Electric Cars and Happy Motoring

6 05 2017

KMO reads a question from Eric Boyd about the transition from fossil fuels to a transportation infrastructure built around solar power from suburban rooftops and autonomous electric cars. John Michael Greer, Dmitry Orlov, Chris Martenson, Frank Morris, Kevin Lynn and James Howard Kunstler all give their reasons for dismissing Eric’s vision as wishful thinking……….





Deflationary Collapse Ahead?

28 08 2015

Back at the Noosa library using their lightning fast internet. Not having a proper base is tedious sometimes.

While everyone on the media is spruiking the end of last week’s crisis crisis (hah!), Gail Tverberg has published a stupendous article on her blog titled Deflationary Collapse Ahead? Perhaps most of you have already read it, but I found it interesting that she’s getting more and more pessimistic with every post…..

My main take away from this article are:

  1. The big thing that is happening is that the world financial system is likely to collapse. Back in 2008, the world financial system almost collapsed. This time, our chances of avoiding collapse are very slim.

  2. Without the financial system, pretty much nothing else works: the oil extraction system, the electricity delivery system, the pension system, the ability of the stock market to hold its value. The change we are encountering is similar to losing the operating system on a computer, or unplugging a refrigerator from the wall.

  3. We don’t know how fast things will unravel, but things are likely to be quite different in as short a time as a year. World financial leaders are likely to “pull out the stops,” trying to keep things together. A big part of our problem is too much debt. This is hard to fix, because reducing debt reduces demand and makes commodity prices fall further. With low prices, production of commodities is likely to fall. For example, food production using fossil fuel inputs is likely to greatly decline over time, as is oil, gas, and coal production.

  4. The electricity system, as delivered by the grid, is likely to fail in approximately the same timeframe as our oil-based system. Nothing will fail overnight, but it seems highly unlikely that electricity will outlast oil by more than a year or two. All systems are dependent on the financial system. If the oil system cannot pay its workers and get replacement parts because of a collapse in the financial system, the same is likely to be true of the electrical grid system.

  5. Our economy is a self-organized networked system that continuously dissipates energy, known in physics as a dissipative structureOther examples of dissipative structures include all plants and animals (including humans) and hurricanes. All of these grow from small beginnings, gradually plateau in size, and eventually collapse and die. We know of a huge number of prior civilizations that have collapsed. This appears to have happened when the return on human labor has fallen too low. This is much like the after-tax wages of non-elite workers falling too low. Wages reflect not only the workers’ own energy (gained from eating food), but any supplemental energy used, such as from draft animals, wind-powered boats, or electricity. Falling median wages, especially of young people, are one of the indications that our economy is headed toward collapse, just like the other economies.

  6. The reason that collapse happens quickly has to do with debt and derivatives. Our networked economy requires debt in order to extract fossil fuels from the ground and to create renewable energy sources, for several reasons: (a) Producers don’t have to save up as much money in advance, (b) Middle-men making products that use energy products (such cars and refrigerators) can “finance” their factories, so they don’t have to save up as much, (c) Consumers can afford to buy “big-ticket” items like homes and cars, with the use of plans that allow monthly payments, so they don’t have to save up as much, and (d) Most importantly, debt helps raise the price of commodities of all sorts (including oil and electricity), because it allows more customers to afford products that use them. The problem as the economy slows, and as we add more and more debt, is that eventually debt collapses. This happens because the economy fails to grow enough to allow the economy to generate sufficient goods and services to keep the system going–that is, pay adequate wages, even to non-elite workers; pay growing government and corporate overhead; and repay debt with interest, all at the same time.

We don’t know how fast things will unravel, but things are likely to be quite different in as short a time as a year…..

Needless to say, that one line blew me away. Even though I’m well aware of how badly things are going, I still scare myself silly reading this stuff.

