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Six things we learned: Death spirals and Tony Abbott’s sense of timing

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It’s been another big week for exciting renewable energy technology developments, and dismal energy politics. Here is a wrap over how conservative politicians and commentators continue to ignore the reality, and how business is finally embracing it.

Tony Abbott has a great sense of timing:

It was only on Tuesday that Tony Abbott – the former prime minister and leader of the Opposition within the governing Coalition – boldly claimed:

“You can’t run a steel plant on renewables, you can’t run an aluminium smelter on renewables and if we want to keep all of these heavy industries we have got to have reliable baseload power, and the only way you can do that is with coal, or with a gas.”

Cue the owner of the biggest steel plants both in the UK and now in Australia, the billionaire businessman Sanjeev Gupta, who declared the very next day that you can run a steel plant on renewables and that is exactly what he intends to do, with solar, wind, pumped hydro, battery storage and some co-generation.

What’s more, it will probably cost him one-third less to do it that way.

Gupta, having bought the ageing steel plant in Whyalla, the city that Abbott said would be turned into a ghost town by carbon pricing and renewables, has now struck a joint venture with Ross Garnaut’s Zen Energy, with a bold vision to build renewables all over the place, particularly for large industrial users, and usher in a green energy industrial revolution that Abbott says he will cross the floor of the house to try to stop.

And other big energy users are following suit. Zinc refiner Sun Metals and Telstra are investing in large-scale solar, and Nectar Farms is going to use wind and battery storage to power what will be Australia’s biggest green house for vegetables. Even Brisbane Airport is putting in 6MW of mostly rooftop solar.

Abbott’s views are still very much Coalition policy

But for all Abbott’s ignorance and stubbornness about energy, and his determination to stop the future, there is actually no discernible difference between what he says about energy and that of the remainder of the Coalition, which hasn’t touched his climate and energy policies since he was turfed from office two years ago.

In Victoria, Opposition leader Matthew Guy vows to tear down Labor’s 40 per cent renewable energy target, the legislation for which passed the lower house this week.

In Queensland, Tim Nicholls, the head of the LNP, says if he wins power in the state poll next year he will also tear up Labor’s renewables plan, and vows to directly fund a new coal-fired generator in north Queensland.

That idea got the full support of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who says such a plan could probably get funding from the federal government’s $5 billion Northern Australian Infrastructure Facility.

“I’ve been talking to Tim Nicholls, who I hope will be the next premier of Queensland, about the potential for a new advanced high-efficient low-emission power station,” Turnbull said on radio 4BC.

“Obviously there is a substantial amount of funds in our Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund, that is available for infrastructure. A power station ticks that box. It is definitely infrastructure.”

What did Barnaby Joyce just say?

And there was deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, also up in Queensland calling for a “coal-fired” worker’s utopia, and – not for the first time in the past week – seemingly very upset at the prospect of being stuck in a lift, busting for a pee.

He was on the Sunshine Coast predicting “absolute chaos” in Queensland this January, forgetting maybe that the state has no large-scale renewables in place yet (a lot are being built), and this summer will rely almost entirely on coal-fired generation, of which it has plenty.

“It will work like this,” Barnaby says. “Round about January, end of January mum and dad are going to come back from being up the beach with the kids. Mum will turn on the air conditioner and get ready to go back to her work and dad will get ready to go back to his work.

“The schools will fire up and businesses will start and all turn on their air conditioners and the traffic will build up. And if we don’t get this equation right, the power goes off. It will trip and the power goes off.

“That means the lifts stop, and if you’re in a lift you’ll be stuck there for a while. The operations at the hospital will stop. That means the traffic will go into total gridlock. There will be absolute chaos.”

So many questions to ask, particularly about the traffic and its links to electricity. But anyway: Barnaby, if you can’t rely on the youngest fleet of coal-fired generators in the country, with excess capacity, what can you rely on? Better carry an empty bottle.

The Australian’s war on renewables is just silly and mis-informed:

There is no doubt that the Coalition politicians seem to rely upon, and are egged on by, the horrible misinformation in the Murdoch press.

The Australian has been running up a head of steam in the past few weeks, provoking those howls of outrage from Abbott and his mates in the right wing don’t-think tanks, through a series of articles that grossly inflate the level of subsidies to large-scale wind and solar farms.

Economics writer Adam Creighton got the ball rolling with a figure of $45 billion of subsidies from the renewable energy target, ignoring or unaware that nearly all wind and solar farms are signing contracts that attribute no value to the certificates they will own. Hence, little or no subsidy.

He followed it up a week later with a similar story about a solar farm in Moree owned by a Saudi billionaire. But it wasn’t until David Crowe repeated the same story, and linked the billionaire’s son with the singer Rihanna that it got to be the front page lead.

Alas, both stories were hopelessly wrong, because Crowe was also unaware that Moree had signed a contract with Origin Energy that have given away the certificates for free.

Crowe has tried to row back on the story in several attempts – including an effort to turn this error into yet another “exclusive” and announce that the solar farm had in fact signed a PPA – an event reported in his own paper 18 months earlier.

But the fundamental point was ignored. The Moree solar farm – like nearly every other new wind and solar farm – will deliver electricity to consumers at a far lower price than the average cost of the coal dominated grid.

So yes, the RET mechanism is essential to get this and other similar projects built, but the actual subsidy is minimal. (Even though that doesn’t stop big energy retailers charging for it, but that is another story we will address next week).

The Australian‘s war on climate is also misinformed:

It was revealing to see how the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell got in a muddle over climate change, and more specifically the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean.

Mitchell was full of praise in his Monday media column – titled Climate hysteria hits peak stupid in hurricane season – of the paper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd, who Mitchell said was the only person who had “gotten the facts right” about Hurricane Irma.

“This paper’s environment editor, Graham Lloyd, stuck to the facts in a lengthy piece last Monday. Lloyd pointed out Irma had formed in a part of the Atlantic with unusually cool ocean surface temperature averaging 26.5C, about two degrees less than usual for such an intense storm.”

So let’s check that claim. It only takes about 5 minutes of research to discover this is total bunkum, and we invite readers to go to the US Hurricane Centre website and look at its advisory notices for Hurricane Irma to check for themselves.

Readers will see that the centre caught sight of the storm on August 30, when it had formed in the comparatively cooler waters described by Lloyd – just like many other tropical storms – as Irma was classified then.

But then look at the entries from the next day, and the following days; that’s when it saw the hurricane change direction and move over unusually warm waters of 29°C – the sort of temperatures that would, and did, create a hurricane of enormous intensity.

This is a typical technique for climate deniers, and renewable objectors too: Take one point of data and invent a fake narrative. Talk about hysteria.

For good measure, Mitchell then rehashed all the usual right-wing talking points against renewables, getting the target of the current policy wrong, declaring that the Tesla battery was only good for a few minutes, and swallowing coal lobby myths about the number of coal-fired generators being built around the world.

cost stack change.

At least most consumers understand what the issue is:

Mitchell, like the Murdoch media, Abbott, Joyce and the rest of RWNJs, say the high electricity prices are all the fault of renewables, despite yet another study they commissioned coming back with the wrong answer.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims – who will deliver a report to the Coalition government this week – gave some insights into what he will say and noted that “green” policies had contributed the least amount to price rises – significantly less than network gold plating, wholesale price surges and increased retail margins.

Sims acknowledged that the wholesale price jumps were the result of bidding practices that stemmed from too little competition, which meant the fossil fuel generators that dominated the market were free to push up prices as high as they dared – and it was all perfectly legal.

“Such behaviour is clearly allowed under the rules,” he noted, which will satisfy no one. Either the rules need to be changed or, better still, introduce more competition to the market – and the best way to do that is through more renewable energy, and through more dispatchable generation; and certainly not by getting the big players to keep coal-fired generators open longer or even building new ones.

The business community understands that – hence the push by the likes of Gupta, Sun Metals and Telstra into solar farms and other renewables.

Households and consumers get it too. Hence the record number of rooftop solar installations. And they understand that the combination of solar and storage offers the best chance of cutting their bills in the future, as a new survey by the Climate Council underlines.

It’s called the death spiral. We’ve been writing about it for years, even when electricity prices were half what they are now. As the biggest utilities continue to try to fleece consumers, and push grid prices ever higher, the consumers will eventually wake up, and start to seek their own solutions. That will be solar and storage.

Then the politicians who have helped to intensify and accelerate the price surge and the death spiral will have a real problem on their hands.

Figure 1 FY19 Baseload futures, Source: ASX, ITK comments

Figure 1 FY19 Baseload futures, Source: ASX, ITK comments

But don’t expect this mob to find a sensible solution. In fact, expect them to do more things that are really stupid. Just look at their attempts to force Liddell to stay open, and what happened to the energy market prices when they did. This government has a unique ability to push up prices. Read David Leitch’s excellent analysis for more.  

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  • JIm

    Where are the sensible people on Abbott’s side of politics and what are they doing?

    • Peter Campbell

      I tend to think that the only people ‘on that side of politics’ are the ones who don’t mind Tony’s company. That is why I was not optimistic about MT.

      • JIm

        Senior conservatives in the US are openly advocating a carbon price. Here they all seem to be minions who must follow the Minerals Council / IPA line. If there are independent thinkers they are keeping quiet.

    • Mike Westerman

      I don’t think you would term childish vandals as ever being sensible – they only know how to destroy, to ensure nothing innovative or creative survives.

