The report looked at oil production in the Gulf of Mexico on federal lands only, not any privately-held lands where production is taking place. Since 2010, according to the report, the annual yield of oil from the Gulf has fallen by almost 140 million barrels.

While the Gulf region still accounts for 69% of U.S. oil produced on federal lands, the dramatic decline in production tells a story that the oil industry doesn’t want us to hear. Peak oil is clearly beginning to play a role in U.S. exploration.

Contrary to what some of the peak oil deniers want the public to believe, peak oil does not mean that we’re about to run out of oil. What it means is that the United States is running out of easily accessible, financially viable oil. As that easy to retrieve oil disappears, companies have to drill deeper and deeper or in otherwise inaccessible places in order to get their oil.

This makes the process much more expensive and drives costs up to the point that profits are hard to come by. And this is what we’re beginning to see in the Gulf of Mexico.

It isn't because oil drilling is decreasing in the Gulf, either. In fact, oil drilling in the area has been accelerating in recent years, so the decline in production is not the result of fewer wells being drilled.

How Tesla could pull more consumers off the grid  

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RNE has a post on a Morgan Stanley report on tesla's potential to hasten the utility death spiral - How Tesla could pull more consumers off the grid.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley says the global electricity utility industry is still underestimating the potential of EV maker Tesla to achieve a dramatic reduction in battery storage costs, luring more and more consumers to go “off-grid.”

In a detailed report released in late July, Solar Power & Energy Storage, Morgan Stanley said that energy storage, specifically that being developed by Tesla in its so-called “giga-factory” could be disruptive in US and Europe, and elsewhere.

It does not mention Australia in the report, but Australia has all the ingredients of a market perfect for such disruption – excellent solar resources and high electricity costs, and more specifically, high network charges.

“Given the relatively high cost of the power grid, we think that customers in parts of the US and Europe may seek to avoid utility grid fees by going “off-grid” through a combination of solar power and energy storage,” Morgan Stanley’s leading energy analysts write in the report.

“We believe there is not sufficient appreciation of the magnitude of energy storage cost reduction that Tesla has already achieved, nor of the further cost reduction magnitude that Tesla might be able to achieve. once the company has constructed its “Gigafactory,” targeted for completion later in the decade.“

This, of course, has massive implication for the incumbent utilities, not to mention for other consumers. The immediate response for networks has been to seek to raise fixed charges to protect their revenue, an option that Morgan Stanley says will be counter-productive.

BMW Launches Its Answer to Tesla’s Supercharger Network  

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Wired has an article on BMW's foray into recharging networks for electric vehicles - BMW Launches Its Answer to Tesla’s Supercharger Network.

The biggest problem automakers selling electric cars face is limited range. No one wants to get caught without any juice. To get around this concern, Tesla, whose Model S offers the best range (up to 265 miles), is building a vast network of “Supercharger” stations that make it possible to take epic road trips. Now BMW is following suit, launching a network of charging stations to make owning its first all-electric car, the range-handicapped i3, more convenient.

The automaker announced last week that it has developed an impressively small, lightweight, and inexpensive charger that it is working to install around the country. BMW will sell the charger to “authorized partners”—starting with dealers—for $6,548. NRG eVgo, a private EV-charging company, will install at least 100 around California and offer free charging to i3 owners through the end of 2015.

The 24 kilowatt BMW i DC Fast Charger, developed with Bosch Automotive, can charge the i3’s battery up to 80 percent in 30 minutes. Compared to other chargers on the market, the BMW version is quite small: 31 inches tall, 19 inches wide and 12 inches deep. It weighs just 100 pounds, light enough to be mounted without reinforcing the wall or pouring extra concrete.

Shale gas: 'The dotcom bubble of our times'  

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The UK Daily Telegraph has a jaundiced look at the shale boom - Shale gas: 'The dotcom bubble of our times'.

Rather oddly, hardly anyone seems to have asked the one question which is surely fundamental: does shale development make economic sense?

My conclusion is that it does not.

That Britain needs new energy sources is surely beyond dispute. Between 2003 and 2013, domestic production of oil and gas slumped by 62pc and 65pc respectively, while coal output decreased by 55pc. Despite sharp increases in the output of renewables, overall energy production has fallen by more than half. A net exporter of energy as recently as 2003, Britain now buys almost half of its energy from abroad, and this gap seems certain to widen. ...

We now have more than enough data to know what has really happened in America. Shale has been hyped ("Saudi America") and investors have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the shale sector. If you invest this much, you get a lot of wells, even though shale wells cost about twice as much as ordinary ones.

