Thursday, December 17, 2015

Batteries And Bulldust: Why ‘Living Off The Grid’ Is Not As Green As You Think

The arrival in Australia of the Tesla "Powerwall" storage battery has produced lots of erections among Australian Greenies.  They see it as the longed-for solution to the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.  The article below however points out that such systems do not add up as a replacement for reticulated electricity.  The author offers nuclear power as the best replacement for hydrocarbon energy sources.

As you could probably guess from the angry tone of it, the article appeared in a far-Left publication, "New Matilda".  It is however perfectly rational and numerate in its critique of the batteries.  There have always been some Green/Leftists who like nukes.  The Left in fact hailed nuclear power when it was first rolled out in the '50s.  It was "new" so they liked it.

This is not the first pro-nuke article to appear in "New Matilda". Editor Chris Graham is evidently balanced in his thinking on some occasions.  He even published a critique of extreme feminism recently. But he did have to publish a Greenie reply to the article below which I don't think is worth linking to.

By Geoff Russell

You can bet that a newsreader who pronounces film as ‘fill-em’ will receive a flood of complaints. Similarly, spelling mistakes in the written word will be pounced upon by the eagle-eyed readers with howls of protest and claims of declining standards and the impending end of civilisation.

But when people screw up with numbers, there’s a stunned silence. Our innovation hungry Prime Minister recently announced $48m to combat falling maths science standards, but it isn’t just children that need help with numbers.

Take, for example, the Climate Council’s Tim Flannery and SBS journalist Emma Hannigan in a recent news report about household battery technologies. Flannery responded to Hannigan’s statement that sales of battery systems were predicted to be 50,000 per year for the next decade by saying “… when you get to that point, you won’t need coal fired power systems any more”.

Get any 10-year-old (with a phone) to do the maths. 50,000 x 10 is half a million batteries. And how many households do we have?

Maths won’t help you here, you need data. Google it… number of households in Australia. It’s about 9 million.

So will half a million batteries make a dent in our electricity emissions? A tad useless would be an appropriate technical estimate, but since household electricity is only about a quarter of electricity, it’s really a quarter of a tad useless.

Put simply, half a million batteries, at around $7,150 dollars each (current price) is an incredibly stupid way to spend $35 billion dollars. For comparison, the United Arab Emirates bought 4 x 1.4 gigawatt South Korean nuclear plants for $20 billion (US) and they’ll all be running by 2020.

That would generate enough electricity to charge half a million 7kw Tesla batteries 126,000 times in a decade; if they could handle it. They are only rated to handle 5,000 charge discharge cycles.

But cost isn’t the biggest reason for not using big batteries in houses. Let’s consider the situation in Germany, mainly because the data comes easily to hand and because they’ve just wasted 15 years mucking around with renewables at great cost, but with trivial impact.

They expect to take 50 years to do what France did in 15 with nuclear power. Consider the following chart of German electricity use in January 2015.

Can you see the days with very little wind and sun? There’s one run of five in a row starting on the 19th of January. In the absence of their fossil fuel and nuclear plants, how much battery storage would the Germans need to cover this kind of run?

They’ve just signed the COP21 agreement that should stop them expanding their logging of forests for electricity; in fact I’d argue that Article 5 requires them to reduce it.

To make the maths trivial, lets assume they only need to supply 50 gigawatts of power for five days. That’s 5 x 24 = 120 hours. Do the sums and you’ll see that the batteries will need to supply 6,000 gigawatt-hours of energy (120 x 50). A gigawatt is a ‘1’ with 9 zeros. So, how many fully charged Tesla 7 kilowatt-hour Powerwalls would you need to supply this? All those zeros make what is a trivial calculation look complex: 6,000,000,000,000 divided by 7,000 is 857,142,857.

That’s 857 million batteries at a current cost of … $6.1 trillion dollars.

In the real world, many industries need their electricity in a particular form, but the numbers at least give us a feel for the scale of the problem.

But, as I said, cost isn’t the biggest reason people shouldn’t do this.

Consider the much-vaunted Tesla gigafactory? When it’s finished in 2020, it will produce batteries for half a million vehicles a year. That’s impressive and useful, but how many such giga factories will it take to supply batteries for those five days of German power?

