This is a repost from Tony Ferguson’s Blog Battling Entropy. See the full Battling Entropy blog site here.
Take a close look at the picture above. On Saturday, Australia (and New South Wales in particular) was the hottest place on the planet. Our air conditioning systems were all running flat out to beat the heat and during the evening peak period, when it was still around 40 degrees in many locations, we had little or no contribution from solar PV. For many people – such as the young, the sick and the elderly – controlling the temperature is not a matter of comfort but of life and death.
Such is the state of our electricity system that New South Wales was perilously close to having to introduce rolling blackouts. As it is, the grid’s integrity was only maintained through reducing the energy supplied to the Tomago aluminium smelter which consumes over 10% of the state’s electricity. The production of Aluminium metal, more than any other process, relies on a constant supply of electricity. Cutting the power to Tomago puts at risk economic output, workers’ jobs and raises the dreaded spectre of the “frozen potline”. Such an occurrence, when an interruption in the electricity supply causes the liquid aluminium in the cells to solidify – is a major industrial disaster requiring the solidified metal to be jackhammered out and causing major damage to the production equipment with the repair bill in the tens of millions. This is not just a theoretical risk – it happened at Alcoa’s Portland smelter in Victoria last year.
Our electricity grid, one of the core pieces of infrastructure for our modern society, has become inadequate. This is threatening our industry, our pocketbooks and ultimately people’s lives. That isn’t acceptable.
Many commentators say that the lack of clear long term policy in the sector has hampered investment in new energy sources. The energy industry has called for a degree of consensus so that some non-partisan guidelines can be developed. Unfortunately at present that seems too be much to ask our politicians. A heated debate appears likely to go on for some time.
This particular article is not about the idealogical battle between coal fired energy and renewables. It is about what we can do right now to address the problem. Practical, immediate measures to alleviate this crisis.
Firstly, we need to realise that, even if political consensus were reached tomorrow, this energy shortage is going to take several years to rectify:
- if we go with new capacity in the form of “clean” coal fired power stations they will take perhaps five years to be designed, approved, built and commissioned;
- if we concentrate on renewables then we must await advances in battery technology to store the energy generated from these intermittent sources for when it is needed – there are some questions around whether Lithium Ion batteries are the right technology for grid scale storage but, even if it is up to the task, a sufficient volume of affordable large scale storage will take time to be acquired and deployed.
So, whichever way we go, it looks like it will be five years or more before we have sufficient energy to meet our peak needs. Continued indecision about which technologies to pursue will only lengthen that period.
What do we do in the meantime? Sit in the dark and heat twiddling our thumbs every time we have a heatwave? Each time the grid fails we face more risk to property and lives.
The team at Nulux believes strongly that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the potential for reduction in consumption through increases in energy efficiency.
A kilowatt hour saved is the equivalent of a kilowatt hour generated. Increasing the efficiency of energy usage represents one of the few remaining untapped sources of additional power that can actually be delivered in a period of weeks not years. Furthermore, the cheapest, least polluting energy is the energy we don’t use.
Nulux believes this is the only feasible near term solution to our dilemma. We have therefore been searching globally for the best available technologies to increase the efficiency of electrical plant and equipment. These complement the measures already available to us including upgrading the energy efficiency of plant, lighting and air conditioning systems by providing plug and play solutions to increase the efficiency of your existing equipment. The energy efficiency technologies which Nulux has introduced to Australia from our global partner PowerSines are quick to install and can have an immediate impact on energy consumption:
- ComEC – Nulux’s commercial energy controller – can deliver 10-20% energy (kWh) savings to general commercial premises;
- our new HS100 HomEC home energy controller can save 10-15% of household energy consumption;
- our LEC Lighting Energy Controller can save 20-43% of energy consumed on lighting without changing your lighting infrastructure;
- our SinuMEC motor controller can reduce the energy consumed by electric motors which run at constant speed under varying load (including escalators, travelators and conveyors) by 20-25%
These energy saving solutions are robust, tested and deliver a strong return on investment – typically 20% to 50% per annum. In New South Wales, where incentives are available for these technologies under the Energy Saving Scheme (ESS), investment returns can be even greater. Victoria is set to introduce similar eligibility criteria for its Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) scheme.
As a society we have some serious decisions to be made about the focus of investment in our energy generating capacity. While we are doing that, at least let’s keep the lights on!
This ‘Battling Entropy’ article represents the personal views of the author and should not be interpreted as the official views of Nulux Energy Solutions, its other employees or any other organisations with whom the author is associated, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, or individual. All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. Comments are welcome, however, the author reserves the right to edit or delete any comments submitted to this blog without notice for any reason.