If a huge number of wells come on stream in a short time, you get a lot of initial production. This is exactly what has happened in the US. The key word here, though, is "initial". The big snag with shale wells is that output falls away very quickly indeed after production begins. Compared with “normal” oil and gas wells, where output typically decreases by 7pc-10pc annually, rates of decline for shale wells are dramatically worse. It is by no means unusual for production from each well to fall by 60pc or more in the first 12 months of operations alone.

Faced with such rates of decline, the only way to keep production rates up (and to keep investors on side) is to drill yet more wells. This puts operators on a "drilling treadmill", which should worry local residents just as much as investors. Net cash flow from US shale has been negative year after year, and some of the industry’s biggest names have already walked away.

The seemingly inevitable outcome for the US shale industry is that, once investors wise up, and once the drilling sweet spots have been used, production will slump, probably peaking in 2017-18 and falling precipitously after that. The US is already littered with wells that have been abandoned, often without the site being cleaned up. Meanwhile, recoverable reserves estimates for the Monterey shale – supposedly the biggest shale liquids play in the US – have been revised downwards by 96pc. In Poland, drilling 30-40 wells has so far produced virtually no worthwhile production.

In the future, shale will be recognised as this decade's version of the dotcom bubble. In the shorter term, it's a counsel of despair as an energy supply squeeze draws ever nearer. While policymakers and investors should favour solar, waste conversion and conservation over the chimera of shale riches, opponents would be well advised to promote the economic case against the shale fad.

Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry  

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The SMH has a look at the toll carbon emissions are taking on the oceans - Intensifying ocean acidity from carbon emissions hitting Pacific shellfish industry.

For more than a century, Bill Taylor's family has used the calm, protected waters of Puget Sound to raise oysters, planting billions of larvae in underwater beds and then harvesting them to ship to some of the finest restaurants in the world.

But then something went wrong. After the hatchery produced peak levels of seven billion larvae in 2006 and 2007, the numbers began to drop precipitously. In 2008, it had just half as many larvae. By 2009, it produced less than a third of the peak.

Up and down the Pacific Coast, from California to British Columbia to Alaska, other shellfish farms experienced the same decline: Something was happening to their larvae at the formative stage of life when they build their shells. No one in the industry knew why "We didn't know that much about the water because we didn't have any problems," Taylor said. Once the larvae started dying off, they tested the water: It was much too acidic.

Scientists testing the water up and down the Pacific Coast found evidence of the same steep decline in pH. Studies have found more acidic water in Alaska is stunting the growth of red king crabs and tanner crabs. Plummeting pH levels across the Eastern Seaboard have been impacting the shellfish industry for decades.

The economic impacts of rising acidity can be devastating. At its peak in 1952, U.S. producers harvested 72 million pounds of eastern oysters, according to data collected by the National Marine Fisheries Service. In 2012, the last year for which data is available, farmers hauled in just 23.8 million pounds. Producers haven't harvested more than 30 million pounds since 1996.

In a new study published online in the scholarly journal Progress in Oceanography, a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found rural areas in southern Alaska are at high risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial and subsistence fishing stocks. Declining seafood harvests will impact about 20 per cent of Alaska's population, which relies on subsistence fishing for significant amounts of their diet, the NOAA report found.

The acidification of the world's oceans frightens scientists, who see it as evidence of a rapidly changing climate. Though not as evident as increasingly powerful storms or devastating droughts, ocean acidification may be the clearest example of man's impact on the changing climate.

Acidification happens as a result of increased carbon in the atmosphere. The top layer of the world's oceans, perhaps the first 100 metres, absorb the elements in the atmosphere. The more carbon, the more acidic the water becomes. Currents take that layer of surface water and plunge it into the depths of the Pacific; decades later, the water is forced back to the surface as it reaches the West Coast, a process scientists call upwelling.

Angst… that the Energiewende will work  

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Energy Transition has a look at the German "Energy Transition" to renewable energy and some of the misconceptions spread about it by its critics - Angst… that the Energiewende will work.

Unlike the Swedes and Italians, the Germans knew how to replace nuclear back in 2002 – and they have even replaced all of the lost nuclear power since 2011. The IER charges the opposite:

“Germans have turned to coal to back up their intermittent renewable technologies and to ensure that they have adequate power to satisfy electricity demand.”

This claim is based on a previous paper published by the IER itself (PDF). But as we demonstrate in our study German Coal Conundrum, the growth of renewables since 2011 has already outstripped the reduction in nuclear. And as regular readers of this blog know, demand from foreign countries for German power (the main two being the Netherlands and France in 2013) directly increases the residual load served by conventional plants; specifically, if we zero-out Germany’s record level of net exports in 2013, coal power and carbon emissions drop by around 2.5 percent. If anything, foreign countries have turned to German coal power at a record level; Germany does not need so much electricity from coal to meet its own demand.