Each year the giga factory can produce 35 gigawatt hours of battery storage. So how many years of production will it take to supply 6,000 gigawatt hours worth of batteries… 6,000,000,000,000/35,000,000,000… roughly 171 years; assuming Germany is the only customer.

You can do such calculations without all those zeros by using the Exp button on your phone calculator App.

But of course, real engineers wouldn’t use Tesla Powerwalls for such a purpose, they’d go for something much cheaper like pumped hydro. This is where you pump water from a low place to a high place when you have cheap electricity and then let it fall back down through a turbine to generate electricity at some later time.

It’s great when the geography is suitable and you don’t mind trashing some high mountain valley.

But surely batteries will get cheaper? Agreed. The Climate Council has just published a modest battery report. They make a general claim that the cost of battery storage should fall to $200 per kilowatt hour by 2020.

If that comes to pass, the Germans could provide for a run of 5 cold still days using an as yet undeveloped technology at a projected cost of just $1.2 trillion. That makes me feel much better!

So we probably can’t afford them, and it will be incredibly tough to build enough of them, but there’s still another far more important reason that using big batteries in houses, or for general grid backup, is dumb enough that it should be made illegal where there is no actual need.

Has the penny dropped yet? Here’s a hint. The world sells 70 million cars a year and the Tesla giga factor will make half a million car-sized batteries a year when it’s finished in 2020.

It should be obvious now… we will desperately need good, big batteries for electric vehicles.

Batteries and hydrogen fuel look to be our only choices for vehicles. So we shouldn’t be wasting valuable battery production resources to make batteries for houses because some puddle shallow thinkers reckon it’s cool to live off-grid.

We know how to cleanly and efficiently power houses; you build nuclear power plants and hook them into a grid. In developing countries, there is a pressing need for grids and that will be a huge challenge. Wasting valuable battery production capacity on powering houses will make everything that much harder.

The whole batteries-in-houses idiocy is part of what is inevitable when rich countries transfer spending decisions from Governments to individuals via low taxation rates and small government; or more accurately, incompetent Government; Governments who no longer have the skills and vision to pursue major projects in the national interest, let alone the international interest.

Traditionally, when Governments spent money, there was at least a fighting chance that a competent bureaucracy would act rationally and in the public interest.

But when it’s up to individuals, particularly rich, self-centered individuals who can’t think quantitatively, then they will buy Tesla batteries and Tesla will happily supply them.

If Tesla boss Elon Musk had even half the environmental concern he professes, then he wouldn’t make the bloody things.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Greenies are not deceived by Paris "deal"

The new climate framework that’s been negotiated in Paris relies on ambition at the national level, and a burgeoning civil disobedience movement is planning to push for it on a global level. Thom Mitchell reports from Paris.

Activists have drawn a ‘red line’ under a new global climate regime decided in Paris overnight, arguing it’s a compact inked in the interests of big polluters, rich countries, and without regard for scientific reality.

Crowds approaching 10,000 defied a French ban on political gatherings to march from the Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower, in a prelude to a campaign of civil disobedience which they say will continue until concrete steps are taken to solve the climate crisis.

Negotiators who’ve spent the last two weeks at a sprawling 18-hectare conference centre at Le Bourget, on Paris’ outer fringe, claimed on Saturday that they had cleared the way for a clean energy future free of fossil fuels.

They received qualified but enthusiastic support from major environmental groups, which framed it as a good deal, and the best that could realistically have been hoped for in the context of international negotiations involving nearly 200 countries.

But Naomi Klein, a Canadian activist, author, and board member of climate advocacy group, echoed the sentiments of thousands assembled in the shadow of the Eiffel tower when she told them the "agreement, as we knew it would, puts us on a course towards disastrous levels of warming".

"We heard our leaders say many of the right things over the last two weeks in beautiful speeches," Klein said, "and yet despite their words, they remain trapped in a broken system and a crashing worldview based on dominance of people and the planet".

"That world view simply does not allow them to align their words with their actions. And so the gap is immense between the rhetoric and the goal of safety, and the reality of the epic danger they are allowing to unfold."

Earlier, as demonstrators occupied a bridge leading up to the famous French monument, one organiser had declared the text "a big f*ck you from Le Bourget". "We say f*ck you too," he said, to rapturous applause from the crowd.