Figure 2. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Then we have the above chart, which for me was the gotcha moment of my understanding of limits… that shaded area under the spike represents all the fossil energy ever used since the beginning of the industrial revolution to perhaps 20 or so years from now.  The area of the rectangular block to the right of the spike is what idiots who believe in unending growth think will happen with ‘innovation and technology’.  Possibly dozens of times the total amount of energy we extracted from coal, oil, and gas. The most stupendous energy sources we’ve ever had (and never will have again). Truly, fantasy land…

I have twelve months to get my act together at Mon Abri MkII, but literally no one I know believes a word of it or does anything about it. Some are even doing everything the wrong way and exposing themselves to losing everything….

Further reading that may interest you all too is Tom Murphy’s latest report on his EV experiment. Titled My Chicken of an EV, Tom clearly shows why he believes batteries will disappoint….

From the data, I see that the battery capacity is at about 85% of its original condition. While extrapolation is highly risky, it would seem that I can expect zero capacity on the scale of six years, based on its accelerating decline. At this point, we have put about 500 full-cycle-equivalent charges on the battery in about 700 charge events (just shy of one per day, typically about 70% depth). So perhaps it’s not surprising: few batteries can withstand more than 1–2000 charge cycles before giving out. – See more at:http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2015/08/my-chicken-of-an-ev/#more-1535

Take Away

While obligated to point out the financials, I am the last to feel enslaved by a strict dollars-and-cents analysis. There are other reasons to go for an EV: reduced reliance on petroleum, solar charge capability, quiet, efficient, support of a nascent technology, etc. For me, energy is a hobby. I buy an expensive car and expensive solar batteries because I want to learn more about their pros and cons. In part, I am glad that I can export what I learn to the people. Most folks do not have the financial or technical capabilities to look into possibly-hyped technologies and report, free of financial agenda.

I am not yet personally convinced that we will see an EV revolution. Gasoline price fluctuations are a short-term killer of long-term planning. Batteries still do, and likely always will, disappoint. I am learning similar lessons on the nickel-iron battery front. We may have to face the fact that gasoline has been the ultimate transportation fuel, and the economists’ picture of universal substitutability may not apply. If EVs can never really outperform gasoline in cost, ease/simplicity, convenience, and robustness—and if they remain expensive to own and maintain, from where will the prosperity derive for us to all have such marvelous toys?

Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy my EV and my chickens while they last, as a lifestyle choice. The cost per egg or cost per mile certainly do not justify them. So we need to be satisfied by other reasons.

Tom is apparently working on another report on the NiFe batteries I’m hoping to install in Geeveston, and he has prepared all his readers for some more disappointment. Hopefully, he hasn’t understood exactly how they are meant to be used, so watch this space.

John Doyle, if you read this, how do I get in touch with you?

Eight more sleeps, and I’m off into the Tasmanian sunset.





Electric vehicle batteries ‘already cheaper than 2020 projections’

25 03 2015

As the cost of everything seems to be plummeting right now, I, who always plays the devil’s advocate and sceptic of the first order, find it hard to not wonder if Nicole Foss’ much vaunted deflationary spiral is not already underway.  Just this morning I found out that the US coal industry is in trouble.  Then, reports of worsening problems are finally surfacing about the oil industry.  As we all know here at DTM, without a profitable fossil fuel industry, absolutely nothing else will eventuate when it comes to the alternatives……..  so what to make of this?  All I can say is, hang onto your hat, because the ride will be interesting.

The US coal market is crashing in what analysts warn is a sign of things to come for other fossil fuel markets.

At least 26 coal producers have gone bankrupt in the last three years, the Carbon Tracker Initiative think-tank found.

Others including Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, have lost 80% of their share value.

“Cheap gas has knocked coal off its feet, and the need to improve air quality and ever-lower renewables costs has kept coal down for the count,” said report co-author Luke Sussams.

Meanwhile, demand growth from Asia has been slower than expected. China’s coal consumption fell 3% in 2014 as the country sought to tackle increasingly severe air pollution in its cities.

AND….

In the latest week, drillers idled another 41 oil rigs, according to Baker Hughes. Only 825 rigs were still active, down 48.7% from October. In the 23 weeks since, drillers have idled 784 oil rigs, the steepest, deepest cliff-dive in the history of the data:

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-20=oil

The number of rigs drilling for natural gas dropped by 15 to 242, the lowest rig count since March 1992 and down 85% from its peak in 2008.

