Renewable energy

Blue Sky thinking transforms small and isolated communities

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Many isolated communities now drive their own innovative and sustainable energy solutions. Residents of communities that are small and isolated often have to depend on each other for the help they need. This brings about a tight-knit community that can get things done more efficiently than a larger one.  Innovative thinking bears fruit where everyone gets together and discusses possible answers to problems. This can be seen in Lord Howe Island, where the costs of living are really high.

Lord Howe Island is a small community of around 350 residents. There often be more people there though, due to the place being popular as a tourist attraction. However, visitor numbers are restricted to 400 per day to protect this World Heritage listed paradise from harm.

The expenses of island living

While Lord Howe Island may seem a paradise, there are certain difficulties in living in such an isolated spot. Diesel has to be brought in on a regular basis to power the generators that provide electricity for everyone. It is not only diesel that is shipped in.  Whatever is needed – food, clothing, medical supplies – that can’t be provided by the island has to be shipped or flown in. This increases the cost of these things dramatically. And since some of the residents own charter boats that run on fuel, it means their costs are higher than a similar business would incur on the mainland.

Other tourist businesses, such as those that provide accommodation, would also find the cost of flying in food for their guests is also expensive. Of course, being surrounded by ocean, there is a great deal of fresh seafood right on the doorstep, so that would bring costs down.

Expensive fuel for transport

What about fuel for cars? The number of cars on the island is increasing slowly, with five or six rentals included. The fuel for all of these has to be shipped in as well, so the price is much higher than mainland prices.

Many people use bicycles as a means of transport.  There is one electric car – affectionately dubbed the pope-mobile – that is as much of a tourist attraction as all those provided by Mother Nature.

Blue sky thinking

The so-called blue sky thinking takes advantage of the islands natural resources. The island is also often buffeted by wind due to its location 600 kilometres or so east of Port Macquarie. One place on it is even called Windy Point. So residents got together and drew up a plan to make their island paradise 80% wind and solar powered by 2019.

This plan will fit in nicely with the island’s World Heritage status, by helping to keep noxious fumes and other such waste away from the area. There is, after all, the possibility of an oil spill when diesel is constantly being brought in. That would be a total disaster in such a beautiful area.

Government grants have helped

The problem with becoming sustainable has been that such a small community had fewer funds to spare than a larger one might have. This is what has prevented anything being done about it in the past. However, with two grants totalling around $10 million from the Commonwealth and NSW Governments, the island can go ahead with its plan to become more sustainable. This includes installing two wind turbines with battery storage and diesel backup, as well as an integrated system of solar panels. Many of the residents also have their own solar panels.

One big advantage of having the extra power provided by the wind and sun is that there will be enough to provide power for more electric cars, thus increasing the green living aims.

A model for other small communities

Once Lord Howe Island has paved the way to sustainability, other small communities may be able to copy them, rather than thinking that there is not much they can do in this area. It is usually large cities that have the funding to put sustainable ideas into practice. What Lord Howe Island is set to accomplish gives inspiration to other smaller communities who aspire to achieve sustainable living.

However, even now there are other small communities that are looking to do similar. It helps the local energy companies in that they don’t then have to make expensive repairs and upgrades for places that may not use a great deal of power, and that are often right out at the boundaries of their reach.

Tyalgum NSW considers going off the grid

Tosh Szatow at Energy for the People, states that it is not the technology that is the problem because that is already available. What is needed is: –

  • People that work together in getting behind such a project
  • A specific structure of the grid must be in place for the best results
  • The network operator and pricing is also critical for financial viability.
  • Some legislative change in government

Going off the grid does not always cost the $10 million that Lord Howe Island is spending. A study done for Tyalgum, NSW has found that they could go mainly off grid for about $4 million. However, to be 90 -95 per cent sustainable would cost more – around $9 million. Much seems to depend on the tariffs charged by Essential Energy, the electricity company for the region.

The people of Tyalgum favour sustainability due to the constant blackouts they experience during storms. With the power supply already unreliable, they look forward to 2020 when the change will hopefully be in place. They are not the only ones.

Western Australia envisages a different model

The model of sustainability envisaged by Western Power, WA’s government owned power corporation, is slightly different. Rather than choosing whole communities isolated by distance, they suggest that smaller groups of people within or around those towns could band together to use a small, stand-alone off-grid power system. Again, this would save Western Power making expensive upgrades and extensions. They will begin with several pilot programmes of five to ten residences in the Ravensthorpe – Jerramungup area.

Ravensthorpe is a small town of about 500 people close to Esperance than Perth. The whole area is prone to many blackouts due to storms, bushfires and fallen trees and the cost of repair is very high.  Jerramungup is about halfway between Esperance and Albany and has the same problems with blackouts. Western Power wants to trial several different sized systems to see which is the most cost-effective.