As it became clear in the afternoon what the final form of the text would be, another organiser noted "they have dropped any reference [in the main text]to human rights, to Indigenous rights; they have locked us in to a three degree world".

Demonstrators had endorsed calls for a lower threshold for temperature rise of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, chanting the call for "1.5 to stay alive" which was issued most strongly at the conference by Pacific Island leaders and other climate-vulnerable nations.

Protestor Gwendolyn Grey told New Matilda that the three degree temperature rise which current national commitments would add up to is a clear failure.

"For me it’s like, just set your house on fire and get ahead of the game," the seasoned Canadian climate campaigner said.

"If you’re young, you don’t realise a decade is like nothing," she said. "It’s like the snap of a finger. It’s like having ten dollars. It’s not much money, and it’s not much time. We’re on borrowed time, and it behooves us to start acting now like all the people here today."

Another activist, Sam Castro, from Australia, said "people are understandably angry". "This is our future and there’s no more time to mess around with this," she said. "This falls back on the leaders of the world which have been unable to reach an agreement which is actually stop our Pacific brothers and sisters from drowning.

"It’s their fault that we’re all out on the streets. So if it’s an inconvenience, we’re sorry, but the people are pretty determined to express themselves."

The deal which was done in Paris sets out a pathway towards closing the gap between the two degree target, and the at least 2.7 degrees current plans would lock in, and it includes an aspirational reference to staying below 1.5 degrees warming.

But the ‘bottom-up’ approach the United Nations process took, asking individual nations submit increasingly ambitious climate change plans over time, offers no concrete assurance that these targets will be met.

The plans that countries do put forward are not legally binding in terms of their implementation, but environmental campaigners elsewhere have welcomed the "balanced" plan which includes periodic reviews that will "inform" governments with a view to "updating and enhancing" their efforts.

The activists who descended on the Eiffel Tower yesterday are determined to ensure that the large-scale expression of urgency they represent also informs national level policies.

"It even says it in the text itself," Klein said. "What it says is ‘we note with concern’ that the commitments that governments have brought to not bring us to 2 degrees celsius, or 1.5 deg celsius.

"We note this as well, but not just with concern; we note this with alarm, and we say that our leaders have shown themselves willing to set our world on fire, and we will not let them," she said.

"And that our mood today, here in front of the Eiffel Tower, earlier at the Red Lines event, is not one of despair but rather our mood is one of clarifying purpose and commitment.

"We knew that those were not the real leaders: We knew that the leaders were in the streets, that the leaders were in the fields, that this city is filled with climate heroes."

"It’s our responsibility to keep [fossil fuels]in the ground" was one of the most common refrains of the demonstration, but there was also widespread concern that the climate regime which has been codified in Paris does not address many of the systematic root causes which gave rise to the climate crisis in the first place.

"System change, not climate change" has been an overarching message at political demonstrations in Paris during the course of the two-week climate negotiations. Yesterday, demonstrators diverted occasionally from climate-related chants, launching instead into refrains like "say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here".

Again, Klein captured the mood when she said "the gap is immense between the expressions of solidarity with the most vulnerable, and the reality of those leaders consistently putting the interests of the rich and the powerful before those interests of the vulnerable, and indeed all of humanity".

"I did a search," she said. "I did a word search on the final text, and the words ‘fossil fuels’ do not appear once in the text. What that means is that our leaders have none of the courage it takes to stand up to those corporate interests that are responsible for this crisis.

"They can’t even say the words. So it is up to us to do what they so clearly refuse to do, which is stand up to the polluters and make them pay, and we will do this everywhere, using every tool that we can," she said.

"We will do it in the streets with protests like this, and we will do it in the face of every single polluting project that they decide to try to roll out."