  • Joe

    ‘The Death Spiral’…of Tony 2.0 and The Libbies.

  • Mark W

    Forget about the death spiral of the grid. It isn’t ever going to happen. Quite apart from the 35% and growing proportion of people who live in MTUs that can never be energy self-sufficient, the significant portion of the 2M business premises that are also in MTUs or don’t have the land area to be self-sufficient, the millions of houses that nominally have the roof area to be self-sufficient but will never be because they have trees they want to keep or don’t have enough roof facing in the right direction, the grid has significant benefits even for people like me who *are* self-sufficient through solar generation.

    I have installed a solar/battery hybrid system that over the course of the year will earn about $1000 from an 11c feed-in tariff as opposed to the $2500/year it would cost at a 25c import tariff if there were no solar. It cost $49,000 to install, so in fact ROI is extremely marginal indeed even though the batteries cycle dry almost every day. That $49k breaks down to about $16000 for “20kWh” (actually 15.4kWh when you factor in 90% max DoD and 10% of losses and the lies on the nameplates.) of battery, $14,000 for 14kW of panels plus frames, etc. (after STCs), $5000 for a couple of 5kW inverters, $7k for BOS including 140m of underground cable and about $7k to pay 3 guys to drive 400km and spend 4 days installing it. I am not complaining about the ROI. It is what I expected, and I like being a bit of a trailblazer.

    HOWEVER – the previous design for the same property was fully off-grid, and it was far and away more expensive than the hybrid version above. For a start, it would have required about three times the usable battery to ensure enough autonomy to not have to start a genset more than 10-15 times a year. I would also have had to have at least 50% more inverter capacity and maybe a few more panels to be able to serve peak loadings that now just suck a few cents worth from the grid when they happen. AC motors also produce a lot of transient and long-term VARs which now just come from the grid connection rather than out of the inverters’ kVA rating. And I would have had to have a genset where now I don’t think I will bother because the amount of time when the grid is out and the sun is not shining is not enough to warrant it.

    In other words, “cutting the cord” would have cost an extra $40k or nearly doubled the cost, while at the same time reducing reliability since now inverter failure causes power failure to at least a degree. Against that you have a grid connection which costs maybe $10k to install and a few cents a day to maintain. That grid connection has a very high ROI compared to what I would have to replace it with.

    And I am *allowed* to run a genset all night. In the suburbs most people would not. Nor would we want the massive spike in air pollution every time it got cloudy that mass cord cutting would imply.

    The conversation we should be having should not be this mythical death spiral. It should be about how to charge people for the very significant utility they get from a grid connection. It needs to be pulled out of the price per kWh and billed separately on a daily rate at something representative of the cost of its provision.

    • AndrewATA

      You still get a death spiral if consumers reduce consumption while staying connected to the grid. Eg by installing solar panels and more efficient appliances and switching things off more often.

      Even if they don’t go off-grid you can still get a death spiral.

      A good solution is have more people replace end-of-life gas appliances with efficient electric alternatives. And electric vehicles charging overnight on a timer. That increases the grid’s throughput, counteracting the death sprial. Not so good for the gas grid, but gas can’t be made clean, and isn’t as essential as electricity.

      • Mark W

        Disagree. What you potentially get is a massive transfer of money from those who can’t install solar to those who can. That’s unfair but it is not a death spiral. To be absolutely clear, my grid connection charge would have to go to $6000/annum to make it economic to cut the grid connection. If I had an airconditioner that would be even higher. Right now about 60% of your electricity bill goes to pay for the grid. Even if battery prices dropped by another 75% from here it would *still* pay me to keep my grid connection, although it would possibly not pay me to *get* a grid connection. And I have that choice. Most people realistically never will.

        What is clear is that what the grid provides to many consumers in the way of utility is shifting from one of pure energy supply to one of efficient energy management. The pricing of the grid will have to adapt to meet that change. The 40% plus of consumers who will always have to rely on the grid for most of their energy supply will make sure that happens.

        • Steve159

          Mark W, your figures are based on current reality. Look at the bigger picture, with solar prices dropping each year, as well as batteries. The death spiral has validity, insofar as when the ROI of solar with batteries is clearly ahead of grid connection (within a reasonable period, say 3 to 5 years), then people will vote with their wallets. Simple as.

          • Mark W

            It is not a question of ROI of solar+batteries vs a grid connection.

            It is a question of ROI of solar+batteries hybrid vs ROI of solar+batteries off-grid.

            If anything, the economics has moved *toward* the hybrid design in the last 12 months, not away. Any policy change to reduce the current unfairness will enhance the case for off-grid, but I doubt very much whether enough over-rotation will happen to make it a realistic proposition.

          • Steve159

            “It is not a question of ROI of solar+batteries vs a grid connection.”

            Really? Let’s go to the extreme – solar + battery are zero cost. How many would stay on the grid?

            The article, and the idea of “death spiral” is valid. You’ve simply used present figures to assert your view, without taking into account the decreasing cost of solar + battery.

            Before you reply, answer the question: how many would stay on the grid if their solar + batteries were zero cost.

            Perhaps you’re unaware that we’re headed towards “God parity” at which point even if coal-stations or any generator were to supply their output at zero cost, it’s still cheaper to go off-grid.

          • Mark W

            Actually, if solar and batteries were free it would still pay me to keep my grid connection, because the grid gives me access to a market for my excess energy.

            There is a potentially plausible scenario in which it would pay someone to disconnect from the grid. For example, if connection charges were $1,000/annum, feed-in tariffs were 0c/kWh and batteries could be bought for about $250 per *usable* kWh installed then it would be about a line ball choice for a household that uses 30kWh/day.

            But as of now, batteries are more like $1,000/usable kWh installed and the feed-in tariff is such that the grid connection actually *pays* me about $1,000 per annum. Paying good money to get a negative income stream seems pretty easy to rule out as an economic choice to me.

          • Diego Matter

            “a household that uses 30kWh/day” – is very untypical. I’m sure you could reduce your usage easily by 50%. Always cheaper than your oversized system.

          • Mark W

            Not that atypical. But the same math works just as well for a household that uses 15kWh/day or one that uses 50. At any level of usage it pays to keep the grid connection because it both saves you money and earns you money. Not to mention in increases overall system reliability and you don’t have to redesign it if you decide to add an airconditioner.

          • solarguy

            Mark, I’m curious, you have 14KW of PV, which can produce up to 56KWh/ day in winter, yet you don’t have an air conditioner ?
            Would love to know what your using your power on.

          • Mark W

            Appreciate the non-judgemental nature of the question and happy to share. For a start, the system powers 2 houses on the same title which each use about 16kWh per day. While there are some energy efficiency touches to the houses (e.g. LED lights and a solar HWS on one and a heat pump on the other) I would not say either house is particularly energy-efficient. (Why bother. Panels are cheap and total roof space is huge).

            Neither house has an airconditioner because it is away from the coast in SEQ and you just don’t need aircon at night. Good ventilation means no aircon really required in the daytime either, although I am very tempted to put one in my office.

            By far the biggest load is computers. Between them 2 desktops and a laptop use about 11kWh per day. And yes, I am happy with that and it is necessary as far as I am concerned.

          • solarguy

            Ok, I’ve got the heads up on the power. But 11KWh for computers sounds very excessive. Perhaps it’s time for some new more efficient ones.

          • Mark W

            Quite apart from the fact that there are no “new more efficient ones”, why? I installed solar panels and batteries so that I could consume as much electricity as I want to without paying (or causing emissions) at the margin. I have achieved that. I also have a fat rig that runs 24×7 crunching climate models and chemical structures for new medicines at zero marginal cost. I’m very happy about that.

            I could of course update to the latest processor in the same line but it would simply crunch 20% more numbers with the same power usage. Or I could drop an Enphase AC battery into the system for about the same amount of cash and solve the non-existent problem that way.

            The whole system as currently set up gives me 32kWh per day at an average cost of about 14c/kWh over assuming 15-year life of batteries. If I used half of that power, all I would achieve is raising the average cost of power to about 27c/kWh and I would be barely better off for all my penny-pinching. If on the other hand I went beresque and started consuming 42kWh/day, then my average cost of power would only rise to 15c/kWh. I’d be worse off by about $630 per year for my profligacy. (Incidentally I could choose to take that cost right now by installing another LG Chem battery or I could pay it over time in reduced export by day and increased import in the wee hours. The decision is slightly in favour of take it over time at current battery and power prices, but I expect the battery to become more attractive soon.)

            In other words, I have very cheap power and almost no economic incentive to give up any utility whatsoever to reduce power consumption.

            Getting back to the grid defection theme, if I disconnected from the grid the extra infrasturucture I would need to install would mean I would have very expensive power indeed (more like 30c) and I would need to be very mindful of consumption because once I used what is available there would be no more.

          • Steve159

            As before, you’re basing your argument on current prices.

            “if I disconnected from the grid the extra infrasturucture I would need to install would mean I would have very expensive power indeed (more like 30c).”

            And when (not if) that drops to 15c/kWh, you still going to be arguing it’s better to stay on the grid, and give away money?

          • Mark W

            Who is giving away money? My export more than covers the cost of grid connection. It earns money rather than costing money. Even if storage were free it would pay me to keep that grid connection.