Other towns and communities in Queensland and South Australia are also being considered for off-grid applications.  So while Lord Howe Island is not the only one, it may be the first to have everything up and running.

Renewable energy

Attractive renewable energy projects

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Alternative energy sources are necessary to reduce our carbon footprint, and some forward thinking people are making renewable energy projects attractive by using art, design and innovation.

While some people seem to think renewable energy projects are intrusive or ugly and not everyone likes the look of black solar panels sitting on their rooftop. Still others consider wind farms to be a blot on the landscape. However, these innovative resources don’t have to be ugly. Thanks to the Climate Council.

How art changes things

Most of us have seen attractive murals transform plain walls into works of art. So why not apply this idea to the bland, white expanse of a wind turbine tower? A community-owned wind-farm project in Daylesford, Victoria – which has around 1900 participants, many of whom are from the area – paid an artist to paint a mural representing nature. Mountain peaks surround the bottom part, while a giant female figure soars up the main part of the wind tower, as an eye-catching picture that graces the landscape. Better still, the money from the power it generates is given to charities.

Other colourful wind turbines can be found in Germany, painted by artist Horst Glasker in a variety of beautiful hues and designs. The brightest one is reminiscent of an old time barber’s pole, but with many glowing colours for the stripes instead of just red and white.

The cost of theme parks

While everyone loves theme parks, the cost of power for rides and other attractions is enormous. In the US – theme park heaven – Disneyworld in Florida realised they can save on the cost of the power needed to run their many attractions by installing a near-by solar plant with 48,000 solar panels. This could get really ugly, except for Mickey Mouse coming to the rescue. The plan for this solar farm reportedly goes in circles – three of them, in fact. These represent the famous mouse head and ears, thus fitting in aptly to the Disneyland setting. Disney has signed a 15 year lease to purchase the energy from it for their theme park.

Since a project completed way back in 1998 saved them 46 million kwh in power, it’s obvious that they use a great deal of this commodity.  In fact, theme parks the world over could surely follow their lead and save on their costs as well as reducing their carbon footprint.

Innovative design in shape

It’s not only colour that transforms drab objects, but shape. Solar panels don’t have to be rectangular shapes on the roof of the house. In Dubai, innovative design means that solar installations look rather like palm trees. Not only can visitors enjoy the shade while resting on the bench below, they can also charge their phone or get a Wi-Fi connection from these truly ‘smart’ trees. Since it is claimed that mobile phones will charge much more quickly when plugged into the smart trees, no one should be able to complain about their devices’ batteries running out of juice. Visitors to Dubai who have not heard about this innovation may be forgiven for staring at locals who plug their devices into a man-made tree.

Another amazing design in wind power technology is the wind turbine designed to look like a street tree. Instead of a windmill type attachment with three long blades at the top, each branch of the tree contains a smallish green device meant to represent the leaves of the tree. These ‘leaves’ have tiny blades that can turn no matter what direction the wind comes from and can take advantage of even a small breath of wind. And being so small, the blades turn silently. This approximately 9 metre high, wind turbine tree is found in north-west France but will soon be installed in Paris. Even though it isn’t very shady for a street tree, it’s successful for its intended purpose; to generate power.

Innovation doesn’t stop there

Another design innovation of a different type is the solar powered garage built especially for the owners of an electric car. It makes enough electricity to power the car and contains the charging station, thus saves using power generated by fossil fuels to recharge. Who knew a garage could be so clever, as well as looking good to boot?

Solar design innovation hasn’t stopped at cars. A solar plane recently proved it could fly both day and night on solar power, without using a drop of other fuel! While it can only carry one person – and the wings are longer than a Boeing 747 – it’s a jumping off point for further research and improvement. As far as looks are concerned, its design is slender and graceful due to a long wingspan. Those wings contain 17,000 solar cells, which are used not only to power the motors, but also to charge the lithium batteries that provide power during the night hours.

Go to sea on solar

Similarly, sea-going vessels can also use solar power to reach their destinations. The largest solar powered catamaran ever built has circumnavigated the world using only solar power generated from the 512 square metres of solar panels installed on its deck, which give it a wing-like appearance that is far from unattractive. These panels also power the two batteries below deck that weigh almost 10 tonne each.

People have used wind power for many years to power sea-going craft of various kinds.  When the wind stops, however, so do the boats – unless the tide carries them forward. It’s important to have another source of energy that can be used once the wind is no longer a viable source and that’s when solar power comes into its own.

