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Why can't everyone condemn Hamas?

Following Hamas' atrocities in Israel, the media are awash with commentary, so I will keep my comments short. I am shocked by the willin...

Friday 28 July 2017

Energy Frontiers; A solar cell with 44.5% efficiency!

"George Washington University researchers have designed and constructed a prototype for a new solar cell that integrates multiple cells stacked into a single device capable of capturing nearly all of the energy in the solar spectrum.
The new design, which converts direct sunlight to electricity with 44.5 percent efficiency, has the potential to become the most efficient solar cell in the world."

Thursday 27 July 2017

Energy Frontiers; Flow batteries coming into their own!

With the world gradually moving towards renewables the downside of intermittent power is proving a real problem. No country can afford to have its industry and population at the whim of the sun and the wind. So it is not surprising that energy storage is receiving increasing scrutiny. Indeed the purported solution to SA's blackout dilemma is, in part at least, a 100 MW Tesla battery bank, the largest in the world. While the jury is out on how such a small addition of back-up power can avoid blackouts in SA, inevitably energy storage will become a must-have adjunct for any viable renewable energy installation. 

Storage can take many forms; pumped hydro (as per the proposed Snowy 2.0), compressed air, flywheels and of course chemical storage in the form of batteries . While the high energy density and ready availability of Lithium- ion batteries has given them the lead in battery storage solutions, many novel technologies are under development.

One such technology the 'Flow battery' has taken a giant step with Germany installing a pilot plant on a grand scale. In the article titled  "German energy company wants to build flow batteries in old natural gas caverns", Megan Geuss of Ars Tecnica explained;

"A German energy company (EWE GASSPEICHER GmbH) recently announced that it’s partnering with a university to build a massive flow battery in underground salt caverns that are currently used to store natural gas. The grid-tied battery, the company says, would be able to power Berlin for an hour."
I don't want to get too technical here, but if you are interested in the science an earlier article A recipe for an affordable, safe, and scalable flow battery by Shalini Saxena, again in Ars Tecnica, gives a good background.
"RFBs (Redox Flow batteries) are composed of organic materials that are able to transport electrons (redox-active). Almost all RFBs are composed of two pools of liquid electrolyte separated by a membrane, which allows some ions to cross between the two liquids. In these systems, electrons then flow from the negatively charged liquid (anolyte) through to the positive charged liquid (catholyte). These electrons can either charge the system or be extracted for use. Since the key components of the batteries are liquid, things can be scaled up simply by making the holding tanks larger."

Flow batteries have some compelling advantages over solid batteries; they are readily scale-able. Simply add more liquid electrolyte to increase the storage capacity. The second great advantage, again because the charge carrier is liquid, is that it can the 'charged liquid electrolyte' can be transferred to discharge somewhere else. The most obvious application is in electric vehicles. Re-fueling of a flow battery is similar to the process with petrol or natural gas. Simply drive into a c'charge station., replace your discharged electrolyte by newly charged electrolyte and you're off again in no time. This contrasts with the very real range limit of Li-ion battery storage where re-charge is currently very time consuming.

The energy world is undergoing widespread massive research, so it is not surprising that there is a constant stream of announcements of the latest 'breakthroughs'. While many of these will not make it to every day use, some will. And they have the power to transform our lives. Many of the most common products of today would have been impossible to predict just a decade ago. Think of the impact of the iPhone, first released just a decade ago in 2007.

We live in interesting times!

Monday 24 July 2017

Does battery storage help the environment?

Battery storage is widely touted as the all encompassing solution to the intermittency of renewable energy sources such as solar or wind. Given the many variables that influence the greenhouse credentials of these devices does installing a battery make sense economically and/or environmentally?

"Does battery storage help or hurt the environment?" from web site SolarQuotes, provides an in depth analysis that is well worth reading.

The short answer is generally not today, at least for domestic use.

Why governments always waste money!

A recent Prager video explained why every single government project heralded far and wide as  touted 'nation building' ends up as a fiasco, with uncontrolled cost overruns and not meeting its objectives. The focus of the video is the US healthcare system, Obamacare and its antecedents. But it is equally true for government projects everywhere. In Australia think Collins Class submarines, pink bats, or the NBN.

The underlying cause is quite simply that government is always spending someone else's money, ie ours, so it really doesn't care about cost. Sure the headline cost matters as it an issue for the electorate when the project is first announced, but after this the actual costs barely cause a ruckus. In any case, spin, blame-shifting and plain old bull-dust will get you over the occasional headlines, at least most of the time. As to the quality of the outcomes, it rarely takes any emphasis as those making the decision, will not be in office by the time "it hits the fan". Government sponsored projects are so-called "third party' transactions where the government is not really paying for it, nor are they using the service, resulting in ocst overruns and poor quality outcomes.

