Unstoppable waves of innovation in the Waikato?

A pleasant surprise this morning to see across the front page of the Waikato Times the headline “Waikato’s plan to harvest sunlight”.  The article reports that lines company WEL Networks has been evaluating photovoltaic cells and is now investigating the feasibility of solar power production in the Waikato region.

Commercial viability is the determining factor. It’s the dramatic fall in the cost of photovoltaic cells which has caused WEL Network’s investigation. CEO Julian Elder said that the low price of the cells, compared with where they were a few months ago, made solar power stations affordable in New Zealand. He said that in the space of a few months the return on investment had gone from about half a century to under 10 years.

We are looking at the whole range, from 1-2 kilowatt units on a house, up to the thousands of kilowatts for a large-scale pilot,” Dr Elder said.

He said it was not a case of if they built such power stations but a matter of when.

What land area might be  needed?

A one-hectare photovoltaic power station would produce about 1 megawatt of power at full capacity, enough to power several hundred homes.

It would take about 1000ha of photovoltaic cells to produce the same sort of output as Huntly Power Station. The solar power would be fed into the national grid.

I was reminded of Amory Lovins’ claim in his recent book Reinventing Fire that renewables are already cost-competitive with fossil fuels and that good businesses are recognising this and getting on with profitably developing them.  Jigar Shah of the Carbon War Room made similar comments in an interview which I reported a few months ago. He considers renewables are already cheaper for new capacity than natural gas, a reality denied only by the ignorant or the diabolical.

It’s worth also being reminded about what he had to say about the storage issue for renewables, since I have no doubt that as wind, and now hopefully solar, energy develops in New Zealand we’ll be subjected to all sorts of objections related to variability of output. Shah said there are lots of easy ways to solve that problem.

We don’t need baseload plants. Coal power plants are the opposite of baseload – 12 percent of unplanned outages each year just throws the entire system into a frenzy. Engineers are not too stupid to implement intermittent technologies. We know how to solve the problem, we just have a political problem with a bunch of people who haven’t figured out how to use the internet.

Here in New Zealand government is very much stuck in an “all of the above” mentality when it comes to energy production. They are in favour of renewables, but dead set on retaining a place for fossil fuels in the mix. This from their energy policy:

Renewable energy has an increasingly important  role to play, but we cannot shift from using nonrenewables overnight. We need to ensure secure and affordable energy for our households and businesses and to achieve that we need to be realistic. For the next few decades at least, the world and New Zealand will need oil, gas and coal.

A very comforting assurance if your government’s focus is still on fossil fuel development:

Our geological history has provided us with rich mineral and petroleum resources, of which only a small proportion have been tapped to date. Developing New Zealand’s potential non-renewable resources is an opportunity that we, as a country, should grasp, provided that the very highest standards of environmental protection are applied. New Zealand’s oil and gas production could be substantially increased – potentially to the point where New Zealand becomes a net exporter of oil by 2030.

That appears to be the primary concentration of government, not solar arrays or wind farms or the electrification of transport.

However Lovins says it doesn’t much matter what government thinks or does.  There’s movement building in the business world which is independent and ahead of political perceptions. Renewable energy is profitable.

Shah says it well, replying to a question about the gap between what’s now happening on the ground in the business community and the perceptions in politics and the press:

Yeah, I think that when you look at renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean cars and clean technologies, those technologies are moving forward unabated. It actually doesn’t matter what [anyone] says – doesn’t matter because those entrepreneurs, the thousands of them that are in every single city in every single country are moving forward as though they’ve never heard you and I speak. So they don’t actually care what you and I have to say. They’re moving forward.

This is the context in which I viewed the news of WEL Networks’ investigations into solar power in my part of the country. Perhaps I’m getting carried away, and the government’s blinkered vision of extracting all our mineral resources along with a slow development of renewables will remain dominant. But perhaps there really is an unstoppable wave of innovation which will leave fossil resources stranded.

44 thoughts on “Unstoppable waves of innovation in the Waikato?”