These amazingly innovative designs are the forerunners of what is sure to come in solar and wind power. Every invention has a starting point. The ordinary car could never have come to fruition without the invention of the wheel – not to mention all those other small components that are so essential to keep it running. So it is with alternative sources of energy.  The good news is it’s the ordinary person, as well as designers and artists who think outside the box, that are working to save our world from the often ugly inventions that are nevertheless so very useful.

Renewable energy

Printable solar cells

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Paper thin solar cells on paper can now be produced with inkjet printing. This will allow solar cells to be much cheaper and be placed almost anywhere.

It may still seem far fetched to imagine our houses powered by solar cells in curtains, blinds and windows. But some scientists say it will eventually be possible to print photovoltaic elements on a huge range of surfaces and materials – creating cheap, printable solar cells in place of more costly silicon panels.

Printable solar cells offer exciting potential for generating electricity more flexibly and at a lower cost, wherever the sun shines. In the traditional silicon solar PV we see on people’s rooftops, the most costly component is the silicon material that holds the photovoltaic elements. Silicon is abundant and non-toxic, but it is expensive to process into wafers for traditional rooftop solar PV panels.

New developments in printed solar cells could allow solar energy to be cheaply and easily converted into electricity almost anywhere, including walls, windows, roller blinds, shade umbrellas, and even tents.

The idea of using your tent to harvest power on trips to the beach or a camping weekend could really propel glamping (glamorous camping) to the next level, with free on-site electricity powering life’s little luxuries!

towards commercially viable printable solar cells

Currently, printable solar cells have only reached about 10 per cent efficiency, whereas traditional silicon solar PV cells are closer to 25% efficient. The life span of the printed solar cells is also only six months. So researchers are working to increase their efficiency, weather-resistance and life span to reach commercial viability.

In late 2014, a consortium from Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Melbourne and Monash University announced that their printable solar cells were on the verge of commercialisation.

A team of 50 chemists, physicists and engineers – working together since 2007 – hope to see printed solar panels used in low-power applications within the next few years.

CSIRO photovoltaic expert Dr Fiona Scholes explained the team hoped they could achieve a similar power delivery at a significantly reduced cost.

“Silicon is falling in price, but think about how cheap plastic is. The ink is a negligible cost, so the raw materials are very cost effective. This is a big step forward because you can put these cells anywhere you can think of. Also the consistency is better than silicon – they work well in cloudy conditions,” said Dr Scholes.

The CSIRO’s Scholes said although silicon cells are still on top of the market, she predicts printed solar cells will be “a key part of the renewable energy mix”. While the team can’t produce the cells commercially itself, a number of manufacturing companies are stepping forward.

How are printable solar cells made?

At the moment, printable solar cells are made by printing a specially developed ‘solar ink’ onto plastic film, similar to the way plastic bank notes are printed.

Whatever the method or the materials used, the solar principles remain the same:

  • Incoming photons free electrons and send them scattering through the solar cell’s material before being channelled into an electrical circuit.
  • The efficiency of the solar cell depends both on how well the material captures light to set these electrons free, as well as how effortlessly the electrons travel through the material.

Researchers such as the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium are developing processes for printing solar cells onto all manner of surfaces using various printing, dyeing and spraying techniques. The solar cells can be printed straight onto paper-thin, flexible plastic, as well as onto steel, and can be made semi-transparent for building cladding and windows.

Sustainable design

Ecocapsules off the grid

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Ecocapsules allow off the grid living in comfort and convenience, with in-built solar power and wind power generation facilities.

Not everyone likes camping out due to the discomfort, hassle and plain inconvenience that is inherent in living in a tent, cooking over an open fire and having to pack and unpack every time you move. Ecocapsules may change their minds. These tiny homes away from home have everything you could need for comfort and convenience; a kitchenette, dining facilities, a shower, a toilet and a double bed. They even have room for storage.

Living off the grid

Better still, you can live off the grid due to built-in solar panels with a 2.6m2 power rating and a wind turbine that generates 750 watts and feeds a 4200 Wh battery bank.

The capsules have also been designed to catch and store rainwater which is then filtered so it’s suitable for human consumption. The grey water – from the shower and washing up – is recycled to flush the toilet in those models that don’t have a composting toilet.

Uses for the ecocapsule

These amazing capsules of technology allow people to live off the grid for up to a year. They weren’t originally made just for campers. In fact, they may be too expensive for that, seeing many people go camping as a way to take a cheap holiday. However, the capsule is so handy and even (dare we say it) cute, that many people may just want one for leisure and pleasure. They have many other uses though.