Watch the video. It explains the issue perfectly. Simply replace the American Healthcare system by "NBN" and it will apply equally.

We should never let governments take on such projects. Governments role is to create a free market where competing suppliers will ensure the needs of consumers will be met at the lowest price. Imagine if that had been done for the NBN. We would not be faced with the current nightmare with cost overrun more than $50B,  and counting. Nor would consumers face the prospect of being forced to relinquish faster speeds from their current suppliers and to have to pay more for this privilege.

What a fiasco!

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Can the LNP cracks be healed?

Malcolm , the usurper, has been trying to recast the party in his own image. In his recent article in Quadrant "The Liberals, Coming Apart at the Seams", Paul Collits argues "the party whose leadership Malcolm Turnbull schemed so assiduously to seize was once a big tent with seating for all, from old-school Tories to libertarians. Now, sacrificed on the altar of one man's egomaniacal ambition, there is nought but division, betrayal and disgust".

Today, unlike in the past when there was much common ground, 

"Liberals are actively hostile to the bedrock beliefs of conservatives. Now, liberals and conservatives are not merely not on the same page, they aren’t even in the same book. They might agree on a few things, but not many. And the things they disagree on, vehemently, are matters of core business to each, not things that can easily be parked."

Alas, if it is so, then the party may well split. It is a conclusion I have seen by many commentators. Perhaps the threat of a split is being amplified by conservatives to gain 'benefits' from the now wet-leaning party. But even unintentionally the fracture could lead to a split. For the sake of the country I hope not.

One of the strengths of Australia's political system over the past four decades was its ability to sustain two central parties that could each accommodate a range of views. Unlike the Italian-model of democracy the two party system gives choice to the electorate, but leaves the messy policy minutiae to the parties to work out. A split in the liberals would not only give a labor-greens alliance power for some time, it would make governing more difficult for everyone. 

Tuesday 18 July 2017

SA renewables crisis goes viral

In his recent insightful article in Townhall, Paul Driessen calls it how it is "Insanity and Hypocrisy Down Under". Our energy chaos has made it to the world stage!

What do you call the willful destruction of the quality of life of your own citizens without any measurable benefit from your actions? Insanity! Our State, and to some extent our Federal, governments have sacrificed energy security and price in favor of tokenistic emissions targets. Targets that, even if met, will not make one iota of difference in the temperature of the planet in 85 years. Insanity. Shutting down coal fired power stations in Australia and exporting the coal to be burnt overseas. Insanity! State governments setting renewable energy targets so onerous that continuous supply is unlikely. Insanity! The very same state governments preventing further exploration for new natural gas resources that could provide low emission base-load energy. Insanity!

Yes Driessen called it - Insanity. It is hard to argue otherwise.

The best that can be said for our insane energy policies is that it has given some warning to the rest of the world. If you follow the same renewables-uber-alles policies you will end up with spiking energy prices and blackouts, with the consequent burden on citizens and industry.

You have been warned.

Saturday 15 July 2017

Climate change debate heats up

With Finkel's energy report sitting on the shelf for weeks, the government is under increasing pressure to come to some sort of decision on the Clean Energy Target. Given the political fall-out whichever way they turn, it is no wonder they have been vacillating

Then there's South Australia's self-inflicted energy crisis, with intermittent electricity supplied at the highest prices in the world! The state is now receiving an injection of new-technology bravado with Elon Musk 's 100MW battery farm to be completed in 100 days or your money back. Great for headlines, and depending on your disposition, a great 'up-yours to coal' or simply 'lipstick on a pig'. I guess we will see.

If that was not enough, Mr Climate Change himself, Nobel laureate, almost POTUS, Big Al Gore landed in Aus last week to promote his latest Global Warming Disaster film. Naturally the climate skeptics came out in force to remind us of some inconvenient truths about his first film, that it was banned from British schools lest its blatant untruths corrupt the minds of minors.

Everywhere you turn it seems energy policy and Climate Change are once again taking centre stage.

Yes Climate Change is hot again, but not quite as hot as it has been. It seems to me the deniers are gaining traction. Even John Howard has been reported to say that he is "today more skeptical of the science". The news is not that he is more skeptical, but that he was reported widely to have said so. I note however that the ABC's AM program last Friday, despite reporting widely on his recent comments, selectively omitted his skepticism on Climate Change. In some ways this is flattering to elder statesman Howard, an implicit recognition by the doyens at the left-leaning public broadcaster that his very words may spread this denier-virus to listeners. Heaven-forbid, lets just leave it out. Fake news by omission?

