People power the solar revolution

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As I walk to my bus stop I feel as if the skyline is creeping higher every day. Trees disappear and new developments grow where their roots used to be. Rumbling yellow earth movers make room for large wooden poles on the nature strips. Wire after wire is strung up and connected to the new apartments.

Tesla PowerwallAnyone who's built a house understands the countless regulations one must adhere to. In some council areas, this may include what colours are allowed for your roof or what types of plants you can grow. In more recent times these regulations have begun to include measures that will keep us safer, such as pool fences, and things that will reduce our impact on the earth, such as water tanks.

As new discoveries are made about how we can better live, regulations will continue to change. Just because something is the norm now doesn't mean it will be in a decade. Recently the discussion around regulation has moved to power, and how we will source it in our homes.

Earlier this month Tesla in Australia launched the Powerwall 2. In the transition to renewable energy, it may be the biggest disruption to hit traditional energy companies yet. In fact, it's probably their worst nightmare.

For a long time, politicians and big energy companies could put solar power down as an inefficient form of energy, because there wasn't a way it could be produced on mass scale. Tesla has engineered a battery able to store enough charge to power a two-bedroom home for an entire day, meaning people will be able to either sell excess back onto the grid or leave the traditional grid system all together.

When you think about all the time in the day we aren't using electricity, it's easy to imagine the potential of the energy this small device can hold. You and I install solar systems alongside one of these batteries and never need to worry about another Energy Australia bill.

Our role in energy under this innovation has changed from us being consumers to possibly all being providers. Just as Uber disrupted taxis and Airbnb disrupted traditional hotel chains, so too will the Tesla battery change our relationships and transactions with energy.

Solar has had some bad PR in recent times. Surges in power use, such as those that caused the Adelaide blackouts, are predictable in extreme weather. If the electricity grid is like a maypole, you can imagine we are all holding a ribbon connected to the pole. Sometimes, we won't want to hold our ribbon, because we'll be out at work or sport or asleep. So, we can hand it to another person instead.

 

"Of course, Tesla is no green, earth-saving group. Elon Musk, its founder, has proposed a $33 million battery farm to power SA. Tesla would be landed with one of the biggest private contracts the government could give out. "

 

But maybe on a weekend we're at home. The problem is, everyone else is too, and they all want to play. More and more ribbons are added to the pole, making it chaotic. The whole of Adelaide ends up in sweaty darkness as the pole comes crashing down.

Even so, the public resistance around embracing an autonomous form of generating electricity often surprises me. What if we could use the free natural resources around us to power our homes for free? Surely that's a good thing?

Of course, Tesla is no green, earth-saving group. Elon Musk, its founder, has proposed a $33 million battery farm made from his devices to power South Australia. This is less money than the price of maintaining the old poles-and-wires technology. Yet Tesla would be landed with one of the biggest private contracts the government could possibly give out. This could have implications on the regulation and taxation of energy bought and sold through this international company.

That being said, it's hard not to see innovations in solar as progress. Perhaps one day I'll walk down the street and see the men in fluoro yellow vests cutting at the wires. They will move in with their squeaking cherry pickers and roaring chainsaws and begin to remove the poles. Maybe a few days later, the council will arrive to plant small saplings on the green strip where the poles used to stand. They might provide a nice new home for the native possums who scatter around on my roof late at night.

 


Francine CrimminsFrancine Crimmins is studying a double degree of Journalism and Creative Intelligence & Innovation at the University of Technology Sydney. She is on twitter as @frankiecrimmins. Francine is the recipient of Eureka Street's Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Young Writers.

Topic tags: Francine Crimmins, solar power, climate change


 

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Existing comments

That's a really lovely final paragraph, Francine. We had solar panels installed a few years ago and our electricity bill no longer makes us cringe. Solar batteries are quite expensive at the moment but hopefully their cost will fall and more and more people will be able to buy them.
Pam | 27 March 2017


I share your hope, Francine. Its not that hard to imagine having an energy policy in Australia that embraces renewal energy. Its a failure of political leadership and the care of future generations that a clear vision for Australia in so many ways does not exist. The failure in energy policy is just one of those failures and the body politic deserves better.
Michael McDonald | 28 March 2017


Great article, but. What is the cost of installing, maintaining and replacing these batteries and will pensioners and people on low wages be able to meet these costs? If all the poles and wires are removed what network can excess energy be fed into? Human nature being " human nature" a significant percentage of these batteries will eventually be dumped in the environment; taking into account the chemicals used in batteries are heavy metals which are toxic even in small quantities, how much damage will be done to the environment in the mining, refining and dumping of these metals? Look forward to some answers.
Brian Leeming | 28 March 2017