  • They can be used in remote locations for research facility accommodation to save building housing. Instant good accommodation means that essential research can go ahead without delay in waiting for accommodation.
  • They can be used for emergency housing, whether the emergency springs from a tornado, flood or other causes.
  • They can be used for a humanitarian action unit, offering clean and comfortable accommodation to those who need it.
  • Tourist lodge accommodation in eco-sensitive areas. Using this type of accommodation means there is no need to disturb wildlife or flora by taking electricity into the area. And no need for plumbing or other buildings to go up.

Where the ecocapsule can be used

The ecocapsule has been well-designed with insulated walls, making it suitable for use in very hot or very cold climates. It can be used in remote locations where there is no access to power, as it generates its own with the wind turbine and solar panels.

However, rainfall is needed to keep up the water supply, so perhaps in the middle of the desert would not be the best place to live in it. With that being said, the latest water-saving and recycling techniques have been put into place. The units now use a composting toilet instead of the flushing one. Nice architects based in Bratislava are still looking for another solution since composting toilets do have a few disadvantages.

This miniature caravan look-alike that is full of modern technology can sit on top of a high-rise building just as comfortably as on the top of a mountain, or on the beach. It can be installed in the jungle, by a river or on the side of a road, in a park or on private property. This ecocapsule can be used just about anywhere accommodation is required. Speaking of eco-technology, passive cooling is also used by having a window that opens in each side so the breezes can waft through, right across the double bed.

Just how big is an ecocapsule?

It looks tiny, but that is partly due to the design.  In fact, it offers 8 square metres of living space, with half of the double bed folding to create a walkway, or a place to sit at the table. There is storage at each end, with one being accessible from outside. Even more storage space is utilised by the netting shelf above the bed, ideal for clothing and bedding. Windows and the door lift up, also saving room, just in case space at its destination is at a premium.

So how does it get to its destination?

The ecocapsules will fit into a container for shipping, should they need to be deployed overseas, or they can be towed in a trailer to their destination. As yet, there are none with wheels that can be towed like a caravan, but these are in the planning stages. The addition of wheels is sure to increase their applications as they can then be towed behind the family car. It may be just the thing to fit into a tiny, suburban backyard when Nan and Pop visit the kids for the holidays if they don’t have a spare room available. With everything you could possibly need for a nice, long stay, why waste money booking into holiday accommodation? All you will need is sun, wind and water to manage very nicely in this tiny home for two.

Sustainable design

Inspirational Green Homes

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French Pop-Up House
French Pop-Up House

Energy permeates every aspect of our life at home. It’s there at a flick of a switch and it’s something we can easily take for granted.

Yet, we’re all becoming increasingly aware of how we can use energy wisely to help make a difference – to bring down our own costs, as well as to tread more lightly on our land.

It can start through small changes, such as choosing renewable energy – instead of fossil fuels – and replacing expensive halogen lighting with LED lighting.

And we can change the way we think about energy in our homes. Passive, active and present – a sustainable lifestyle can be adapted, as well as created. Innovative design principles and examples are being tested, tried and proven. Some are barely commercialised yet they are the spark igniting our imagination, propelling us towards more sustainable lifestyles.

Habitat will showcase some of these examples here, as well as surface exciting – and practical – new design elements as they emerge.

Self-sustained homes – saving money and the environment

All over the world, families are building self-sustained homes which not only produce enough energy, but have more than they actually need.

These structures are, essentially, power plants in their own right, with the ability to put energy back into the local electrical grid and get paid for it. And while some are high-end designs, there is also a renewed focus on how we do green design more cheaply.

Norway’s energy producing house

Norway is pushing beyond net-zero-energy buildings – which create roughly as much as power as they use in a year – with a new ‘plus’ type building that creates twice as much energy as it needs and uses.

Built for the Research Centre on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB) the house combines clever design and technology to become a mini-generator. Gains through passive design – using thermally efficient materials and positioning the building to maximise solar gain, while reducing overheating in winter – are amplified using new technology that tracks and improves energy usage.

It’s no secret – lessons for the average build

The main secret of this energy ‘plus’ efficient building is the careful planning and calculation.

One relatively easy step you can take is ensuring the roof is built for optimal sun absorption. Also, the house shape should encourage cross-ventilation, including allowing for a natural updraught to let air out of the building.

France’s Pop-Up House

Another example of a prototype house that produces zero electricity bills – yet is inexpensive to build and maintain – is the Pop-Up House, in France.

It’s exactly as it sounds: a house built in as little as four days, with the help of a screwdriver and nothing more.

This prefabricated house – built by French architectural firm Multipod Studio – is lightweight and recyclable, as well promising to be inexpensive and extremely efficient to run. The below prototype – which at the time of writing cost €30,000 – was being revised in preparation for going on the market. Remarkably, the home requires no heating, due to the way it is insulated and is in accordance with the Passivehaus standard of energy.