While Gore's film no doubt will receive wide audiences and plaudits from the believers, what about the skeptics. Well it seems the skeptics have fought back with a documentary of their own, "Climate Swindle". It will be shown in some theaters, though my guess is that it will receive scant attention from mainstream movie outlets. Nevertheless another movie length documentary, perhaps an earlier version from 2011 called  "The great Global Warming Swindle" is available, free of charge on You-tube. It presents a compelling case against Anthropogenic Climate change.

In summary Climate Change believers claim; -

1. Global Warming is real
2. It is man-made caused by excessive emissions of greenhouse Gases primarily Carbon Dioxide.
3. It is dangerous, threatening life, living standards and potentially global catastrophe
4. If we act decisively and collectively we can do something about it.

In "the Great Global Warming Swindle" skeptics argue; -
1. Climate change is real with cyclical warming and cooling. The earth is currently in a warming cycle that started following the "little Ice Age" of the 17th century.
2. The warming is NOT caused by Carbon Dioxide, but by natural Solar cycles. They argue that increase in Carbon dioxide is dominated by release of Carbon Dioxide from the oceans and it occurs as a result of global warming rather than as its cause.
3. Given well documented history showing periods of much high global temperatures and much higher carbon dioxide than today with abundant life, such changes are not dangerous to life on earth on the contrary a greener warmer wetter world is more fertile.
4. Given there is no problem there is not reason to do anything about it. On the contrary the attempts to limit fossil fuels are doing enormous harm, especially in the developing world, by increasing energy costs.

Here is the film judge for yourself.

Monday 10 July 2017

Put Energy Security first !

Once again the Turnbull government is in a mess largely of its own making. It needs to decide on how it will react to the Finkel report ( Blueprint for the future:Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market), a report it commissioned. It can either accept the key recommendation to establish  CET (Clean energy target) of some 42.5% (much greater than the current 24% RET) and accept the already high an dlikely increasing energy costs as well as the instability in supply or it can reject the key recommendations reneging on its emission reduction commitments and renewable energy targets and in effect rejecting the recommendations of its own report. With passions high in both sides there is no doubt there are electoral consequences to this decision. 

However I can see no way of avoiding conflict and with vocal proponents of each side it is likely to be loud. 

Avoiding Finkel's poisoned chalice

So lets just put the political issues to one side and consider the energy equation. The three critical factors are ; 
  • Energy security - electrical energy must be available whenever and in whatever quantity required on a continuous basis for both industry and for households.
  • Energy costs- must be as low as possible to ensure the quality of life of individuals and households and to make industry productive
  • Emissions - Energy generation should as much as possible ensure emissions of GHG are minimal.
Finkel's report is grossly inadequate. By focusing on Emissions targets and how existing global commitments may be met, the report sacrifices the other two critical factors.

Finkel does recognize energy security as a key issue and sensibly proposes that suppliers of intermittent renewable energy be required to provide base-load power as a backup. However by limiting the backup power required to a mere 90 minutes his proposal does not provide anywhere near adequate cover. In effect he papers over this very real limitation of the most popular renewables, solar and wind. 90 minutes is totally inadequate should a South Australia style event recur.

Real energy security requires continuous supply. Anything less is not acceptable to Australia, or indeed any country worth its salt in the 21st century.

Hence all suppliers of energy should be required to meet a Base-load Equivalence Test, BET.

BET requires every energy supplier to provide continuous supply. For example for solar, in a region where daily sunshine can provide the equivalent of 6 hours of supply (averaged over normal climatic conditions) the supplier would have to source an additional 18 hours of base-load power per day. Only by adding this base-load power could the energy supply for intermittent energy sources be regarded as 'equivalent'  to continuous supply alternatives.

Suppliers of intermittent energy such as solar or wind could meet the BET by battery or pumped hydro, or by sourcing base-load power from other suppliers. Where such supply was externally sourced it would have to be backed by formally agreed long term supply contracts. No doubt this would add to the cost of intermittent renewables, but without BET any energy supply management process, such as Finkel's CET or the older RET, is flawed.

Frydenberg's get out of jail card...

Given the potential political consequences it is no wonder that the government has been vacillating on their response to Finkel.

By putting Energy security first there is a sensible path through this dilemma   

Step 1: Clearly state that of the 3 conflicting needs identified by Finkel, Energy security is the first priority.