A major program of civil disobedience is planned to take place across 12 countries between May 7 and 13 next year, announced at the Paris climate summit.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A male feminist is in deep trouble

Jack Kilbride is a student at the University of Melbourne. Like me, he seems to think that Fairfax columnist Clementine Ford is a bit of a ratbag. So he wrote a politically savvy article (see below) that called for feminists to reach out to others rather than alienate them.  But reaching out is the last thing feminists want to do.  Stewing in their own hate is their thing.  So poor Jack has attracted a flood of condemnation for his thoughts.  His article was published in the Far-Left "New Matilda" and was passed for publication by Chris Graham -- another uncomprehending male.  So Chris has been in deep do-do too. His "Mea culpa" is here.  Is there such a thing as a moderate feminist?  I guess so but they would be unwise to say what they think in Leftist circles

I am a man and I am a feminist. I wholeheartedly condemn the actions of the men who have threatened and abused feminist writer Clementine Ford. I also commend the decision of one particular boss who opted to terminate the contract of Mathew Nolan after his embarrassing and disgusting remarks. However, while Clementine Ford is a great advocate of the feminist movement in this country, her strategy may be doing more harm than good.

We obviously need people like Clementine, breaking down walls on the front line in the push for equality. Illuminating the dark, misogynistic corners of our society so that women can walk the streets without the fear of assault and abuse.

These people are important, but slapping one man on the wrist so publicly has inevitably isolated thousands more.

Scores of men are posting across social media, infuriated by the whole situation. In their eyes, crazy Clementine is just a whiney girl with daddy issues that despises all men. While their hatred may arguably prove that Ford’s writing is doing its job, it has also highlighted the continued divide between sexists and feminists in Australian society.

A gap we need to close.

The problem with writers like Clementine Ford is although their sentiment is justified, their vitriolic writing style means that people will always get offended. Unfortunately, those getting offended are usually the ones who need to read it the most.

If we are to give our young girls a more safe and equal society to grow up in, we need everyone on our side. The people who are abusing Clementine are the problem and reinforcing the battle lines between feminist and bigot is not going to help them change. And, if they don’t change, then nothing will.

Think of it this way. There are men, like myself, who are feminists and believers that true equality for women is paramount to our future.

We are not the people that need convincing. We are not the people assaulting our women in the streets, scoffing at calls for equal pay, or abusing writers on the Internet. We are already on your side.

Then there are the other men.

The men catcalling you on your way to the shops. The men groping and assaulting you in the nightclubs. The boss telling you they didn’t give you a promotion because they didn’t think you could handle it. The men who make you scared to walk home at night for fear of being raped. The men telling you that maybe you should dress more appropriately to avoid the unwanted stares and slurs. The men abusing Clementine across social media.

The mission of feminism is to make these men change and starting fights with them is only making that mission harder. We need a way to bring them in and luckily we may already have one.

On the 20th of September last year, beloved actress Emma Watson stood in front of the United Nations and produced one of the strongest and most well received feminist speeches in decades.

“Men think it’s a women’s word and it’s only for women, but really it just means you stand for equality,” Watson said in launching the HeforShe movement. “If you stand for equality, you are a feminist.”

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.”

Watson’s words were plastered throughout the media, presenting feminism as a way to improve society as a whole, not just the lives of women. It was a positive push for change; a fresh approach to the shouting and shaming that feminism has sadly become associated with.

If we want to actually change our world we need to stop trying to knock down the wall and instead, start helping people climb over.

Watson showed us a better path; it would be nice if we started to walk it.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tax Deal With Greens gets important bill through the Senate -- enraging the ALP

After acquiescing to government legislation on terror and surveillance, Labor is now furious at the Greens for doing a deal with Treasurer Scott Morrison. Ben Eltham explains.

“Traitors.” “Dirty deals.” “Gutless Greens.”

Labor is rather upset today. As often happens in politics, the cause of the ALP’s umbrage is not its erstwhile enemies in the Coalition, but the party on its own side of the political spectrum, the Greens.

What’s this all about? The Greens have done a deal with Treasurer Scott Morrison to usher through new laws to crack down on tax avoidance.

This means the government now has the numbers to pass its Tax Laws Amendment (Combating Multinational Tax Avoidance) Bill 2015 in the Senate.

The laws will improve tax transparency, force hundreds of private companies to publicly report their tax affairs for the first time, and impose country-by-country reporting on big multinationals – long a holy grail for anti-tax avoidance campaigners.

In particular, the new laws will capture some 281 private companies with a turnover larger than $200 million. They have so far been excluded from tax disclosure since the 1990s, the result of a law dating back to the Hawke-Keating years.

