Australia facing ‘prosumer’ energy revolution: regulator
by Giles Parkinson, editor RenewEconomy.com
The Australian Energy Regulator says the energy market faces a revolution in coming years from the rise of the ‘prosumer’ – customers with the ability to generate and store their own electricity.
And it warns that unless models are changed to allow these prosumers to fully participate in the market, and if networks continue to impose barriers, then many consumers will simply walk away from the grid, with disastrous consequences for others.
‘The electricity industry certainly is changing. In fact it is not much of a stretch to say that the next couple of decades will witness something of a revolution in the way small customers interact with the electricity industry,’ Michelle Groves, the chief executive of the AER, said in a speech last week.
‘In the future there will be more scope for even the smallest energy users to become active participants in the energy market.’
But Groves added that it was important for the network businesses to embrace the changes underway in the energy sector. ‘If the networks attempt to create barriers to new, competing technologies by limiting access to their “platform”, there is a risk that a significant number of consumers will “walk away” from the network.
‘This would have major consequences for many consumers and for the efficient operation of energy markets. The hope is that network businesses redefine the services they provide to adapt to the new market, which will benefit end-users and transform the industry.’
The speech by Groves is important because regulators in Australia – both federal and state based – have been accused of acting mostly in the interests of the incumbent, and often state-owned, utilities. Nigel Morris outlines ways in which utilities have acted against solar here. And consumers and installers are responding with their own guerrilla tactics.
But there is now growing recognition of the power of these new technologies, and their ability to deliver cheaper services than those delivered only by centralised generation through costly networks. That, in turn, has underpinned predictions of a massive change in the way the markets operate.
The CSIRO Future Grid scenarios predicted half of all electricity would be produced – and stored – onsite. But if the networks did not adapt, then up to one-third of consumers could leave the grid – with serious social consequences. As RenewEconomy has highlighted, some consumers and installers are finding ingenious ways to work around the tariff structures imposed by utilities to dissuade the use of solar.
Groves’s speech is the first to recognise that this is a primary concern, and not to use the regulatory platform to try to demonise these technologies.
Groves says the changes are being driven not just by the availability of cheaper technologies such as solar and batteries, but also improvements in IT and communications.
This means that prosumers can switch from net consumption from the grid to net production.
‘We have seen more than a million households install roof-top solar PV in the last few years,’ she says.
‘Further, customer investment in smart appliances and battery storage could substantially shift the amount customers withdraw from or inject into the network from one moment to the next.’
Far from being a drag on network investment and a burden on other consumers – as solar households are often painted by conservative politicians – Groves says prosumers will increase the resilience of networks, increase their use (presumably through charging electric vehicles), and help increase choice around consumption and production.
Groves said that ideally, ‘prosumers’ would be willing and able to directly or indirectly respond to local market conditions, so that they make efficient decisions as to the best time to use their electric appliances, charge and discharge their electric vehicles or have knowledge of their local conditions inform their investment decisions.
‘Perhaps the most significant benefit from increasing the integration of small customers into the electricity market is that it will lead to a range of new services. In fact, it may mean a host of yet-unknown services that will deliver real value to consumers and society more generally.’
This article first appeared in RenewEconomy.
It’s official: electric car world record smashed by UNSW Sunswift
A team of UNSW engineering students has been officially recognised as the new world record holders for the fastest electric vehicle over a distance of 500 kilometres.
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), world motorsport’s governing body, updated its official record with the new mark of 106.966 kilometres per hour set by team Sunswift in July. The previous record of 73 kilometres per hour stood for 26 years.
‘It’s not often you can confidently say you made history before you even graduated,’ Sunswift’s project director and third-year engineering student Hayden Smith said.
Sunswift is Australia’s top solar car racing team. Its current vehicle eVe is the fifth to be built and raced since the team was founded in 1996.
More than 100 undergraduate students contributed to Sunswift’s successful world record attempt over the past two years.
‘If there is one thing we’ve learned, it’s that you’re never too young to make an impact,’ Smith said.
UNSW Engineering dean Professor Graham Davies congratulated the students for what he called ‘another exceptional feat’.
Earlier versions of the Sunswift car have been used to set a world record for the fastest solar-powered road trip from Perth to Sydney, and a Guinness World Record for the fastest solar car.
‘For a student project to achieve a new world record for electric vehicle speed and endurance is truly remarkable,’ Professor Davies said. ‘It goes to show what exceptional students we have here at UNSW.’
With the world record now official, the team is set to embark on its next major challenge – modifying the eVe to meet Australian road registration requirements.
‘The eVe will now be taken off the road for a few months to begin the transformation,’ Smith said, adding that the car could be registered and on city streets within a year.
‘We’ve always wanted to keep pushing the cultural change towards electric vehicles, and this is another big step in that direction.’
Batteries Included: a solar cell that stores its own power
By Pam Frost Gorder
Is it a solar cell? Or a rechargeable battery? Actually, the patent-pending device invented at the Ohio State University is both: the world’s first solar battery.
In the 3 October 2014 issue of the journal Nature Communications, the researchers report that they’ve succeeded in combining a battery and a solar cell into one hybrid device.
Key to the innovation is a mesh solar panel, which allows air to enter the battery, and a special process for transferring electrons between the solar panel and the battery electrode. Inside the device, light and oxygen enable different parts of the chemical reactions that charge the battery.
The university will license the solar battery to industry, where Yiying Wu, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, says it will help tame the costs of renewable energy.
‘The state of the art is to use a solar panel to capture the light, and then use a cheap battery to store the energy,’ Wu said. ‘We’ve integrated both functions into one device. Any time you can do that, you reduce cost.’