By Simon Evans

The cost of electric vehicle battery packs is falling so rapidly they are probably already cheaper than expected for 2020, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.

Electric vehicles remain more expensive than combustion-engine equivalents, largely because of battery costs. In 2013 the International Energy Agency estimated cost-parity could be reached in 2020, with battery costs reaching $300* per kilowatt-hour of capacity.

But market-leading firms were probably already producing cheaper batteries last year, says today’s new research. It says its figures are “two to four times lower than many recent peer-reviewed papers have suggested”.

High costs, falling

Even though the  EU electric vehicle market grew by 37% year on year in 2014, it still made up less than 1% of total sales. High cost is a major reason why electric vehicles have failed to break through, alongside range and a lack of recharging infrastructure.

The new research is based on a review of 85 cost estimates in peer-reviewed research, agency estimates, consultancy and industry reports, news reports covering the views of industry representatives and experts and finally estimates from leading manufacturers.

It says industry-wide costs have fallen from above $1000 per kilowatt-hour in 2007 down to around $410 in 2014, a 14% annual reduction (blue marks, below). Costs for market-leading firms have fallen by 8% per year, reaching $300 per kilowatt hour in 2014 (green marks).

Figure 1: Cost estimates and future projections for EV battery packs, measured in $US per kilowatt hour of capacity. Each mark on the chart represents a documented estimate reviewed by the study. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 At 14.22.10

Source: Nykvist et al. (2015).

For the market-leading firms, shown in green on the chart above, costs last year were already at the bottom end of projections for 2020 (yellow triangles).

The paper estimates prices will fall further to around $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2017-18, “on a par with the most optimistic future estimate among analysts”. The crossover point where electric cars become cheapest depends on electricity costs, vehicle taxes and prices at the pump.

In the US, with current low oil prices, battery packs would need to fall below $250 per kilowatt-hour for electric cars to become competitive, the study says. Behavioural barriers to electric vehicle uptake present additional hurdles to widespread adoption.

The paper says:

“If costs reach as low as $150 per kilowatt-hour this means that electric vehicles will probably move beyond niche applications and begin to penetrate the market more widely, leading to a potential paradigm shift in vehicle technology.”

Learning rate

To reach that level, costs will have to fall further. But a commercial breakthrough for the next generation of lithium batteries “is still distant”, the paper says, and many improvements in cell chemistry have already been realised. This seems to pour cold water on frequent claims of new battery types “transforming” the electric vehicle market.

However, there are still savings to be made in manufacturing improvements, industry learning and economies of scale, which have already brought down costs in recent years. Cumulative global production and sales of electric vehicles are roughly doubling annually, the paper says.

That means the 30% cost reduction expected at Tesla Motors’ planned “Gigafactory” battery plant by 2017 represents a “trajectory close to the trends projected in this paper”. On the other hand Renault-Nissan’s plans to build battery manufacturing capacity for 1.5 million cars by 2016 have hit the buffers as electric car sales have trailed expectations.

There are large uncertainties in the paper’s findings. Despite being the most comprehensive review to date, it relies on “sparse data” and acknowledges that a secretive industry might avoid revealing high costs, or conversely might subsidise battery packs to gain market share.

Overall it is “possible” that economies of scale will push costs down towards $200 kilowatt-hour “in the near future even without further cell chemistry improvements”, the paper concludes. If the paper is right then electric vehicle uptake could exceed expectations. That will be a good thing for the climate – just as long as the electricity that fuels them is not from coal.

*All dollar figures are in USD

Originally published by Carbon Brief.





Where is the electric grid headed?

19 11 2014

Followers of this blog will know my enthusiasm for solar power as a silver bullet for our future energy predicaments has waned, and in particular, my love affair with grid tied solar is over.  I have also been doubting for quite some time that the future of the electric grid is secure, and have on occasions discussed stand alone solar power as a possibility for those of us who are aware of the coming dilemmas to stretch their energy horizon a little further and make the inevitable energy descent less painful.  Well, it seems, this theme is catching on, even making it to what I consider to be mainstream internet sources.