            The calculation is not sensitive to current or future pricing, since a negative number is always smaller than a positive number. The argument is based on current connection tariff structures. They could be changed to make it worth ones while to disconnect from the grid but I think that much of a change is highly unlikely.

            Once again the choice is between off-grid and hybrid. The old thinking of on-grid vs off-grid became a false dichotomy the moment hybrid became easy.

            Panels are a given, storage is currently a marginal proposition but will become a given, and whether or not you get a grid connection is decided by the comparison of NPV(capital cost of installing the grid + recurrent connection cost – export earnings) = X and NPV(extra capital cost required to upgrade from a hybrid to an off-grid installation) = Y. If XY then on a purely economic basis you would choose an off-grid solution – but you might still want to keep the grid for reliability and flexibility even though it is costing you money for that flexibility and reliability.

            It is almost impossible for X>Y to happen for people with a current grid connection, since capital cost of installing the grid = 0 and even the measliest feed-in allowance can net you about $1000/year. I expect X will always be negative and Y will always be positive for people currently connected.

          • solarguy

            Hell who’s talking about cutting the cord, that would be madness. your making money on FIT and so am I.

            I designed my system to cut the cord if the bastards got really nasty, but to my surprise they increased the FIT from 6.1 to 12.5cents. Laughing even more!

          • Mark W

            Indeed. My situation exactly. Yet people are still talking about large-scale grid defection even in this very forum, where people are more knowledgeable than average. Easy hybrid has made that a non-issue because now we can have our cake and eat it.

            I am a load defector – guilty as charged. I expect this trend will force a rise in connection charges and a drop in energy charges to compensate the poor sods who can’t install panels. It is interesting to calculate how far the balance might shift. In 2015, average household electricity consumption was about 15.7kWh. I am told that the energy charge has about a 60% component for the maintenance of the electricity grid. Assuming $350 a year current connection charge and they shift charges from energy to connection to make it a wash for the average household. at 25c/kWh energy charge that would mean their annual bill is now approx. $350 connection and $1450 usage. Shift all the grid component into the connection charge, and that would become $1250 ($3.40/day) connection charge and $600 (10c/kWh) energy usage. I consider this the worst it could get for you and me. In reality the shift will be far less drastic. Would I cut the cord even at that level? Hell No! The guy using 4kWh/day who already has a 10kWh battery would though.

          • Mark W

            Further to the above, what would I do If I were allowed to be the evil genius setting tariffs to (a) be fair to people who cannot install solar and (b) still make sure people who have a choice stay connected and love it?

            I would base the connection charge on guaranteed feed-in capacity.

            That way, people in units without solar could get a cheap connection (say $200) with zero feed-in allowed.

            People like me on SWER lines capped at (to take a wild example) 6.1kVA at 0.8pf (5kW) export might pay $800/year. (up from nothing – we are in Ergon territory)

            People like my brother who has 3-phase and 15kW feed-in allowed might pay $2100/year connection charge. (up from $400).

            Energy charges would drop to make it revenue-neutral for the grid operators and retailers.

            People in units would be happy because their electricity bills would go down.

            People like me would grumble a bit but have no incentive to change anything.

            My brother would grumble more, but his 60 panels are exporting over $500/year even on the mingy Origin FIT (which would go up to 11c immediately I become king), and he would need 100kWh of usable battery and even more panels and another 3phase inverter to go off-grid anyhow.

            Grid operators and retailers would be happy because all us hybrid exporters would be feeding VARS into the system locally and shaving the peaks so they would not need to upgrade capacity for years if ever and their grid is paid for – AND their average cost of energy would go down.

            Only the generators would be really unhappy, but screw ’em.

          • Mike Westerman

            I think if I was the evil genius I would force all landlords to install solar and all carparks. I like a feedin charge – it should just be a a small percentage of exports.

          • Mark W

            Why just landlords? Or do you actually mean all landowners?

          • Mike Westerman

            I’m assuming all other landowners will have the brains to do it. Landlords seem the laggards, including the government owned housing.

          • neroden

            You have in fact laid out an excellent recipe for the grid to maintain its business. The only question is which grid operators will actually do so. (Ergon probably will — they seem forward-thinking)

          • solarguy

            $3.40/day connection charge would make it close for me as I couldn’t make that much every day of the year, umm……………
            more panels perhaps. But I don’t think that would happen, in the future more and more people will be doing the same thing as us and if they made it that difficult to use our cheap power, they loose.

          • Mark W

            Agree 100%. That would be a nuclear option and I don’t think people are that dumb.

          • solarguy

            Some people have very small loads so could go off grid with a small system, but their the exception and would be insane to do it in the current situation. However most don’t understand that their 3 or 4KW system and small battery, just won’t cut the mustard and they have no idea how much power they actually consume either.

          • neroden

            So the problem with raising the fixed connection charge and cutting the per-kwh charge is simple: the people with very small loads then have a *strong* incentive to go off the grid. And it’s easier for them. So they do so. This is part of the death spiral.

            It’s critical for the grid to *retain urban customers*. To do that it has to stay *cheaper than the alternative*. To do that, it has to (a) get rid of the really expensive parts of the grid, i.e. the far rural parts, and (b) not price gouge.

            I’ve watched some grid operators do the right thing and I’ve watched some do the wrong thing. It’s really a choice on their part.

          • neroden

            Your computer energy usage is ridiculous. I have two high-powered workstations which use less than that. Next time you buy desktop systems, buy the systems with the *low power chips*, the ones normally used in laptops. You’ll cut your computer power usage by half, for maybe a 10% increase in price.

          • Mark W

            My computer energy usage is what it is and it is as I like it. I build my own systems from the ground up and am very aware of the low-power chips and their limitations. If I were going off-grid, then I might have to make some sacrifices though. As it is, my computer energy comes at a marginal cost of less than $1/day. Happy to pay that.

          • neroden

            The grid in the countryside is very expensive to maintain. As long as the grid operator needs to pay for that, they will *have* to keep jacking up prices until the death spiral happens.

            Now, Ergon Energy has figured this out and is paying very rural customers to go off the grid, because it’s cheaper to buy them off-grid systems than to keep them on the grid!

            Once these distant rural parts of the grid are removed, the costs of maintaining the grid become much more reasonable. At that point, it’s just a question of whether the grid operator is price-gouging or not. If they’re not, the grid will remain a good deal. If they are, it won’t.

      • Joe

        Your comment on gas is interesting. My sister is building a new home in South Western Sydney. This new residential estate has all the building lots automatically hooked up with gas. What is going on ?

        • Goldie444

          Who is paying the builder to put the gas on?

        • Mark W

          Maybe because having the ability to install a gas stove automatically raises the value of a dwelling?

          Could also be a bit of old thinking in that gas used to be the cheapest way to heat water. I’d say solar panels and a heat pump beat gas now (but not by all that much) but that is a solution that has only been available for a few years and these things take time. It’s only a couple of years since Brisbane stopped making gas hot water mandatory for any dwelling that could reasonably use gas.

    • Joe

      Sure some people may elect to go off Grid and the incentive is their with the mega price rises of late. But the Grid is a two way street. People draw from the Grid and solar homes export excess production back into the Grid. With 1.7 million solar homes already (more to come) and home batteries starting to take off, the Grid will still be in play. VPP’s and the much touted Demand Management, won’t they need the Grid as well.

      • Mark W

        Good point which I didn’t even touch on. Those very people who have the choice to cut the cord (like me) are the most strongly incented to *not* cut the cord. The people who will potentially get the worst shafting are exactly those who do *not* have the choice. But since those people amount to 40% of consumers, I am very sure it will not happen that way or at least not for very long. The ACCC, where it has had the opportunity to step in has already made some rulings based on a neutrality principal between those who buy electricity and those who sell it from their premises. (e.g. the 11c FIT in regional Qld). I expect this to extend to more equitable splitting between usage tariffs and connection tariffs.

        • neroden

          Well, good for the ACCC. This may help prevent the death spiral. I think the death spiral is essentially caused by allowing market manipulation to run amok.

          In places where the grid operators are adapting to solar, wind, and batteries, the grid is proving its value.

          In places where they’re “fighting against the tide” like King Canute while trying to use government and heavy handed regulations to protect their position, *that* is where the death spiral happens. It’s been interesting in the US because I can watch one utility company go all in on solar and wind and batteries and do great — while watching the neighboring utility company fight everything and attempt to throw up regulatory roadblocks, and face a death spiral.

          The death spiral is a *choice* by utility companies.

    • Mike Westerman

      Mark I think the point is that a death spiral if it happens will simply represent further policy failure. The very high UOS cost in most people’s bills could be considerably reduced by embedded storage at feeder level and incentives to electrify transport. MTU’s could be fed with low losses from nearby suburbs of individual houses. Most households would have 1kWh/day in recharging, with about the same for public transport servicing their area. It would make the network more viable technically and financially, as well as avoiding the large “independence” cost you write of.

      • Mark W

        I do not disagree with most of what you wrote. Except that there could be complete policy failure forever and still nobody would be incented to disconnect from the grid.

        BTW MTUs are already being fed with low losses from nearby houses with solar. That’s how AC coupling works. 6GW and counting.

        • Mike Westerman

          I’d love to see all their electric BBQs feed in the evening from locally stored solar 😉

          • Mark W

            Amen to that. 🙂

        • neroden

          I am actually pretty sure you’re wrong: if there is *complete* policy failure forever, people WILL disconnect from the grid.