The bill will also force multinationals making more than $1 billion a year globally to file so-called “general purpose” accounts, which are much more detailed than the sketchier “special purpose” returns many big companies have been filing. Importantly, general purpose reporting will allow for “country-by-country” breakdowns of revenue flows, which will allow much greater transparency of companies shifting their money between jurisdictions.

So, on the face of it, this is a win for those campaigning to reduce tax avoidance by the wealthiest individuals and companies.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale certainly thinks so.

“This is a huge win for tax transparency,” he wrote in a media release. “If we hadn’t got this bill passed today, multinational companies would have enjoyed another full year of not having to disclose their tax on a country-by-country basis.”

“We had a choice to either criticise from the sidelines and let multinational tax avoiders off the hook, or pass laws that force much greater tax transparency. The Greens chose action.”

Labor takes a different view. The ALP’s Chris Bowen, Andrew Leigh and Penny Wong were scathing of the deal, taking to the airwaves and the Twittersphere to condemn the Greens for their perfidy.

The gist of Labor’s chagrin is that the Greens should have held out for a better deal. According to a spokesperson for Andrew Leigh who spoke to New Matilda this morning, Labor had the cross-bench senators on board. Working together, the Greens and the ALP could have forced the government to a much more stringent deal on tax avoidance.

We’ll never know, of course, because with the Greens on board, Morrison has all the numbers he needs.

“The Government has played Richard Di Natale like a banjo on this issue,” Chris Bowen said this morning at a media doorstop. “He’s fallen for their tactics and he has sold out the Australian people.”

Bowen argues that the deal excludes the bulk of the private companies that could have been forced to reveal their tax affairs. “We know from evidence from the Australian Tax Office that one in five private companies with turnover over $100 million paid zero tax,” he said. “The Greens and the Liberals have conspired together to see that situation continue.”

So who are we to believe? As usual with Greens-Labor spats, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of the competing positions.

On the one hand, the Greens are right to point out that there is now a bill going through. As of yesterday there was no provision to force private companies to report their tax affairs: now there is. Country-by-country reporting is also a win for tax transparency, any way you look at it.

But Labor may be right to argue that the Greens could have secured a better deal if they had held out for longer. Bowen, Leigh, and Wong are correct in pointing out that the transparency requirement was a Labor policy, passed in 2013. After all, this is a deal cut with Scott Morrison, a minister the Greens have long painted as a right wing antichrist.

The irony of it all is that the current deal was only made possible after the government managed to pass its so-called “kidnap” amendment in October. That bill struck out Labor’s previous transparency requirement, voted up in 2013, on the dubious grounds that wealthy individuals could be kidnapped if disclosure laws forced them to reveal their personal wealth.

The amendment passed because of a stuff-up: Labor and the Greens mismanaged their Senate processes. After Nick Xenophon and a number of Labor senators didn’t turn up to speak on a Coalition amendment the speaking list “collapsed”, meaning the bill was passed on the voices. This forced Labor and the Greens to tack a new transparency bill onto a Coalition bill later in November.

Whatever the complicated provenance of the current legislation, it’s hard to see what Labor is so upset about. The deal is an incremental improvement in tax transparency. Yes, it could be better. Yes, the deal excludes many companies from disclosure. On the other hand, it does improve matters from the status quo. This is the sort of steady-as-goes legislative improvement that the ALP normally trumpets.

One thing is for sure: Labor’s complaints that the Greens “sold out” on this bill can’t be taken too seriously, when compared with the ALP’s dismal history in this term of parliament. The ALP has passed a raft of Coalition national security and data retention measures since 2013. All parties compromise when they think it is in their interests.

The Greens-Morrison agreement echoes a previous deal cut between Di Natale and the Treasurer in June, over pension changes. That deal also sparked a skirmish between the two left-leaning parties over who had sold out, and who had stood firm.

Then, as now, the real winner is Scott Morrison, once again demonstrating his cunning. No-one is talking about Morrison today, even though he will get the benefit of higher revenues from company tax in future budgets. Meanwhile, he can sit back and enjoy the spectacle of the Greens and Labor fighting each other over a tax bill few ordinary Australians will understand.