Another view. The ever-receding mirage of cheap renewables just faded from view MAURICE NEWMAN The Australian 12:00AM March 28, 2017 .... Germany is building 12 [coal] new plants. And, according to The Guardian, there is a likelihood that priority dispatch for clean energy will be scrapped from the EU’s 2020 renewable energy directive. Add to this the likely withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate agreement, China playing to the crowd but with no commitment until 2030, India’s caveat that signing was “in the context” of its development agenda, and you quickly realise that Paris was always a “good faith”, not a legally binding, exercise. Scientists fret about this. They know in today’s realpolitik the will to tackle climate change is weakening. It’s not only celebrities who see it as “kinda yesterday”. They also worry that global temperatures have recorded no measurable increase since 1998, despite human emissions increasing by a third. ..... NASA named 2014 the hottest year ever, but under pressure admitted it was “only 38 per cent sure”... http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/the-everreceding-mirage-of-cheap-renewables-just-faded-from-view/news-story/edb03a6b130109b688077ecb0d394f87
Alice | 28 March 2017


Hopefully the price of batteries will come down from $10k each, but a household needs 2 = $20k.
Cam BEAR | 28 March 2017


Other countries with far less sunlight than OZ now have solar base load 24/7 We can easily build the reflective mirror type power stations across the country with much excess power to sell to nearby asian countries.. the debate is a joke full of lies in OZ.
Neilium | 28 March 2017


Thank you for your article expressing hopes for the future. Every panel installed, whether one uses the harvested energy or sells it back to the grid, displaces electricity generation, reducing CO2 emissions and tackling global warming. Batteries will reduce the energy imported from and exported to the grid. Regretfully, at present, to be grid-free, I estimate that I need a very large array to charge a 14kWh Powerwall II on a mid-winter day. (I am not ready to put a figure on the array size yet). But, a battery of such a size will run a well designed and constructed house for at least a day. What I do suggest is that people buy electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles and reduce petrol use. It saved me about $1,300 in the first year as I reduced petrol use by about 900L.
Peter Horan | 28 March 2017


Rather than seeking to be 'grid-free', perhaps we need to 'take back the grid', to return it to the commonweal, where decisions about generation, storage and distribution are made with the common good, rather than a motley collection of narrow individual 'goods', in mind? And as the peak load on the grid diminished, perhaps we could replace all that ugly 19th century poles and wires technology with underground cables that would allow our streetscapes to be greened again
Ginger Meggs | 29 March 2017


In response to Alice: These are myths or at best wishful thinking. The cooling myth is discussed here: https://skepticalscience.com/global-warming-stopped-in-1998.htm Reading the Australian article: The writer should check facts instead of creating more myths: Victoria is still a net exporter of electrical energy. See https://theconversation.com/closing-victorias-hazelwood-power-station-is-no-threat-to-electricity-supply-66024 The Australian is no longer a paper of record but only of emotion.
Peter Horan | 29 March 2017


It all sounds rather elitist and individualistic to me. There is something rather egalitarian and selfless about us all mucking in together in a common grid and power generation system; especially when cheap, reliable and within Paris protocol. Over-reach for "renewables" seems to be proving highly destructive of the common good.
Eugene | 29 March 2017


please get rid of the poles and bring on the possums. IT is weird I walked to work today and passed the Tesla head office - and it was very posh and you should of seen the cars- wowsa
Aussie Jose | 29 March 2017


The problem Eugene is that it's not our grid any more. Much of it is owned by overseas interests. Likewise the retailers who never touch the stuff but yet make obscene profits from buying at one price and selling at another without adding any value at all. Imagine if we handed distribution over to our local governments who could then use their greater purchasing power to buy in bulk and return the savings to us, the consumers, rather than to the myriad of retailers who serve no useful public purpose.
Ginger Meggs | 31 March 2017


Wonderful optimism, Francine. However, like Brian Leeming, I draw attention to your hopes being overly simplistic> This is a case of many factors interacting here - technological, social, economic etc. What appears to be good for some (even many) individual householders will backlfire at a social level. Jyst what do you think will happen if all of even a given street goes off the grid and"the wires are cut/ dsconnected"? People on low incomes cannot afford to put on solar panels, even if the cost of them halves, let alone add batteriers. What if power is unavailable from solar for more than a day - or not enough of it? Are you aware of how long these batteries wil last before needing replacement? Are you aware of how much extra energy is needed to produce those batteries? are you aware that - contrary to statements by Mr Turnbull and Mr Frydenbereg and Mr Joyce, the snowy scheme does not produce base load power? Are you aware that pumped storage hydro requires more energy to pump up to the storage than we get out of it when the water flows down again. I know you were not talking about the Snowy proposal, but my point is there are many many interrelated issues involved here, and neither journalsts nor politicians know anything about the terchnology of the nation-wide system and think that noe of the public will know any more than them, hence they can say all kinds of rosy promises and hope that the next blackout can be blamed on the next party in power. The widespread privatisation has led to most issues being outside the direct control of governments. Meanwhile the diversity of technology in the system, not to mention the diversity of ownership (including foreign ownership).
Dennis | 31 March 2017


"Our role in energy under this innovation has changed from us being consumers to possibly all being providers. Just as Uber disrupted taxis and Airbnb disrupted traditional hotel chains, so too will the Tesla battery change our relationships and transactions with energy" Yes - and this explains why the major mining companies and our governments are running scared at the moment - actively denigrating renewable energy and promoting "clean coal". Great article Francine - I too think "people power" will help to provide more homes for our possums!
Megan Benson | 07 April 2017


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