          I mean, look at what happens in countries where the grid only works about 8 hours a day. *Everyone* who can go off-grid does so, no matter how expensive.

          We can certainly hope that there will not be complete policy failure forever. But if the national government aggressively protects market manipulators, while throws roadblocks in the path of utility-scale solar, wind, and batteries, etc., it is possible.

          • Mark W

            Not sure what countries you are talking about. In Australia the grid is pretty reliable and is in little danger of becoming anywhere near as unreliable as an off-grid system. Also, complete policy failure forever works in favour of the people who have solar panels, because it is subsidising people with panels at the expense of those who don’t. Nice money if you can get it. Bad for MTU dwellers, but they are trapped on-grid anyhow.

            If anyone is throwing roadblocks in the way of utility-scale wind and solar, it isn’t working. That is being installed at nearly the full capacity of the industry. But at any rate that is a side issue. Whether the grid users who sell energy as a business (i.e. the generators) source their energy from the sun, wind or coal has no impact on the grid defection equation.

            The rise of embedded generation and storage will to some extent make the generators an endangered species, but far from encouraging grid defection, this development is predicated on pervasive grid connection.

      • Steve159

        Agree, the death spiral in practical terms (e.g. for those in units) can’t / won’t happen, but the process (of more leaving the grid) will force policy change.

        Straw / camel’s back, that sort of thing.

    • Tom

      I’m building a house soon. I’m going to have about 7kW of solar (a single row X 28m long – might be more than 7kW depending on panel efficiency), mounted at 55 degrees to maximise winter generation at the expense of summer generation. I’ll have a small battery – at least 10kWh. The house will be energy efficient – in-slab hydronic heating and domestic hot water both heated by either heat-pump or by a wood fire, and ducted evaporative air-con for summer. Also a “Powerdiverter” or similar to super-heat the hot water before sending surplus energy to the grid.

      I’ll be on-grid, but it will be off-grid ready. All I’d need to do is bump my batteries up to about 25kWh and add in a small back-up generator.

      I love the grid, but I don’t trust it.

      • Mark W

        Pretty much my view of the grid exactly. Well, actually I am possibly closer to stockpiling tinned food and ammunition than you are. My original plan was to go off-grid, but when hybrid with EPS became feasible, well I just worked out how much tinned food and ammo I could buy with the difference and stayed on the grid. I wanted to go the Qld equivalent of 55 degrees, but inter-row shading issues made it more sensible to buy a few more panels and have a significantly lower tilt.

      • Mark W

        PS. I must look into this powerdiverter thing. I have no really suitable dumploads. I’ve set the heat pump HWS to the highest temperature it will go, but there is still power going to waste on sunny afternoons. It’s interesting to watch the COP on the heat pump drop as the water temp goes up. From cold it heats from ambient to 35 degrees at about 10 degrees per hour, but the last 5 degrees from 60 to 65 takes almost 2 hours. I suspect it would be more efficient to get that last boost with a simple heating element.

        • Tom

          Thanks for the “heads up”. I’ll have to check with the electricians and/ or manufacturers that whatever brand I get can handle really hot water.

          My plan is to only heat it up to 60 degrees unless there is surplus solar, in which case it will heat it up to 80 degrees before exporting. That way I don’t drain the battery and import from the grid in the early morning to heat up the hot water after the morning showers when it would have heated up anyway in a few hours time from the rooftop PV.

          Apparently this is not an unusual setup.

          There are several brands that do the same thing – I’m not sure if Powerdiverter is the best or not.

          • Scottman

            Tom, I am using a very adjustable home made power diverter. 2 person, 5kW PV adjusted to heat if below 56 cease at 60 between 1000-1600 on tube SHWS which is doing most of the heating. On poor solar days (not many here near Port Macquarie) not much heating by either system which means a boost (ouch) to an acceptable temp 55 is fine. Cost about $300.Good luck & don’t get conned.

          • Tom

            Thanks Scottman.

          • solarguy

            Are you talking 1000-1600 litres?

          • Scottman

            10 am to 4pm

          • solarguy

            LOL, I’m ex army and I would have understood if you had stated 1600hrs.

        • solarguy

          That’s the thing with heat pumps, max temp only 65, where an E.T. SHW will max out at 80.

          • Mark W

            A very pertinent point that I did not know at the time I decided to not load my roof and use up space with a solar HWS. Not sure if it would have made a difference, but definitely a point in favour of solar HWS.

            Do normal tempering valves handle 80 degrees OK, or are there special requirements for tempering down from 80 degrees?

          • solarguy

            A 20 tube E.T. SHW collector will only take up 2.1sqm of roof area, where 1.5KW of PV takes up 10sqm, which is what is required to power a heat pump.

            Plus if you have unused south roof space a pitch frame can point an E.T. collector north, so you can maximise north facing roof for PV.

            Normal tempering valves won’t last long with 80c, so must use a solar rated valve.

          • Mark W

            Thanks.

            Your figures seem to be pretty close, except that I estimate that with my climate and the panels I have on, it only uses 7.2sqm of roof space to run the heatpump in August. There were a number of considerations that made me choose a heat pump (not least that it was $1000 cheaper). In the end installing the heat pump made no difference to the number of panels I installed and there is space left over, so area was not (in the end) a consideration although it certainly might have been. Simplicity and an experience with the other house where a faulty tube in the HWS burst and nearly emptied the rainwater tanks were probably the main considerations. Also, the solar HWS on the first house does not keep up with demand in cloudy weather or when guests are in residence in winter so needs boosting a lot, and just when you need all your panels too. That said, when that solar HWS carks it, we’ll probably replace it with another solar HWS since the structural analysis and tilt frame are already in place and I expect improvement in the technology will have solved the problems with the current unit.

          • solarguy

            What type of SHW do you have now and what state do you live?

          • Mark W

            It is a 16-year-old Rheem unit and the state is Qld. It has about 6 square metres of collector and I curse it every evening in my prayers hoping it will die so we can install something better.

          • solarguy

            When my house was built 12yrs ago it came with a Rheem SHW system as part of the deal. Worked ok in the warmer months, but was crap from late April through to mid September. By chance I meet up with a guy who was the state manager for Apricus, who switch camps to Edson Solar. I told him of my Rheem disappointment, and he gave me a demo of their evacuated tube system and in mid winter on the central coast NSW. This one single tube had been in a box and was dead cold, but within a half hour the heat pipe bulb was scorching hot after being in the sun. In fact it was hot enough to burn me and instantly vapourized a spray of water, I was sold!

            Since 2008 I have been an Edson dealer and have never looked back. Call me on 0411 729 336 and I’ll give you more info. My system last year only needed boosting 8 days total!

          • Mark W

            You never know. I may do that. Sounds a lot better than what is in place right now.

          • Scottman

            Hi SG, my E.T.SHW max out at relief valve temp via SR208C controller limits.

          • neroden

            Usually OK for house heating in a well-insulated house. (You’re talking Celsius, right?) I’ve realized there’s no reason for super hot water except for dishwashers and washing machines.

      • john

        Look at CS panels 375 which would give you 10 kw system

        • Tom

          I’ll look into it – they look good. I don’t really need 10kW, but if the price is right, then why not?

      • Julie Mulhauser

        I too am in the process of building a house soon!

        We have used the Passive House Planning Package to model the house performance and optimise it prior to building. The resulting house needs nearly no heating and cooling. It will need only very small imputs at the temperature extremes using a small split system. Because the house is so well insulated the timing of the imputs aren’t critical ie you can cool BEFORE the peak on a hot day.

        The energy efficiency is achieved through siting, triple glazed windows (with adjustable shading) ,insulation of the floor including footings, walls and ceiling. The house is airtight and this is tested during the building process. As result – a heat recovery ventilation system is used to ventilate the house.

        Only electric appliances are used due to the internal pollution from gas or wood burning. Water heating is via an efficient heat pump.

        You need a certified Passive house builder as the insulation installation and air barriers are critical but otherwise it is not rocket science!

        It has been a long journey. The state of knowledge on this subject is woeful in Australia.

        I wouldn’t advise heating a slab as it is almost impossible to insulate it well enough so that you don’t get big losses from the perimeter and also into the ground. Interior carbon monoxide is a serious problem – so I would also advise against wood heaters or gas inside.

        • nakedChimp

          slab insulation is no magic.. either XPS/EPS or foamglass is used. The latter is definitely termite proof, doesn’t rot and has a pretty good track record in north Europe. Just hard to get by in Far North Queensland.
          But as you guys down there can even get triple glazed windows, foamglass should be no problem for you.

          PS: make sure your HVAC system does recuperate the heat/cold from the exhaust of your building, which will make it more efficient.

          PPS: any system that is mechanic/electric in nature needs maintenance. When you get stuff like ceiling units/etc.. make absolutely damn sure that it can be maintained/cleaned easily – I haven’t seen commercial units for Oz yet that do this. So be aware.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            The windows, thermally broken footings and HRV all will come from Germany. A company in Canberra – Laros – imports all these products and has done lots of projects here in Oz.

            In Victoria there is a company- Carbonlite that makes the walls, ceilings and suspended floors in their factory. They have done interstate projects.

            Our Passive House assessor is British- we were connected with him by Maxa Design. Their principal Sven is also an assessor. I ended up designing the house as the ESD consultant we used with another architect knew less than I did- which is worrying! I also attended green building conferences and some of the things being suggested were just plain wrong!

