Pragmatic 2: The Battery Problem

1 December, 2013


John and Ben discuss the past, present and future of energy generation, distribution, storage and consumption. We explore the future of conventional and alternative energy sources as well as the changing nature of the grid and our relationship to it.

Transcript available
[MUSIC PLAYING] This is Pragmatic, a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. I'm Ben Alexander and my co-host John Chidjy. Hi, John. - Hey, Ben, how's it going? - Doing well, how are you? - Yeah, pretty good, pretty good, thank you. I just like to, before we begin, say a special thanks to, we got some really nice feedback, very complimentary feedback from some people, notably from Clinton Phillips, Lorenzo, don't know what his last name is, but on Twitter he's @XAB13R and @ZachXychi as well. So thanks guys for the feedback, it's much appreciated. - Yeah, thank you. - And yeah, so today we're going to talk about, well, electricity essentially, which is kind of, I guess, right up my alley, but specifically I wanted to talk about alternative energy. But before we get to the alternative energy and where I think everything is going, I'd like to sort of start at the beginning and sort of walk through the evolution, where we are now and the technologies that are available now that are sort of becoming more prevalent. And hopefully we can end up in a place where we're using more alternative energy. So I'll start with the basics, I guess. And that is, I'm sure you're aware the difference between AC and DC power? That's more of a question, I think. So I wanna-- - Well, yeah, one's just off and on, 60 times a second or 50 times a second, right? And the other one is what's in my phone. - Yep. - That's the difference. - That's pretty much it. - That's the difference. I have no idea about that. - Yep, absolutely. That's all you need to know. And that says it all. - One of them is-- - It's funny. - Edison killed animals with one of them. That's the other thing I know. And Tesla wanted to save the world. Wait, I don't know. I'm not sure. Yeah. Well, OK, let's rather than. Yes. OK, so we can sidestep the Tesla worship. OK, look, historically, there were as you may have sort of started there as you had Edison on one side and you had it was actually more Westinghouse. Yeah, he was pushing Tesla's stuff. So Edison was in the DC camp and Westinghouse was in the AC camp. And it came back to two problems. I guess the first problem that they were facing was long distance transmission. and the problem with long distance transmission was that DC had no cost effective way at the time to step up voltage as voltage would drop because voltage drops with distance you just can't you can't fight it yeah because everything has a resistance ohm's law says v equals ir therefore if i have a conductor conducting electricity uh it having current flowing through it then then its voltage will drop over the length of that cable. It's simply, that's just the way it is. The more current you draw, the worse the voltage drop and so on. So with AC, they came up, the idea they had was something called transformer, whereby you take the number of windings on the bottom half, on the primary, and then you change the number of windings on the secondary and the magnetic field that couples the two steps the voltage up or down. It's not 100% efficient, but it's pretty good. It's relatively efficient, something in the mid nineties, I think. And that gave them the ability to step up and step down the voltage. And that meant that you could actually go like 50 miles and then step the voltage up and then run another 50 miles and your voltage would still be at an acceptable level. And that was the first thing. The second thing that pushed AC over the line was the fact that a lot of the early systems required mechanical energy. So I was trying to get rid of steam. So steam engines were driving, so you'd have a big steam engine and that would drive a series of belts, the belts that would all be coupled together in factories and they would drive conveyors and you know whatever other rotating machines. So what I wanted to do was I wanted to go to the electric equivalent to get rid of the boiler and all that other rubbish that went with steam and the belts and at the time the only DC motors that they had were had carbon brushes and the carbon brushes were required to essentially pass the excitation across to the rotor to actually make the DC motor spin. Whereas AC, Tesla had a design for what was called an induction motor whereby the AC induced a rotating magnetic field within the motor and that dragged the rotor with it essentially. So what you had was a system whereby the majority of your loads were induction motors and you had the ability to step your voltage up as distance passes and therefore AC won in the end. One of the other things that they're looking at now is they're moving back to DC but for the moment we'll just we'll circle back to that at the end. So we've got AC. Getting power out to people, they call it a grid or "the grid" and the funny thing is if you look at it on a piece of paper really doesn't look much like a grid. Clinton asked me actually this afternoon in a tweet he said "yeah does it actually look like a grid?" Well not really, you've got to really use your imagination because no it's not a grid. But the idea is that you've got power stations generating power putting the power onto the grid and all of these all these high voltage power lines are all connected together through substations and then distributed through lower gradually stepping down the voltage to local distribution nodes and then that goes out to individual households either overhead or underground cabling, all AC of course, either single phase or three phase power. And the grid itself is nothing more than just a massive collection of high voltage cables. And it's um yeah, not a lot else there is to say about the grid. So getting the power onto the grid, there's different kinds of power stations and the The simplest, most basic power station is based on steam. And a lot of people don't realize this, that coal and nuclear power both rely on steam. The difference is that a coal-fired power station has a large boiler. You take coal, you pulverize it, you dry it, and then you burn it in a massive boiler. there's thousands of pipes inside the boiler and they have a cooling, not cooling water, they have the highly purified water for the actual turbines running through the pipes. It turns it into high pressure steam, that high pressure steam then goes through a series of fan blades connected on a common shaft and that turbine, that steam turbine spins around and makes the electricity. The nuclear system is very similar, it's just that instead of using coal to heat up the water they use a nuclear fission reactor. They'll use a very hot, because they'll just put in a purified uranium, uranium 235, 238, anyway by putting in carbon rods between them that slows down the reaction so as such that when one breaks into cobalt and oh god i've forgotten what the other one is that those stray neutrons get picked up by the carbon rods and you don't get a runaway reaction you don't have an atomic bomb going off but what you do get is a lot of heat so the reaction does move forward and it generates heat and that heat the the water passes through that localized area it turns it into steam in, drives the turbines, hey presto you've got electricity again. Thinking about baseload power is just the concept of baseload. And baseload is one of those weird things that it's kind of like if you imagine that all of the power consumption in the country is broken down like a I don't know, like a rainbow layered cake, for the one with a better way of thinking about it. Like where the top layer though, someone strips the icing off every so often. The base load is the bottom piece of it, the majority of the cake, the majority of that supply is what they call base load. And a base load plant's sole purpose is to make electricity as cheaply as possible. And for the moment that's coal or nuclear. Because essentially you can feed them constantly and they are economized to a scale at which you don't shut them down often. So they're designed to be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 and a quarter days a year. So the baseload stations, you don't just flick a switch and say right well we're done with you for the moment you can just shut off. It takes hours, sometimes even weeks. I'm not as much an expert on nuclear power stations but I have worked at a coal-fired power station and it will take at least a day to shut it down because when you're shutting down the turbines are massive. The ones we worked on, the ones I worked on, were 350 megawatts and when you shut them off you have to keep rotating the turbine so that it cools evenly because if you don't what will happen is the mass of the turbine shaft will actually cause the shaft to buckle. So if you don't have even cooling, it has to cool down the same rate throughout. So the heat difference will cause it to bend one way or the other. Correct. Yeah. And then, of course, once you then, you probably won't notice the issue until you try and spin it up. You spin it up again, it's got a massive wobble in it, vibration, and then you can kiss your multiple million dollar turbine goodbye. Yeah, shake itself to pieces and you know, big bang. So it's not something you just do, you don't just just flick a switch and say, "Right, I'm done with it now." You know, these things are planned, outages are planned months ahead of time. Of course, there's emergency shutdowns and so on, but even so, the point is that it's not something you just turn on and off. I got to thinking about other forms of baseload power. And another one is hydroelectricity. And hydroelectricity, you can sort of break it into two camps. You've got the camps where you've got continuous supply, constant supply, and you've got ones where you've got sporadic supply. So, for example, in North Queensland, there's a hydro plant at Barron Gorge, and that only operates during the wet season, because during the wet season, only then do they have sufficient rain to actually drive the turbines. So during the dry season, it just sits there doing nothing. Whereas if you go to Tasmania or the Snowy Mountains where they've got a relatively consistent supply of water and of course I'm speaking in my own backyard here but also I worked with someone who worked for BC Hydro in British Columbia in Canada and what they had was, they again had most of their plants had essentially constant supply So I think 96, 97% of British Columbia's power is provided through hydroelectricity, I think from memory. At least that's what it was about a decade ago. I'd have to check if that's still the case. But anyway, so hydro is another good one if you've got constant supply of water. So you can use that as base load in that case. The town I grew up in, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, we had the Cuyahoga River, which comes up, comes off of Lake Erie, runs right through it's Cuyahoga Falls. And they just shut down the hydro plant there. But we used to go down and and, you know, get as close as we could. You could it was I mean, it couldn't have produced much power because the falls were not very big at that spot. But, um. Yeah, it was, I think it was always running. I mean, there was, I remember they would talk about it in the, every, you know, every election year would be an issue because there were environmental issues with it. I think that's what eventually shut it down. But, yeah, they were very proud of the fact that that we had our own. Well, actually, that's another story, but I'll get to it because I'm sure it'll come up at some point and talk about the great blackout of 2003. Go ahead. Sorry. Okay. No, no, no. That's fine. That's fine. I always find hydro to be one of those weird ones. So, one of the things I guess I'm talking about is the practical nature of the baseload plants, but keeping in mind that they have a high initial setup cost, but they have very low, relatively speaking, cost per megawatt of electricity generated, which is why they are ideal for baseload. So with coal, coal is cheap and that's why we keep burning it and that's honestly probably dumb but that's the nature of economics. People want cheap electricity so they say right you know let's just dig this finite resource out of the ground, pulverize it and burn it and make electricity and aren't we clever. The thing that's depressing to me about coal power and in fact the whole problem is that the conversion efficiency is terrible. So you would get somewhere between 35-40% conversion of energy in that coal to actual electricity out. The conversion efficiency is shocking. And a lot of that waste is waste heat. And not to mention of course the fact that carbon dioxide, which depending on whether or not you believe in global warming or not, not, I'm pretty sure that pumping hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is going to do something. That's probably not a good thing. Isn't that efficiency worse than even an internal combustion engine? That's pretty bad. I'm not entirely sure. I think internal combustion engines are terrible as well. Well yeah, but aren't they closer to the mid-30s? I'm looking up. That could be. Yeah. I mean it's that yeah it's a thermodynamic law i believe is part of the problem but in the end it's just a terrible way of making energy or converting energy sorry into a mechanical form so but it's cheap and that's why it wins nuclear you know same kind of deal you've got uranium once you've once you've purified enough to sustain a uh a fission reaction you've got yourself essentially really cheap fuel the problem with nuclear is what you do with the waste because the waste is so toxic to organic life. So what do you do with it? There's the, let's just shove it in the ground and forget about it idea, which actually come to think of it is pretty much the only idea. Shoot it into the sun. Like that's never going to come back to, yeah. And how much is that going to cost? Suddenly it doesn't become cheap anymore. Right. So nuclear fission is sort of a dead end really because inevitably you're going to end up producing so much waste that yeah where's it all