Renewable energy

Renewable energy for renewable times

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As entrepreneur Richard Branson recently said, “We need to stop treating Earth like we have a Planet B. To do this we must support companies and individuals who seek innovative solutions to our most challenging problems, and in turn use business as a force for good.”

In the past, burning fossil fuels was often considered the best and cheapest way to create electricity, but such fuels are finite and when all things are considered, may not be the most economical. Most people these days realise the range of reasons why we should explore and develop alternative sources of energy.

Renewable energies such as hydro, wind and solar power use resources that are constantly replenished, and are far less damaging to human health and to the environment than using fossil fuels to create electricity. Using alternative, cleaner sources of power will provide significant health benefits for generations to come, and because renewables release far less greenhouse gases, they play an important role in limiting climate change.

Even though coal is still being used worldwide, other resources such as hydro, solar and wind power are rapidly becoming more popular as the technology improves and becomes more efficient. As these alternative energy sources become more established and widespread, they also become cheaper.

Solar power

According a report by The International Energy Agency in 2014, “since 2010, the world has added more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity than in the previous four decades. Total global capacity overtook 150 gigawatts (GW) in early 2014.” This growth is driven by a number of factors, including solar power becoming become more cost-effective and efficient.

According to US analyst Ray Kurzweil, solar power will be able to supply global energy needs on its own in just two decades or less.

Naturally, solar panels produce electricity while the sun is shining and therefore rely on energy storage in other systems to be able to continue to provide electricity at other times. The development of simpler and larger home-storage battery systems, like the Tesla Powerwall can further help the uptake of solar power systems.

Wind power

Likewise, energy from the wind is also becoming more popular worldwide and is estimated to generate up to 18% of global power by 2050. In July 2014, Denmark produced enough electricity from wind to meet its domestic needs, as well as to export its excess energy to neighbouring countries. Australia has a number of wind farms built in Tasmania in the prevailing westerly winds, the roaring 40s, which are a world class wind asset.

Bluff Point Wind Farm
Bluff Point Wind Farm

How is Australia Using Wind and Solar Energy?

The notion that renewable energy will one day replace fossil-fuelled energy production is an idea that’s gaining momentum.

In Australia, wind power is currently the “cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy”. As of July 2015, Australian Government figures showed that wind energy in Australia generated around almost 4% of total primary energy consumption.

Additionally, according to ARENA “Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world.” More than 2 million Australian households have solar hot water systems or rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

According to the Clean Energy Council, approximately 40% of South Australia’s power came from renewable energy during 2014 and South Australia was completely powered by renewable energy between 9.30am and 6pm on 30 September in 2014.

King Island Clean Energy Milestone

Momentum Energy is proudly owned by Australia’s largest generator of clean energy, Hydro Tasmania. Hydro Tasmania embarked on a clean energy journey more than 100 years ago. It is now Australia’s leading producer of renewable energy.

Hydro Tasmania’s record as a leader in clean energy continues with the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP). KIREIP’s main goal is to increase renewable energy generation and reduce dependence on fossil fuels on King Island. KIREIP uses a range of renewable and conventional technologies to reduce diesel consumption for power generation on the island. The hybrid power system is comprised of wind, solar, battery storage, flywheels, dynamic resistor technology, dynamic load control and the use of biofuels.

This combination of technologies means KIRIEP can securely and reliably generate power for King Island, even during lulls in the wind or when the sun isn’t shining. When conditions are right, KIREIP delivers 100 per cent of King Island’s power from renewable sources, reducing the cost of providing electricity to the island.

This project gives a glimpse of the possible future of renewable energy – where renewable energy can work with enabling and storage technologies in a hybrid off-grid power system.

If you’re interested in learning more about this project, you can read more about the King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project here.

 

Renewable energy

Denmark – a producer and exporter of wind power

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Proactive wind power generation

Through clever planning, Denmark produces enough electricity to meet its domestic needs, as well as to export its excess energy to neighbouring countries. The Guardian reported that on over the course of just one day – July 9, 2015 – Denmark produced 116% of its national electricity demands through wind power.

As another plus, it was able to export  the excess electricity to Norway, Germany and Sweden. Once domestic consumption had reduced during the early hours of the morning, Denmark’s wind power was producing 140% of its national electricity demands.

While this was an unusually windy day in Denmark, it demonstrates that a country powered by renewable energy is a possibility. According to the Danish Energy Agency, Denmark produces renewable energy through solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, biomass and biogas.  Denmark’s official website, Denmark.dk reports that wind power contributes 28% of the country’s electricity on average, and that this figure is expected to grow.