            The HRV sits in a cupboard so no worries about maintenance and I have designed the roof to have safe access, as I have learned after many years with PV panels and rainwater collection – you have to plan for regular maintenance.

            I have put the Sanden HWS heat pump in a sunny courtyard and the ac pumps on the shady side.

            Geometry is another key to efficiency- you try and get a shape that minimises the surface to volume ratio. Cross ventilation is also planned but you can also exhaust heat using the summer bypass mode (ie doesn’t recover the heat via the enthalpy wheel).

            We have also planned for battery storage and electric car changing in the future.

            Much of the knowledge for achieving these high efficiency houses comes from social housing in Germany and the U.K. America has its Houses for Humanity that use all the same technology but doesn’t use the PHPP and verification which gives more certainty as to the outcome but does add to the cost.

            The main trick is to find a suitably qualified builder or someone keen to learn.

          • nakedChimp

            Ok, you seem to have the bases covered.
            One more thing I came across that doesn’t seem to be the basic of what most people do these days..

            https://buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-001-the-perfect-wall

            The only error in that article is that they put the vapor barrier on the inside of the insulation for hot/humid climates. On other parts of their website they don’t make this mistake, but everything else written there is sound.

            PS: yeah, I’m in hot-humid for 4-6 months a year, so that is important to me 😉

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi Naked Chimp, the Building Science website is great but they do have an emphasis on spray foam insulation which is not a good idea!

            The European model is to build a vapour permeable (to interior and exterior moisture) but air resistant construction with no thermal bridges and window shading appropriate to latitude.

            Put simply – it is a wooden framed construction, insulated with carefully installed bulk insulation and continuous ‘smart’ building wraps on the inside and outside.
            The services are in their own layer on the inside, having penetrated the building once. The exterior cladding is detailed as a rain screen – which means it has air behind it to prevent moisture getting in and allow the wall to dry if it does. The space is insect and vermin proof. The joins between floor and wall, wall and ceiling are all gasketed.

            The windows are carefully installed and everything is tested to make sure it is airtight.

            The main difference between a cool temperate build and a tropical build is that an ERV is used instead of an HRV. The ERV removes humidity from the incoming air. The same companies make both. The Laros website has links to reputable manufacturers. There is a company in Oz calling their unit(that uses ceiling space air – a terrible idea!) an HRV. This is deliberately misleading.

            The big difference between us and Europe is that we need to detail the slab edge against termites. It is done by putting Termimesh on the outside of the slab edge insulation and then covering the whole lot with fc sheeting to prevent UV damage. This edge is left exposed to aid visual monitoring for termites. Alternatively you can have a suspended insulated floor cassette.

            A couple more points that differ from how we are used to building.

            Reflective insulation is terrible. Not only is it not vapour permeable (the construction needs to be able to dry in BOTH directions) but it also increases the risk of something called interstitial condensation which causes insulated walls to rot from the inside.

            The best window is not as good as the worst wall and is also very expensive compared to building a good wall. The placement and quantity of windows are critical. Window areas are smaller than what we are used to but used where there is a benefit from light, view and ventilation not a default of walls of windows.

            Shading of the windows and house is dependent on latitude. The closer to the equator the more horizontal shading of ALL aspects is needed. Adjustable shading is added to the North and PERMANENT shading to the east and west (ie garage, shed, carport, covered outdoor area, vegetation – however need to be careful not to increase termite risk and shading of roof panels etc). There should be NO east/west windows regardless of latitude.

            Any other questions happy to help!

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi! I have posted a bit more info for you twice but seems to disappear – maybe not on topic but I think efficiency is the first fuel! So maybe DM me! The best resource I found was a Norbert Lechner text.

          • Mike Westerman

            Yes I’ve noticed that too Julie but your posts come thru in the notifications! I think in the hot tropics with moisture load 23-25g/kg even spray on insulation will need an external vapour barrier to prevent it saturating. In Kuching it is so humid that all surfaces that drop below the dew point at any time become covered in fungus, so for sure a wall space with any type of insulation without a vapour barrier on the warm moist side and the insulation on the cool dry side would become waterlogged and rot.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi Mike, I think it is the Naked in the reply that is the problem!

            I am not advocating spray on insulation just plain old bulk insulation! The building wraps are smart in that they reject bulk water and air but allow water vapour to pass both ways. The problem with reflective insulation is not only doesn’t it allow this to happen but it actually makes a cold surface. The smart wraps and tapes are available here – it’s the way they are installed that is critical.

            The Lechner book is American but fantastic. I got my hard copy online and I’m not sure if you can get it as an e book. There is so much misinformation out there and pretty much everyone wants to sell their product as the solution!

            Happy to help anyone avoid the long frustrating journey we have had!

            In addition to explaining all the principles he gives an abbreviated approach based on US climate zones. These were very useful. I just found the zone that best fitted ours by using the BoM heating and cooling days which are often independent of latitude and latitude for the shading strategies.

            In the tropics as you know – rain, moisture, high winds and termites are biggies. Making an extensive covered area around the house is a great strategy especially if screened to give a comfortable outside transition space. Reflected heat gain is also managed by this approach.

            Anyway I ended up designing the house myself. It is the best efficiency house the UK assessor has seen – if I can do it I reckon anyone could do it using the principles!

            The problem is getting a builder with the attention to detail needed. There are now TAFE’s offering courses and I think anyone sufficiently motivated to learn something new could do it with the online resources.

            The specialised equipment such as the windows and HRV or ERV need to be imported- as I mentioned Laros in Canberra do this. They also give advice but charge for it.

            You don’t need to use the PHPP and certification process as it adds to the expense but gives you reassurance. You could use just the PHPP software to check the design and forgo the certification. I can give you the UK assessor ‘s details if you want.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            the Building Science website is great but they do have an emphasis on spray foam insulation which is not a good idea!
            The European model is to build a vapour permeable (to interior and exterior moisture) but air resistant construction with no thermal bridges and window shading appropriate to latitude.
            Put simply – it is a wooden framed construction, insulated with carefully installed bulk insulation and continuous ‘smart’ building wraps on the inside and outside.
            The services are in their own layer on the inside, having penetrated the building once. The exterior cladding is detailed as a rain screen – which means it has air behind it to prevent moisture getting in and allow the wall to dry if it does. The space is insect and vermin proof. The joins between floor and wall, wall and ceiling are all gasketed.
            The windows are carefully installed and everything is tested to make sure it is airtight.
            The main difference between a cool temperate build and a tropical build is that an ERV is used instead of an HRV. The ERV removes humidity from the incoming air. The same companies make both. The Laros website has links to reputable manufacturers. There is a company in Oz calling their unit(that uses ceiling space air – a terrible idea!) an HRV. This is deliberately misleading.
            The big difference between us and Europe is that we need to detail the slab edge against termites. It is done by putting Termimesh on the outside of the slab edge insulation and then covering the whole lot with fc sheeting to prevent UV damage. This edge is left exposed to aid visual monitoring for termites. Alternatively you can have a suspended insulated floor cassette.
            A couple more points that differ from how we are used to building.
            Reflective insulation is terrible. Not only is it not vapour permeable (the construction needs to be able to dry in BOTH directions) but it also increases the risk of something called interstitial condensation which causes insulated walls to rot from the inside.
            The best window is not as good as the worst wall and is also very expensive compared to building a good wall. The placement and quantity of windows are critical. Window areas are smaller than what we are used to but used where there is a benefit from light, view and ventilation not a default of walls of windows.
            Shading of the windows and house is dependent on latitude. The closer to the equator the more horizontal shading of ALL aspects is needed. Adjustable shading is added to the North and PERMANENT shading to the east and west (ie garage, shed, carport, covered outdoor area, vegetation – however need to be careful not to increase termite risk and shading of roof panels etc). There should be NO east/west windows regardless of latitude.
            Any other questions happy to help!

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi Mike,

            Just a few more things!

            The Passive House strategy aims to SEPARATE the inside from the outside unless the climate outside is OK to have inside- which is when you open the windows – otherwise the air comes in via the ERV in your case, HRV in mine.

            Double glazed low e with insulated frames would be enough in the tropics. Aluminium is not good enough! The Passive House windows have amazing seals – just like your car door. They use something called tilt and turn hinges, so that they can lock slightly open at the top or swing inside to be fully open. This means you need to put the window coverings on the outside. We are going to use external venetians. They come double glazed as well as triple glazed.

            The house exterior is light to reflect heat.

            Orientation is to the North. To improve cross ventilation the house is narrow from front to back compared to a cooler climate.

            You could elevate the structure on steel but the floor etc are timber framed insulated cassettes and use fc sheet to seal the underside.

            Ac’s can run fan only. This is what we will use instead of ceiling fans.

          • nakedChimp

            I could read those replies via Disqus in my mail.

            The point about having the vapor barrier on the outside of the insulation in hot-humid climates is that the dew point will be reached WITHIN the insulation material.
            That’s why the Americans ‘like’ spray foam – it’s water proof – no condensation in the bulk material can happen.
            Try the same with mineral wool and you get a disaster.