We shouldn’t stop counting at the end of 2013, either. The roundup of changes by TWh in the first half of 2014 is in the chart below. Get ready for reports of Germany lowering its emissions this year.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013  

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This year's installment of Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Australian Museum has been and gone (once again this is a much delayed post - time seems to be getting away from me lately) - I thought this year's set of images was pretty good, although after 20+ years of attending I'm finding it hard to find a lot of novelty these days.

The high price of gas exports  

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The impact of LNG exports, particularly of coal seam gas, on Australian industry continues to be the topic of debate, with one recent report warning that there it will further destroy the local manufacturing industry (already reeling from Dutch disease) - High gas prices threaten thousands of jobs, billions of dollars: industry.

A new report warns the riches promised by exporting Australian gas may have a devastating impact on local industries, particularly manufacturing. A coalition of half-a-dozen industry groups commissioned the report by Deloitte Access Economics.

The report says domestic gas prices are rapidly rising as the market links in with international prices. It warns that, if the rise goes unchecked, the manufacturing sector alone will contract by as much as $118 billion by 2021, with nearly 15,000 jobs lost. The report also finds that mining might contract by $34 billion and agriculture by $4.5 billion.

The ABC has a background piece - The price of gas.

Australians pay close to the highest electricity prices in the world, and we’re about to start paying some of the world’s highest gas prices, too. That’s because we’re about to start exporting gas for the first time from the east coast, and there’s no limit to the amount of gas that can be sent overseas.

That means Australians have to compete with energy-hungry customers in Asia, who are prepared to pay top dollar for our gas. The message from the government is that if we want to use gas, we’re going to have to get used to paying top dollar, too.

‘Gas is now being sold in Australia at an international price. That’s the reality of a world market,’ says the federal minister for industry, Ian Macfarlane. ‘To protect one section of the Australian market to the detriment of those people who want to take the risk, and invest the billions of dollars it takes to develop a CSG (coal seam gas) project simply doesn’t make economic sense, and we’ll just see that investment go somewhere else.’

Australia is about to become the first country in the world to export coal seam gas—without the CSG boom in Queensland, exports on the east coast simply wouldn’t be viable. Equally, coal seam gas mining wouldn’t be feasible in Australia at the old price of $3-4 per gigajoule, because it costs a lot more to extract than conventional gas.

Customers in Asia are prepared to pay up to $18 per gigajoule for our gas. Since there’s no policy to disconnect Australia from these prices, our gas prices are now rising to meet what’s called the ‘netback’ price—the Asian price, minus the cost of processing and shipping.

For big industrial users, this is particularly bad news. ‘We're seeing prices leap from historical averages of sort of $3 to $4 a gigajoule to $9 to $12 a gigajoule or more,’ says Ben Eade, executive director of Manufacturing Australia. He says the impact of rising gas prices will ‘dwarf the impact of the carbon tax’.

A new report commissioned by industry groups and prepared by Deloitte Access Economics says skyrocketing gas prices will damage the Australian manufacturing sector to the tune of $118 billion over the next seven years, and lead to a loss of more than 14,000 jobs. ‘The fact is, high energy costs are killing industry in Australia,’ says Eade, ‘and high gas costs in particular.’

Even the companies who are willing to pay top dollar for gas are having a hard time finding it. That’s because around 80 per cent of Australia’s gas is now controlled by companies who are selling that gas to Asia. In fact, the big gas exporters have overcommitted to customers; according to Citigroup all three LNG hubs are having to buy gas from third parties in order to meet demand.

Elon Musk On The Colbert Report  

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Elon Musk recently appeared on the Colbert report - it was amusing watching him gently refuse to dumb his answers down - Elon Musk on The Colbert Report. The rocket landing again after take-off is pretty cool too.

The CSM reports that Tesla's "gigafactory" is likely to be in Reno, Nevada - Tesla Motors reveals 'potential' Gigafactory location in earnings report.
Tesla Motors has broken ground in Reno, Nev. for its $5 billion Gigafactory, according to their earnings report. But, Tesla Motors says it is a 'potential' location for the lithium-ion battery factory and the automaker is still looking at other possible sites.

Tesla Motors built 8,763 Model S electric cars and delivered 7,579 of them to customers during the second quarter, according to just-released second-quarter results. It expects to build about 9,000 cars this quarter, and deliver 7,800, largely due to a two-week production shutdown for retooling at its factory in Fremont, California--which cost it about 2,000 cars, it said. ...

