Tag Archives: fossil fuels

The Tesla battery heralds the beginning of the end for fossil fuels

The Conversation

John Mathews

Wind and solar power have made great strides in recent years, accounting for 56% of net additions to global power capacity in 2013.* What holds them back is their transience and intermittent character. The sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow year-round – these are the mantras of all those opposed to the progress of renewables.

Now the renewable power billionaire Elon Musk has just blown away that final defence. Last Thursday in California he introduced to the world his sleek new Powerwall – a wall-mounted energy storage unit that can hold 10 kilowatt hours of electric energy, and deliver it at an average of 2 kilowatts, all for US$3,500.

That translates into an electricity price (taking into account installation costs and inverters) of around US$500 per kWh – less than half current costs, as estimated by Deutsche Bank.

That translates into delivered energy at around 6 cents per kWh for the householder, meaning that a domestic system plus storage would still come out ahead of coal-fired power delivered through the conventional grid.

What’s more, Musk is going to manufacture the batteries in the United States, at the “gigafactory” he is building just over the border from California in Nevada. He is not waiting for some totally new technology, but is scaling up the tried and tested lithium-ion battery that he is already using for his electric vehicles.

Not just for homes

Now the fossil fuel companies – from fuel suppliers such as coal miners to coal-burning electric power utilities – will be on the defensive, fighting the new normal of cheaper renewable supplies and storage. Instead of asking “can we have our own energy system?” communities will be asking “why can’t we have it?”

The Tesla Energy system launched last week is comprehensive, with global ramifications. The Powerwall system offering 10 kWh is targeted at domestic users. It is complemented by a commercial system termed the Powerpack offering 100 kWh storage, and a stack of 100 such units to form a 10 megawatt hour storage unit that can be used at the scale of small electricity grids.

Whole communities could build micro-grid power supply systems around such a 10 MWh energy storage system, fed by renewable energy generation (wind power or rooftop solar power), at costs that just became super-competitive.

At his launch last week, Musk maintained that the entire electric power grid of the US could be replicated with just 160 million of these utility-scale energy storage units. And two billion of the utility-scale units could provide storage of 20 trillion kWh – electric power for the world.

The revolution begins

It is instructive to put these numbers in context. There are already around 2 billion cars and commercial vehicles on the world’s roads, and nearly 100 million new vehicles are being added every year.

If it’s feasible to build these exhaust-pumping complex machines, it’s certainly feasible to build the storage units that will help to make them unnecessary. What’s more, Elon Musk has just announced that he intends to do so.

Musk is a Henry Ford-style figure who takes others’ innovations and scales them up, taking the breathtaking entrepreneurial leaps that others can only dream about. Suddenly the world of renewable energy just moved to become the new normal – because when combined with cost-effective storage it becomes unbeatable.

Musk will not be alone. Already China is gearing up to be the world’s renewable energy superpower, with the largest installed base of wind power and probably by this year the world’s largest installed base of solar photovoltaic (PV) power, as well as by far the world’s largest manufacturing system for wind turbines and solar photovoltaic cells.

There are already Chinese companies such as BYD producing their own energy storage units based on lithium ion technology for both domestic and commercial usage – although not as sleek nor as cheap as the new Tesla offering.

But give them time and they will be producing at comparable scale and cost, or bettering it. This is capitalist competition – and its propagation is what makes Tesla’s announcement the start of the real renewables revolution.

No going back

What about Australia and the sorry state of affairs in which the Abbott government can see nothing beyond coal exports and does everything it can to halt the transition to renewables? Tesla’s announcement has just shifted the ground beneath their feet.

No longer can anyone in Australia claim that renewables would be “nice” if only they came with storage. Now they do.

A smart government in Australia would be looking to ride this wave and promote Australian renewable technology as a source of wealth for the country in a post-fossil fuel era.

Finally we would be able to move beyond the fruitless debates in Australia over whether to have a carbon tax or not, and move to the more immediate and practical issue of promoting renewable industry and technology.

China has given the world a huge lesson in the business-like way it has gone about building and promoting its renewable energy industries, importing technology from around the world and now improving on it as well, and scaling up production so as to drive down costs.

Now Musk and his Tesla Energy have just taken that process one decisive further step, to encompass storage as well as renewable power generation. From here there is no going back.

*This article was updated on May 19 to more accurately reflect the uptake of renewable energy.

The ConversationJohn Mathews is Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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It’s time for environmentalists to give nuclear a fair go

The Conversation

By Barry W. Brook, University of Tasmania and Corey Bradshaw
Should nuclear energy be part of Australia’s (and many other countries’) future energy mix? We think so, particularly as part of a solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent dangerous climate change.