going to go? You'll end up poisoning yourself in the end. So it's not really ideal. Anyway, hydro oddly enough is actually the best solution because despite the fact that it has initial environmental impact, because in order to make hydro work you need vast bodies of water which usually means creating dams which usually means flooding a whole bunch of land that was previously not flooded. But the funny thing is, if you move all of the flora, any endangered species out of the area and you relocate them safely, then really, you know, I guess the other thing is controlled releases to the downstream side of the plant because, you know, if the once raging torrent of a river is tamed and put through a hydro plant, then it may affect the ecology further downstream. if you can ensure that that's not done in a largely impactful way, you essentially have no waste byproducts. You're not putting anything into the atmosphere. It's perfect. But the funny thing I find is that environmental groups will lobby against hydro, but the coal power stations and nuclear power stations still get built. Yeah, I mean, so I think, yeah, to me, I just I don't get it. You know, go, I go a little bit south and go into West Virginia where they're taking mountains off. I mean, they're taking tops off mountains, right, to get to the coal. And I mean, it's, you know, a state that's famous for it's a coal mining state. I mean, it's it's just it's I think still the biggest part of the economy is is resource extraction or I guess, you know, whatever the more politically correct term would be for that. And, uh, it's just can't see, you just can't see it as well. Maybe that's the, uh, if you're, uh, you're making a lot of animals have to move their habitat. It's very, the visuals aren't very good, right? Yeah. This is, this is the problem is that, uh, greenhouse gases and global warming is a less directly visual connection in the mind. And you have to look at 50 to 100 years worth of climate data and you have to look at climate models, advanced climate models running on supercomputers predicting, you know, looking at sea level rises and stuff and saying, "Okay, maybe this problem is all the carbon dioxide we're shoving in the atmosphere." Of course, it may not be, but, you know, if you're a betting man, you'd probably say it had something to do with it. And you look at that and you say, "Okay, well, digging up this hill is not that big a deal when you compare to the amount of space we have to flood to get an equally sized hydro plant." And they also think, "Well, the power station itself takes up less space and it's cheaper to build, so go coal." And it's like, "Well, the funny thing is for me, honestly I think flooding the land and relocating and being very careful with the ecology is a far better way to go because in the long term you've got an asset that if you build and design it well with good cathodic protection should last for a very long time and provide you with free energy. It's just, to me it's madness that you would even choose coal. But anyway, irrespective of that, hydro, um, hydro, nuclear, coal, the bane, baseload, uh, stations, baseload power stations. Okay, so the next thing to think about is, it's referred to a whole bunch of different names but one of the most popular names at least in Australia being, we call it peak lopping. And peak lopping is essentially the idea of lopping the top off the peaks of your power consumption. So typically there are two peaks of energy. There is middle of the day during the hottest part of the day in summer and when people get home of an evening between five and seven o'clock at night there is a secondary peak. So they call that the midday or a.m. peak and the p.m. peak. So the two peak periods it makes no sense to build yet another coal power coal-fired power station or or another nuclear plant if all you've got to do is have short-term storage for a couple of hundred megawatts. So the idea is you build a bunch of smaller turbines to cover those peaks so they only start up as required. These particular ones don't actually, can't create, can't make electricity for as cheaply as the coal or nuclear but what they can do is they can start up and shut down quickly with no fuss. The most common ones are gas turbines and essentially engines that run on petroleum of some kind, whether that's diesel or whether it's jet fuel or kerosene or whatever, but some kind of an engine, a reciprocating engine. So the gas turbines are probably the most popular at the moment for peak lopping plants. And some of them Some range up in size to a quarter of a gig, so 250 megawatts, some of the ones that I've seen for serious peak lopping. Smaller ones what they'll do is they'll have distributed, so they'll have 10 megawatts here, 20 megawatts there, and they're distributed throughout a city for localized peak lopping. And they're usually activated mainly in the summertime with the cooling loads and everything, the air conditioning and so on in warmer climates. I haven't done enough work in cooler climates to do a comparative, but a lot of the heating that's done in cooler climates is not done through electricity, it's done through gas. Because again, gas is, you know, from conversion efficiency is more efficient than an electric heater. And cheaper. So, so that's the idea of peak lopping power. So that's the sort of the grid at the moment. It's a mixture of base load and of peak lopping. And that has a combined maximum capacity of however many gigawatts. And that's based on the demand on the grid. And it's all distributed to different factories and houses and so on. So now, it's time to think about alternative energy because we want to start thinking, well, how can we start to be more self-sufficient individually? How can we sort of say, well, I don't want to get my power from coal, I want to get it from wind, or I want to get it from solar, I want to get it from hydro, my own hydro, or whatever. So one of the things that I've looked into in quite a bit of depth has been alternative energy. I've always been fascinated with alternative energy since I was a kid. The idea of being completely self-sufficient has always fascinated me for whatever reason. and the first and I think most interesting one is wind and wind turbines. So with wind, again it's one of those things that the simplest, the single biggest problem with wind is how much is enough in order to actually get a decent amount of payback from it. And obviously wind is highly variable so some days are very windy some days there aren't and the amount of information about which areas are windy which areas aren't isn't always readily available so if we look at a large industrial scale you look at where are they going to put a wind farm they'll do years of studies to find the place that has the most prevailing wind patterns and they'll put all of the wind turbines you know in that spot but they'll be very careful because it's a big investment these These things are going to be up there for 30 years or so, probably, maybe more in some cases. And, you know, they want to make sure it's a good investment so they're going to do their homework. I had a look around over the last couple of years looking for wind data and it's getting better because obviously we've got more, we've got better tools, we've got more weather stations out there and each of them is logging all this information. So we're building up like globally, a massive database of areas that are the most windy that are best suited for this, for wind power. But the great thing about wind power is unlike solar, wind often is blowing when it's overcast or when it's raining. Usually the two go together. Not always, but usually. And of course wind works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn't, when the sun sets you can still get wind. So you can be generating power in the middle of the night, which is really good. downside of wind turbines and there are a few downsides they have moving parts and moving parts are a mechanical issue so you have to maintain wind turbines and the estimates that that we sort of work to are between one and a half and two percent of the installation cost like the total installation cost and supply cost of the turbine and that's per annum so over a let's say 20-year lifespan on your, when your wind turbine, then yeah, that can add up to more like servicing cost considering, especially if you compare it with solar, which has essentially none. It's, yeah. The other big problem is noise. Really? And this is where some of the controversy, yeah. when the controversy comes in where people let's say I've got a farm out in the sticks and someone says you know what that that hill right at the top of near your property just past your boundary but that top of that hill there yeah that's the windiest place in the world that's ideal spot so we're going to go and put a hundred wind big wind turbines up there I mean, massive towers, 15, 20 meters, you know, so whatever, 50, 60 feet high in the air, these huge towers, and they're going to be running 24/7, well, whenever the wind's blowing, presumably, hopefully 24/7 from their point of view. And you are sitting there in your house and you hear this low frequency sort of noise and it sounds a little bit like a like a thumping or a whipping noise, like a noise. Yeah. Terrible making sound effects, but get the idea right. Multiply that by 100 and it could- it's low frequency, which, you know, can penetrate buildings like- it's kind of like the, you know, the teenager that's got the the big bass speakers in the back of their car, you know, and you can't hear any of the treble. All you can hear is thump, thump, thump, thump, thump. And you're in a car like 200 cars back and you can hear this, you know. So bass is- Anyway. Well, yeah, those blades are gigantic. Yeah, they're going to- I mean, I drove by- One was driving by, you know, driving the other way on the highway the other day. Yeah, I mean, yeah, you're getting up 50 or 100 of those, that's going to produce some insane noise, I'm sure. Absolutely. And the funny thing is that I think it's one of those "I was here first" problems. So if I put my farm in location X and the top of that magical hill, you know, 10 years later they decide to put wind turbines on there, well you kind of think, well you know what, it was quiet until you put those things up there and now the noise is keeping me awake and there is actually a condition they call, that's been loosely called wind turbine sickness for the want of a cleverer name but anyway it gets the point across. But the point is that It's got to do with fatigue. It's a fatigue-related illness whereby your sleep patterns are disturbed by the noise of the wind turbines. And there have been class action lawsuits. There's been all sorts of nasty business trying to stop wind farms from going in in certain locations. The trick is, of course, if you're going to do this on an industrial scale, to put them in a place where there is currently no one living there. Because if there's no one living there, then there's no complaints, right? But that's not always how it works because you need to go where the wind is. And unfortunately, sometimes that's where people are as well. So, the reason I mention this is, I mean, that's all well and that's all nice and sanitary. But when it comes to an individual level, the question is, how much, how big a wind turbine can you realistically get for a standard residence? So, let's say right now you, Ben, want to put a wind turbine in your backyard. I do right now. Is that even feasible? I'm looking at him. I've talked you into it. Okay. They got him in Lowe's. Well, just proceed with caution. Just hang on a minute. Hold your horses. Okay. There are, in fact, a lot more options out there now than there was last time I looked into this a few years ago. And essentially, okay, you can break wind turbines down into different categories. So you've got vertical axis, horizontal axis. and the horizontal axis ones are the more traditional, it looks like a big fan where you got three blades on it, some of them have got two but usually not more than three blades and they're these massive props and they spin around and they, you know so they're spinning around on a horizontal axis the vertical axis ones look a bit weird so they essentially are more compact vertically, sorry horizontally and their blades tend to be sort of like twisted. Yeah. So it's hard to describe them. Twisted feathers and what they, yeah. Looks almost like a radio, you know, antenna. Although, yeah, they're just sort of like slightly twist. Like I'm looking at the one here. It's got like four coming off a central spindle and, huh. That's different. Yep. And see, the thing is about those ones is that they can operate at lower wind speeds, but they generally produce less power. On the other hand though, they also produce less noise. So, one of the ones I came across that caught my eye as being fascinating, and first of all, they are not sponsoring this show, so I just picked this one because, you know, hey, it fit the bill, shall we say. So it's by, it's called the Energy Ball V200. And this particular one is interesting because it's a 2.25 kilowatt, that's maximum, wind generator. But what it is, it's essentially, it does look like a ball. Yeah, it looks awesome. Yeah, it looks very futuristic. And what it does is it creates, I believe it's the Venturi effect, through lowering the air pressure within the ball, to create a spinning vortex and that vortex improves the efficiency of the blades as they spin so the thing that's interesting about this particular one though is the fact that at 6, so here are the figures, the 2.25kW maximum output is at 19m/s which is also 68km/h or if we go more imperial that's 42.5mph or 37 knots. That's a fair clip. That's a fair clip, but that's maximum power. No you don't, and I don't see that much either here. But if you have winds of half that speed, it'll still be producing over 1.5 kilowatts. Continuous. So what's interesting about this one is it has it's at 9, hang on I just want to double check Okay, right. So at 9 meters per second, this is the noise measurement. So at 9 meters a second, which is 17 knots I didn't do the math on that one. Feel free to but If they did an audio measurement at a distance of