Tesla still expects to be delivering at a rate of more than 100,000 cars by the end of 2015, when capacity expansion has been completed and its Model X crossover has joined the Model S in full production.

The good news, said the shareholder letter, is that demand for the Model S continues to grow. "Average global delivery wait times increased because our production growth was unable to keep pace with increased demand."

Bloomberg also has a look at Tesla's growth in foreign markets, noting China is becoming increasingly important - Tesla Seen Reporting Record Deliveries on China Expansion.

Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA) will probably report record electric Model S deliveries in the second quarter after it accelerated output and began shipping its flagship sedan to China and the U.K. ...

“Initial deliveries into China appear to have been successful,” said Andrea James, a Minneapolis-based analyst for Dougherty & Co. who rates Tesla a buy. While the company is contending with a trademark dispute there, that “may be the cost of doing business in China, which is a key market for Tesla,” she said.

Tesla is racing to boost international shipments of the Model S, priced from $71,000 in the U.S., until it can begin delivering the already-delayed Model X sport-utility vehicle in early 2015. The next challenge for Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk, who is set to appear in an episode of “The Simpsons,” is deciding where to build the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant to start making cheaper cells needed for the less costly Model 3 sedan due by 2017

LEDs will slash energy use for lighting by 95%  

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RNE has a look at the energy efficiency revolution in lighting - LEDs will slash energy use for lighting by 95%.

A simple (but not perfect) measure for lighting efficiency is the number of lumens (a measure of light intensity) a lighting source produces per watt. A conventional incandescent bulb gets 13 lumens per watt to light your room, while a replacement LED bulb from Philips that can be bought at Coles or Woolworths achieves 80 lumens per watt (a compact fluorescent globe gets about 60 lumens per watt).

CREE (the industry leader who, it is speculated, may purchase the next best, Philips’ Lumileds division) has successfully demonstrated Light Emitting Diodes running at 300 Lumens per watt in the lab. CREE currently sell a $10, 9.5W bulb (available in the US), which produces 85 Lumens per watt and can directly replace an old style 60W globe.

Other breakthroughs and innovations are contributing to achieving higher efficiency’s in LED lighting, including a breakthrough by German researchers which will not only effect LED lights, but laptop and mobile phone chargers, cutting losses in today’s most efficient power supplies by half from 10% to just 5%.

Taking all this into consideration, according to the US Department of Energy SSL (Solid State Lighting) program http://energy.gov/eere/ssl/solid-state-lighting we should be able to achieve wall plug efficiencies of 250 Lumens per watt by 2020 which means that a conventional bulb replacement in 2020 would be available using only a third of the electricity of today’s LED bulbs.

At that staggering rate of 250 lumens per watt, it will only take 3W to light a room, when it used to be done with 60 Watts of power. This represents a 95% reduction in energy required for lighting.

This will have a profound effect on the world’s requirement for lighting energy. We can expect - on an absolute basis – that 19% of the world’s electricity which is currently used for lighting to dramatically drop by at least 75%. On today’s numbers the reduction is the equivalent of the entire electricity consumption of the European Union.

In developed nations these huge efficiency gains from LEDs in the lighting sector will contribute to the continuing restructure of the electricity supply industry, which is currently facing a death spiral unless it can electrify the remaining residential energy services coming from fossil gas and supply a fast tracked electrification of the world’s vehicle fleet.

In developing countries, rooms that can be lit with 3W and task lights with even lower electricity consumption. This means that almost all the remaining 1.5Billion of the world’s population without an electricity supply will be able to access one at very minimal marginal cost in the next 5 years.

William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow  

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The Guardian has an article on the 30th anniversary of William Gibson's "Neuromancer" being published - William Gibson: the man who saw tomorrow.

Prescience can be tedious for science-fiction writers. Being proven right about a piece of technology or a trend distracts from the main aim of the work: to show us how we live now. William Gibson knows this as well as anyone. Since the late 70s, the American-born novelist has been pulling at the loose threads of our culture to imagine what will come out. He has been right about a great deal, but mainly about the shape of the internet and how it filters down to the lowest strata of society.

In Neuromancer, published 30 years ago this month, Gibson popularised the idea of cyberspace: a "consensual hallucination" created by millions of connected computers. This network can be "jacked" into, while in the real world characters flit from Tokyo to the Sprawl, an urban agglomeration running down the east coast of the US. Gritty urban clinics carry out horrendous sounding plastic surgery. A junkie-hacker, Case, is coaxed into hacking the system of a major corporation. What once seemed impossibly futuristic is now eerily familiar.