            My wall will be built up like this:
            fibre cement sheet – air gap – vapor barrier – mineral wool – concrete

            The fibre cement protects the insulation from radiation and rain/wind, the vapor barrier keeps the moist out of the mineral wool as good as possible and the concrete will sit on the inside, working as structure and thermal mass. As it’s porous the mineral wool can potentially dry to the inside if needed. No gyprock or other crap on the inside. I like the look of blocks (Townsville theatre is a nice example).
            Concrete blocks will be glued together with PU and filled with scoria concrete, if I get my way.
            The fibre cement sheeting will be mounted via topspan profiles. No problems with Termites for any of these materials.

            The only problematic zone for me is the slab insulation.
            Soil here is about 20-22 degC all year round. Not sure yet if I want to decouple or more exactly how much worth that is to me, as I’d only use foamglass if I could.

            Windows are another matter, nothing I’ve seen up here – down to Brisbane – will do what I want.
            Currently I’m designing my own mounting system, which insulates as good as I can manage and will go for double glaze IGUs and have most of them fixed.
            Which reminds me to use my account on one of those companies to be able to download some CAD data to work with..

            Ventialtion/etc. all via central HVAC system based on that GSWT I linked to earlier. Recuperation of heat/cold from exhaust air and dehumidification.
            Built out of car radiators or something similar so I can maintain it easily and clean it.

            Roof as flat as possible (2-3 deg slope) and filled with solar panels.. will probably manage 20kWpeak aligned east/west.
            2 storey to get it as compact as possible.
            Arrangement of all rooms around a central atrium that contains kitchen/dinner-room/stairs 2 storeys high.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi Mike, sorry for the double ups – a bit new to the system!

            I think it is worth looking at the Passive House system as the software gives you the certainty that it will work!

            Their insulation system is proven and straightforward- it is the way it is done that is different.

            As I explained the interior of the house is separated from the exterior. The ERV unit is about the cost of a central HVAC but the ducts are much smaller. Using the ERV you won’t need an HVAC! You can use a couple of ac splits instead for the extremes and also use them as fans.

            Thermal mass plays less of a role in a Passive House than we are used to. The whole object is to get all the interior surfaces at a consistent temperature so the interior is finished with plasterboard not high mass materials. It relates to a measure that predicts human comfort called the Mean Radient Temperature Gradient.

            I used the principles in the Lechner book with regard to shading, siting, geometry etc for the specific climate zone and latitude but the Passive House building technique to achieve our really high efficiency.

            The Passive House windows have no parallel with ordinary double glazed windows because of their insulated frames and amazing sealing. As I explained – because they are expensive and the weakest thermal element you just use them judiciously. You do need to plan for cross ventilation via opening windows.

            moisture is kept out of the insulation by the smart wraps inside and out – the taping of the joins is critical as is gasketing of penetrations.

            The exterior cladding is done as a rain screen.

            The German Passive House website has a database of projects around the world that you can look at their details and performance

            I don’t know if this helps – any more queries happy to help!

          • nakedChimp

            Split aircon systems are not made for maintainability.. I got two and tried to clean them once.. it’s a pita. Also, the copper/aluminium/galv steel combination in there corrodes happily in the humidity they create.

            A central HVAC system with the following features is maintenance friendly and healthier IMHO:
            – airtight+ insulated house, so that the air being fed doesn’t need such a high temperature differential to create condensation problems
            – humidity control centrally
            – extra feed of extra dry air for bathrooms/kitchen areas
            – filtering of dust/etc. for incoming and re-circulation easy accessible & cleanable
            – refrigerant cycle decoupled from air/heat exchangers by water cycle and water/refrigerant heat exchangers, makes cleaning the air/heat exchangers a breeze and if designed well, can be kept running during maintenance (see GSWT system I linked to earlier – naturally not available off the shelf)

          • Julie Mulhauser

            I can see where you are coming from but I do believe building light weight buildings using the Passive House principles and verifying the performance with their software will give people cheaper to build and run homes that are dry and low in pollution inside.

            Just to give you an example of our proposed home in Melbourne. The BoM data is 1500-2000 heating degree days (heating to 18 degrees C) and 9-50 cooling degree days if cooling to 24 degrees C.

            Our new build will use only 9 kWh/m2/year to heat with a peak of 7W/m2 (met by the HRV air alone). I compared these figures to the 2015 Solar Decathlon Prototype House in Mary Guzowski’s excellent ‘Towards Zero Energy Architecture’. The figures for that at 38 degree latitude are 15 kWh/m2/year ie nearly double ours and that was considered best practice in 2015!

            In addition – our overheating risk is 0.3%. This is the % of hours over 25 degrees for a year. This is achieved using only external shading and nighttime ventilation. A score below 2% is considered excellent.

            This is what can be achieved now just with good design and building not technology. The only tech is the HRV (box in a cupboard) and the smart interior and exterior wraps.

            If we wanted to achieve what is called a PH Plus we could add a 7.6 kWp array on a 20 degree mount which would generate 60 kWh/m2 of building footprint/year ie more than 5 times the energy we need for heating/cooling/ventilation.

          • neroden

            I guess I’m in a dry climate. 🙂 We don’t have these problems with split-system aircons, which basically last forever (they get replaced when the refrigerant becomes obsolete and deprecated).

          • Mike Westerman

            No problems Julie and thanks for the further info. Obviously keeping warm with a minimum of heating is your primary objective, whereas I, as a tropical animal, am trying to keep comfortable in very clammy conditions where the RH is mostly above 80% and often above 90%. Even so, we find almost always an overhead fan is enough to keep comfortable, except on some nights when the temperature is more or less at dew point.

            AC is needed tho’ when working with documents etc where a fan would not be satisfactory, or where you need to exclude noise or dust. Mosquitoes are repelled by air speeds above 1.5m/s but this amount of breeze is quite uncomfortable to sleep under. Interestingly, concrete and marble floors and walls, plus indoor plants, can usually modify the RH sufficiently to make a fan at night feasible but cupboards need to have desiccants in them to stop the mould. Shading outside walls and outside shutters to limit sun penetration.

            I suspect from calculations I did some years ago on alternative “air conditioning” using desiccant wheels that for the tropics the cost would kill you, and runaround coils using vapour cycle heat pumps (tho’ hopefully with natural refrigerants), would be a more economical solution, but would then require batteries for nighttime use. I did have some papers somewhere on the use of marble (such as was used during the peak of Mughal architecture) to modify RH – maybe conditioning it during the day may be an alternative.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            I just posted a bit more on the specs for our house in Melbourne but in your case the only difference would be using an ERV to control humidity, different shading strategies, more fans, double glazed but still Passive House windows and light exterior.

            The thermal mass that we are used to adding is a big problem with achieving thermal comfort.

          • nakedChimp

            Got your reply via mail, don’t see it here.
            You got valid points and I get your drift.
            I myself just can’t stand lightweight structures as they’re mostly hollow and all kind of stuff then uses them to life in there and cause all sorts of trouble (I’ve seen ant’s chew through 1 cm of PU sealant for example).
            Termites, ants, cockroaches, all sorts of spiders and flying insects, little frogs, wasps, etc. pp. – being there, having enough of that.

            Thermal mass that is insulated (so thermal flows in/out of it are slowed) will help regulate the temp, as the system becomes slower.
            Lightweight structures enable the opposite and are forgivable if you didn’t insulate them correctly – just use more forcing then (heat/cold) to temperate the structure.
            I also have very fond memories of like 25-30 cm thick brick wall houses (barely insulation) that I stepped into back in Germany in high-summer (Hochsommer) and it was cool inside.

            Either way works I guess, especially since solar panels are around and pretty much any halfway decent design can be made energy plus over the course of a year.

            The common goal for any modern structure should be:
            – air tightness
            – good insulation (windows, doors, walls)
            – good maintainability of facilities (A/C, plumbing, electric, ..)
            – as much solar pv on roof, as possible (say goodbye to needlessly complex roof structures)

            If you’re building by Passiv-Haus standards, then you’ll cover most of these.
            The only thing they might overlook is maintainability.
            Always ask yourself – if it needs maintenance/repair/replacement – How hard is it to do that (=how much will it cost you).
            And that’s experience speaking.

            All the best for your project.

          • Julie Mulhauser

            Hi Mike, It is interesting how our experience colours our perspective. I’m sure you’d agree the figures for our proposed build show how little energy needs to be used to run these houses. I also agree that houses need to be built for maintenance and durability!
            We have lived for the last 20 years in a house like what you describe in Germany with masses of mass! It was cutting edge, architect designed, passive solar from 40 years ago and its energy efficiency is terrible! The only time it is barely comfortable is high summer!
            It does, however, have a great spatial layout, with lots of lessons in flexible space design and the joys of useful, private, accessible outdoor courtyard living!
            I take your point about bulk insulation and the critters! The thing to do is to keep them out!
            In your case you could put the block work on the outside of the framed wall or have a structure including a generous covered and screened perimeter area elevated on a steel frame well clear of the ground. An example of this is ‘Rozak House’, NT by Troppo Architects- although it is not insulated.
            The shading strategy is critical to keep your house cool because of you latitude. You need to have an extensive shaded area AROUND your house to stop reflected heat from the ground entering as well as directly through the windows.
            The aim with the Passive House is the COMPLETE SEPARATION of the interior from the exterior and the conditioning of the incoming air for temperature and humidity. The box that does this sits inside in a cupboard.
            To understand why thermal mass is such a big problem for human thermal comfort you need to understand that it is the RATE of loss or gain that is important.
            It is why a swimming pool at 24 degrees will feel cold whereas the same air temperature will be warmish because we reach an equilibrium with the still air on our skin but keep loosing heat in the pool. As you noted this effect can be welcome when it is hot however if there is persistent heat it will eventually heat up and make the situation worse! It is also the explanation why fans work because they keep moving this still air on our skin so we feel we are loosing heat making us more comfortable at the same air temperature.
            The Passive House aims to have the interior surfaces close to the interior air temp.
            Bioclimatic charts for the various Australian regions were used to dictate passive solar strategies. These charts assumed there was no separation of the inside from the outside because it wasn’t possible then but it is now! The same charts form the basis for advice for energy efficient housing in Australia still but as I have said – I think the world of knowledge has turned since then !
            I too wish you well with your build!

