The Tesla Battery: What it means for Your Future Energy Needs

When Elon Musk stood up and made his dramatic, yet incredibly modestly stated, announcement of the Tesla PowerWall for home installations on April 30th just one month ago, a major tremor went through the boardrooms of the Coal, Gas and Nuclear industry.

A number of commentators have noted that Musk announced nothing technically new. What he did was he packaged up known technology, developed for his car manufacturing program and delivered the missing piece of the alternate power puzzle: A complete system.powerwall_front_angle(Image courtesy of Tesla Energy)

In doing so he followed in the footsteps of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, by delivering not just the interesting concept of a 7 or 10kWh battery storage device (With Edison it was the better light bulb), – but the necessary system to go with it. A storage system which captures both variable wind and solar energy and delivers it at times when the capture device is not able to generate electricity on its own allows a grid-free ecosystem. Edison had done the same by mapping out a network on how to deliver electricity to homes and industry that would make the better light bulb actually useful. Ford broke down multiple complex tasks and developed a system to make the addition of each of these managed steps capable of bringing affordable cars to the masses, so long as they chose the one colour he initially offered.

In a world where Climate Science is constantly questioned by people with an agenda to defend the status quo, the last remaining hurdle – meeting the needs of peak load, on or off the grid, with storage designed to deliver energy when needed, mainly between 4.30pm and 7.00pm or at midday in the tropics when air-conditioning demand on the hottest days can swamp home-cooking energy levels, is solved with economic battery storage.

The GigaFactory in which these PowerWall storage devices (that can be stacked in multiples for higher stored energy needs) will start churning out these devices later this year and reach capacity production early in 2016. The first year’s production was, reportedly, sold out within the first week after Musk’s announcement. Tesla may even start work on a second such factory, as the land has already been earmarked in the Nevada desert. Ironic that this was the same desert in which thermo-nuclear devices were first tested in the mid-1940’s before Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Although the Tesla system does offer new price/performance standards, Musk’s team will not be alone in having available solutions. Panasonic, the Giant Electrical Corporation of Japan, who two years ago acquired Sanyo largely for their battery technology, has also intimated that they will be bringing to market comparable offers. China, which now boasts the largest wind turbine and solar panel production capacity (and a rapidly growing installed base of both,) also suggests products about to come to market that will support base load grid-free electricity that is highly competitive, especially in remoter communities. The social impact on Australian remote Aboriginal Communities alone could be ground-breakingly positive.

It seems to be generally accepted that the raw cost of coal-fired power is typically in a range of US$0.04 – 0.06 per kWh. The price we pay is largely determined by the distribution network. In many countries this infrastructure is ageing, or has been recently upgraded at huge cost to consumers, so prices (as opposed to cost) now typically are north of US$0.25 a kWh, a price with which a 10 kWh solar + stored energy system, off-grid can compete with, largely without subsidy.

The IMF (International Monetary Fund) published a fascinating study into energy subsidies this week. The real meat of this 41-page working paper comes after Page 18. In the chart below we see the scale of the subsidy. Mainly to coal and oil. We are talking over 3% of Global GDP. And the reason is that the mitigation costs of pollution and environmental impact have now been added back in.

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(Chart from IMF Working Paper: WP/15/105 – How large are global energy subsidies?)

For the Australian government to carve $2B out of the ‘subsidies’ to solar and wind energy in their budget without also fully informing its electorate what costs we are subsidising in the production, transport and export of coal, is both bankrupt and misleading thinking. It’s straight bad economics, regardless of how foolish it is environmentally.

In the 2014 Energy Update from BREE (The Australian Government Bureau of Resource Economics) the 3 following facts on electricity generation caught my eye.

  • “Total electricity generation in Australia continued to decline in 2012–13, by 0.3 per cent to 249 terawatt hours (897 PetaJoules). This reflects the fall in electricity demand in the industrial and residential sectors in recent years in the National Electricity Market, although has been partially offset by continued growth in off-grid generation.
  • Despite a 7 per cent decline in coal-fired generation in 2012–13, coal remained the largest source of electricity generation in Australia at 64 per cent. Natural gas accounted for 20 per cent of the electricity mix in 2012–13, with gas-fired generation rising by 5 per cent.
  • Renewable generation rebounded in 2012–13 to rise by 26 per cent, to comprise 13 per cent of total generation in Australia. Most of this growth is attributable to increased hydro energy generation, although wind and solar energy also continued to grow strongly.”