  1. “In the past six months the cost of photovoltaic cells has fallen by about 80 per cent to about $1.25 a watt” – WEL

    $1.25 Wow! My quick guess is that this means the cost of hardware for grid connected 2-4KW domestic PV system should be under $6K!

    1. Richard,

      What do you make of the SuperCombi Power Management System 24V 3000W from Jaycar?

      Any idea when locally available PVs are likely to reflect the drop in international prices?

      1. Thanks Tony for heads up on the Jaycar product, I’ve yet to study its specs.
        As I’ve recently researching various PV installation options for my home, I’d also like an answer to your later question! Falling prices are good for us but the instability must be a little disconcerting for local suppliers and installers.

        1. Thanks Richard.

          I am curious to know what you think of the specs, whether they are unnecessary and extravagant, or worthwhile. Its hard to judge these hi tech instruments without any experience. It is possible that a cheaper version is perfectly adequate.

          I agree with your second point. Deciding when a good time to buy is difficult, particularly when things are getting cheaper and better all the time.

  2. This statement

    We don’t need baseload plants. Coal power plants are the opposite of baseload – 12 percent of unplanned outages each year just throws the entire system into a frenzy

    would appear to have no basis in reality.

    The idea that we “don’t need baseload energy” is absurd, unless you are planning to live outside of a modern industralised society.

    1. AndyS, while you are living out your days in the world of yesterday the rest of us are actually working towards a better tomorrow.
      Last year over 40% of all newly installed electricity generation capacity in Europe as Photo Voltaic solar generation! A whooping 21 GigaWatt of Solar capacity or more than 3 times NZ’ entire generating capacity was added in form of PV Solar there!
      Time for NZ to follow.
      A fraction of NZ’s roof space alone will do us nicely!
      Just have a read of this:
      http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/ewea_documents/documents/publications/statistics/Stats_2011.pdf

      Even Warren Buffet has got the PV fever. He put over $2 Billion of his money into building a PV solar power station in the USA….

      And Andy: We have base load capacity in form of heaps of Hydro. Plus the combination of Wind + Solar is a good one for NZ too as often Windy days are inversely correlated to the sunniest ones.

      1. And Andy: We have base load capacity in form of heaps of Hydro

        Yes I know, but we don’t need baseload, according to the article.
        In fact most Greens don’t count Hydro as renewable, for reasons that escape me.

      2. Thomas – Do you have any evidence to support your statement

        often Windy days are inversely correlated to the sunniest ones.

        because this is not my experience. In fact the exact opposite is true.
        – hot Nor’ West days are usually sunny and windy, as are Nor-Easter days in Christchurch. Conversely, the cloudy windless days I am currently experiencing are also commonplace, especially this summer.

    2. andyS – “This statement [yadda yadda] would appear to have no basis in reality.”
      From having had the pleasure of seeing your comments here you must therefore find yourself drawn to supporting it. That must be rather confusing and distressing for you.

      1. What I find slightly distressing, beaker, is the latest GWPF report that indicates that “wind energy is worse than a mistake”, and will in fact cost about 10 times as much as the equivalent gas rollout, with no evidence whatsoever that wind will reduce CO2 emissions

        1. AndyS, Why do you assume the rest of us are as unable to distinguish crap and fiction from reality as you are?
          Would you hand out a “report” on the flaws of the Theory of Evolution produced by some Bible Belt religious think tank as a worthy contribution to science?
          But you readily swallow any crap put out by the “Global Warming Policy Foundation” on wind power.
          How original!

          1. AndyS, Why do you assume the rest of us are as unable to distinguish crap and fiction from reality as you are?

            I have provided links to live energy data that shows that the UK has around 50% baseload in coal, 20-25% nuclear. Wind is a small figure, and solar doesn’t even appear in the numbers.

            Yet, somehow in this, I am expected to believe that “baseload energy isn’t necessary”.

            It is you living in LaLa land, not me.

            1. AndyS, is you who live in the world of yesterdays concepts.

              The idea of baseload is pretty old fashioned. We have a highly time variable demand curve (just look at the daily power use fluctuations of NZ) and we have a number of producing technologies, some of which can adapt quickly or turn off and on and others cant.