Step 2: In order to ensure all energy supply alternatives are comparable when it comes to energy security, all new supply will have to meet the Base-load Equivalence Test to provide 100 percent continuous energy. Solar and wind will have to either purchase base-load power from other suppliers or add their own battery, pumped hydro or other base-load power solutions hydro.

Step 3: Reject CET, retain the RET, accept the possibility that the current emissions reductions and renewable energy targets may not be met, but argue that Australia cannot afford to jeopardize energy security.

While the above three address the immediate problem, they do not re-build the shortage of base-load power following closures of coal fired generators over the past decade. Nor is it likely, given the current political environment, that commercial operators will build new base-load power generators. So the government needs to step in with Step 4.

Step 4: Commit federal funds to building new base-load power stations to compensate for closures over the past decade. The government would supply this energy at commercial rates and in competition with other suppliers, and be willing to sell the asset once it was proven to be competitive. Given current electricity prices and the re-balancing of demand due for base-load power due to the need to meet BET, in all probability these power stations will be able to be sold off at a profit.

Look to the electorate

Any proposal that is willing to sacrifice Australia's commitments to GHG reduction or indeed the RET is likely to receive widespread condemnation by the Chatterati. However Australian Industry and households will accept it as a fair compromise. This is especially so given that Australia's contribution to global warming is minimal and any effort we could make is dwarfed by the increasing emissions by China and India.

Trump's Warsaw manifesto

Much criticized US president Trump has received uncharacteristic acclaim for his  recent Warsaw speech. While it is full of the usual 'Trump-isms', that do detract from the flow, at its core it identifies the very real challenges faced by 'our community of nations' and how we will address them. It is an inspirational proclamation in the style of Kennedy. Well worth a read. Here is a brief extract, but you can read it in full here.
"This continent no longer confronts the spectre of communism. But today we’re in the West, and we have to say there are dire threats to our security and to our way of life. You see what’s happening out there. They are threats. We will confront them. We will win. But they are threats.
We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe. America and Europe have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop.
During a historic gathering in Saudi Arabia, I called on the leaders of more than 50 Muslim nations to join together to drive out this menace which threatens all of humanity. We must stand united against these shared enemies to strip them of their territory and their funding, and their networks, and any form of ideological support that they may have. While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.
We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism, and we will prevail. We cannot accept those who reject our values and who use hatred to justify violence against the innocent.
Today, the West is also confronted by the powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests. To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.
We urge Russia to cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defence of civilisation itself.
Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic, our citizens are confronted by yet another danger — one firmly within our control. This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great not because of paperwork and regulations but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.
Americans, Poles, and the nations of Europe value individual freedom and sovereignty. We must work together to confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are. If left unchecked, these forces will undermine our courage, sap our spirit, and weaken our will to defend ourselves and our societies.
But just as our adversaries and enemies of the past learned here in Poland, we know that these forces, too, are doomed to fail if we want them to fail. And we do, indeed, want them to fail. They are doomed not only because our alliance is strong, our countries are resilient, and our power is unmatched. Through all of that, you have to say everything is true. Our adversaries, however, are doomed because we will never forget who we are. And if we don’t forget who are, we just can’t be beaten. Americans will never forget. The nations of Europe will never forget. We are the fastest and the greatest community. There is nothing like our community of nations.
"The world has never known anything like our community of nations.
We write symphonies. We pursue innovation. We celebrate our ancient heroes, embrace our timeless traditions and customs, and always seek to explore and discover brand-new frontiers.
We reward brilliance. We strive for excellence, and cherish inspiring works of art that honour God. We treasure the rule of law and protect the right to free speech and free expression.
We empower women as pillars of our society and of our success. We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the centre of our lives. And we debate everything. We challenge everything. We seek to know everything so that we can better know ourselves.
And above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom. That is who we are. Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilisation."

Saturday 1 July 2017

What is Fake News?

In the latest of the series of incisive videos from Prager University Andrew Klavan presents "What is Fake News?"

Short and to the point it accuses all US mainstream media (perhaps including Fox) as purveyors of "Fake News" because they fail to present an accurate and unbiased account of daily events. I guess those of us who have a keen eye on the media are very aware of the slant given to many stories. I tend to use multiple sources from diverse political viewpoints  to form my views, but expect most people do not. So this is a very serious problem for our society. Yes I know that Klavan's analysis is for the US, but it is equally true for the UK and Aus.

As I noted in "Broken Windows" a free unbiased, accurate and representative media is the cornerstone of a successful democracy. Without doubt the failure of our media to provide fair and balanced analysis and commentary has created a society that has lost trust in its institutions. Though much derided by the media, it is the media itself that has caused much of the political instability we have seen in Australia, the UK and indeed the US.