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Are renewables and batteries part of the power generation & storage solution?

By Geoff Carmody - posted Thursday, 9 November 2017


First, a little more on man-made batteries.

One-shot batteries tend to be more efficient than rechargeable batteries. Recharging itself degrades battery efficiency.

One-shot nuclear batteries can last for a very long time while having small volumes and modest weight (eg, those powering the still-going 1977 Voyager and the 1997-2017 Cassini space probes). Fossil fuel batteries can deliver a fair amount of energy from relatively modest volumes over a short period, but, once used, they're mainly expended.

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Rechargeable batteries have different cycle tolerances that limit usability and battery life. Lead-acid batteries can't be discharged much before the process greatly reduces their effective life. Lithium-based batteries are much better at cycling from low remaining charge to full charge on a regular basis (as we know from our mobile phones, etc.). All rechargeable batteries require another source of energy to recharge them.

Our decades-old, one-sided energy debate

For decades, we've debated energy and greenhouse gas emissions, energy and local pollution, energy and land and water appropriation and/or degradation, energy waste disposal and storage, and the like. The political pressure behind all this has been to move away from energy-dense power/energy to the opposite. Taxpayers have been forced to subsidise this shift, and still are.

Yet we have not discussed energy density much, if at all. And we haven't discussed the potentially huge equipment investment capacity requirements and costs, and land-use demands, that renewables entail.

The Commonwealth Government asserts it's offered a 'game changer': shifting emphasis away from emissions reduction towards more concern about reliability and affordability. Its National Energy 'Guarantee' (NE'G') may have given that appearance to some. But the NE'G' is just an 'announceable'. It's eight pages of imprecise, open-ended, words. COAG hasn't agreed to adopt it yet, anyway, and the signs look 'iffy'. Energy density is not mentioned at all.

Emissions reduction – via lower energy density – still dominates the media. But there are signs the wallets of voters are screaming affordability.

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What now?

Renewable energy generation sources, and man-made battery storage, have very low energy densities compared with fossil fuels. Compared with even currently-available nuclear fuels, they're even less energy-dense.

Relatively huge investments in equipment capacity and costs, and in land areas, volumes and/or weight allocated to renewables generation, plus battery storage, are needed to deliver equivalent base load plus peaking electricity, compared with fossil fuels and nuclear power.

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About the Author

Geoff Carmody is Director, Geoff Carmody & Associates, a former co-founder of Access Economics, and before that was a senior officer in the Commonwealth Treasury. He favours a national consumption-based climate policy, preferably using a carbon tax to put a price on carbon. He has prepared papers entitled Effective climate change policy: the seven Cs. Paper #1: Some design principles for evaluating greenhouse gas abatement policies. Paper #2: Implementing design principles for effective climate change policy. Paper #3: ETS or carbon tax?

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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