about 160 feet or 50 meters And the sound measurement at 17 knots was only 1.6 decibels above background noise sound pressure level So in other words, it was barely you could barely hear it at that distance. Now in a real world application how many people have got a yard where you can feasibly do that for starters but still in my case I guess lucky me I happen to have a yard like that my yard is 140 meters from front to back and it's about 36 meters wide 38 meters wide something like that and that adds up to a fact that if I were to put a one of these down the backyard I could actually have it easily 50 meters away from the next person's nearest house so they would never hear it I'd see it yeah and what might look a bit weird me I think it looks futuristic and cool but that that may not be what my neighbors think and it would produce power reliably day or night and you'd never hear it unless it was really high winds of course in which case wind noise around the rest of the house would probably drown it out anyway. Yeah, it was funny. A few months ago, we took a drive. We live near Amish County. We took a drive out. We went out to Grandpa's Cheese Barn. It's what you would expect. And on the way out there, we drove by probably three or four houses in a row. And the one in the middle had these signs up. And it was, I don't think I think it was these specifically, but it was a strange looking, different kind of, yeah, small, personal wind turbine. And they had a few of them out in front of each house. And like I said, there were all these little small billboards they put up. And obviously, there's some sort of showroom. But yeah, I'm thinking of, I go across the street and it's just farmland for miles and miles and miles and miles. that kind of power generation, once you get below a certain density for population, then that's pretty appealing. Well, exactly. And the great thing about wind, as I say, is it generates day and night. And we'll get to talk about solar in a minute, but that is a huge advantage. So in any case, I guess what I'm getting at is that that particular energy ball model that I was talking about, it sells for about 5000 euros. Which, honestly, is pretty cheap for what it does. And you're supposed to put it on a 40 foot tower, which isn't small. It's definitely going to see that from the street. It's the problem I think that the wind turbines have this to this to issues from a residential perspective. The first one is the noise you have to get a model that has low noise and obviously the smaller the turbine the less noise it makes but you know the less advantage you have of using it. because you want to have a decent size one because the whole point of it is there's two ways you have to approach alternative energy. The first one is you have to reduce your power consumption first because so many of the appliances that we use, and I'll talk about this in a bit detail in a minute, but you have to reduce that consumption first. And then you have to look at how can I then provide, get that alternative energy either through solar or through my own hydro or through my own wind turbine. And the problems with hydro and wind are that it's more applicable on larger properties. And it's easy for me to say that, but in a built up city area, it's essentially impossible because you can't put a 40 foot tower on a small, you know, like eighth of an acre or quarter. Well, even if anyone has quarter acre blocks in cities anymore, you know, you just, you know, most, most places you simply can't. can't. And even if you could and find one that wasn't noisy and yeah, the neighbors might like it or might not, there's building ordinances that say you can't. Restrictive covenants and condo associates. Yeah. That's right. So, yeah, it's the sort of thing that I think people in a rural or semi rural area could consider quite seriously. However, if you're living in a high density area in city just yeah it's you're not going to work if you put a small one up that's great it might help a little bit but it's never going to supply all of your electricity needs and that's some of the thing that's that's part of the message of this discussion as well okay any other points on wind before we move on to solar I know nothing about the only thing I was trying to look it up here but I couldn't. I'm a dragon and farm bird deaths. See if there's any truth to this. Oh yeah birds I didn't mention that. I know birds don't deal that well with radio towers either but um. Yeah, but the difference is that a massive metal blade spinning through the air is going to chop a bird into pieces, whereas flying in front of a microwave dish might just give it a bit of a scare. Well, I'm thinking about those blinking lights at night for planes. I remember reading that. Yeah, yeah, there's a lot of articles about that. Okay, so wind turbines may be also not great for birds. But, okay. - Yeah, well, that's the other thing I meant to mention as well. You're quite right. And that is that, yes, birds do cop it from wind turbines. And, yeah, and that's not a good thing. But, yeah, everything is relative to what you're comparing it to. And it's all about trade-off. And is that a trade-off you're prepared to live with? And I don't mean to sound heartless or anything, but given a choice between, you know, putting more CO2 in the air and losing a few birds, as long as they're not endangered and as long as we keep an eye on it, then that would seem to be a reasonable trade off. But, you know, it's just the sort of thing that, because I just think of, well, anyway, right. Don't want to go too far down that road. Okay, so let's talk solar, which is really more of my area of background specifically. I'm sorry, this is great, though. It's the Sibley guides identification of North American birds and trees. I just got to send you this chart. One sec. It's too funny. Windows kill far, far, far more birds than wind turbines. Pretty close to a billion birds. Yeah, every year are killed by flying into your picture window and wind turbines just don't even register. I mean, it's just a blip. So cool. So it's just bad to be a bird, apparently. Sorry, birds. Exactly. Look out for people's windows. All right. Okay. So sunlight. The other form of abundant free energy is sunlight. And honestly, solar panels always look to me like some kind of a miracle because they're turning sunlight into electricity. No moving parts and I just find that just amazing. The thing is though that solar is really only useful in certain parts of the world and by that I mean it's not just if you live in a desert, it's also other prevailing things like you could be in a desert but that particular desert could be nearby a mountain range and the and the mountain range causes a lot of cloud cover to form. And even though you don't get enough to get rain, you would have enough that would essentially dampen the intensity of the sunlight. So it's not just as simple as saying, well, how many hours a day do I get sunlight in this location? It's how many hours a day do I get usable sunlight in this location on average? I put a presentation together for training the junior engineers at a company I worked for previously. And I've put that up on OnTech Distortion as part of this podcast episode. And it's all about solar system design. It is focused on Australia. However, the bottom line is that when I was doing the research for it, there is a lot of information out there for North America as well. And a lot of the concepts, the same concepts apply. So the first thing to get your head around is the fact that you need a solar radiation chart that shows you what parts of the country get on average however many hours of sunlight at different days at the different months of the year. So the one in the slide deck is actually not as again, I say is of Australia, but the point is that if you have a look at that, the East Coast of Australia gets less sunlight than the Central and Western parts, simply because the Great Dividing Range creates a lot of cloud, even though that cloud doesn't rain on the westward side of the mountain ranges. And I believe there's a similar issue with Canada, for example, with the Rocky Mountains, also I imagine would be the same going into the United States, going down through Montana and so on inland from there into the prairie states, I guess. So once you've got your head around how many actual usable hours of daylight you'll get on a day, you can sort of start to figure out how big a system you might need. But in any case, it's not just about photovoltaics because one of the other things that people have been working with is what I call solar thermal. So you've got essentially solar electric or solar photovoltaic, which is the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity which I find cool or there's thermal and solar thermal focuses the sunlight onto a focusing tube and that tube has passing through it some kind of a liquid for transferring the heat and one of the most most common ones or what's what's becoming sorry the most popular one is is essentially salt when you heat salt up to a very high temperature it melts so essentially it's molten salt and the molten salt is piped through these pipes at the focal point of the of the reflector dishes and the reflected dishes track the sunlight as it passes the sun as it passes through the sky and the great thing with a solar thermal station is that just like a coal-fired power station the salt in this case carries that heat energy away from the parabolic dishes and down into a steam generation facility, converting that heat through boiler water, through steam, and then driving a turbine and you get electricity again. The thing is that the molten salt has an interesting property because, well, it retains its heat. So you can actually build up a stockpile of heat energy stored in the molten salt such that after hours you can still generate electricity. So what you do is you will simply siphon off a fixed amount and store the rest during the daytime so that you can essentially design your solar thermal plant to create electricity 24 hours a day which is a pretty cool way of doing it and these plants are becoming more and more common but they're very expensive to build and again they don't get the same sort of thermal efficiencies because of the whole steam to mechanical energy conversion problem you don't get spectacular conversion rates out of it you don't get the sorts of efficiencies that in theory you could get out of direct photovoltaic conversion. So that was a great thing about solar thermal is that because you can essentially then siphon some of that molten salt off and you can then produce electricity 24 hours a day that means that essentially you have a solar power plant that is capable of operating when the Sun is down and the technology is getting better all the time but the scale of it is still a problem and it's it's quite expensive to build and you also need to have power to track the sunlight. To make it efficient you've got to track the sunlight and that requires a tracking system which has moving parts which makes it less reliable and requires more maintenance. So these solar thermal power plants are becoming increasingly popular on an industrial scale but they're essentially impossible at a residential scale. You'll never reach a point where that's economical or sensible even. So, photovoltaics is really the best way to go and rather than go into the details to how it works, suffice it to say that certain materials when they are exposed to certain wavelengths of light will emit electrons based on the substance. So there's a whole bunch of different ones and photovoltaic cells for essentially a mass-produced... rather hang on... the most energy efficient... sorry the most conversion efficient solar panels that you can get in photovoltaics will convert just under 20% of the sunlight into electricity. And the first thing you're you're gonna say is well that's that's terrible compare that to every other kind of conversion and that's shocking and it is but what's happening is it's getting better all the time so 20 years ago the conversion efficiency was something like mass-produced panels was some between 10 and 12 percent so we've doubled that in a couple of decades and in the laboratory they're already seeing experimental cells that start to do some pretty crazy stuff they actually are extracting nearly 50% efficiency of course whether or not you can mass produce that in a cost effective way remains to be seen but theoretically at least it is possible it's better than waiting 50 million years for a whole species to die out and suck them up out of the ground Yes, completely agree. So, the bottom line is that photovoltaics for the moment are the way to go. And if you stack up the thermal versus the photovoltaic, the solar stuff, your overall efficiency is significantly better for photovoltaic on smaller scales. On larger scales, it's better on thermal. So on larger scales you're looking at a maximum of 24% overall efficiency for thermal, but the problem with that is of course the maintenance and it really only works on large scales. Whereas once you include all of the losses in your battery system, when you look at the losses in your inverters that you've got to use, which we'll talk about in a minute, the photovoltaic stuff weighs in at around about 13% overall efficiency which to be honest yeah it sounds like it's not as good but it's actually not too bad considering where we were and where we are now. So there's a couple of ways that you can do solar connection or any kind of alternative energy connection to your house and I know I haven't talked about hydro yet but I'll get to that home hydro it sounds crazy but it's you never know so essentially you need to have a either wind or you need your solar panels and you're going to need a charger inverter regulator either separately or in a box and they all have different functionality sometimes you can get an all-in-one box and I've seen some pretty cool all in one device, I say yeah pretty cool I would say that but you know yeah they are as far as I'm concerned whereby you plug in you can plug in solar panels you can plug in a wind generator you can plug in hydro you can plug in your batteries if you've got them and you can plug it into the grid if you