May 31, 2015: Exciting Times!

What an exciting week it has been! As if a visit to the Tesla showroom in Sydney wasn’t enough, there have been a number of articles in the mainstream media that signal a fundamental shift in the global (and Australian) energy future.

Saudi Arabia to go Renewable

When the world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, declares that it can see an end to fossil fuels and is investing in renewable energy, I start to feel glimmers of hope. As reported by Reuters on May 21st ‘Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi said on Thursday the kingdom envisaged the fact that fossil fuels could become unnecessary before the middle of the century and was investing in renewable energy for that reason.’

This article from the Solar Quotes blog paints a very promising picture of what the Saudi announcement means for global energy… ‘If correct, Naimi’s comments signify the end of fossil fuels as the dominant energy source in a shorter time frame than many have predicted.’

The Sydney Morning Herald followed this with an article about just how disconnected the Abbot Government is with the rest of the world. The article describes how the success of renewable energy policy in places like Germany and South Australia, along with a shift in thinking in places like Saudi Arabia and Canada, leaves Australia lagging behind everyone else… ‘The world is moving faster, to cheaper and cleaner renewable energy, than just about anyone had imagined. Especially the Abbott government.’

However the good news for Australia is that the rest of the country seems to have decided not to wait for Abbott to realise the stupidity of his war on renewable energy and is moving forward in spite of him. Numerous states are jockeying to create their own Renewable Energy Standard and Australian businesses are looking towards a renewable future.

Even AGL Sees the Future of Renewables

According to this article from the Australian Conservation Foundation, AGL was Australia’s third largest climate polluter in 2014. However, during the same year, it also acquired Australia’s second largest polluter, Macquarie Generation, and so is now Australia’s largest single producer of climate pollution. As recently as October last year AGL was calling for the removal of the Renewable Energy Target. So I’m HIGHLY skeptical about anything AGL has to say about the future of renewable energy… however… AGL is also Australia’s largest single producer of renewable energy and has announced that it plans to ‘ramp up investment in renewable energy capacity and to shut down all of its existing coal plants over the next 35 years, as part of a new plan to decarbonise its generation portfolio by 2050.’

What exactly it means by ‘decarbonise its portfolio’ will be interesting to observe as time goes on, but still, this has to be seen as a positive sign for renewable energy and climate change action in Australia. As this article from puts it, this ‘marks an apparent turn-around for the company, which in recent years has spent billions on coal assets.’ So I choose to take this as a very positive sign and I’m fascinated to see what will happen next.

Visit to the Tesla Showroom

Tesla's showroom in Chatswood

Tesla’s showroom in Chatswood

On Thursday evening I joined my father and brother along with about 80 members of The Australia Club’s car enthusiast group on a trip to see the Tesla car company’s showroom in Chatswood. This was a very eye-opening experience. Having heard, read and written a lot about Tesla cars it was great to actually see some and gain a first-hand understanding of how they are revolutionising the car industry.

To me, the Tesla Model S looks a lot like any other high-end luxury sedan but the fact is that, apart from the most basic fundamentals (like wheels, seats, steering wheel, etc), it is unlike anything we have previously seen. Almost everything about it is different; from the way it works to the way it drives, the way it is built and the way it is sold.

Make no mistake, these are VERY expensive vehicles with price tags in the $100 -200k range (although Tesla does have plans to release a more modestly priced Model 3 in the not-too-distant future). Meanwhile, the lucky few who can afford to own a Model S are at the forefront of a fundamental change. The speed, power and range of these cars, while astounding, is not what interests me the most. It’s the possibility to run them on renewable energy and the upgradability that represents the true shift.

Even if a Tesla is charged from a dirty, coal-fired power plant, the company claims it is still 30% less polluting than a petrol-powered car. Since it can also be charged with renewable energy it has the potential to be massively less damaging to the environment than the petrol equivalent. I’ve had some interesting discussions over the last week about the true comparison between the pollution generated by petrol versus electric cars. The conclusion we came to was that there are a LOT of variables (such as the sources of the electricity, the fuel-efficiency of the petrol car, the cost of military action to support the oil industry, etc, etc, etc) and that truly unbiased analysis is VERY difficult to find. If any readers know of accurate and unbiased information on this subject I would be interested in seeing it and covering the subject in more detail in a future newsletter.

Built-in Un-obsolescence

I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘In-built Obsolescence’ which describes the way products are deliberately designed not to last long before they are either worn out, broken or superseded by the next upgrade or latest version. This ensures that dumb consumers like us keep buying more crap which leads to an incredible amount of waste, cost, pollution and dissatisfaction.

The Tesla, by contrast, is designed to be ‘future proof’ meaning that the current model is built with everything the designers can imagine it needing in the future including an automatically upgrading computer control system. This is the true revolution of the Tesla car. Every Tesla upgrades itself via satelite link while it is charging and its owners are sleeping overnight (just like your computer or mobile phone).  This can result in small improvements to performance and functionality or in major shifts in the way things work.

For example, at the showroom I spoke to a surgeon who has ordered a Tesla which, he claims, by the end of this year, will be capable of learning his driveway, raising its suspension automatically to clear the bump as he pulls in off the street, dropping him off at the front door, and then parking itself in his garage. The car knows where it is and comes complete with all the required technology (cameras, sensors, self-steering, etc) to be able to drive itself. Within a couple of years he expects that his car will have been upgraded to the point that it is capable of complete autonomous driving… without the owner having to do (or pay for) anything new.

Whether or not you like the idea of autonomous cars is beside the point. The point being that Tesla is putting a halt to the long-standing corporate practice of ‘in-built obsolescence’. Hopefully this will force other companies to follow suit, and not just car companies. It would be nice to think that this might signal the beginning of a return to manufacturing products that are designed and built to last a lifetime… Time will tell.

Coming back to earth, I’m already thinking about another visit to the Tesla showroom but this time to take one for a test drive. The company spokesman clearly stated that there is no ‘pre-qualifying’ procedure and ANYONE is welcome to come and have a drive. I have no intention of buying a Model S but I would like to at least experience what it is like. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile you can see some more pictures from the Tesla showroom visit here.

There are other promising signs that Tesla is forcing other companies to rethink the way they do business. For example, this article from Gizmag describes how Ford has followed Tesla’s lead and made all of its electric car patents available to anyone who wants to develop them… ‘Innovation is our goal,’ says Kevin Layden, director of Ford Electrification Programs. ‘The way to provide the best technology is through constant development and progress. By sharing our research with other companies, we will accelerate the growth of electrified vehicle technology and deliver even better products to customers.’ I bet the Ford would NEVER have considered such an action if Tesla hadn’t led the way and hopefully lots more companies will follow Tesla’s lead in lots more ways.

Other Encouraging News

I realise this is a long Newsletter so I will keep the rest as brief as possible. Click on any of the following links to read more about…

Smart Urban Villages in Melbourne offering an alternative to the single family home and mortgage.

Sydney Morning Herald analyses Smart Urban Village’s long-term lease policy

‘Awair’ affordable, interactive Indoor Air Quality monitor – cost effectively track you air quality

Saphonian bladeless wind ‘turbine’ claims double the efficiency and half the cost of ‘propeller’ turbines plus silent operation, no danger to birds and readily storable renewable energy

Useful tips for PV system owners from AGL of all people

Abbott budget boosts solar for small businesses

Hawaii votes to go 100% Renewable

Other Weird and Interesting News

Fun looking electric motor bike

Ugly robotic ‘Cheetah’ can jump over obstacles – watch the video… it’s pretty amazing! Science-fiction, creepy, scary, mind-boggling to think what it might lead to… but amazing nonetheless.


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