              Coal especially with its long and very costly warm up and cool down cycles is not suited to regulate its output according to demand fluctuations. In fact during low demand periods at night for example coal plants which are very costly and inefficient to turn off temporarily often auction for the “right” to dump their power for free into the wholesale auction process. This makes coal a costly power source and wasteful as it is.

              The future is not to carry on bleating about “base load” needs and demanding more of the old fashioned technology but to work towards intelligent consumer technology that can self regulate demand depending on availability and smart grids that can adapt to the variable supply of sustainable energy flows.

              Imagine intelligent appliances (fridge, freezer, washing machine, dishwasher) which turn on when power is cheap and available or regulate their level (temperature) according to power availability.

              There is a host of technologies coming which will redefine the way we generate and use power, intelligently.
              Base Load plant technology is just another word of building capacity that can not be regulated on demand without massive losses or reduction in plant life. Talk to the folks at Huntley how much it costs them to turn one of their dinosaur furnaces off!

            2. Thomas March 8, 2012 at 3:23 pm
              AndyS, is you who live in the world of yesterdays concepts.

              Really. So in Germany, the home of renewables, it appears that coal is more attractive that renewables thanks to the EU ETS

              If the German’s can’t pull it off, I don’t hold much hope for the rest of us

              .

            3. AndyS: The article you linked to describes the outcome of the ETS system after it has been watered down by the lobbying of the fossil fuel interests to a point where it is not working as intended.
              As the article points out: the investment of Germans into renewable power generation has reduced demand for CO2 emission certificates and hence reduced their price. The system needs tightening obviously. We will see new systems emerge, taxation perhaps, that will load polluting power production with the true costs of pollution. First of all we need to silence the powerful coal and oil lobby and stop the likes of shady “think tanks” and other “libertarian” big pocket conspirators from influencing our democratic decision making processes by their disinformation campaigns. Only when the tobacco giants were hauled in front of the courts and serious measures where coming their way did the matter of the promotion of smoking take a turn for the better. We probably need a similar process to end the campaign of lies and undue influence by the current cabal of industrialists and lobbyists, many of whom are “surprisingly” the same faces who defended the tobacco lords….

            4. Thomas March 9, 2012 at 7:37 am

              …We will see new systems emerge, taxation perhaps,….

              First of all we need to silence the powerful coal and oil lobby and stop the likes of shady “think tanks” and other “libertarian” big pocket conspirators from influencing our democratic decision making processes by their disinformation campaigns. …
              We probably need a similar process to end the campaign of lies

              OK, I think I get the general drift here Thomas.
              Shame you’ll have to shut down the Internet too. How do you propose to do that?.

        2. The GWPF?! A ‘Report*’ you say?! On wind?!

          You cannae be serious, man? That’s the best laugh I’ve had so far this morning!

          Bloody Hell, Andy, you’re a prime candidate for believing the oceans are warming due to the Atlantean power stations, too!

          Maybe you could all form a club? Oh, you already have…

          *some new definition of the term I was previously unfamiliar with. ‘The result of some unfettered typing’ seems more apt.

          1. Yes Bill it is so funny

            Rolling around on the floor in laughter

            Imagine that Bill,someone who thinks that wind is useless!

            Of course, real people know that it is possible to run an industrial nation on wind and solar alone. There is no evidence to support it.
            You just have to have “faith” and be incredibly thick, just like you and your fellow ecotards.

            1. ‘Incredibly thick ecotards’? My, we are Mr. Out-of-Sorts today, aren’t we? I think someone needs a nap…

            2. bill March 8, 2012 at 2:56 pm

              So, unable to read or comprehend any of the GWPF report, you have to find some ‘approved journalist’ from Teh Grauniad to find a smear against Lawson. Some tenuous links with “Big Coal”.

              You guys are truly pathetic. Simpletons with the intelligence of algae.