want to and it'll sort out all the details for you and they sell them based on size so five kilowatt system or a ten kilowatt system but grid connect is essentially the way that my house is set up. So I've got solar panels and I've got a grid connect inverter and it has no battery option. It has no wind generator option. It's simply designed to, as cost-effectively as possible, 4.8 kilowatts will actually connect my solar power to the grid. And what that does is essentially the solar panels create DC and it'll run them through what they call an inverter. and the inverter will chop the DC up into pieces and then reconstruct it as an AC waveform. So it'll chop it up and using pulse width modulation, we'll turn that into a essentially a sine wave and that sine wave, that power sine wave will then connect to the grid. And you can then allow power to flow out to the grid or you can take power off of the grid, depending on your needs. - So do you have like a big capacitor there kind of cycling on and off Or is it actually something more in line? - The way it works is that all the power, the power, okay. I'm trying to think of the best way to describe it. You've got, okay, imagine your house has a load of one kilowatt. And when the sun is overhead, the sunlight is producing two kilowatts of electricity from the sun. So what that leaves you with is that leaves you with an additional kilowatt. and where's it gonna go? The way it's wired, it's wired in such a way that your local load will take up that first kilowatt of solar power. The other kilowatt will go back out onto the grid. - Okay, so it just knows to take from solar first. - Yeah, well it's- - Or try to. - Yeah, we say it knows. I mean, it's about relative impedances, but the bottom line is that's how, yeah, that's exactly how it works out. I don't know how technical to go so I'll just I think I might leave it there I don't want to lose too many people but the point is that because your localized load essentially takes that off of what you have to draw off the grid you don't have to draw that one kilowatt off the grid anymore you take it from the solar and what you then get is the power flow back onto the grid and you get compensated for that because essentially you're then providing power onto the grid for other people to use use. And these grid connect systems have proven very popular because you don't need to worry about batteries, you don't need to worry about any of that overnight stuff, especially with solar because you know if it's a cloudy day or if it's nighttime you've got nothing. So without batteries you have no way of getting electricity so you need to stay connected to the grid. So grid connect has taken off massive, big-time, it's been very very popular, very very successful and that started to create other problems on the grid. But anyway before we go down that road just yet I have to talk a little bit more about the solar panel. So the solar panels will they'll produce DC we'll wire them up in a series of chains so you'll have let's say one chain where you wire them up in series and you might have 400 volts and two chains and what the inverter does essentially is it takes that DC and as I it chops up and creates the AC waveform for the inverter and the inverter then provides the AC which is coming off of the grid and that's also important because everything in our house is AC so we've got fridges, freezers, microwaves, you know all that stuff it's all AC. The funny thing is that a lot of stuff is no longer AC and this is something that's fascinating to watch. I'm not sure if you've noticed in the last 10 years, but air conditioning. So air conditioning in the last 10 years, people started to push "oh this is an inverter system" or "that's the marketing lingo they use here anyway, so it's an inverter". And if you recall a while ago, an air conditioner would have a massive clunk and a thunk and a big, you know, sometimes even the the lights might dim slightly and you'd hear this big grinding noise as the compressor kicked in and the compressor would run it would compress the gas and then that that crazy effect when you compress those special gases and cfc's and stuff in them some of them don't have cfc's anymore but and and that creates that cooling effect and then you get that blast of nice cold air well well that was a direct online starter that was essentially a single phase ac motor and it was told right clunk start right cool me down that's what we have well yeah okay and that's fine there's still plenty of air conditions out there like that and that's fine but what's been happening in the last 10 years especially with split systems is they've gone away from that idea and they've gone to essentially a variable speed drive what they the marketing lingo guys call an inverter And what that does is it takes the AC coming in and the nice AC off the grid, forget we're talking about alternative energy for a moment, and it takes that and it slices it up into pieces. And then it essentially creates a DC bus. So you start out with AC at 110 volts or 230 volts or whatever voltage you're at. You slice it up at whatever frequency it was at and you turn it into let's say it's a 400 volt or 600 volt DC bus. So you're only point. I'm sorry. So it's only makes it so when you're talking about slicing this up, it is, it's only grabbing part of the, the, the, the wave. Yeah. What it does is on, on the rectification side is it's it'll run it through the, the old way, old fashioned way of doing it was through a bridge rectifier, but there's more than one way of doing it. And the great thing with power electronics, things like thyristors and IGBTs, is that you can literally turn and turn the power on and off based on, you know, a computer program. So you can say, well, I'm gonna take this waveform and I'm going to go chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, like this and turn it on and off when I want to. So it only lets power through when you tell it to. And you can take a waveform that starts as an alternating waveform and turn it into a flat DC waveform. Well, I guess if it's flat DC, it's not a waveform anymore. But anyway, the point is that that DC bus becomes the source of the power that you then use in the device. And in an inverter, what it does is it takes the AC at 50 Hertz or 60 Hertz, chops it up and creates a DC bus, and then through pulse width modulation, then reconstructs that as whatever frequency sine wave it wants. So instead of going clunk, start motor, it actually starts at, let's say one Hertz and then it gradually increases to two Hertz, then three, five, 10, 15, 20, until it gets to a target speed - It's just spinning up. - Yes, exactly. One of the biggest problems with the whole direct online starting is that there's a massive current draw, huge current draw and of course as your current spikes your voltage drops and hence why you see the dimming of the light sometimes is that the voltage drops and that has a direct effect on everything else that's connected to your grid. So the variable speed drive in these things or soft starters is another way of doing it but the point is that the basic idea is the inverter technology instead of having a hysteresis control such that you hit Let's say the temperature in the room is, I'm sorry I can't do this in Fahrenheit, but in Celsius, let's say it hits 26 degrees in the room and you want it down at 18 degrees. Well you hit 26, it goes right clunk start compressor and then it runs the compressor for a minute or two, temperature drops down to about 18 and it turns the compressor off again. This whole on off on off on off thing is very inefficient because every time you start and start the damn motor There's a massive waste of energy trying to get up to speed Whereas the variable speed drive they estimate it somewhere between 30 and 35 percent more efficient to run a variable speed drive and These inverter systems now no longer have that clunk noise It's it's just you don't you just hear it spinning up and then you hear it spinning down again - Well, it sounds like you'd also be a lot, I mean, one, you'd be quieter, it'd be more pleasant to live with, but also you could, what you were just saying, right? You could program that to do some pretty tricky stuff, couldn't you? - Absolutely. And the reason I'm sort of telling this side story, the reason that that's important is that if things are being run now, like large appliances are now being run through variable speed drives, because let's face it, VSDs and solid state converters are essentially becoming cheapest chips. They are almost commodity items now. And fridges are using them, washing machines are using them, dryers are using them. All these advancements in energy efficiency in our appliances are coming from this sort of technology. And guess what? This technology doesn't need AC. It works fine with DC, because all it's doing is it's taking the AC you're giving it, turning it into DC first, and then playing with the frequency itself. So in essence, if you get rid of the AC and you go straight to DC, you save yourself that one conversion step, and that conversion step therefore saves you electricity, because every time you convert the power you lose efficiency, you lose energy. So this is where this gets very interesting, because you've got solar panels producing AC, you've got wind turbines generating AC, although you can get DC wind turbines but most of them produce AC. But let's stick with solar panels. So solar panels have got DC in them, you're running them into an inverter to connect to the grid, okay, well that's because the grid's already AC. But if you weren't connecting to the grid you've got to go DC to charge your batteries because your batteries are DC okay and then you've got DC in the house because well you don't need AC anymore because you're already just going running with DC and chopping up to start and stop your devices and so on all of our laptops and computers and TV set switch mode power supplies they don't need AC either it's just a yes the AC it's the washing machine the dryer yeah now for all that stuff is on big appliances only and that's changing so okay so if everything else needs if nothing else needs AC anymore, then why are you doing it? Of course there is a good reason for that, but that's the transmission side. But my point is that I find that to be very very interesting and there's going to come a point in the next 20, 30, 40 years where you start to see appliances that will support AC or DC input and it simply won't matter. The power supply will simply figure it out. You know and honestly and that will be a good thing because that'll be another step forward in efficiency because you won't have to do the AC to DC conversion you'll have straight straight to DC. So anyway that's just an interesting side note that I see going on in the world is that AC is dying. Okay, so solar panels, we've talked about appliances and so on, AC and DC, and how things are moving towards DC and AC is becoming less relevant. One of the other things that's worth talking about with solar and with wind is the battery side of this equation. So the battery piece of this is really the problem. It's the storage of energy that is the problem. And this doesn't just affect the electricity industry in terms of alternative energy sources, because as amazing as solar is, it's low maintenance, it's relatively low cost. You know, the problem is storage. How do you cater for when there is no sunlight? But this also affects cars like the Tesla or the Nissan Leaf or any of these vehicles now that electric cars, they have the same problem. Our mobile phones do, our laptops do, all of this stuff is all relying on portable energy and to date there's some pretty inefficient or volatile solutions so I think it's worth talking about essentially storage, energy storage. So the lead acid battery has been around since I think it was 1857? No 1859 that's it. It was invented by this this guy called Gaston Plantet and he may have been French and yeah anyway and each of the cells is a 2.1 volt cell and it uses a essentially a well a lead acid oddly it's got lead in it so it's got lead plates in it and it also has and the electrolyte in them is typically sulfuric acid flooded less a flooded lead acid batteries are the ones that you know, have got liquid in them. Of course you can get gel cells which have a gel with matting and so on inside them which are sealed lead-acid batteries or SLAs, but it's all basically the same concept, same sorts of voltages and so on. The life expectancy varies. The flooded lead-acid batteries will give you 20 to 30 years of life if you maintain them well. In other words, you don't overly discharge them and you don't overcharge them but essentially you know they are big they are heavy and they really haven't evolved much in 150 years but the funny thing is up until the last 10-15 years they've been the go-to battery if you've had a solar system and if you've had any kind of alternative system so what's happened however in the last little while is lithium So lithium batteries are becoming much more common now. You've got the most volatile kind with highest energy density is lithium ion. The problem with lithium ion is because it's highly reactive and it also doesn't have very long life. So it'll give you a few years of faithful service and then it'll just die. it's you know so I kind of think of it like it's it's burns brightly and then you know dies quickly so it had a short but intense life and then it's gone anyway what they are doing however is they are starting to mix together different chemicals different metals in order to make a better lithium battery to give the lithium batteries properties that are more similar to a lead acid but with its lighter weight and higher energy density. The batteries, just out of curiosity, in the Tesla, are an incredible concoction. So I'll just list it off. So it's lithium, nickel, I believe it's cobalt, manganese, and all of that is, that goes into their battery cells. So they're not just like, it's not like lithium ion, Which is, you know, it's actually a, it's a different, much more complicated one. One of the ones that's becoming more popular, however, for solar and alternative energy applications is Lithium Ion, Iron, not Ion, Iron as in ferric, LiFePO4, which