May 19, 2017: Things That Caught My Eye

Cintia and I had a lovely holiday in Port Macquarie last week and now we’re happily home again in our cozy little Greeny Flat. It’s too wet to do any work on the Energy Retrofit of the old cottage next door so I thought I’d provide you with links to a bunch of interesting things that have caught my attention over the last couple of weeks.

Predicting the End of Petrol Cars and Fossil Fuels

This article from the Financial Post just came in from one of our readers who is also a physics teacher at a local high-school. The article credits Stanford University economist Tony Seba with the following predictions:

Image source: treehugger

Image source: treehugger

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

‘Certain high-cost countries, companies, and fields will see their oil production entirely wiped out. Exxon-Mobil, Shell and BP could see 40 per cent to 50 per cent of their assets become stranded,’ the report said.

These are all large claims, though familiar to those on the cutting edge of energy technology. While the professor’s timing may be off by a few years, there is little doubt about the general direction.

EVs will increase U.S. electricity demand by 18 per cent but that does not imply the need for more capacity. They will draw power at times of peak supply and release it during peak demand. They are themselves a storage reservoir, helping to smooth the effects of intermittent solar and wind, and to absorb excess base-load from power plants.

Experts will argue over Seba’s claims. His broad point is that multiple technological trends are combining in a perfect storm. The simplicity of the EV model is breath-taking. The Tesla S has 18 moving parts, one hundred times fewer than a combustion engine car. “Maintenance is essentially zero. That is why Tesla is offering infinite-mile warranties. You can drive it to the moon and back and they will still warranty it,” Prof Seba said.

Whether you believe it or not, I think it’s worth considering just how dramatic, rapid and world-changing the shift to electric and self-driving vehicles might be. No new petrol cars in eight years time…. that’s certainly food for thought!

Autonomous Electric Garbage Truck

Image source: New Atlas

Image source: New Atlas

Don’t believe the above? What if I told you that Volvo is currently testing a prototype Autonomous Electric Garbage Truck? According to this article from New Atlas this trial is already underway in Sweden.

The truck is similar to a project Volvo has undertaken with autonomous mining vehicles, using very similar technology, but programmed for urban use. The truck is first manually driven through the garbage collection route as it maps and records the path and its various stops. Subsequent visits will then be driven by the truck itself, which continuously senses its surroundings to react to changes in the environment.

Self-driving Cars Smooth Traffic Flow

170519 Traffic JamOn the subject of autonomous vehicles, this New Atlas article reports on a study which showed that just adding one self-driving car for every twenty human-driven ones had a big impact on traffic flow.

Based on test track results, the teams says that having a mix of only five percent automated vehicles can eliminate stop-and-go waves while producing fuel savings of up to 40 percent.

It seems that, by simply driving at a steady speed (compared to humans who can’t resist going as fast as possible until they come up behind the car in front then hitting the brakes) the autonomous vehicle was able to cause all of the human drivers to stick to a steady pace as well. Traffic control heaven won’t have any human drivers in it at all.

Five Minute Car Charging

170519 Flash BatteryAlso from New Atlas comes this article about a new type of ‘Flash Battery’ which has the potential to take on 500km worth of electric car charging in only five minutes.

The FlashBattery makes use of something called nanodots to deliver fast charging. Nanodots are chemically synthesized peptide molecules. They form the basis for a multi-function electrode, allowing super capacitor-style rapid charging with a slow discharge similar to a lithium-ion battery. The chemical compound isn’t flammable and has a higher combustion temperature than graphite, which cuts the resistance of the battery.

From a production standpoint, the nanodots are made from a range of environmentally friendly bio-organic raw materials that are naturally abundant and, according to StoreDot, cheap to manufacture.

It’s these sorts of developments that might make Tony Seba’s predictions into realities.

Wave Swell Energy

Image source: ABC

Image source: ABC

I’ve written in the past about a West Australian company called Carnegie Wave Energy and their CETO electricity generator. Lately I’ve been hearing about a Sydney startup called Wave Swell Energy (WSE) which has a very different type of wave energy generator. The CETO system, and most of the other ocean generators I’ve seen before, bob up and down in the water and use that motion to generate electricity. The WSE system however stays stationary and uses the force of waves entering a fixed chamber to compress air which powers a turbine to generate electricity.

What I like about this concept is that it seems much less susceptible to damage from either corrosion or extreme weather conditions. Having owned an ocean-going yacht I’m painfully aware of how difficult it can be to maintain anything in the corrosive and rough conditions the ocean produces. So a system that is protected from the worst of these seems like a very good idea.

According to an article in The Australian, WSE is currently raising funds to build its first wave power plant on King Island in Bass Strait.

The expected cost of energy production using WSE technology is 10c per kilowatt hour, which makes it comparable with new hi-tech forms of coal power. ‘That is a very competitive rate for the first iteration of renewable technology,’ said WSE founder Tom Denniss. ‘And we would expect in five years’ time to be delivering energy at half that cost.’

This looks like the most promising wave energy technology I’ve seen to date and you can see an ABC video story about it by clicking here.

Other Items

This Press Release talks about a new ‘Energy-on Demand’ system that sounds extremely promising. Certainly one to keep an eye on. ‘While the technology draws from my invention – the CLAS (Chemical Looping Air Separation) process which is patented by the University of Newcastle – it also features a number of unique characteristics which make it distinct,’ said Professor Moghtaderi. ‘It’s a poly-generation process capable of simultaneous production of heat, power, oxygen, hot water and chilled water for air-conditioning.  As a result, the overall efficiency of the process is in excess of 90 percent.’

This Energy Matters article quotes a report by the Climate Council stating ‘that gas isn’t any less polluting than coal as an energy source and will ultimately further push  electricity prices up … and… that renewable energy ‘can provide a secure, affordable alternative to new fossil fuels’. Personally I think we’re about to see dramatic increases in the cost of both grid electricity and natural gas. This will make renewable energy even more competitive, especially because it should also cause an increase in Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) which is the amount your energy retailer pays you for any excess solar power you put back into the grid.

The last point is emphasised by this article from Solar Quotes which predicts that electricity prices will rise by about 20% over the next 2-3 years and that solar FITs will double as a result. So, if you haven’t already installed a solar power system… now is definitely the time to do it. You’ll save more from the grid power you don’t use and you’ll make more from the solar power you put into the grid.

Image Source: News.com.au

Image Source: News.com.au

Lastly for this week we’ll briefly revisit the plastic waste issue. Many of you have probably seen the first show in the ABC’s three-part series entitled War on Waste. If you haven’t seen it yet you can watch it on iview here. It’s an entertaining and thought-provoking look at how much waste we produce and what we might do about it. This is timely in light of the recent discovery of a deserted island in the Pacific that is completely covered in plastic rubbish that has washed up out of the ocean. And it is helping to push support for the petition I mentioned a few weeks ago called Ban The Bag which now has over 134,000 signatures.

It finally feels like something has shifted in the movement towards reducing carbon emissions and pollution and improving energy efficiency and sustainability. Higher prices for ‘traditional’ energy sources will make many of these new technologies and existing renewable energy sources more cost-competitive and hasten the shift to cleaner and greener ways of doing things.

Bring it on!

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