Proactive renewable energy focus

Denmark has long had a strong proactive focus on renewable energy in recent years, supported by both the country’s voters and its politicians. The Guardian also reports that Denmark has a strong new builds program with new onshore and offshore wind farms planned that will more than double the country’s current renewable energy capacity. Denmark aims to satisfy 70% of its energy requirements with renewables by the year 2020. By 2050, Denmark plans to meet 100% of its energy needs with renewable energy.

How has this public support come about?

To assist public support and acceptance of onshore wind farms, the government introduced requirements on wind farm operators in 2008. These requirements included compensation from the wind farm operators to home owners if the value of their house decreases after a wind turbine is erected nearby. The community also receives an allocation of electricity directly from the local wind farms and at least 20% of the project’s shares are required to be offered to local residents, giving them the possibility to be financially invested in the project.

The Danes have also chosen to give subsidies to companies that use renewable energy and increase their energy efficiency. This policy is different from other countries that employ surcharges and aims to encourage energy efficiency creativity and monetary savings.

A more renewable future

Momentum Energy is part of the Hydro Tasmania group, Australia’s largest generator of renewable energy. We believe in a more sustainable future for Australia and are pleased to see how this can work in practice.

Technology

Home batteries are set to shake down power bills

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The revolutionary new Tesla Powerwall home battery will be available in Australia next year. What does it do and how will it benefit you?

Never having to worry about paying an electricity bill is a thoroughly appealing prospect. Reducing both your electricity bill and your carbon footprint is doubly appealing. Never having to suffer the inconvenience of a power outage again positively triples the appeal. And it appears this win/win/win solution is fast approaching, at an upfront cost accessible to many Australians.

In April this year, Tesla Motors, makers of the Tesla Model S electric car, announced the launch of Tesla Energy – a suite of high-capacity batteries designed to store electricity. Of the three models, each aimed at different levels of electricity use, the one for use in the home is the Tesla Powerwall. There is also one for business use and a very large capacity battery for use by utility companies.

What sources of energy can the Powerwall work with?

The batteries can work with wind and solar electricity systems as well as the traditional power grid, storing energy during times of peak production or when power from the grid is cheapest and allowing its dispensing later. This eases the problem of intermittent supply when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, or providing back-up power if the grid goes down.

Solar battery storage isn’t revolutionary, however the cheapest lithium-ion battery storage system currently on the market costs around $AU15,000 including installation. At a price of $US3000 for a 7kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Tesla has significantly reduced the price of solar battery storage, without compromising on quality. What’s more, the Powerwall comes with a 10-year warranty, something not available from any other battery company, and it’s compact, easy to install and maintenance-free.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley has said it expects the arrival of the Powerwall will catalyse the solar energy sector and lead to a rapid take-up of battery storage by Australian consumers.

From powering cars, to powering homes

Similar to the battery used in the Model S electric car, the Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that stores energy from solar panels or load shifting from the electricity grid to power your home at times when your solar panels aren’t providing enough electricity, for example, in the evening. It also provides a backup electricity supply in case of power outages.

Powerwall consists of the lithium-ion battery pack, a liquid thermal control system and software that receives dispatch demands from a solar inverter. The compact unit is mounted on a wall and integrated with the local electricity grid, or connected to the home’s solar panels to harness excess power and allow homeowners to draw energy from their own reserves when needed.

Closing the gap between supply and demand

In most homes, electricity use is higher in the morning and evening than during the day, when solar energy is plentiful. Powerwall closes this gap between your renewable energy supply and demand and makes your home’s solar energy available when you actually need it. It also reduces demand on power plants and reduces carbon emissions (and your power bill by avoiding peak rates). In the event of an outage, Powerwall automatically switches to battery power.

While home batteries are already available on the market, the current generation are bulky and can be expensive to install and maintain. Powerwall, on the other hand, is completely automated, compact, easy to have installed by an electrician and requires no ongoing maintenance.

Powerwall, due to arrive in Australia in early 2016, will be available in 10kWh weekly cycle and 7kWh daily cycle models. Both will offer 10-year warranties and sufficient energy to power the average home during peak evening hours. For larger than average homes (with more than four bedrooms), multiple batteries can be installed together. The wall-mounted Powerwall can be installed indoors or outside, however in areas where temperatures tip over 43C indoor installation is advised.

It’s estimated that 75 per cent of all electricity produced in Australia is generated by coal, with an average cost per household of about $2050 annually. Installing a Powerwall could potentially cut this cost by half, even without solar power.

While it’s ideal to pair the Powerwall with solar panels, households with no solar power still benefit from load-shifting, as the battery charges itself during the night when electricity is cheaper and discharges during the day when peak rates apply.

Preparing for Powerwall

Homeowners who already have solar systems can get their systems upgraded to support a Powerwall. Anyone planning to install a solar system prior to the Powerwall launch in Australia should ensure their system is Powerwall-ready in preparation.

