Monday, November 27, 2017

Is Tesla a Death Sentence for Conventional Power Utilities?

Elon Musk wagered he could build s 129 megawatt battery in Queensland within 100 days or it was free. Tesla built and installed the battery with plenty of time to spare and, with it, just might have served a death warrant on fossil energy electricity.

Alternative clean energy, solar and wind, is already cheaper than coal, oil or gas generated power. The hangup has always been the need for some affordable means to store that power when the sun isn't shining or the wind stops blowing. That's where Tesla and others have come in.

The CBC's Don Pittis has an article today on how solar power is driving down the cost of electricity to levels once unimaginable.

The new price, described by the news site Electrek as the cheapest electricity on the planet, was less than 2 cents per kilowatt hour, "part of a pattern marching to 1 cent per kWh bids that are coming in 2019 (or sooner)," the site declared.

The record was not set in a place where energy is traditionally cheap. Nor is it from a traditional electricity source.

The new low price of 1.7 cents per kilowatt was part of a contract between the Italian multinational ENEL Green Power and the Mexican government agency that administers the country's electricity wholesale market.

Fossil energy bad boy Alberta may be the first to step up in Canada.

Alberta is on the leading edge of an energy experiment that is turning global — and Canadian — markets upside down.

Within weeks, the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO), which manages and operates the province's power grid, is expected to announce the results of a bidding process to create "5,000 MW of renewable electricity generation capacity connected to the Alberta grid between now and 2030."

The power will come from wind, not solar, and the prices will be more than double the record prices set in Mexico. But for the first time in Canada, the Alberta agency will use the same market auction system for creating green power that has helped push electricity prices down in Mexico and other places around the world.

Some experts say the prices set in the Alberta bidding process could be as low as 5 cents per kilowatt hour. That's in the same range as the gold standard combined cycle natural gas power plan and just the beginning of a process that will use market forces to stimulate new efficiencies in Canada's electricity market as technology improves.

In 2014 the world's largest private bank, UBS, warned its moneyed investors to steer clear of conventional power utilities.

In a briefing paper sent to clients and investors this week, the Zurich-based UBS bank argues that large-scale centralized power stations will soon become extinct because they are too big and inflexible and are "not relevant" for future electricity generation. Instead the authors expect it to be cheaper and more efficient for households and businesses to generate their own energy to power their cars and to store any surplus energy in their own buildings even without subsidies.

"Solar is at the edge of being a competitive power generation technology. The biggest drawback has been its intermittency. This is where batteries and electric vehicles (EVs) come into play. Battery costs have declined rapidly, and we expect a further decline of more than 50% by 2020. By then a mass [produced] electric vehicle will have almost the same price as a combustion engine car. But it will save up to 2,000 euros a year on fuel cost, hence, it will begin to pay off almost immediately without any meaningful upfront "investment." This is why we expect a rapidly growing penetration with EVs, in particular in countries with high fossil fuel prices.

These rapidly emerging technologies will show the true colours of our political leadership in the Canadian petro-state.  Trudeau has shown he can always be counted upon to say the right thing and then do something else or simply nothing. Cognitive dissonance is no problem for the diminutive son of Pierre. That apple may not have fallen far from the tree but it rolled all the way down the hill.

Kid Pipeline has broken every promise to commit the federal government in support of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline. What is the justification for that pipeline set to carry the world's highest carbon and toxic ersatz oil in a world on the brink of transitioning to much cheaper, far cleaner alternative clean energy? If bitumen goes bust, becomes a "stranded asset" then the fallout will land squarely on Trudeau. He broke his promises. He made his choice. 


Owen Gray said...

The revolution is afoot and some folks are going to be stuck with massive --
and monstrous -- stranded assets.

rumleyfips said...

They may be holding the stranded assets bag, but they were warned years ago.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Owen, but after all the profits are safely removed, it'll be Albertans and other Canadians who'll be stuck with the clean-up tab.

The Mound of Sound said...

They were warned, Rumley, but the bastards will still claim that no one could have seen it coming.

Anonymous said...

The battery industry is built on the backs of child labourers. Cobalt is a key element in lithium-ion batteries, the kind that power your phone and electric vehicles. About 65% of the world's supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Some 40,000 children as young as seven work in the Congolese mines to supply us with the cobalt for our toys and gadgets. Pressure to hire more is sure to increase with battery demand. There must be a way of storing energy that doesn't involve this kind of human rights abuse.


The Mound of Sound said...

Sure there is, Cap. Regulate the trade. Just like we did with other troublesome products.

Anonymous said...

Like iPhones made by Foxconn? Here's an article about it from 5 years ago. Here's one from last week. Not much has changed. I'm sure Governor Scott "Right-to-Work" Walker will get right on that when Foxconn opens its plant in Wisconsin.


Troy said...

Samsung Develops Battery Technology That Charges 5 Times Faster:

My goodness. I didn't think there'd be new battery technology for at least another year or two. 5x faster? With a supercharger, car batteries could be charged in fifteen minutes. This is a(nother) game-changing technology.

Another breakthrough such as this, and suddenly we're looking at the end of gasoline as a fuel, entirely. And we could possibly see that breakthrough within five years.

Les Smith said...

I fear you're being a little optimistic. Here are a few ballpark numbers.
Say the battery is 120 MWH (Not MW, by the way). A decent-sized hydro plant can generate something like 5,000MW continuously. What would it take to average-out the output of an equivalent solar installation?
Let's say, to be generous, that the solar plant can operate at 100% capacity whenever the sun is over the horizon, and let's also be generous and neglect the effect of seasons and weather. It would then need to be 10,000MW to achieve the same output, 120,000 MWH per day. Half of that would have to be stored to be supplied at night.
The wonderful battery is around one fifth of one percent as big as it would need to be to achieve the same continuous output.
It's a lovely idea, but in real world terms, it isn't there yet. Not even close.
As for the record-low price - It would indeed be welcome news to Newfoundlanders if that were true. Newfoundland is being forced, under the terms of a contract negotiated under circumstances that could charitably be described as perfidious, to supply power to Hydro Quebec at 0.2 cents per KWH.