Energy efficiency in household lighting and electronics is clearly contributing to reduced electricity demand. But so is the decline in manufacturing, which is long- term less desirable for existing jobs. If we are to make a meaningful impact on improved environmental outcomes to mitigate Climate Change in the world, we have to be clear what the true costs for each factor of energy production are. With efficiencies in solar capture rising each decade by several percentage points (Best practice efficiency in Solar PV is in the 21-22% level, with over 25% in labs), and integrated new generation systems from Panasonic and Sun PV, we should begin the debate on which subsidy is most consistent with the environmental outcomes we need for the future.

As Tesla now gives us real base load solutions, and others will be following soon after, the future for not only achieving the RET (Renewable Energy Target), but logarithmically surpassing it, is increasingly bright.

But it will also need an informed community. And to do that community funded organisations like Australia’s The Climate Council will need to be resourced. Funding is vital to ensure that agenda-driven media and existing Energy financial vested interests do not out-vote informed discussion and priority setting. Since the current Australian government is so hell-bent on placing it’s head somewhere clearly where the sun does not shine on environmental action, it’s up to you and me to ensure we play our part in moving minds for real action on Climate Change, now, while there’s still time.

In a future article I will explore ten quick steps most households and businesses can undertake to ensure a 15-20% reduction in their energy consumption and release of Carbon Dioxide and other human impacts stimulating temperature rise. Such low-hanging fruit frees up other resources to gain up to another 10% through use of new insulation and preventive losses, all with very fast payback.

© Copyright John Swainston, 2015

The Photographers’ Gallery, London: Deutsche Börse Winners Announced

Travel is always about learning from other cultures and discovery of the new. But you have to leave yourself open to the experience and be prepared to let it wash over and impact you, no matter which sense it is: Sound, Sight, Taste, Colour, Smell, Hot/Cold, Rough/Smooth – all are part of the Journey of Discovery.

Henry Miller, the playwright added to the many great insights on travel by stating “One’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.”

Mark Twain, in his inimitable pithy tone remarked, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

The resonance of both these remarks seemed very apposite, as I walked from a special lunch with my wife at Ottolenghi’s innovative NOPI restaurant, in Soho.

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Continue reading The Photographers’ Gallery, London: Deutsche Börse Winners Announced

Gardens & Gallery workers Strike in UK: Arts Funding Attacked in Australia

Today, on her way from Buckingham Palace to the State Opening of Parliament in London, and the delivery of the famous Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth had to drive past an empty flower bed, as she rounded the statue of her famous forbear Queen Victoria and headed down The Mall. The garden workers were on strike defending working conditions they perceive to be under attack. What is Britain coming to?

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Continue reading Gardens & Gallery workers Strike in UK: Arts Funding Attacked in Australia

Recycling Cities: Hackney & Shoreditch, London

It takes seven hours to fly to London from the world’s most rapidly changing urban landscape, Dubai. The contrast is truly startling. A grey spring Bank Holiday gave opportunity to meet with family, seldom seen, in London’s East End. The projected 45-minute journey from London’s Cromwell Road to Hackney’s centre required one simple change: Tube to Holborn, alight, walk, board bus, arrive. Simple really!

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Continue reading Recycling Cities: Hackney & Shoreditch, London

Reflexxions on Robert Frost, American Poet (1874-1963)

As I watched the Dubai sun set into its murky haze, never quite reaching the horizon due to dust suspended in the Middle Eastern air, our hotel had lit a fire in this hexagonal hollow globe, allowing the light of the flames to reflect into the darkening pool on the shore line.
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Continue reading Reflexxions on Robert Frost, American Poet (1874-1963)

Flight over Troubled Lands:

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Picture: City of Dubai skyline from Jumeirah Beach, East of the City

After a one-hour delay, both technical and social, – our Qantas flight had to unload the bags of a passenger who “decided he didn’t want to fly with us today”, our gleaming A380 lifts us off from the world’s busiest International airport, Dubai. We say farewell to a wonderful set of new experiences, cultures and tradition, but a country facing multiple potential future challenges. Continue reading Flight over Troubled Lands:

United Nations of Dubai

Four decades travelling for business does not prepare one for the experience of a place like Dubai. A population of some 2.2 Million, only 15% of whom are local and 85% are expatriate guest workers makes for an eclectic mix. It’s a population that has doubled in ten years! It’s a city-state based on trade, which, in some cases, continues just as it has for centuries. This scene from the spice market reminded me how branding sometimes ends up in the most surprising locations and businesses. Conrad Hilton would be proud.

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The bulk of those expatriate workers are from a variety of Indian sub-Continent and other South-East Asian countries. The financial and business centre draws people from all major business groups and countries globally.