is a phosphate. So it's lithium ion phosphate. And the lithium ion phosphate batteries will give you much higher energy density than a lead acid. They are physically lighter than a lead acid. And that will give you a similar lifespan to a lead acid. So about 20 years, but they are also dear as poison. And the problem is the damn lithium, right? Because lithium is highly reactive. And because it's highly reactive, although it's naturally occurring, statistically, if you look at the periodic table, - Right. - Yeah, there's plenty of it out there, but it's all reacted and it's hard. You gotta separate it from all the other stuff that's out there. And that gets expensive and it's not as plentiful or easy to mine in a forms that are easy to extract it than you might think. And of course now you're competing with, you know, well, smartphones. So you got iPhones and you've got Android phones probably, and you've got, you know, you have MacBook Air and every other manufacturer in the world wants to use lithium batteries because lithium is lighter and has a very high energy density. So the problem is that, you know, either of these batteries, either a lead acid or a lithium ferroiron phosphate battery, you're looking at efficiencies of about 85 to 90%, which means that if I put in 100 watt hours of energy, I'm only going to get 85 watt hours of energy back out again. So it's not a perfect system because what you're doing essentially is you're storing your electricity as in a chemical. So it's a chemical conversion you're forcing forward or back based on the electrons, right? So you put electrons into the reaction, you force it forward, you pull them out, you get it back again. But the efficiency is not perfect because you lose energy and heat. So you look at things like a capacitor and a capacitor is essentially a lossless form of storage. So you've got two plates and they're separated by physical distance or an electrolyte of some kind that resists the passing of electricity through it. And that sounds wonderful because you could sink as much power as you want at whatever rate you want into it. There's no chemical conversion of the electrons into anything else and that's all wonderful right? You can discharge it all in an instant if you want to. I mean you don't want to but you know if you did you could. But the problem with that is the size. The size of the plates that you need, the size of the capacitors that you need and if there's leakage, capacitors can sometimes explode and that's kind of bad as well. So that turns out to be a very very expensive way of storing electricity and it's it's also takes up huge amount of physical space. So there is another interesting way of doing it and this is how we sort of circle back to hydro. So hydro is kind of cool insofar as if you have a big enough body of water you can actually pump water up up into, let's say there's two dams, an upper dam and a lower dam. So you can actually, during the day, let's say you want to store your electricity, well, what you can do is you can turn the generators into pumps or use a separate set of pumps and close off the generator lines if you want to. And you can pump that water from the lower dam to the upper dam. That takes the electricity that you're producing during the day and stores it in potential energy in the water in the upper dam. And then at nighttime, you can then open up the valves and drive your generators and produce hydroelectricity of an evening. So you're essentially using the water as a big capacitor, a big battery. And that only really works on an industrial scale, the amount of water that you've got to have, the size of the dams and generators and everything. Although I had read about a few people that have actually done this on a smaller scale. When I say smaller, I don't mean residential, I mean like big rural properties. - Oh, so you just- - Where they've had large dams. They were just wiring stuff up to their stove. Yeah, I mean, it's just something that even I could not contemplate. The volume of water that I'd need to store the energy would be, well, much, much, much, much bigger. It just seems impossible that it would be efficient, but... Well, the funny thing is that, you know, it is actually a good way to go insofar as the maintenance requirements are significantly less. The lifespan of the system is well beyond 30 years. And yeah, I mean, if you've got the space and you've already got a dam in it, then theoretically, it, although it has a higher start-up, well, it doesn't have a higher startup cost, it probably doesn't actually, if the land is suitable for it, it does actually work. And on an industrial scale, it's quite incredible because pumped hydro storage for power in North America is the largest one in the world. It's the Bath County pumped storage station. It stores 3 gigawatts and that's massive. I mean the biggest the power station I worked on at Stanwell was 1.44 gigawatts and that's the one that's a coal-fired station I worked at for six months. But you know in Australia, the New South Wales, the Tammut 3 station is 1.5 gigawatts and that's a a pumped hydro station. So from a commercial level the idea works, it can work, but at a personal level it can't. Not really, not for the average person. So we're stuck with batteries. Can't use capacitors, can't use pumped hydro, not from a personal level, you're stuck with batteries. So we did some costings for an average household, well I say an average household, I mean Okay, it was my house, which is not average, I guess. You count the TVs, count the computers. Is it average? No, that's fine. Anyhow, so I did the math and it turns out that about 80% of the cost of going completely off the grid is the batteries. Wow. It's huge. It's unbelievably huge. And the battery problem is the problem. It's not, and this is the reason why baseload continues to win, is because you're producing all this power day and night. Nuclear, coal, hydro do not require the sun. They aren't intermittent, and therefore they can be relied upon to produce electricity all day, all night, all the time. So the problem with alternative energy is how the hell do you store it? Because if you can produce it sporadically, you need to store it for, well, a rainy day. And the only way to store it on massive scales is pumped hydro. And guess what? A lot of that stuff is getting canned is because of environmental concerns, which I find ironic. So for an individual level, It is possible to have enough solar panels on a roof in most houses in my country anyway, and in most parts of the southern United States as well, and I think central as well, central and southern United States, have got enough such that you can put enough solar panels on your roof in order to supply the electricity that you need. But the problem is the storage. it's going to cost you a lot of money for that storage. And as more and more people choose the compromise route, which is the grid connect system, the grid connect is great, but the power companies are starting to feel it. Because what's happening is during the daytime peak, all the solar power, all the solar panels and the grid connect system around Australia at the moment, for example, is that they're actually seeing a reduction. They're seeing a reduction for the first time in like, I don't know if it's the first time ever, but it's the first time in a long time. From year to year, there's now a reduction in the amount of power being consumed or rather being required to be produced for the grid. And that's because that that daytime peak, all the solar connect systems, the grid connect systems are now peak lopping essentially, but at a residential level. Well, so each residence. Am I right about this? So from my understanding with the way that the economics works is that that is, you know, when you have these these peak usage hours, you know, talking your am peak and your p.m. Peak, that's where they make all their money or at least a that's the most profitable time for them to be selling their power, right? Yes. So they really, they really have to hate that. They do. And that's the problem. And so what it's okay. So what what is happening is that the p.m. Peak is still a problem. Because the sun is down between well, okay, maybe in summer it isn't, but you know between five and seven it's more of a problem. And oddly I hate daylight saving, but funnily daylight saving actually helps because what daylight saving does is it sends people home on average earlier, which means that they are home for the PM peak at a time at which the power consumption is still has enough sunlight to actually be of some benefit. And in the US at least, that was one of the really big reasons why it became a national thing. It was during World War II, I believe. >> Okay. >> And it was for war production so that energy was cheaper for all the GM plants that had been turned out to make tanks. I remember reading into that when I was on, I don't know. >> Interesting. >> A few years back, ranting about daylight savings and figuring out why it actually existed. yeah, had less to do with farming than at least in the US, you know, than it appears. But yeah. That's interesting. I didn't know that. Okay, so the interesting effect that we're seeing now is that alternative energy sources are also being brought onto the grid. So what it means is that not just at a residential level but at an industrial level, such that now as an individual you can say you know what I want to go and sign up with green power company X or Y or Z or Z sorry anyway and you can go and sign up with them and say I'm gonna buy all my electricity from you and it's all gonna be generated from wind and it'll cost you more sure but they are essentially putting wind power onto the grid for you so that you can sort of you know live with a I don't know a clearer conscience or something from my point of view though I'd rather put solar panels on my roof and then that essentially can reduce or eliminate my electricity bill so I'm helping the environment in my hip pocket rather than just my conscience. Bottom line though is that I'm still reliant on the grid. So what you end up with is you get less profit from the peak periods, you get a reduction in your peak lopping requirements for the major electricity providers, so all those gas turbines and and diesel backup generators they bring on lines for peak lopping, they're not required so much anymore. And when that happens, it reaches a point where they start stop, they're saying, well, maybe we don't need as much base load anymore. And the more and more of this that comes online, we reach a point where the grid essentially will not go any bigger in terms of production capacity, but we hit a limit when we've got this PM peak we can't get rid of and that limit can only be solved by a better method of storage and on an industrial scale the only real answer to that is I think is hydro or thermal thermal solar which uses molten salt. There's very few other storage technologies that I've come across that do the job needed. So until we solve the battery problem we are still going to have a grid and people are still going to have grid connect systems. Batteries are simply too expensive, they're too inefficient and you know they simply don't make it uneconomical. But the power companies are starting to feel the sting and what they're doing is they well one of the proposals in our local area is that they're saying well we're going to go from a variable rate pricing structure to a fixed connection rate, a fixed connection plus variable rate structure. So let's say for example you have a thousand dollar electricity bill for each year and that's based purely on the number of kilowatt hours that you use in that year. They want to move to a system where you have a fixed connection rate of say $500 a year and you then also pay the number of kilowatt hours on top of that. And the reason they're doing that is because all the people with a lot of people with solar power now are paying nothing for their electricity because they're producing so much during the daytime that they meet their own needs plus they push that extra surplus onto the grid and because they get compensated for that amount at night time when they use some of that electricity back again they end up with a net of zero dollars. Yeah I remember seeing in the news about some you know grandma had set up her uh set up a solar system and she was, you know, they had to cut her a check or maybe that was apocryphal, but it was... There's something deeply appealing about that. Well, that's what I'm trying to do to be perfectly frank, but the way the system's set up here is that you can never get a check. Yeah, you'll produce the electricity and I'll simply give you a credit to be used at some point in the future should you need it. And I'll say, "Oh yeah, we'll just hang on onto your money, which seems a bit annoying, but from my point of view, hey, they are essentially the grid is my capacitor, the grid is my battery. Right. Well, that seems to be where it makes, given that batteries are, do have these shortcomings, right? It seems like it makes sense that those problems are solved outside of the home right now, right? That pushing it out to the grid and ganging them up into a little substation or something that would seem sensible to me. Absolutely. And it's sensible from our point of view, but it's not sensible from the power company's point of view. And one of the reasons that they want to get away from this is that they still have to maintain the grid. So what if everyone does this? Everyone. Okay, maybe that's an extreme case. let's say that a quarter of their subscribers connected to the grid do this, they still have to maintain 25% of their infrastructure that they're getting no revenue for. Right. Where does the money come from? So they still have to have linesmen that go out there that that climb up the power poles and fix the overhead lines and they come down a storm. If there's a fault or something breaks, someone has to go out and fix it. someone has to go and read the meter and and and you know even on i guess modern digital metering systems that report back over powerline communications or 3g mobile communications is becoming more common but still there's plenty that don't. Yeah where did their salary come