Is the future of biodiversity conservation nuclear?
Corey Bradshaw and Barry Brook, CC BY-NC

But there are other reasons for supporting nuclear technology. In a paper recently published in Conservation Biology, we show that an energy mix including nuclear power has lowest impact on wildlife and ecosystems — which is what we need given the dire state of the world’s biodiversity.

In response, we have gathered signatures of 66 leading conservation scientists from 14 countries in an open letter asking that the environmental community:

weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.

Energy demand is rising

Modern society is a ceaseless consumer of energy, and growing demand won’t stop any time soon, even under the most optimistic energy-efficiency scenario.

Although it goes without saying that we must continue to improve energy efficiency in the developed world, the momentum of population growth and rising living standards, particularly in the developing world, means we will continue to need more energy for decades to come. No amount of wishful thinking for reduced demand will change that.

But which are the best forms of energy to supply the world, and not add to the biodiversity crisis?

Assessing our energy options

In short, the argument goes like this.

To avoid the worst ravages of climate change, we have to decarbonise fully (eliminate net carbon emissions from) the global electricity sector. Wildlife and ecosystems are threatened by this climate disruption, largely caused by fossil-fuel derived emissions.

But they are also imperilled by land transformation (i.e., habitat loss) caused in part by other energy sources, such as flooded areas (usually forests) for hydro-electricity and all the associated road development this entails, agricultural areas needed for biofuels, and large spaces needed for wind and solar farms.

Energy density of different fuels. This infographic shows the amount of energy embodied in uranium, coal, natural gas and a chemical battery, scaled to provide enough energy for a lifetime of use in the developed world. Shown are the amount of each source needed to provide same amount of energy, equivalent to 220 kWh of energy per day for 80 years.
Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw

In the paper, we evaluated land use, emissions, climate and cost implications of three different energy scenarios:

  • a “business as usual” future dominated by fossil fuels
  • a high renewable-energy mix excluding nuclear promoted by Greenpeace
  • an energy mix with a large nuclear contribution (50% of energy mix) plus a balance of renewable and fossil-fuel sources with carbon-capture-and-storage.

We then ranked seven major energy types: coal, gas, nuclear, biomass, hydro, wind, and solar based on economic and safety costs, and environmental benefits. We also tested the sensitivity of these rankings to bias stemming from philosophical ideals.

For instance, if you were most concerned about pursuing low carbon emissions, you might weight that criterion twice as heavily in the analysis as the lowest-cost option.

When compared objectively with alternatives, nuclear power performs as well or better that other options in terms of safety, cost, scaleability, reliability, land transformation and emissions. And overall, the mix including a substantial role for nuclear performed better than the other scenarios.

Although our analysis was based on existing nuclear designs, we were most excited about the advantages offered by next-generation nuclear power now under construction in Russia and China.

If deployed widely, this technology could provide emissions-free electricity, by recycling a highly-concentrated energy source in a way that consumes waste and minimises impacts to biodiversity compared to other energy sources.

A sustainable nuclear fuel cycle that ‘eats’ nuclear waste to produce abundant zero-carbon electricity and no long-lived byproducts.
Barry Brook and Corey Bradshaw

0% fossil fuels, not 100% renewables

Ultimately, there is no perfect energy source. Conservation professionals and environmental advocates need to take an evidence-based approach to consider carefully the combined effects of energy mixes on biodiversity conservation.

Much as leading climate scientists recently advocated the development of safe, next-generation nuclear energy systems to combat global climate change, we argue that only by leaving our energy options open can we maximise our chance of conserving biodiversity and natural habitats during this century and beyond.

For example, the use of nuclear energy for electricity generation is prohibited federally within Australia under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (see section 140A). This needs to change if we are serious about maximising our changes of displacing fossil fuels.

There is strong evidence for supporting advanced nuclear power systems with complete fuel recycling as part of a portfolio of sustainable energy technologies, that also includes appropriate use of renewables, energy storage and energy efficiency.

We must accept that trade-offs and compromises are inevitable and require advocating energy mixes that minimise net environmental damage.

A key message is that the ideal mix of nuclear and renewables will be regionally dependent – being modified by, for example, available land area and renewable potential – and should be compared objectively without prejudice or preconceived notions. The environmentalist mantra on energy needs shift from “100% renewables” to “0% fossil fuels”. That should be the primary goal.

It is time that conservationists make their voices heard in this policy arena.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.
 

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