Recently, on the Climate Spectator website (an arm of Alan Kohler’s straight as a die Business Spectator financial website), an article titled “Solar wins! Zombie-grid a dead man walking” began with this paragraph:

The grid financial model will collapse within 10 years, as millions of Australian households flee for the new, disruptive and cheaper alternative. This change will be as big as the conversion from horse and cart to motor vehicle, film to digital camera and the typewriter to the laptop.

I nearly fell off my chair…… because let’s face it, if the collapse of the grid financial model is not soon followed by total collapse, I would eat my hat.  The reasons the author – Matthew Wright CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions – gives for this prediction are:

Modeling by Zero Emissions Australia shows that an ordinary, but all-electric, household using off-the-shelf efficient electric appliances could be off the grid for between $30,000-$40,000 today and $12,000-$20,000 in 2024.

This is based on the following representative example of electricity demand charted below for an all-electric five-person household in Melbourne.

Example: One year of average monthly demand for all electric household in Melbourne (5 occupants).

melbournedemand

 

Source: Powershop, Zero Emissions Australia

Households can install and size their off-grid solar system now and change their redundant gas appliances (stove top, gas hot water and gas heating) over later. Or, given that the price is going to be right to leave sometime in the next 10 years, they can start their electric conversion journey now. Ditching gas and the power grid starts by installing an oversized solar system (11-15kW) on the north, east, west and possibly even flat-racked. Indeed you can place it on the south face which captures diffuse light when its cloudy – which contributes over half of all generation during the middle of winter (more on that in another article).

10kW PV System

10kW PV System

I’m frankly AGHAST!  I wonder if Matthew has even ever seen a 10kW PV system (let alone a 15 kW one…)  One of my neighbours has such a large system on his roof, installed before Energex put their foot down and limited grid tied systems to 5kW, and it looks like the photo opposite.  Bear in mind this house was designed for solar to begin with, faces true North, built with a skillion roof, and is bigger than our place by some margin at 250m².  And yet, its roof is completely covered….  Try that on a standard McMansion hipped roof….

Consumption is consumption, whether it’s PVs or whatever, and at least KC exports 90% or more of what power his system produces, he doesn’t actually need it to run his house!  Any household that needs 11 to 15kW of solar has a serious efficiency problem that needs to be solved before spending “$30,000-$40,000“, and if Matthew believes such schemes are ways of dealing with Carbon emissions, he is seriously mistaken.

Then, he pushes heat pumps for water heating rather than solar……  I thought the title of this piece was “solar wins!”?  Why buy an electricity consuming gadget, even if very efficient, when there are alternatives that do not?  Matthew doesn’t even seem to understand the physics of energy with the statement “achieves Coefficient of Performance (COP) of ~4.0 or (400% efficient, yes that is possible)”  NO Matthew, 400% efficiency is NOT possible, COP is not efficiency…..  And you wonder why I have so many doubts about BZE’s green wet dream of 100% renewables for Australia?

But back to our grid problems.

“Industrialized countries face a future of increasingly severe blackouts, a new study warns, due to the proliferation of extreme weather events, the transition to unconventional fossil fuels, and fragile national grids that cannot keep up with rocketing energy demand” says Motherboard….

The paper published this September in Routledge’s Journal of Urban Technology points out that 50 major power outages have afflicted 26 countries in the last decade alone, driven by rapid population growth in concentrated urban areas and a rampant “addiction” to high-consumption lifestyles dependent on electric appliances.

Study authors Hugh Byrd and Prof Steve Matthewman of Auckland University, a sociologist of disaster risk, argue that this escalating demand is occurring precisely “as our resources become constrained due to the depletion of fossil fuel, a lack of renewable energy sources, peak oil and climate change.”