  3. Yeah right, the GWPF, that objective and competent ‘educational charity’ that commissions reviews from Montford, and has Plimer on its academic advisory council. The GWPF directed by Dr Benny Peiser, that bunch of chumps?
    Look at Baroness Nicholson’s foreword: –
    “While the environmental damage caused by onshore wind farms is arousing increasing concern, the cost of wind energy is also a very important topic. indeed, I believe it has been underresearched, underdiscussed and under- debated.”
    What environmental damage could she be referring to? Is she utterly unaware that we have detailed and rigorous planning systems in force in the UK? On cost, did no one at the GWPF suggest that she read the Mott MacDonald report on Energy Levelised Costs, or UKERC on renewables and intermittency? What knowledge or expertise does she possess that her assertion that she ‘believes’ issues are under-researched, under-discussed and under-debated should be given any more credence than your halfwitted postings on wind power found on this very blog? She has no background or expertise in energy that I am aware of from her political career. Could she just be echoing the anti wind farm NIMBY whinging from a loud minority down in South West England?
    Is this GWPF another risible effort such as the one KPMG have now disowned that made silly assumptions on future gas prices? Or worse is it a recycling of the recent Civitas (Civitas!) and Adam Smith Institute (that your mate Leyland had a hand in concocting) reports that have been eviscerated, but only after their job was complete of generating shock horror stories in the Daily Mail and other such quality publications.
    Who on earth looks to the GWPF for a sensible contribution on wind power, apart from Dellinpole fanboys of course eh andyS.

    1. Thanks again for your content-free ad hominem venting beaker.

      It amuses me to watch someone who is so utterly despised in the British Isles trying to defend their “industry” with a post that is totally devoid of any facts.

      1. Well, yes I am utterly despised in the British Isles as you well know and you have, no doubt, reputable sources to back up your claim – I concede that.
        And the Wind Industry, it too is utterly despised!
        Our evil cartel fabricated a recent poll for the Sunday Times
        http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/gm4jg0973n/Sunday%20Times%20Results%20111125%20VI%20and%20Trackers.pdf
        and this one in the guardian too with support for a new wind farm within 5 miles of your home at 60%
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/01/local-opposition-onshore-windfarms-tripled
        opponents to new wind only muster 27% – god we are good, people actually thought these were real polls!
        Devoid of facts, got me again, GWPF are a shining beacon of objectivity on climate change and low carbon energy. How could they not be with Peiser and Plimer on board, and Montford at their service. And lets not forget Carter, Lindzen and McKitrick! Whats more the Civitas and ASI reports on wind power were of excellent quality, KPMG stand by their involvement in another, and Mott MacDonnald and UKERC are just shills to the all powerful wind turbine industry.

        Or…

        You are a twit.

        1. Since you chose to use a handle that is the name of a muppet, I find it difficult to address you directly.

          However, “reports” from the Guardian leave me rolling on the floor in laughter. This is the same “newspaper” that lauded Peter Gleick as a hero.

          This chairman of a scientific ethics committee, who committed a phishing scam using a phoney email address, and then quite likely created a fraudulent document that was dutifully regurgitated by such impartial organisations as the BBC and Teh Grauniad.

          Maybe you’d like to become a facebook friend of mine beaker. My news stream is a 24×7 stream of hatred against the wind “industry”. These “nimbys” that have to live with your mediaval towers of folly all day, vent a constant stream of hatred against “people” like you,

          I’d really like you to meet them.

          1. Hi andyS
            what was it you were saying about ad hominems?
            Anyway, I probably have met some of your facebook friends as part of my job. We do a lot of community consultation. Most people are indifferent to or in favour of new wind power. There is always a loud core of NIMBYs, fervent haters with a fear (never yet manifested) that wind farms decrease property prices, and they like you are very fond of scare stories in the little papers, ‘Bishops Hill’, Civitas reports, GWPF, REF etc etc.
            They don’t like reasoned and polite (yes, polite!) replies, preferring to cling irrationally to their nonsense.
            Denial is not just a river in Egypt.

            1. yes I am sure that you meet lots of polite people who you have softened up with your bribes, which are of course a mere fraction of the profits you make through your ROC subsidies.

          2. Andy, you really are losing the plot.

            So you’ve tapped into some continual online stream of mutually-reinforcing confirmation bias? Like every other Denier! So what?

            Did you read the poll results at Beaker’s link? Pages 9 and 10 of the YouGov survey for the Sunday Times. So, from an impeccablly Murdochian source and all.