Our hotel, The Four Seasons Jumeirah Beach, is opulent, with wonderful Emirati design touches everywhere. You only retire once in your life, so these four days are no expense spared. Bread and dripping awaits in the UK.

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But then Dubai is reputed to be second-only to Geneva in the cost of hotel and restaurant accommodation around the world. Nearly all food is imported, so any western foods or restaurants are costly, to say the least. Sydney prices look quite moderate in comparison. And that’s saying something.

Cranes are everywhere. Jumeirah 2, our location, is constructing yet another artificial island to further extend residential possibilities into the Arabian Gulf. The famous Palm is already one of the new wonders of the world. Dust of the finest and most penetrating kind permeates the super warm 40°C midday temperature. I am surprised by the 50% humidity. I am taken by surprise by how much extra water one needs to drink to stay comfortable and hydrated. But at 10.00am the Peroni will have to wait, even for an Australian.   peroni_bar_JDS3003_fb  The beach in front of the hotel is carefully manicured between two massive earthwork projects adjacent. They work 24-hours a day. Nothing in Dubai is done slowly. The world’s tallest building, the celebrated Burj Khalifa, at 829M, took just 5.5 years from start to finish. Some European cathedrals took four or five centuries.

Dubai is one of seven of the Emirates in the combined UAE Federation, which is as recent as 1971. Oil, first flowing in 1966 makes it all work. Dubai airport is now the world’s No.1 international airport; Emirates flies the world’s largest fleet of Airbus A380’s. There is an insistence, it seems on being first, biggest, best, most etc…

Day One of a four day trip inevitably means recovery from a non-stop 14-hour plane journey. The hotel pool has all the deluxe touches. Service with a smile from one of the sixty-two nationalities employed here is friendly and welcoming, a value for which the Bedouin traders of generations ago were and still are renowned. Lawrence Raj, manager of the Four Seasons SUQ restaurant tells me that this 6-month old hotel started with 40% of the staff from other Four Seasons hotel properties around the world, to ensure a consistent and high standard. That’s so evident here.

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It’s not often such hotels find themselves with guests carrying pro camera gear and tripods to shoot night scenes around the building. I am greeted by Luis the Customer Service Manager, from Marbella, a seaside resort in Southern Spain, – who does not bat an eyelid and personally escorts me to the roof bar to ensure I am given every opportunity to record his hotel in the best possible light.

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The same sense of welcome was provided by the Orient Tours guide from India, booked through Qantas Tours, who narrated our afternoon bus journey in both English and German, through Jumeirah’s mosque, the Spice Markets, the Gold Market and on an old fume-belching diesel wooden ferry boat across Dubai Creek. “My dream was to be a wonderful host to my guests. Dubai has given me that opportunity,” he says.

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Dubai is an extraordinary sensation of smells and sounds that words and pictures alone cannot evoke. Despite the thin film of construction and desert-borne fine dust on every external exposed surface, the passageways and alleys around town are all meticulously clean.

Dubai: a day of fleeting glimpses and experiences, already very impressed.

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(Note: Am still finding my way around the technical challenges of sizing and colour spaces for images in WordPress, all of which are too small and lacking in punch RGB files in sRGB space no doubt. Over coming weeks I will update and improve.) All feedback and guidance from others more experienced is welcome.

Heading Off to Dubai

It’s a strange feeling. I have spent 44 years travelling for work. I’ve clocked up more than 5 million miles. In all that time I must have flown over or through various ports in the Middle East 100 times or more. But I have never once set foot there. Today’s journey is to Dubai. For a 4-day stay.

Today’s journey, which will see us land at midnight local time after 14.5 hours flying time in the giant Qantas A380 Airbus, will, if all is well, be met by a booked taxi service. If all goes to plan, we will be whisked into a new world of glittering excess and a modern hotel open for just six months, by someone we’ve never met, who only recognises us by our name on an email booking, likely displayed on an Arrivals iPad or other tablet. Continue reading Heading Off to Dubai

New Chapter, The Journey Begins

The day started with a to-do list. Yes, like most days. The list that ends much changed from the good intentions of the dawn. Tomorrow a 35-day trip to the UK and France begins; to be with friends and family, to experience some wonderful sights, sounds and smells from a Europe I left thirty-nine years ago.

As a keen Facebooker I felt it was time to create a broader canvas for images, ideas and perspectives that social media by itself is too concise and frequently ill-considered to explore. In a word: Blog

And so it is that my Reflexxions site was born. After a couple of hours of creating a domain, finding a hosting site, creating a page and cobbling together some images and words, here we are. Continue reading New Chapter, The Journey Begins