Blackouts, they warn, are “dress rehearsals for the future in which they will appear with greater frequency and severity,” they find. “We predict increasing numbers of blackouts due to growing uncertainties in supply and growing certainties in demand.”

The relentless growth in demand, 1300 percent from 1940 to 2001 in the US (and likely much the same here), is the obvious culprit with aircon requirements at the forefront.  And let’s not forget the coming new fad…..

Adding further pressure to future electricity demand is the rise of the electric vehicle, driven by efforts to mitigate climate change. Byrd and Matthewman note that in higher-income regions, switching entirely to electric cars would increase electricity demand by 15-40 percent. Even if we replaced all our petrol-guzzling cars with “highly efficient” electric cars, the new models would still consume about “twice as much electricity as residential and commercial air-conditioning combined.”

And as climate change brings warmer Summers and more intense rains to regions of North America and Australia, people resort to more and more air-conditioning to stay cool, another climate positive feedback loop maybe?

Worldwide, overall energy demand for air-conditioning “is projected to rise rapidly to 2100,” to as much as 40 times greater than it was in 2000. New York alone will need 40 percent more power in the next 15 years partly because the city will contain a million more people, aided of course by electrical appliances, elevators, and air-conditioning.

Yeah right….  like that‘s going to happen, with a failing grid model….?  The article even goes further saying “But in a slow-growth global economy hell-bent on austerity, the prospects for large government investments in grid resilience look slim. According to the global insurance company Allianz in an extensive report on blackout risks in the US and Europe, “privatization and liberalization” have contributed to “missing incentives to invest in reliable, and therefore well maintained, infrastructures.””

A new report by the French multinational technology firm CapGemini warns of a heightened risk of blackouts across Europe this winter due to the shut-down of gas-fired plants, competition from cheap US coal, and the big shift to wind and solar. Ironically, electricity surpluses from renewables have led to a fall in power prices and crippled fossil fuel utilities, which in turn has reduced the “electricity system’s margin to meet peak demand in specific conditions such as cold, dark and windless days,” according to the report.

So it seems the grid’s financial model in Europe is in just as deep a hole as Australia’s.  The more I think of the terminology ‘disruptive’ used to describe renewables, the more I think it’s accurate!  The increasing shift to renewable energy sources has, it appears, exacerbated the blackout risk not because they are bad at generating power, but because of the difficulty in integrating volatile, decentralized energy sources into old power grids designed half a century ago around the old fossil fuel model.  Something the BZE people just don’t seem to understand.

Take this for example:  Our friend Matthew Wright is at it again with “Imagine 1000 gigafactories – that’s what’s coming”

No doubt you have all heard of El on Musk, the CEO of Tesla, the electric car company.  “Tesla is everyone’s favourite motor car company, a darling of investors large and small. Rev heads who have driven a Tesla give it the nod” writes Matthew.  Well of course they’d give it the nod…. just like anyone who drives a brand new Range Rover would give that car the nod; after all, after driving our old bombs around, I’m sure I would be mighty impressed with a car worth some $70,000 too……

Musk’s gigafactories will be the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory, and is expected to generate as much renewable energy as it needs to operate — and then some.  But is that thin line at the bottom right of the photo a road, or a mighty big cable going to Bolivia’s Lithium mines…?

Here’s the first problem with celebratory headlines over renewables: record renewable energy growth hasn’t stopped record fossil fuel burning, including record levels of coal burning. Coal use is growing so fast that the International Energy Authority expects it to surpass oil as the world’s top energy source by 2017.  And building gigafactories is only worsening the problem.

Mabe, the 1,500 gigawatts of electricity produced from renewables worldwide have prevented a further 1,500 gigawatts of fossil fuel power stations? Who can tell?  It’s just as possible that renewables have simply added 1,500 gigawatts of electricity to the global economy, fuelling economic growth and ever-greater industrial resource use. That being the case, far from limiting carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, renewables may simply have increased them because, as I’ve written many times before, no form of large-scale energy is carbon neutral.

And no one mentions the looming economic crisis having an effect on the grid’s reliability.  The future is taboo.  Watch this space…





I’ve bought a car…..