from? So they're going to a fixed connection cost and of course now this pushes the pendulum back the other way so it becomes cheaper now for me. So at the moment that's not the case and they haven't done it yet they're just they're saying look guys this is this is coming because we can't this business model is not sustainable for us this is the power company saying it's not sustainable so what do you do you have to pass on that cost it's a fixed cost to each of your customers irrespective and so all the people that don't have solar panels are now getting pissed off so what does that encourage that encourages people to buy the damn batteries and disconnect from the grid. Right. Because I'll say, you know what, if I'm going to lose $500 a year for the next 30 years, then I'll put that money towards my batteries, thanks. Well, and screw you power company, right? And that's what's going to happen. Well, yeah, let me, so let me tell my story, then the story of Cuyahoga Falls and in 1888, when they set up the the Falls Edison Electric Light and Power Company. I have the page open here just so I have the facts right. But yeah, so Coggle Falls, a little town, maybe about 50,000 people in Northeast Ohio, north of Akron, south of Cleveland. And think Mayberry, right? From Leave It to Beaver, just suburban, nice, small American community. nothing fancy, not some liberal enclave at all, but it has this strange, deeply rooted, socialist attitude towards things like utilities and parks and in this case public power. And the Kogel Falls Electric Company is part of the American Municipal Power, which is about 20 other cities in Ohio, I think, do this. And well, it's really not that interesting, except long story short, our electric was always super cheap and super reliable. And the, if you might remember in 2003, and this is where It's just it's funny. So in 2003, first energy in Ohio, in Akron, they had a. It was in August, I think they had a tree went down, hit a line and. One thing led to another, and later on that day, pretty much like the northern half of the eastern seaboard had lost power, right, it was one of those just cascading. I mean, you might see it on the news, all the people walking out of Manhattan on foot. And everything in Ohio was out. It was just all, you know, a good portion of the U.S. had lost power. And it was, you know, for a few days nothing was going on except for Cuyahoga Falls. There was this little, you know, this tiny little community and a couple of the, you know, smaller exurbs that were around it still had power. And it was funny because I was living with my mom at the time and so I'm getting to watch all this on the news whereas everyone else is just... I mean people in Cleveland having to, you know, walk down uh stairs of their buildings rather than come down the elevator in that kind of situation it was it was It made me aware really deeply of the kind of, I guess the political aspect to all this too. Um, I don't mean it in terms of like left right or or actual parties, but that There are there's the question of will, right? Like how... It's sort of the flip side of what you were just saying. You're right that if these systems don't change in terms of who's paying the bills and how are people being rewarded or punished for their behavior, you end up with... you end up giving up some control of it, right? that these power, these, you know, the companies that are watching as their profits disappear at the same time, there's this virtuous or vicious cycle, depending on your point of view, that's pushing people to do more and more of the same thing. But there's going to be a lot of pain along the way, isn't there? You see what I'm saying? I mean, it's, it's, it's, I just, I, I just bring it up because I have that perspective of growing up feeling like electric was just the thing you got, right? That it was a utility just like water. And yeah, I mean, you see, I mean, they're a nonprofit, this AMP and maybe that's not good, but I never saw the problem with it. Right? Yeah, I think it's an interesting situation. And it might only work because it's small. Who knows? I'm not trying to make a judgment over whether these things should be run by big, gigantic corporations. But it was in pretty stark contrast to see this massive, huge company that knocked out about a quarter of the grid in the US for... I mean, it seems so fragile, right? I mean, literally, it was a tree went down in someone's backyard and billions of dollars of economic damage, right? It's insane. Yeah, that is insane. I mean, I suppose, problem is people see, have seen electricity as being one of those things that's just there, you turn the light switch on, there it is. And there's not much thinking beyond that other than, oh, I got to pay the electric bill this month, right? And it's just, it's one of those things that we all sort of are so used to it. But from my side of the fence, what I see is that all of the detail and the complexity behind all the different power stations and the different kinds of power stations and why they're there and how expensive they are to run and the distribution networks and everything. It's a massive amount of infrastructure and so many things can go wrong. - Right. - The funniest thing is that it would have been unthinkable. Well, actually it would have been unthinkable. There was a thing, there was an approach many years ago before there was a grid, before everything was all connected together. And when I say it's all connected together, it is and it isn't. like there's massive areas that are connected on certain grids and there's sub grids and there's high voltage connectors and between different grids and so on. But bottom line is that we started out with small electric generators at individual factories and some households even, and that would simply run the local, the power and the lights and everything. But they got expensive 'cause it was expensive to run. It was a commodity thing and only the really well-off residences had them. People are very well off. And then of course, power companies said, oh, we can do this cheaper. So they build like big power stations, they run them cheaper and it's cheaper electricity. They put cables out to everywhere and suddenly you got yourself an electricity industry and everyone hooks up to that because it's faster, better, cheaper than getting your own local generator. But what's changing now is that something like solar, and I keep harping on solar because the beauty of solar is that not only is it free, and there's no maintenance costs, you can put fixed panels on the roof, so there's no moving parts, and it'll still perform relatively well. You can do tracking, and there's a bunch of calculations in the presentation. Feel free to go through that. I don't wanna get too hung up on it now, tracking versus non-tracking solar panels, but you can get away with non-tracking solar panels, and it's usually the better option. So people are able to put their own stuff in their own house now and if not for the battery problem could be completely self-sufficient without too much trouble in a lot of parts of the world. Won't work everywhere, won't work year-round in some places. I mean solar panels are going to struggle to work when they've got a few inches of snow covering them but you know it comes down to intelligent design and the slope of them to get the snow off and so on so forth. There's ways around it where there's a will there's a way. So you know I see it as being that's going to cause this whole grid thing that used to make sense to make less sense. I can see what could happen is if they do come up with a better industrial scale mass storage technique other than hydro like maybe maybe they do you know some form of mass chemical storage of electricity generated from individual residences and you can pay to use that and it's cheaper to use that than it is to use batteries then you know that that potentially could be a part saviour of the of the grid and and so on but if it's but if that sort of thing doesn't happen and battery technology does improve then people will simply disconnect from the grid because it no longer makes sense economically and people will take control of their own power I think that's inevitable in the end. Um, yeah, I mean that it seems like all the that's the that's the march of history, right? I mean, networks don't last forever. Well, you start out decentralized, you centralize for efficiency, technology changes, and then you decentralize, right? It's funny, but you see that sort of thing in management as well. Right. The technology in this case drives it rather than one person's whim. I guess that's the key difference, but still, it is fascinating to watch. And honestly, if I could economically cut my connection to the grid, I'd do it. I wish I could, because we had an ex-tropical cyclone come through about a year ago. and it essentially was 100 and something 110 I think uh kilometer an hour wind gusts uh whatever that is in knots or miles per hour but you know respectable across southeast Queensland as it moved across southeast Queensland and it knocked down we had power out for four days now how do I I had solar panels at the time but they're grid connect with the the inverter had no batteries to store the electricity and being grid connect it needed to you know the term they use is work against so it needed to work against the grid in order to actually function so you would think oh i've got solar panels i could use during the daytime well no because the inverter i've got doesn't work like that so as a result if i had had batteries and i had a different inverter that actually was able to work independent of the grid i would have had power uninterrupted that whole time because nothing in my house was damaged. These were overhead power cables many, many kilometers away and many of them because it was such widespread damage and it took them days to rectify it. So you solve a lot of these sorts of issues by going to distributed electricity generation. There are no overhead power lines to care about anymore. Yeah, I was, you know, I was thinking about that after our, um, I've been paying attention driving around after our first show looking for, for towers for cell tower. And it's, it's insane how many there are now. Uh, I can't. Once you see him, you can't unsee him. Right. And it's, you know, and they're, you know, usually they're off in the distance. Right. But there's this one spot kind of near my house where I realized, like, if I parked the car right here and get out, like every direction, I see like a couple. And, you know, and that's, I mean, that's its own network, right? But it's a hell of a lot different than the, I mean, how insane is it? Really, you think about, I mean, it's crazy what we get used to, right? That just everywhere, you know, at least in the US and anything, any country, I'm sure with the same kind of population density that we chop down pine trees and stick them every 50 feet or so and run wires from one to the other and to our houses. I mean, the eye just kind of edits them out. But man, they're everywhere. And it's nuts. This ugly, horrible system. It's just... Yeah, and this is the thing. A lot of new estates that they're building now, housing estates and so on, they're starting to build it all underground. Right. So because people just don't like it and the funny thing is where i live is our our state is relatively new it's only eight years old and um so we built on the estate when it was new but the all the surrounding estates are all above ground uh power they're all overhead power but our state isn't ours is underground so you can literally see as the two streets that come in and out of the that come in and out of our area, what they do is you see this transition, you see that cable's going down, the pole disappearing underground and you're like, oh, you can see the old and the new here. I'm looking out my window and counting. So there are eight wires dangling, right? And it's just, yeah, it is a yuck. It does. It looks terrible. And you know, looks being one thing, every cable that's strung in the air is a cable that can fall down, right? And even if you put it underground, that still doesn't solve the long-term issues. I mean, you've got corrosion, you've got water ingress causing damage to the cables, you know, you've got all sorts of other issues that you've got to deal with. And if you get rid of the grid and you go stand alone, you don't have any of that. You've just got to deal with your own house internally, which you had to deal with anyway. But anyway, there's one other thing I just wanted to quickly address because it comes up a lot when I harp on about solar panels is that there seems to be a misconception or misinformation, I'm not sure which it is, regarding whether or not the solar panels are in fact environmentally better, or the amount of energy that goes into creating solar panels is actually of a net benefit. And the thing is that it's, there was a statement released by the one of the solar panel manufacturers a few years ago whereby they said that the amount of energy that's been put into creating solar panels has now been generated for free by those solar panels, such that you know on a global scale. Now I don't know whether or not that's actually true or not but it would make sense that it's true to me. The thing is that when you're creating a solar panel from an environmental point of view it is essentially a very highly recyclable product because, and of course if you consider this the batteries, I mean if we talk about lead acid batteries the lead is very highly recyclable. The glass in the sheet over the top of the solar panel solar cells that is also very recyclable. usually they have an aluminium frame that's recyclable. The silicon itself is recyclable and the bottom line is that you know once your panels have finished their 20-30 year lifespan you can recycle most every almost everything in them so and they can then you know be converted down and to the next generation of solar panels potentially or other products. The thing is silicon manufacturing because all these solar panels are made from silicon at the moment, yeah we've been making silicon stuff for a long time and people didn't seem to care about it. It's uh because all the microchips