            Read it: in short, your notions are a total fantasy. I suspect this is why you are flipping out and resorting to abuse.

            Well, get used to it Andy, because being proven wrong is going to be the ongoing story of your entire life! Abusing others won’t help, it just makes you look like a rather poor specimen.

            And please allow me to keep ruining your day –

            CSIRO: Acceptance of rural wind farms in Australia.

            Study plays down turbine noise fear.

            1. So you disagree with the GWPF findings that wind energy will cost 10 times as much as the equivalent gas rollout, and that there is no evidence that wind energy decreases CO2 emissions?
              .
              Furthermore, you have evidence to back up the counter-argument?

              I am not really interested in government surveys. They target urban dwellers who have little knowledge of what is happening in the countryside, which is the widespread destruction of it.
              Of course, representatives of the wind “industry” such as beaker have no interest in the countryside or the people who live there. He admits it himself when he describes the people as NIMBYs, indicating a severe level of autism in his personality. He, and his “work”mates are in the game to rip off the public with the ROC subsidy system. This is why I have no interest in anything our muppet friend has to say.

              David Cameron has even come out and publicly stated that wind energy is an expensive waste of money, which is pretty funny considering his father in law is in the wind-subsidy-farming “industry” too.

              If you are disturbed by me “abusing you”, then I am merely giving back what I get from the climate skinheads on this blog.

              Have a nice day.

            2. Sunshine, I have not the slightest interest in any of the globs of goo temporarily scraped into one makeshift heap by the likes of the GWPF. Credibility have they none.

              Like its sister organization, Heartland, it exists solely to inflame the prejudices of self-styled ‘libertarian’ anti-environmental extremists, of the type who can think of nothing better to do with their sad little days than to direct, and I quote, ‘a 24×7 stream of hatred against the wind industry’.

              If you had read my link to the CSIRO you’d discover that ‘honest country folk’ don’t actually all share your fanatic prejudice, and it’s actually more likely to be ‘white settlers’ living on hobby farms that are the vocal opponents in rural areas.

              And, despite all your doom-saying squawking, here I am in SA, with 21% of its power from wind, third after gas and coal (in that order), allowing a revised target for the state of 33% renewables by 2020, 20% – the national target – having been so swiftly and easily exceeded.

              I suspect we both know, Andy, that you, and your cronies, are anachronisms. Would that you would all just go quietly as your dismal little light is smothered…

            3. The GWPF article was written by Gordon Hughes, who is a Professor of Economics at Edinburg University. He advised the World Bank on Environmental matters until 2001 .

              He concludes that the combination of wind, with OGCT backup, will cost approx 10 times as much, and emit more co2 than the equivalent generating capacity in CCGT alone, without wind.

              However, our resident expert, bill, based on zero reasoning, has dismissed this out of hand.

            4. It’s amazing how convincing one authority can be to the Denier mind, isn’t it, if, crucially, they’re saying what you want to hear? While the overwhelming majority of them, who don’t, are treated with utter derision.

              If the gentleman is indeed such an eminent authority and his argument so sound then I suggest that he find a venue to publish that is not so tainted by its embrace of both physical and psychic pollution.

              I also don’t read ‘papers’ – and I use the word with the maximum lassitude – that can only find their way into ‘Energy and Environment’ or ’21st Century Science and Technology’.

              Life is too short to trouble with the likes of the GWPF, I’m afraid.

            5. bill March 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm
              It’s amazing how convincing one authority can be to the Denier mind, isn’t it,

              I am not sure how an economics report has anything to do with “denial”, except that is what you appear to be engaging in.

              If there is evidence that wind energy reduces CO2 emissions over CCGT gas technology, then I’d be interested to see it, but so far no one has provided this information.

              The GWPF report is not the first one to come to these conclusions either.

  4. As GWPF have been exposed as just another bunch of pollutocrat rent-boys, AndyS, I am not surprised you spring to their defense – out of collegiality, no doubt!

    1. Rob, thanks for your content-free ad hominem remark, which again reinforces to us all that you have absolutely no arguments whatsoever to bring to the table.

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