He and his students believe that their device brings down costs by 25 per cent. The invention also solves a longstanding problem in solar-energy efficiency, by eliminating the loss of electricity that normally occurs when electrons have to travel between a solar cell and an external battery. Typically, only 80 per cent of electrons emerging from a solar cell make it into a battery.
With this new design, light is converted to electrons inside the battery, so nearly 100 per cent of the electrons are saved.
The design takes some cues from a battery previously developed by Wu and doctoral student Xiaodi Ren. They invented a high-efficiency air-powered battery that discharges by chemically reacting potassium with oxygen. The design won the $100,000 clean energy prize from the US Department of Energy in 2014, and the researchers formed a technology spinoff, called KAir Energy Systems, LLC to develop it.
‘Basically, it’s a breathing battery,’ Wu said. ‘It breathes in air when it discharges, and breathes out when it charges.’
For this new study, the researchers wanted to combine a solar panel with a battery similar to the KAir. The challenge was that solar cells are normally made of solid semiconductor panels, which would block air from entering the battery.
Doctoral student Mingzhe Yu designed a permeable mesh solar panel from titanium gauze, a flexible fabric upon which he grew vertical rods of titanium dioxide like blades of grass. Air passes freely through the gauze while the rods capture sunlight.
Normally, connecting a solar cell to a battery would require the use of four electrodes, the researchers explained. Their hybrid design uses only three.
The mesh solar panel forms the first electrode. Beneath, the researchers placed a thin sheet of porous carbon (the second electrode) and a lithium plate (the third electrode). Between the electrodes, they sandwiched layers of electrolyte to carry electrons back and forth.
Here’s how the solar battery works: During charging, light hits the mesh solar panel and creates electrons. Inside the battery, electrons are involved in the chemical decomposition of lithium peroxide into lithium ions and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air, and the lithium ions are stored in the battery as lithium metal after capturing the electrons.
When the battery discharges, it chemically consumes oxygen from the air to re-form the lithium peroxide.
An iodide additive in the electrolyte acts as a ‘shuttle’ that carries electrons, and transports them between the battery electrode and the mesh solar panel. The use of the additive represents a distinct approach to improving the battery performance and efficiency, the team said.
The mesh belongs to a class of devices called dye-sensitised solar cells, because the researchers used a red dye to tune the wavelength of light it captures.
In tests, they charged and discharged the battery repeatedly, while doctoral student Lu Ma used X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy to analyse how well the electrode materials survived – an indication of battery life.
First they used a ruthenium compound as the red dye, but since the dye was consumed in the light capture, the battery ran out of dye after eight hours of charging and discharging – too short a lifetime. So they turned to a dark red semiconductor that wouldn’t be consumed: hematite, or iron oxide – more commonly called rust.
Coating the mesh with rust enabled the battery to charge from sunlight while retaining its red colour. Based on early tests, Wu and his team think that the solar battery’s lifetime will be comparable to rechargeable batteries already on the market.
The US Department of Energy funds this project, which will continue as the researchers explore ways to enhance the solar battery’s performance with new materials.
Support for solar can tackle NSW energy affordability crisis
The huge jump in disconnections and complaints linked to price hikes and overspending on poles and wires shown in a report from the Energy and Water Ombudsman highlight the extreme strain placed on Australian families by high energy costs, says Solar Citizens’ national director Claire O’Rourke.
‘Bill shock from electricity prices is being driven by “gold-plating” of infrastructure and the greed of the major power companies,’ Ms O’Rourke said.
‘Solar lets people take control of their power bills. It is the only way Australian households can increase independence from the big power companies.
‘There are already 1.3 million Australian households that have made the move to manage their cost of living by installing solar. NSW households have saved $146.9 million on power bills as a result of installing solar.
‘NSW households have invested $1,967.3 million in solar power and helped create 18,500 jobs nationwide.
‘Solar creates jobs, encourages investment and helps Australian families take control of their power bills.
‘All of our political parties should help support solar with policies that help people install solar and ensure a healthy future for the industry,’ she said.
‘The government’s own Warburton Review of the Renewable Energy Target found renewable energy sources including solar would lower electricity prices for all electricity users in the long term.
‘Instead of attacking the renewable-energy sector, the federal government should be doing all it can to help households go solar and avoid the level of bill shock and disconnection reported by the ombudsman.
‘This is why we need to keep the Renewable Energy Target strong – it helps people go solar, take control of their power bills and lower costs.
‘We call on the federal government to support the people of NSW by supporting the target.’
Solar Energy Independence
Almost everyone I talk to has a common desire, to free themselves from the uncontrollable rising costs of energy. With power prices doubling in the last 5 years and the price of gas about to rise by up to 50%, solar energy has become a solid point of relief for energy users. In recent years the price of solar installation has dropped considerably to the point where power from solar is much cheaper than grid connected electricity.
As solar has become a real alternative to coal-generated power, energy lobby groups have infiltrated Coalition ranks to create policies that restrict renewable energy generation and provide market advantages to an outdated model of centralised energy generation from burning fossil fuels. First State Governments dropped the Feed In Tariff (FIT) for new installations of solar from 44 to 60 cents to 6 to 8 cents per KWH. Now the Federal Government is making moves to wind down the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and scrap concessions for renewable energy installations.
With the very real prospect that people would prefer to generate and store their own solar power as soon as it is affordable to do so, electricity network operators and retailers have begun making it more difficult for solar energy, with a shift in billing practices from energy volume use (KWH) to Network Capacity use (KVA). So instead of charging for the amount of power used they charge you set fees for having power available. This works against solar installation which relies on providing a replacement to the energy used from the grid to get a discount because of a drop in power usage.
New Hybrid Inverter and Battery Storage System
Local Mini Grids and Fair Distribution
Prepaid Metering – the Distribution Solution
Prepaid Solar – Leading the Charge Towards Energy Independence