    • Mike Shackleton

      I live in a new build, 12 unit MDU that has 1.3 kW of panels per unit. Not a huge amount, but it offsets my consumption by about 70%. There is space on the roof for more panels, I could probably double the installation and leave space for others to do the same.

      In time there will be solar farms that residential customers can buy a share in. You’ll buy X kW of capacity at a solar farm and the feed in for those panels will offset against your consumption. Not outside the realms of existing technology.

      The death spiral may inhibit these products from developing because it will make them harder to integrate into the grid. There won’t be space to innovate because the operators will be struggling to maintain customers, let alone think of new ways to keep them connected.

      As it stands, we pay for the grid twice, once in the daily charge, once in the per kWh rate.

      You’re probably right that there won’t be total loss of the grid, but it is likely that governments will have to intervene and re-nationalise assets, so that they can be re-designed for the new paradigm in electricity generation and transmission.

      • Mark W

        I am on several bodies corporate that are looking at installing as many panels on their roof as they can. Not a single one will come close to self-sufficiency. You need to be able to offset your consumption by several hundred percent to realistically call yourself self-sufficient. No danger of death spiral there. If you don’t believe me, pull the insolation tables for your area from the BOM, and do a 10-year simulation, then play around with array size and battery bank size to get down to running dry once a year. Or try to get permission from the council to install a backup generator in suburbia.

        There are already options for bodies corporate to source their electricity from the retailer of their choice. One of the apartment blocks I own in does this today. It’s one of the things that the grid enables.

        The big issue as you point out is the grid access charge that is bundled into most domestic tariffs. It needs to be split out in its entirety. I estimate that if it were split out in its entirety, a service that could give or take 10kVA would cost about $1000/year but that would be balanced by a 15c/kWh electricity usage tariff and something like a 10c FIT. One block I am in already has a tariff that, once you pick apart the way it is calculated, is very like this. Energy charges are 10c and 6c on and off-peak, but then there is a fixed charge per available kVA, fixed charge for connection, and a further volume charge that is sloped according to load factor. Overall it works out at 18.5c/kWh. When we put the panels on the roof, there will be an $8000/annum gain at the overall 18.5c but this will be watered down somewhat by the decrease in load factor. This is fair.

        • Carl Raymond S

          So the big energy consumers are subsidising the grid connections of low energy consumers? Kind of like a defacto carbon tax on excess. I don’t have a problem with that.

        • neroden

          Mark, prices on both batteries and solar continue to come down. If the market manipulation continues to raise grid prices, the death spiral will definitely happen.

          We already have a grid access charge where I live in the US; it’s about US$181/year, and supposedly it *fully* covers fixed costs of grid maintenance. (I’d say it can’t be raised much above $300/year before inducing grid defection.) But then… my entire “rural” area is pretty densely populated compared to country Australia.

          One of the weird catches about grid access is that it’s way cheaper in a city than out in the countryside. If a power line is servicing 20 apartment buildings, it costs about the same amount to maintain as if it’s servicing one farmhouse 100 miles from the next farmhouse. The *country* grid is stupendously expensive. Taking far rural areas off the grid (which I believe Ergon is actively trying to do) will reduce the grid costs substantially.

          Once that happens, the grid should really be a very good deal for everyone else. The problem in Australia is: market manipulation. As long as that’s ongoing, the death spiral will continue.

          • Mark W

            There is no death spiral. The percentage of grid defectors is vanishingly small.

            It has nothing to do with market manipulation and it has everything to do with the availability of good hybrid grid tie/battery/solar systems. If you have solar panels then the grid connection will earn you money and save you money rather than costing you money. The only people who have any business case to stay off-grid are those for whom the capital cost of getting a grid connection is so high that it cannot be recovered by feedin and outweighs the extra cost of an off-grid vs hybrid system. Those homes are already off-grid so they cannot “defect”.

            Believers in the death spiral are trapped in old thinking from a time when hybrid was not a possibility.

            Ergon is not taking anybody off-grid. However, they are no longer encouraging people more than a few poles from the existing infrastructure to connect either. It’s a side issue. The percentage of connections outside of towns and cities is negligible in the big scheme of things and whether they stay off-grid or spend the bucks and connect affects only them and will be based on an individual economic and utilitarian choice.

          • I think there are two big defections that are worrying network: grid and load, and the latter is unstoppable given cost of solar and storage. Both have the same impact. ENA was sufficiently worried about it to prepare a huge report with CSIRO.
            I sat next to a solar installer on plane yesterday – he says he has taken 30 homes off grid in last six months. Waiting list at least six months. That’s just one compan and battery prices don’t yet make this an economically rational decision. Wait till it does.

          • Mark W

            As you say, load defection is unstoppable. If you can load-defect, then you would be mad not to. It is, however, an orthoganal issue to grid defection. In fact your grid connection is what makes it so profitable to load-defect.

            There are 11 million premises in Australia and maybe 100-200 contractors doing off-grid installations and the ones I know are increasingly doing hybrids rather than off-grid. I don’t think picking one example who did 30 off-grid installations in 6 months is indicative of anything much. There is also a huge backlog of people who are currently off-grid and using generators who will no doubt stay off-grid but change to PV+Batteries.

            To be clear, large-scale grid defection would indeed create some kind of death spiral and, given what can be done across the grid with embedded storage and generation it would be a Bad Thing ™. I just can’t see anything more than a small minority of users having any incentive to defect. And those that do defect will mostly make the grid cheaper to maintain per endpoint, not more expensive.

            Load defection does not introduce a death spiral. It just damages the business case for one kind of grid attached user – the generator. The grid remains as useful as it ever was, just for different things, not least of whish is to give hybrid-attached users access to a deep and liquid market for the sale of excess energy from PVs.

            There is one scenario in which I could forsee large-scale grid defection and this would be a move to a hydrogen economy. If, just to take one possible scenario, it became possible to cheaply use home-sourced electricity to synthesize ammonia and then use catalysis to make ammonia a fuel for hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells, then we could all have a month’s worth of energy stored in a cylinder in the back yard or the MTU basement and there would be no need for an electricity grid at all – at least for domestic supply.

    • Rod

      If they aren’t dying they sure are thrashing about a lot!

      Load defection is increasing and the 20% electricity price increase this year has only amplified that. Your suggestion of moving grid costs to a higher daily charge would IMO make grid defection more attractive.
      Here in temperate Adelaide I could go off grid tomorrow for the price of a 10kWh battery and a few more panels. I know this as I have tracked my usage and exports (weekly) for ten years. I only stay on grid as I am still getting those “very generous” FiTs Simms talks about. 60c

      Granted ours is not a typical household usage (4 kWh/day) but given the drop in PV cost and availability of energy efficient lighting and appliances it is not difficult for households to drastically reduce energy requirements. Large, split NW or EW array, smallish battery and stay connected for a while but eventually many will come to the conclusion (especially with high daily usage charges) that off grid is possible. I can also see several neighbours sharing a single grid connection.

      Where roof space is suitable Landlords can become energy sellers and businesses are increasingly installing PV and sometimes storage but many will need to stay connected. I can also see public housing being fitted with PV as it makes financial sense.

      So, yes the grid will still be needed by many but those left on will be paying more and more for it.

      • Mark W

        Load defection is definitely increasing. But that doesn’t decrease the value of the grid to those connected to it. It merely reduces the value of the attached centralised generation which is not part of the grid but just another user of the grid.

        I also agree that moving to a fairer tariff structure (i.e. reducing energy charges and increasing connection charges) will go some way to making grid defection a less unattractive proposition. But it would have to over-rotate enormously to make it an attractive proposition.

        You make a good point about several neighbours sharing a single grid connection. As the grid becomes more of an energy management than an energy delivery system over time, it definitely starts to make sense – and new bodies corporate are increasingly doing just that. But in a sense you are just duplicating the grid inside an expanded boundary and you need to duplicate the management structure so even if it one day becomes legal to transmit electricity across title boundaries other than via the public grid, it will be limited to areas where there is an identifiable community of interest already. What you are doing is keeping the grid, but shifting the management of a small portion of the grid inside the community. It’s happening already in some places and I am sure it will increase. I am not convinced that it is any particular danger to the grid at large, though.

    • neroden

      The death spiral of the grid in Australia has already started.

      It will probably be short-circuited by network operators and state governments “seeing the light” and forcing the federal government and gentailers to adapt.

      But *IF THEY DO NOT*, then the grid will continue to go into death spiral. It only cost a premium of <$30K to go totally off grid? Do you know what that means if the market-manipulating generators or gold-plating network operators jack up the grid prices again, and again? It means it ends up being cheaper to go off grid.

      It's already cheaper to go off grid in the outback and in the far-out parts of the country.