that we use the ASICs everything in our phones now laptops computers all of that silicon thyristors everything yeah that all uses exactly the same chemicals that you would make to make solar panels. So this is something that is not new this has been around a a long time and no one seemed to care too much before but just just to rattle off the list of some of the things that's in there you've got hydrogen chloride trichlorosilane hydrofluoric acid hydrogen fluoride and a good old favorite sodium hydroxide aka caustic soda these are all used and there's a there's a few more but those are some of the more nasty ones in the manufacturing of the of anything of any you know of silicon and obviously lead is a heavy metal sure you know and you know we all know the whole the story of the romans the lead plumbing and and lead poisoning and all that sort of stuff but the bottom line is that it's if it's handled safely and done correctly there's really no environmental impact because you can neutralize and dispose safely of that stuff without it leaking into the environment and causing a problem. So the whole argument of solar panels, the funny thing is the solar panels as well in terms of energy that they make, the average polycrystalline solar panel these days will generate the amount of energy it's required, that it took to build it, within three years of its installation. And that's in an average installation location with five hours of sunlight a day. So yeah a lot of of those arguments just don't hold water and wind generators are similar sorts of numbers. And is that is that holding true when it comes to cost as a consumer? Cost as a consumer, well I'll give you an example for mine. My payback period on my solar panels is six and a half years. So at the end of the six and a half years time I will have saved enough money at that point I will have paid for those panels and that includes the interest on the loan that I took out to do it. Wow. So yeah it's worth doing. But that's of course assuming they don't pull the rug out from under me. See if they say oh we're now going to introduce fixed connection costs for all your electricity and I drive my bill down to zero which I'm on my way to doing I haven't reached it yet but I'm on the road then you know that that changes that that number and by how much it changes it I don't know but then given that I've got a 20 to 35 20 to 30 year lifespan on my panels, I don't expect it to be an issue. I expect I will recoup the cost and then some of these panels in their lifetime and that's not including the environmental benefit of doing it. So it's sort of for me it's a double whammy, it's a you know two for one deal. So the only other thing I just wanted to quickly talk about is energy around the home. I said there's two ways you got to look at alternative energy and the first of the ways is of course of getting a different power source in my case I've gone solar a combination of solar or wind is probably the best solution but I understand there's a lot of places that can't do it. Hydro personal hydro majority of people can't do that they simply don't have a running stream of water in their backyard they don't have dams in their yard majority people just don't have those things. Wind you can get away with on rural, semi-rural and even on some larger suburban blocks perhaps, so long as your ordinances allow it. And you pick a nice quiet one. And it's probably the best combination, wind plus solar, to give you coverage 24 hours a day. But going stand-alone on batteries is still an expensive option. But if you're trying to drive down your consumption as well, that's a good solution. So I used to have a Mac Pro. And my Mac Pro on idle, I bought a, it was like 25 bucks on eBay, and it's a power monitoring device. It measures instantaneous power, average power, and of course the usual other ones like voltage, current, and so on. Nothing flash, but it does the job. And it measured the power of my Mac Pro at idle. This is just the tower unit, not the monitor, but it measured that at about 138 watts instantaneous power. I measured my MacBook Air and it was idling at 18 watts. So there's a phenomenal difference in how much power it was consuming. So I sold my Mac Pro solely for that reason. I sold it and I missed my Mac Pro, I've got to admit, but you know what? I'm using my MacBook Air for everything and I'm planning on getting a Mac Mini whenever they put the Haswells in them 'cause I'll be low power again. And essentially that should come in at around the 10 to 15 watt range. That amount of saving by getting rid of the Mac Pro and my kids had a Hackintosh I'd put together and it clocked in at around about 100 watts, continuous and idle. And the elimination of those two has saved me $220 every three months on my power bill. - I can't remember the numbers, but back in, early 2000s, I had a small web design, print design shop, and we figured out the math on what it cost for all our big, gigantic CRTs we were using. And yeah, it was the same story. Like, we're like, "Oh, we're okay. We're all going to Best Buy. We're going to get some nice flat panels." Because, yeah, it's insane. I mean, it's nuts how much less power things draw now. Absolutely. I mean, I look at my TV, like my Apple TV and the old, you know, my old HP Plasma, and I think the Apple TV draws like 1.3, maybe. Just, you know, when it's just sitting there, right? And, yeah. And that stuff is getting better and better all the time. Well, what I recommend people do is if they want to reduce their power bill, just for that reason alone, have a good critical look about what you've got in your house and the bottom line you don't don't expect it to change overnight. You have a long-term plan so when you buy an appliance of any kind ask the question how much power does this thing consume and if you dig enough on the web you will find information. There is stuff out there for a lot of appliances these days. Buy one of these energy meters they're $20-$25 investment. They are worth their, they will pay for themselves in the first appliance that saves you money. And figure out your usage pattern. So the big hitters are lighting, computers, televisions. Of course, you don't replace a television every 2 or 3 years. Well, hopefully you don't. I guess maybe someone does but anyway I've checked out our television draws I think it's 330 watts continuous and it needs to go but I can't just get rid of it because it's a it was at the time it was a $1,200 investment now I found an equivalent size TV that costs $2,000 right now and that's going to consume less than half that amount of power considering it's on a lot, alas it is on a lot, which probably shouldn't be but never mind, and that's gonna save me a decent amount of money but the payback period on that's much longer. So what I'm suggesting people do is you plan your purchases accordingly so you know okay if I want to get my next device to replace this I'm gonna get one that's really energy efficient. You drive those efficiencies so I mean I had a 27 inch AOC monitor. I got rid of it with the Mac Pro and I replaced it with a, dare I admit, Samsung, but hey it's a nice monitor. In an energy saver mode it uses just about a quarter of what the 27 inch monitor did. Do you really need a 27 inch monitor? I decided that I didn't because obviously the bigger area, the more backlighting, the more electricity that it takes. And this thing sits in a darker room so I can get away with a lower backlight. The energy saving mode, I don't mean energy saving as in sleep mode, I mean energy saving as in it uses significantly less backlight energy. This thing only draws 10 watts and it's a 24 inch monitor. So that's what I recommend people do and what I'm trying to do is I'm trying to reach that magical balance where I'm producing a surplus of solar of electricity from the solar panels and I'm not expending enough uh I'm not consuming enough kilowatt hours to end up with a a positive electricity bill I'm trying to reach that magical zero I could be a year or two out from that but I'm planning for it and that's that's that's what I'm trying to do. So you're kind of turning it into a game. It makes me think of the people with the Priuses, you know, hybrid cars that have the little displays next to your speedometer showing you your fuel consumption and how that behavior or that metric influences behavior because people will start paying attention, right? And as soon as you start measuring it, you start-- it's almost without even conscious effort, you start to want-- you start to-- you do. We turn things into games. And I think like the Nest thermostat and some of these other quote unquote smart home kind of things seem to be playing on that. Because yeah, finding that-- well, and that's the challenge. And I look at our house. and it's an older house. And so we were talking right before we got on the show about the windows, right? And I have a buddy, he's gonna come out here at some point and he's got a little, oh, he's got one of those little handheld, like infrared thermal imagers so you can see where heat's leaking from. And in our climate, like, yeah, that's one of the first best things to do is just go get more insulation and just cram it in, find out where you're, you know, you'll see it sometimes you'll see just that, you know, the, the heat distortion just coming out of, out of eaves and stuff like that. And it is kind of fun. It's like you're like hunting bugs in code. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, it's a it's a very handy tool for finding, finding issues. So, yeah, that's, yeah, I guess that's, I mean, I think we kind of hit it all. I think it's, it's interesting. It's, it's one of those problems, like, you know, it's a big global humanity scale problem and there's a lot of like, there's a lot of gnashing of teeth over it, but I I like the way you put it together, especially-- you have to make these arguments in terms of economics. And you can see the slow adoption of solar. I think it suffered from not enough of that in the beginning, right? and the people that put them on their roof as a, you know, honestly, you know, it was probably more of a political statement, which has its place and I understand, but things like the light bulbs and how we're at, where, you know, we're at the point where it's just, you know, we've got these high quality, reliable, pretty inexpensive, long lasting, but well, like what, like James Smith, Smith JW, Lifx or Lifex, whatever, I don't know how to pronounce it, sorry James, the company he works for, it's not only are these things super, they last for like 35 years, super efficient, and you can control them from your computer. So they're programmable. I mean, you can do anything you want with these things. It's like this no brainer, right? There's so many different ways to appeal. And that's sort of what I think about, I was thinking when, as you're going through all this, is there really isn't one single answer, right? I mean, like solar power where I live, eh, maybe when it gets to a certain cost efficiency, it'll make sense, but I mean, we're like, it's famously gray here. Like we get sun maybe 90 days out of the year, but it's just like with the peak energy usage, you wanna find the specific for you things things that they give the best bang for the buck and it just requires work. It makes me think of like these, the new movement in farming. I can't, I'm going to use the wrong term. It's because it means the other thing, but it's essentially it's like strategic farming. It's highly labor and computing intensive, right? They're planning out the use of the land extremely efficiently and making sure that, well, if we have this crop growing here one year, we're going to have the chickens roost over here the next because it's going to affect the soil and, you know, all this sort of thing. And it's great because, I mean, one is profitable, but it really plays to what humans are good at as opposed to just kind of lulling us into, "Oh, that's the way it's done." And that's kind of feels like the grid kind of did that to us. I think one of the interesting things I started out talking about AC and DC, and I never really I need to circle back to this. One of the problems with electricity is the source that you can generate. It does not always equal the destination you want to consume it. And that's a big problem, because if you think about it, The Mojave Desert might be the ideal location for a solar power plant, but the problem is if you're in Ohio and the Mojave Desert is a very long way from there, how do you get the electricity from point A to point B from the source to the destination? And the problem you've got with AC in particular with AC is that when the field alternates, when the electric and magnetic fields alternate at 50 or 60 hertz what happens is you get a coupling effect and because essentially if you've got a conductor that's going over the ground and the ground the earth or ground whatever you want to call it is an imperfect conductor but it still does conduct electricity so what you end up with is you get an inductive and capacitive coupling effect and that coupling essentially allows you to transfer energy and in this case coupling to ground is energy you don't want to couple because that coupling is essentially a loss and it's the same kind of idea as a wireless charger right so you've got a phone that doesn't have a physical connector and it charges itself on essentially what it is is it's a bunch of coils that are inside a plastic or rubber mount and you simply place the phone on top and it's got matching coils that pick up the magnetic field. It's magnetically coupled between the two. So the point is that that sort of coupling, that sort of energy transfer, a similar kind of idea with AC power lines and that's one of the reasons why they want to put the high voltage power lines so high above the ground to reduce that coupling effect. but you still get coupling you still get loss and and that's bad and you look at the reasons they put it in the first place with step up and step down transformers well i've been talking this this last well gosh we're getting close to two hours but we're talking about the whole effect of of thyristor control or igbt control set like literally turning power on and off when