There’s a crucial financial factor in getting a Powerwall-ready system now – the government-run solar energy financial incentive scheme. If you install a solar system now, it is subsidised by a government scheme worth about $700 per kW installed. The scheme is currently in place until at least May, 2017, but the dollar value will drop as the market for solar rises.

An investment in the future

The Powerwall  will launch in the US priced at $US3000 for the 7kWh model and $US3500 for the 10kWh model (excluding inverter and installation), with higher capacity models available for business use. As at August 2015, there was no definitive word on pricing for the Australian market but it’s expected the fully installed price for a 7kWh battery will be approximately $6000, so you’re looking at a relatively low initial investment in terms of ongoing future savings. Similarly priced systems from other major companies, including LG, Samsung and Bosch, are also expected to launch in 2016.

Tesla Motors, based in California, was named after eccentric genius and pioneer of electrical engineering, Nikolai Tesla, and has a stated mission to become an energy innovation company enabling zero-emission power generation. With the launch of Tesla Energy, the company is taking another vital step away from the use of fossil fuels and towards a sustainable energy future.

“Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy,” Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk told Bloomberg. “We’re talking at the terawatt scale. The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy structure of the world.”

Musk predicts 80 to 90 per cent of Tesla Energy sales will be in the large Powerpack system, designed to help major utility companies store power to reduce the need for expensive facilities that only run during times of peak demand.

Tesla’s $US5 billion ‘gigafactory’, currently in construction near Reno, Nevada, will drive down the cost of the company’s energy storage products even further through mass production. More such factories will be necessary in order to assist the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, Musk said.

More power to Tesla, and other companies leading the way.

Renewable energyTechnology

Free Power: Harness Electricity From a River

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Free Power: Harness Electricity From a River

Going off-grid has never been easier, especially if you live near a river. Just throw a Mobile Hydro Rotor into the water, and you can run a refrigerator, water pumps, a small computer or appliance 24 hours a day. What’s more, the benefits to third world countries could be huge.

The Mobile Hydro, a simple, floating rubber ring made from recycled materials, with three rotors inside, is moored to a river bank and uses the natural swirling of the water to turn its blades. A generator captures the energy and transfers power back to the bank, where a battery and transformer kit awaits.

However, it’s not just a great idea for camping trips to keep the drinks cool and the food fresh. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity – and this major energy poverty crisis within the global energy system has its epicentre in sub-Saharan Africa.

In a special World Energy Outlook report last year, Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director, IEA, said more than 620 million people in sub-Saharan Africa – around two-thirds of the total population – live without electricity.

“Only one country in the region – South Africa – consumes even as much electricity as London,” she said. “In addition, nearly 730 million people in sub-Saharan Africa rely on hazardous, inefficient forms of cooking – using wood, charcoal, dung or agricultural residues as fuel in polluting cook stoves, and causing huge numbers of premature deaths each year.”

Empowering people as well as their appliances

So the German team of engineers who invented the Rotor, Andreas Zeiselmair and his colleagues Markus Heinsdorff and Christoph Helf of the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, Mobile Hydro, have bigger plans for their creation – empowering people as well as their appliances.

Electrical supply plays an important role in improving the living conditions and economic growth of developing communities. For lighting, supply of small loads, such as refrigerators and water pumps or charging of mobile phones, there is a very real basic need in all remote, rural areas of the world. Yet existing solutions to these problems are very expensive, due to high running costs and complicated high-tech machinery.

The German team says harnessing hydro energy has potential for these remote, low income communities in poorer parts of the world where on-grid energy is either not available or costs are too high. They estimate about one fourth of the 1.3 billion people living without electricity live near rivers, and even though small hydro, wave or tidal energy sources are still too expensive as a mainstream supply of power, these people could invest in a small Rotor, rather than importing fossil fuel from distant places for their generators.

The Rotor was developed, analysed and tested by Zeiselmair at the Hydromechanics-Laboratory under the supervision of Dr.-Ing. Christoph Rapp in 2011. The design was originally used for wind turbines and driven by lift force but also runs underwater. This vertical axis water wheel can produce electricity with an integrated dynamo/generator up to 2 kW, depending on flow velocity produced by the river.

Portable, continuous power for isolated areas

Although it doesn’t offer huge energy potential, the Mobile Hydro is portable and provides continuous power, 24 hours a day, unlike some renewable energy sources that don’t generate energy when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. Without 24-hour power, daily life  in remote communities in poorer areas like Sub Saharan Africa and Latin America is restricted and  daily productive work just ends with sunset, Andreas Zeiselmair told a Falling Walls Conference last year in Berlin.