  • howardpatr

    Notice how so many of the Coalition’s RWNJs are men of people of “faith” with little or no scientific training, (often lawyers), let alone interested in climate science. Spinelss Turnbull probably is an exception but he spends most of his time plaing games with Mad Monk Abbott.

    RWandRNJs is therefore a more apt descriptor of the many climate change deniers and opponents of the renewable energy future in the Government.

    • Steve159

      Yes, I’ve noticed the correlation – and I think it goes to cause. People of faith believe in a higher authority, which automatically requires thinking in hierarchical, top-dog under-dog terms.

      Since those of faith can’t be God, the next best thing is to be as high, close to, and as authoritative as God. Hence all that born-to-rule nonsense, and talking down to the electorate.

      Poor Tony doesn’t quite get that society is primary a cooperative process and construct. He wants to shoehorn his archaic world-view into a progressive, interconnected world.

      Good luck with that. Unfortunately, in the meantime he holds back a lot of progressive, cooperative ventures that would benefit all, and improve our chances of avoiding (if we haven’t already passed) the “tipping point”.

      • Thucydides

        And in Anglo countries, the Conservative top dogs are all deserving, white males.

      • Greg Hudson

        Perhaps they have also not heard that Athiests are now the largest religious group in Australia (pun intended).

  • Douglas Hynd

    ACT made a move this week that will help those in units to combine together to access renewables see http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/electricity-network-deregulation-could-allow-second-tier-of-energy-companies-20170919-gyk8rx.html

  • bedlambay

    Climate change liers united.

  • Robin_Harrison

    The fossil fuel industry may be starting its death spiral but it’s still wealthy and influential enough to afford any number of professional liars, our self-described honourable politicians.
    Wouldn’t it be nice if our democratic choices weren’t just different flavours of unprincipled lying thieves for hire.

    • stalga

      Getup are asking for donations to fund a series of articles by a senior investigative reporter, for a series of exposes on various lobby groups, including the Business Council. There could be a bomb dropped in the near future.

      • Robin_Harrison

        I’m chipping in but if it doesn’t make the mainstream media it may not be much of a bomb, and guess who owns the mainstream media?

        • stalga

          My thoughts too, but if there is serious dirt found it will become a political issue.

          • Robin_Harrison

            Trouble is both sides of politics are owned by vested interests. There will only be a scandal if those interests don’t overlap and media ownership allows it. I certainly don’t think we can depend on the independence of the ABC, they haven’t shown much lately.
            On a brighter note, this death spiral feeding frenzy of the fossil fools is making renewables economically more attractive by the day.

          • stalga

            A very good point. I’ve only returned to QLD this year, but I remember Nuttal et all.

          • neroden

            Thankfully you’re in Australia; one of the minor parties could amplify the news into the media. The Greens perhaps.

          • Robin_Harrison

            Then we’re left with who owns the media and what’s their general attitude to the greens and, indeed, how thoroughly manipulated they are anyway. It’s worth remembering they too are politicians. (Damn, now I’m going to have to clean my keyboard after typing the p word.)

      • nakedChimp

        I put money into that pot. Thx for sharing.

    • Ren Stimpy

      the answer to that is yes

  • Ian Franklin

    I listened carefully to Rod Simms address to the press club. No doubt his analysis of the increases in power prices is soundly based, namely that the increases were due to network costs, retail costs and margins, generation costs and green subsidies, in that order, he also noted that currently, the green component of electricity charges to households is only 6%. Clearly the green component of charges are decreasing as the initial high feed-in tariffs (which were used to kick start renewable take up) are no longer available to most users. Nevertheless he was highly critical of these. Also, I was surprised that retail charges to householders represented 22% of the charges but only 2% to commercial and industrial uses.
    That said, I had a couple of problems with his presentation. He stated that is mandate was only to examine only affordability. First, there was no mention of the external costs of fossil fuel generation; not only in greenhouse emissions but in health costs to communities. Surely these are costs also to all customers. Secondly he stated that economics 101 teaches that if there are three issues (in this case affordability, reliability and sustainability – the latter almost entirely dismissed by the coalition), then there are separate solutions to each. Having never received the benefit of economics 101, I have difficulty with this statement. Perhaps there is a trade-off between affordability and reliability, but surely as renewable costs fall, both affordability and sustainability are met by a transition to renewables. Indeed, if a customer goes off grid, or becomes a member of a local micro-grid, possibly all three can be met.

    • Rod

      Agreed, he admits that “Green” schemes increased prices by the least amount but then seems pretty adamant something needs to be done about them. I’m worried what will be in his report. He is also still supportive of the market and its rules.

      • neroden

        Well, if he attacks the insignificant part of the price increases, while being clear that he wants to do nothing about the largest part of the price increases — profiteering — then he’s making it very clear that he thinks profiteering is important and that lack of profiteering is a problem.

    • Julie Mulhauser

      I too have issues with the address and report.

      My understanding is that networks can not only ‘goldplate’ but include cash earnings in their asset base that the regulator uses to calculate charges thus artificially inflating the cost without providing any more service.

      The 3 gentailers enjoy big cost savings that are not passed onto consumers. Not only that – they hold already big books of existing customers so need to spend to attract new customers. These guys have the most expensive standing offers despite having the lowest costs – so it appears regulation and the market are failing here!

      Here in Victoria the retailers pass the cost of competition onto the consumers.

      The 30 minute settlement rule is permitting ‘gaming’ of the wholesale market by the big guys and keeping out the small guys – which could include aggregated consumer storage and demand control. We won’t see a change to this until mid 2021 because the incumbents argued against the change.

      There isn’t an argument made for decreasing DEMAND which is the cheapest way to decrease costs by reducing the need for NEW generation. ARENA, that is conducting the SA trial is likely to be abolished after a Senate Select Committee on Red Tape reports in December.

      AMEO are recommending a separate Reliability charge. As this is where costs are likely to climb with the increasing penetration of renewables. The idea being that consumers wanting more reliability pay more and those happy with less, less.

      Did anyone miss that the biggest customer for Liddell and consuming 10% of NSW electricity is the aluminium smelter next door! Subsidised electricity to Aluminium smelters has to stop! There is a background paper by Clive Hamilton and Hal Turton for the Australia Institute showing it would be cheaper to pay for Aluminium smelter workers to stay at home rather than continue subsidies. The paper is a few years old – so I imagine the case is even stronger now!

      Even though we would all like to see more renewable energy- there is no sound economic reason for more companies to enter the market to make energy cheaper! They are going to enter the market where there is opportunity.

      • Greg Hudson

        Please let me be the first to go on a reliability only tariff. I could then eliminate all fees with a battery, and yet still have grid backup for those times when I run out of juice (if ever).

  • hannu venermo

    Great article … !

    Some points..
    1.

    For single-family houses, any basic mechanical load-spreading for the main loads will decrease electrical-power needs by a huge amount.
    Major loads are air-con, or heating depending on climate, and refrigeration.

    Using hot/cold water sinks to cool/heat via solar PV, drastically reduces total extra energy needs in kWh.
    By 50%+, usually.

    Using better insulation in the construction, and windows/doors, again reduces losses == 30%++.
    Using more efficient air-con has a major effect. Modern VFD driven AC and heat pumps are pretty efficient.

    1.1
    Using cheap night-time power if it is available, can greatly reduce costs in the current systems.

    2.
    The current system is silly.

    It encourages extra expenses for utilities, and for house construction, since their benefits derive from total costs=expenses=>sale price retail – not results in terms of quality and efficiency per production.

    3.
    The *right* solution is changing the economic model for utilities via legislation.
    Imo.
    Make the utility managers/ceo people get more money from less costs, lower pricing, smaller business sizes, lower cost of ownership.

    And *not* like now reward higher turnover, higher pricing, more personnel of dubious efficiency, more subcontractors, etc. for the utilities and service providers.

    *Highly reward* the managers of all gov. service providers for better service, more service, at lower cost, better quality.

    On results delivered.

    Within 2 years costs will plummet, services will improve, all hardware will be standardized, bids will be competitive/fair/open/public etc.

    The *managers* are not stupid or incompetent. Or dishonest, mostly.

    But they know they will be displaced unless they keep increasing costs.
    Change the system.
    Reward the managers lowering costs, and costs will lower, Very Very Fast.

    • Greg Hudson

      You need to delete 1.1 IMO because:
      1. Relying on off peak power means you are supporting coal (usually). i.e. the sun isn’t shining, and the wind blows less at night.
      2. Shifting your load to midday allows solar PV’s to run your devices at that time for free (assuming it is at least not an eclipse).

  • David Rossiter

    Can’t run a smelter on renewables says Mr Abbott better tell Abetz that Tasmania has been doing it for forty years. In fact the whole state has run on renewables for well over forty years.
    Sounds like Turnbull wanting to use worn out baseload Liddell as a peaking plant. Clearly this government thinks we are all ignorant mugs.

    • solarguy

      Mate a hell of a lot of people wouldn’t have a clue about Tassie’s Hydro success, so unfortunately there are ignorant mugs out there, that Turdbull is banking on.

      • David Rossiter

        We need to keep spreading the message – aim for near to 100 percent renewables like Tasmania has had for forty years or more

  • Thucydides

    Excellent, another nail in the coffin of thermal coal. Now we just need to prove up the alternatives to the metallurgical variety. Quick, sell your coal shares now.

    • riley222

      Mate, Happy to say mine went long ago.