18 05 2012

No, you’re not reading it wrong, I did really buy a car.  It’s a ute (pickup for all you Yanks…), and the main reason I bought it is that it was a steal.  So cheap, I’m almost embarrassed to report it…

A year or so ago, friends of ours’ neighbour apparently came home from work in the ute and said to his wife “the aircon’s not working’.  So he parked it outside, and bought a new one.  Such is the wasteful state of our modern society it appears.  I became aware of it of course, but he wanted $800 for it, a fair price too, and I didn’t have $800 lying around, so I ignored it.  As did the owner.  It sat there, all forlorn, accumulating grime from stuff falling out of trees above it, looking more and more like no one loved it.  Eventually, I think, the neighbours must’ve complained about the poor old thing bringing property values in the street down, and he told our friends he was going to have it towed away.  Or I could have it for $200.  So of course, said friends called me to let me know.

Armed with jumper leads, we drove the Citroen up to the ute, and it started first kick…..  the aircon fan belt had come off the pulley, and was rubbing on the water pump, causing some alarming smoke (at least to the women present at this event!).  My multi meter told me the battery was totally stuffed, refusing all charge from the obviously operating alternator.  Unfazed, I jumped in and drove it down the road and back, and thought, “definitely worth a couple of hundred bucks”…

The owner arrived home by then, and said it would need new shock absorbers, as it “wallowed” along as one drove it, and the windscreen would need replacing to pass roadworthy certification, and it did look terrible after sitting there for a year or so.  A deal was struck regardless, and I took it home a couple of days later.

I always buy belts for my mowers at the local hardware store.  They have every conceivable size hanging from their ceiling in a most amazingly organised fashion.  Bring your belt, any belt, and they’ll measure it and match it.  Never failed me.  I ended up with THREE new fan belts (they were all stuffed) for nineteen bucks!  When proper automotive ones cost about $25 a pop!  It’s not like there’s anything wrong with mower belts, they are rated heat and oil resistant, and surely, spinning under a mower with wet grass and rocks and sticks and snakes under there can’t do them any good, and they still last……

One of the headlights was also broken and full of water, and the local wreckers supplied a perfectly good one with all bulbs attached for $55.  A quick oil change and some new wiper blades, and really, anything else was just cosmetic……  everywhere I delved, the car was very serviceable indeed, with brake pads only 25% worn, a brand new air cleaner element in place, and seemingly good enough shock absorbers too.  I spoke to the mechanic who was going to do the roadworthy, and he said he wouldn’t be concerned about the windscreen so long as there weren’t any big stars inside my field of vision.  So it stayed.  All I had left to do was replace the battery, and I got a budget one from Supercheap Autos for $58.  It’s only got 6 months warranty, but it’ll do until I recover from what is a large purchase for us….

The tray looked seriously rusted out, but as I started peeling back the layers, I found far more red oxide paint than rust.  Another mate of mine who also owns a ute happened to visit at this stage, and told me how he restored his rusty tray with Penetrol and then painted it with Hammercoat paint…. neither of which I had ever heard of before.  A hundred bucks later, and admittedly many hours of work as well, it looks a million bucks.  I’m really kicking myself now for not taking “before” photos just so I could show you all the difference.

It sailed through the roadworthy, and the “wallowing” all but disappeared when I inflated the tyres properly.  It’s now road registered, the entire project cost me $800……. and I’ve been told I could easily get $3500 for it!  I’m still pinching myself…..

No more carrying hay bales in the boot of the Citroen, or carrying long lengths of timber and step ladders through its cabin.  It won’t be driven that much I expect, I have no idea what fuel consumption I can manage to squeeze out of it either at this stage, won’t know until I fill it up and do a proper mileage run…  In the long run though, I have serious plans for this vehicle; I want to one day convert it to electric, just like this Ford Courier (same car, different badge)…. then I can use all that excess solar power for battery charging!

One Tonner EV Ute Conversion

Electric Motor in Engine Bay

Under Tray Battery Storage