you want to and and that allows you to go from ac to dc and back again but what it also allows you to do is to convert different voltages to different levels not just the frequency so what you can do is you can literally switch voltage that say you start out at a thousand volts DC you can use switch mode technology to boost that up to 2,000 volts or 2 kilovolts whatever you want to call it so you can now using switch mode technology with with silicon you can now switch the power to whatever voltage you want suddenly you don't need transformers anymore at least not in the traditional sense and you can actually do away with the whole idea of using AC transmission lines. You can go to DC and that eliminates a lot of that coupling effect. I was looking for a percentage figure and unfortunately, I'm sorry I couldn't find one, but there is a percentage improvement over average ground that you get from going from AC to DC and it is significant, especially when you consider that these systems carry megawatts or gigawatts and some of these power transmission lines. Obviously, it's still not a perfect answer, but if you think about it, if you were to convert everything across, let's say you get a 10% improvement. I don't know what the figure is. I'm sorry, I wish I did, but I couldn't find it before this episode. So let's say it's a 10% improvement. Well, that means that you could, for the same amount of power, have your generation source 10% further away from your current destination with the same performance. So as the technology switches over to a DC based system for high voltage power transmission which is the next logical step because for example the new hydro plant at Three Gorges Dam in China all of their power distribution at high voltage is all done on DC and DC is better for underground because again you get less coupling again underground so undersea cables most of the ones around Europe are all high voltage DC now It's all going back to DC again because it's more efficient, there's less coupling and we can do with silicon now what we had to do with a transformer 20-30 years ago. So anyway, bottom line is that if you can reduce your losses then that means that you don't have to put solar panels on your roof in Ohio. You can have the solar panels providing power to you from a thousand miles away in theory. if you put in a lot of them, and here's another funny little effect you can think about as well for a minute. And that is, let's say that you've got a big country like the US or like Australia, physically a large country. You could have solar panels starting in the east coast going all the way across to the west coast in well-lit areas. And as the sun is passing over those areas, you will get different amounts of power available in your system. So you could still be generating power on the west coast even though the Sun is down on the east coast and As your transmission improves and you reduce your losses then you know it's quite possible that you could be generating wind energy In some part of Montana that's being used elsewhere after the Sun's gone down So the grid could still have a big play a part to play in alternative energy if everything switches across to DC we reduce our losses that way. There's also advancements in superconductivity, but at the moment that's still laboratory, that's still experimental. It's not far enough along as technologies go, but that's another potential advancement. - That's pretty cool. I like that we talked about this. I keep thinking of, I think about 2007, 2008, the big economic crisis. And Obama came in and-- I mean, essentially, all the bailouts, all the money that got injected into the economy. And what always bothered me was the lack of a big project, like a Manhattan Project or a Tennessee Valley Authority, something that, you mean, we got credits for insulating our windows and for making our homes more energy efficient, which maybe that was the right decision, but I always, I don't know, some part of me misses that kind of big thinking, what you're talking about, right? that we've got this, and maybe it's fine, maybe it's just something that's better off for smaller entrepreneurs to do it, because maybe it'll be possible this time around. But, you know, why we didn't end up with full employment and tons of guys digging ditches on the sides of, you know, the interstate highway system, right? I mean, we already have large, huge swaths of land cut out of our country, where we could put panels everywhere. And you look at, I mean, look at like what Apple's doing with their data centers and these crazy solar arrays that they're putting in. I don't know, I guess it's kind of a rant, but not a rant, just a lament that sometimes, maybe these things aren't economically efficient yet, or they will be, it'll be a few years, or there's added costs associated with it, but at least we'd have them in the end. It kind of bugged me that we didn't take that opportunity to push forward a bit because it's getting pretty rickety here. Our infrastructure is not doing so great. At some point there will have to be an occurrence. Something that causes everything to change. change an event and in Queensland the state I live in for example that was when they had the solar panel bonus scheme whereby they said if you have solar panels installed on your roof maximum 5 kilowatts by a certain date we will give you a 44 cent per kilowatt Feed-in tariff essentially meaning that the consumption tariff at the moment is 26 cents per kilowatt so if I consume a kilowatt a kilowatt hour sorry Then it's gonna cost me 23 cents if I generate that same kilowatt back onto the grid feed into the grid I'm gonna get paid quote-unquote paid 44 cents Which is insane In a insanely good but what it did was it pushed a lot of people who'd never considered alternative energy to saying I can save money my power bill it made an economic issue right it pushed a massive massive boom and that what's happened now is that they produce that now down to 8 cents per kilowatt hour that's the right I'm on because I missed out on that unfortunately there's a long story behind that but never mind that point is I'm an eight cents kilowatt hour versus 26 cents in so I'm already producing you know essentially nearly three times what I need and I still haven't paying for a bill but I can push it lower than that and if I went to batteries I would be fine but never mind that purchase cost the batteries too much we already talked about that so what it's done though is it's pushed the consumption the peak consumption like I said on the grid down significantly to the point at which we're seeing shrinkage. So in a time when you've got more and more flat screen TVs, more computers charging, more handheld devices, all of that stuff, more and more electrical appliances and electrical load in theory going into the grid, more new houses, more everything and yet we have a drop in electricity. Now why would that be? That would be because of the solar energy scheme bonus scheme they put in five years ago and that one event drove a change to a point at which now that the electricity providers are talking about as I said going to a fixed price monthly for connection fee or three monthly. So at some point that will happen whether that's on a state-by-state basis or a federal basis, irrespective, it will happen. Something has to happen. And then it will all change. But for the moment, I see where we are as being an opportunity for people to reduce or eliminate their electricity bills in many locations around the world. And if the electricity providers are interested or capable of giving them to do that, and the possibility of energy independence, which is something that fascinates me. I mean, my ideal would be to have an electric car and have an overnight storage system with batteries or some other technology such that I could disconnect from the grid and drive electric cars and have no fuel bill and have no electricity bill. That would be my ideal scenario. Well, yeah, I was just thinking about that. Would electric cars be sort of an intermediate step for dealing with the battery. I mean, essentially, until we have, you know, some sort of golden, wonderful, you know, highly efficient storage unit that you can just have in your basement, wouldn't just piping your excess over to keep your, you know, basically top off your car. I mean, there's, like I said, it seems like there's lots of ways that it's like you have like 16 glasses of water in front of you and you're pouring into one and as it fills up you want to siphon off into all these other ones right so you're just minimizing your you're minimizing your spillage what's kind of just going out and going nowhere and if you manage that intelligently enough then you're you're always going to be riding the the crest of that wave right? You're always going to be in the best position moving forward regardless of what happens. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, longer term down the road there should be, I would hope, there would be standardization whereby I would say that the door swings both ways, shall we say. So rather than just having, I've got solar panels and they're going to charge the batteries for the house, whereby you would have a true power converter such that power could flow in either direction. So you could say, okay, well, I'm going to charge my car battery, my car battery pack, but now, oops, my house is low, I don't need to use the car, so I'm going to drain the car batteries and push that power into the house system. And that sort of interchangeability whereby the storage is a common medium held in different locations, one fixed location, mobile locations, that sort of thing, longer term is where it may end up going, whether or not, you know, there's all regulatory issues and how you would make that work with a vehicle and so on. But I mean, where there's a will, there's a way, it can be done. It's just a matter of, you know, and you know, where batteries will be like a plugin device. You simply, you know, oh, I need more batteries. Let's go and buy a few more and plug them into a rack, you know, and, but that sort of thing is still, is still not there yet. And the battery problem is the problem. Until then, grid connect is the only real viable option. And until the power companies make it not a viable option anymore, in which case batteries will be back on the table. Anyway. - You never answered my question. - What was the question? Sorry. - If I back up from iCloud in between two high tension wires, will my data evaporate? - Oh, well, that was a serious question. Ah, well, hmm. Let's see. Maybe. - That's always the answer with iCloud. Yes. Because your data will be gone. - He's exactly right. I can't go wrong with that answer, see. So that's why I'm gonna go with that option. - It's my Donnie Darko reference for the day. - Roll your dice, you never know, you might get lucky. - Yeah, exactly. Well, it's a good show. I learned a lot, so hopefully other people do too. - Awesome. - It's one of those, yeah, I'm glad we talked about it because it's one of those, you know, I ain't just someone who's done mild electrical tinkering, but never really knowing what I'm doing. And I don't know, I think probably the last time, I mean, I took a course that dealt with any of this would have been in high school and I probably wasn't paying attention. I don't know, is this good to get a pragmatic overview of what's going on? So I can think about it the right way. Because, you know, I mean, things like, I think there is a lot of misinformation out there Or just, you know, I heard something once when I was 15 and that's just the way I think it is now. And things have changed a lot. So, it sounds like it at least. - Yeah, there is a lot of misinformation out there. That's for sure. And I find it to be frustrating and a bit disheartening, you know, to hear the scaremongering about, oh, you know, solar panels, you know, you gotta use toxic chemicals to make them. And, you know, it's like, well, you do realize it's the same toxic chemicals that go into making your iPhone, right? and your laptop and TVs and all these other things and they've got far nastier things in them. I find that to be frustrating and the whole thing with the wind generators and noise and say, oh, wind generators, oh, they're just gonna, everyone's gonna lose sleep and so on. And at some point, the powerball, energy ball, for example, that sort of thing may just become standard and people will just accept, you know what, hey, these are actually pretty damn quiet and you know what, they don't look that bad. They certainly don't look at any of it as bad as whatever else. And they're giving us free electricity, so what's the problem? And it frustrates the hell out of me as an engineer when people's prejudices and opinions stop progress. It's frustrating as hell because you know that most of the issues that are raised are bullshit. Unfortunately, sorry for that. But unfortunately you can't fight that perception. And yeah, even if it's ridiculous, even if they've proven it's not true, people have a habit of believing it. And who started the rumor, I don't know. If things actually happened, I don't know. But seriously, a lot of the complaints about wind and a lot of the complaints about solar panels and so on are just unfounded. So, cool. Alright man. Shall we wrap it up? Yep. If you want to talk more about this, you can find Jon on Twitter @johnchidgey. That's J-O-H-N-C-H-I-D-G-E-Y. It's the same on If you'd like to send an email, you can send it to [email protected]. I'm Ben Alexander, and you can reach me on Twitter @fiatluxfm. Or you can see show announcements and related materials by following the show's account account @PragmaticShow on Twitter. Thanks for listening everyone. Thanks, John. Thank you. (dramatic music) (dramatic music) (Music) (whooshing) [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO]
Duration 2 hours, 14 minutes and 39 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

TechDistortion Companion Article: Solar System Design

High Voltage DC:

Wind Power:


Solar Power:

Steam Turbines:

‎ Batteries:

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Ben Alexander

Ben Alexander

Ben created and runs and Fiat Lux

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.