"Neuromancer," says novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow, "remains a vividly imagined allegory for the world of the 1980s, when the first seeds of massive, globalised wealth-disparity were planted, and when the inchoate rumblings of technological rebellion were first felt. A generation later, we're living in a future that is both nothing like the Gibson future and instantly recognisable as its less stylish, less romantic cousin. Instead of zaibatsus [large conglomerates] run by faceless salarymen, we have doctrinaire thrusting young neocons and neoliberals who want to treat everything from schools to hospitals as businesses."

Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year  

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Technology Review has an article on a new material that can turn waste heat into power - Thermoelectric Material to Hit Market Later This Year.

California-based Alphabet Energy plans to begin selling a new type of material that can turn heat into electricity. Unlike previous thermoelectrics, as such materials are known, it is abundant, cheap, and nontoxic.

Thermoelectric materials can turn a temperature difference into electricity by exploiting the flow of electrons from a warmer area to a cooler one. Thus, they can theoretically turn waste heat into a power source. But an efficient thermoelectric material has to conduct electricity well without conducting heat well, because otherwise the temperature across the material would soon equalize. Most materials that are good electrical conductors are also good thermal conductors, and the few materials researchers have been able to develop with good thermoelectric properties have been rare, expensive, or toxic. Alphabet Energy’s solution is tetrahedrite: an abundant, naturally occurring mineral that also happens to be more efficient on average than existing thermoelectric materials.

Renewable energy ready to supply all of Australia’s electricity  

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NE has an article on a 100% renewable energy scenario for Australia by Mark Diessendorf - Renewable energy ready to supply all of Australia’s electricity.

Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and I at UNSW have performed thousands of computer simulations of the hour-by-hour operation of the NEM with different mixes of 100% commercially available renewable energy technologies scaled up to meet demand reliably.

We use actual hourly electricity demand and actual hourly solar and wind power data for 2010 and balance supply and demand for almost every hour, while maintaining the required reliability of supply. The relevant papers, published in peer-reviewed international journals, can be downloaded from my UNSW website.

Using conservative projections to 2030 for the costs of renewable energy by the federal government’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE), we found an optimal mix of renewable electricity sources. The mix looks like this:

  • Wind 46%;
  • Concentrated solar thermal (electricity generated by the heat of the sun) with thermal storage 22%;
  • Photovoltaic solar 20% (electricity generated directly from sunlight);
  • Biofuelled gas turbines 6%; and
  • Existing hydro 6%.

So two-thirds of annual energy can be supplied by wind and solar photovoltaic — energy sources that vary depending on the weather — while maintaining reliability of the generating system at the required level. How is this possible?

It turns out that wind and solar photovoltaic are only unable to meet electricity demand a few times a year. These periods occur during peak demand on winter evenings following overcast days that also happen to have low wind speeds across the region.

Since the gaps are few in number and none exceeds two hours in duration, there only needs to be a small amount of generation from the so-called flexible renewables (those that don’t depend on the vagaries of weather): hydro and biofuelled gas turbines. Concentrated solar thermal is also flexible while it has energy in its thermal storage.

The gas turbines have low capital cost and, when operated infrequently and briefly, low fuel costs, so they play the role of reliability insurance with a low premium.

Our research, together with similar extensive hourly computer simulations by others spanning up to a decade from Europe and the USA (reviewed in Chapter 3 of “Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change”), refute Professor Larkins’ statement that “We need baseload electric power [from non-renewable sources] to guarantee security of supply”.

Many regions of the world could operate a 100% renewable electricity system reliably without any baseload power stations. Indeed, in electricity supply systems with a lot of renewable energy, inflexible coal and nuclear baseload power stations get in the way. What we really need to balance the variability of wind and photovoltaic solar are the flexible renewable energy power stations: hydro, solar thermal and biofuelled gas turbines.

This mix needs only a little storage from hydro and solar thermal to maintain reliable supply. With enough fuel, biofuelled gas turbines could also be considered storage. Such a mix has no need for expensive batteries or hydrogen fuel cells.

June a global scorcher as temperature records melt  

Posted by Big Gav in

The SMH reports June was the warmest June ever - June a global scorcher as records melt.

Last month was a scorcher for global temperatures with warmth over land and sea breaking records for June while sea-surface temperatures posted their largest departure from long-term averages for any month.

Combined average temperatures over land and sea were 0.72 degrees above the 20th century average of 15.5 degrees, making it the hottest June and adding to the record May and equal record April, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

More striking for climatologists, though, were the sea-surface temperatures. These came in 0.64 degrees above the 20th century average of 16.4 degrees – the first time any month had exceeded the long-run norm by more than 0.6 degrees.

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