“It’s (the Rotor) put in a river, fixed at the embankment on both sides or even only on one, and through the flowing water, the rotor turns in the middle and drives the generator which finally produces electricity,” he told the Falling Walls Conference.

“We can feed it into a simple car battery; the whole system is kept really simple, and use it for different appliances, which can be light bulbs, charging mobile phones, TVs or small computers,” he said. “Our goal is to set up a certain business, and to promote also local businesses which can use our product to give services…our goal in total is to empower people and to replace the diesel generators in use now.”

Depending on the river flow, it takes about two and a half hours to recharge the battery.

“The main target is isolated areas without grid connections. In a few steps, local energy providers, small business holders, farmers, and households can produce electricity at minimum costs,” Zeiselmair said.

This year, the team is carrying out pilot projects in Latin America, East Africa, and India. Their initiative was founded in 2013, and, based on the successful Empowering People Award of Siemens Foundation the team further developed their idea with the vision to substitute diesel generators through eco-friendly alternatives and the ambition to supply electricity to rural areas.

An award-winning initiative

Mobile Hydro was a national winner in the 2014 James Dyson Award. The design is not yet commercialised, but intellectual property was secured through registration of the design and technical concept. Market entry, including series production, is envisioned for this year, 2015.

In 2013, the Mobile Hydro won the German Recycling Design Award and successfully reached the awards stage of the finalists of the Empowering People Award of the Siemens Foundation in Nairobi, Kenya. In May 2014 the technology was successfully presented and awarded with the Innovation Award of the European Small Hydropower Association (ESHA) in Istanbul, Turkey.

Renewable energy

Quick facts about wind power

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When was the first wind turbine built?

Windmills have been used around the world for hundreds of years. The first recorded examples of wind energy being harnessed to make electricity include James Blyth’s 1887 invention to light his Scottish holiday home, and Charles F. Brush’s automatically operated wind turbine built in 1888 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brush’s turbine, with its 17-metre rotor, provided his home with power for twenty years. Wind power has since emerged as one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources in the world.

How does wind power work?

Many places around the world experience windy weather regularly.

Electricity is generated when the wind spins the blades of a wind turbine, which in turn spins a magnet inside a coil of conductor (called a generator). A collection of wind turbines is known as a wind farm. The wind turbines are connected by underground cables to a power substation, where the low-voltage electricity produced by the turbines is converted to high-voltage electricity for distribution into the electricity grid.

The European Wind Energy Association has a good interactive tool for learning more about how a wind turbine works.

Is wind power a viable source for electricity demand?

Today, many highly successful on-shore and off-shore wind energy projects exist around the globe.

Countries around the world that are currently considered leaders in wind include the UK, China, Denmark, Spain and Portugal.

When talking about being a “leader in wind”, there are a number of different statistics that are important, such as total installed capacity or percentage of growth, and penetration as proportion of the country’s energy supply. Due to these different measures, it is difficult to say that any one country or state leads the world in wind power.

For example, over the course of just one day, Denmark’s wind power produced 116% of its national electricity demands, with excess electricity exported to neighbouring countries.

Additionally, according to figures published by WWF Scotland, wind turbines in Scotland generated enough electricity in October 2014 to give 3,045,000 homes in the UK all the power they needed – and much more than Scottish homes would have required.

Read more key statistics of world wind energy from 2014 and the Global Wind Energy Council’s Global Wind Report 2014.

What about wind power in Australia?

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Bluff Point Wind Farm

In rural areas Australia-wide, windmills have been used for many decades to pump bore water or even river water for various uses on farms, so harnessing the power of wind is not new.

Many parts of Australia, particularly southern regions, are quite windy, making them suitable for hosting wind turbines. Momentum Energy is proudly owned by Australia’s largest generator of clean energy, Hydro Tasmania. Hydro Tasmania’s operational wind farms are built in the prevailing westerly winds, the roaring 40s, which are a world class wind asset. Read more about Momentum Energy’s renewable energy.

The Clean Energy Council reports that wind power is currently the cheapest source of large-scale renewable energy. Wind power currently accounts for almost 4% of the total Australian primary energy consumption, but contributes more than 30% of Australia’s total renewable energy production.

More than 70 on-shore wind farms are operating in Australia and more are planned or under construction.

How big are wind turbines?

As of September 2015, the wind turbine with the largest capacity in the world is the offshore Vestas V164 8MW turbine installed at the National Test Centre for Large Wind Turbines in Østerild, Denmark. This video (courtesy of Bloomberg TV) gives an idea of the view from the turbine and stunning behind-the-scenes footage.

The 10 biggest turbines in the world

While some wind turbines can indeed get very large, the wind farms in Australia have wind turbines with an average 2MW capacity.