Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Done like a dinner

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  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Russell Brown,

    they appear to have risen late last week on the assumption that the taxpayer would step in and make it all nice.

    Not a bad assumption, given that Ryall came out and said it was so. It's the smelter operator who've screwed things up by not accepting the generous offer.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    you do however need to change your hydro to be more bursty - to be able to handle larger loads with the same water, the dams don't have to be bigger, just more penstocks and a bigger powerhouse (not something you can do easily to an existing dam except Clyde and particularly NOT Manapouri) - see my suggestion above about working better with wind power, the same applies to solar.

    Is decentralized solar that bursty? Individual panels are bursty, but the aggregate effect of ten thousand panels on roofs across an entire city would very much have a smoothing effect. Across the entire country, a day that is mainly fine would be much the same as any other day that was mainly fine, I'd have thought. And you can see clouds coming, days in advance.

    The other advantage to this is that solar panels are capital improvements to their property, something that NZers are not so much keen on as outright addicted to. They're tax free investments. Perhaps that's yet another reason they are abhorred by government.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Richard Aston,

    Distributed solar is a bloody good idea Ben. It brings some challenges because it will required the grid to be a whole lot smarter but it makes a lot of sense

    In fact anyone can do this, now. Some rellies of mine just got solar panels fitted. You tell the power company and they come and put a meter in to show how much you're giving back to the grid. They charge for setting up the meter, but after that they pay you for your solar power.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    the aggregate effect of ten thousand panels on roofs across an entire city would very much have a smoothing effect.

    Exactly. There's fairly strong evidence that the rise of domestic photovoltaic installations in Australia has deferred the need to build significant additional generating capacity in response to the air-con demands of the higher temperatures, by reducing the grid load that occurs on precisely the days when demand for air-con is highest.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to BenWilson,

    The other advantage to this is that solar panels are capital improvements to their property, something that NZers are not so much keen on as outright addicted to. They’re tax free investments.

    Except we’re not so keen on capital improvements that don’t improve the capital value of the property. All the research I’m aware of shows that so far buyers won’t pay the necessary amount more for energy-efficiency improved properties, so for now, photovoltaics/solar hot water/insulation/double glazing/etc can only be valued in terms of what the property-owner will get out of them over the period they’re planning to live in the house; otherwise they’re over-capitalising.

    Also, on the smoothing effect, yes, there would be some, but there are (presumably, based on population) more roofs in Greater Auckland than there are in the South Island, so if solar was common, the weather in Auckland would still have the greatest impact on solar supply.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Except we’re not so keen on capital improvements that don’t improve the capital value of the property. All the research I’m aware of shows that so far buyers won’t pay the necessary amount more for energy-efficiency improved properties, so for now, photovoltaics/solar hot water/insulation/double glazing/etc can only be valued in terms of what the property-owner will get out of them over the period they’re planning to live in the house; otherwise they’re over-capitalising.

    When we extended our house, double-glazing seemed to be a condition of building approval and insulation was just a no-brainer. But we had to let go of solar water heating -- it was just such a big investment that would take a long while to pay off.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22754 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell, in reply to BenWilson,

    Is decentralized solar that bursty? Individual panels are bursty, but the aggregate effect of ten thousand panels on roofs across an entire city would very much have a smoothing effect.

    well it all goes off at night .... or on cloudy days .... or eclipses or ..... basically you need your backup power (ie hydro) to be able to handle the worst case peak load and let the lakes fill, or empty more slowly when the sun shines or the wind blows - that means you need more turbines and penstocks than the existing dams are designed for.

    The problem is that we've put all the companies that should be cooperating to do this competing against each other - and they make the most money when energy is at its shortest and the prices goes through the roof - it's what Enron did and for some weird reason, to do with the belirfs of a particular sect of economic fundamentalism, we've decided that's what we want as a nation

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2606 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    All the research I’m aware of shows that so far buyers won’t pay the necessary amount more for energy-efficiency improved properties, so for now, photovoltaics/solar hot water/insulation/double glazing/etc can only be valued in terms of what the property-owner will get out of them over the period they’re planning to live in the house; otherwise they’re over-capitalising..

    Is this the same nationwide? I would have thought that in the South Island where winter warmth and paying for heating is a big deal, buyers would be wildly appreciative of energy-efficient homes.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    The problem is that we've put all the companies that should be cooperating to do this competing against each other

    and now we're selling them off to lock that in. Fricking geniuses.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19686 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    exactly that's one of my big problems with asset sales: in the name of "market efficiencies" it's actually creating a balkanised less efficient market than, perish the thought, a little sane central planning could create

    The real problem I guess is that govt asset sales is basically a religious tenant of a particular faith in the efficiencies of the free market rather than a sane and reasoned position about reality

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2606 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    So how do you manage to keep the central planning to be both sane, and only a little?
    You can easily find that one person's definition of a sane solution to the issue of NZ energy is viewed as wingnut material by others. Also, one person's view of a little intervention is not often the same as another's.
    Who gets to choose what is right for the whole country? Who has the sane and reasoned view of reality. (And I'm not saying I do)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    I don't know, I'm an electrical engineer - it's all plumbing to me - made up artificial markets get in the way of doing that efficiently.

    I would argue though that the lowest possible price of reliable power to the consumer (rather than the largest profit to the power companies) is probably the metric I'd choose

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2606 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie, in reply to Andrew Stevenson,

    Generally speaking we can resolve matters of national importance through an elaborate and sophisticated system called "Parliamentary democracy".

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    Except we’re not so keen on capital improvements that don’t improve the capital value of the property.

    There is an element of that, I'll freely admit. I think it's changing, though, as the ideas become less fringe and more proven. Active support from the government, as has happened with insulation, makes a big difference.

    But we had to let go of solar water heating -- it was just such a big investment that would take a long while to pay off.

    How much, how long? How does it compare to money in a term deposit? Or even the stockmarket?

    the weather in Auckland would still have the greatest impact on solar supply.

    Makes a change from it being about the weather in the South Island.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lilith __,

    In fact anyone can do this, now. Some rellies of mine just got solar panels fitted. You tell the power company and they come and put a meter in to show how much you're giving back to the grid. They charge for setting up the meter, but after that they pay you for your solar power.

    The devil is in the details, though. How much they charge you for the meter and how much they pay you for the power are the difference between viability and non-viability. I haven't researched this extensively, but I think only one company offers to buy and sell at the same rate. All the rest sell at retail, but buy at wholesale, which means the system saves an order of magnitude less money. Furthermore, there are no agreements that force them to stick to any deal made. So they could pull the carpet at any time. And organizing it all has sounded like a major mission in most cases I've heard of. There is the issue of the danger to technicians of having a power generator somewhere on the street - they think they've shut off the power for repairs and get zapped by someone's solar grid.

    However, all of these are organizational details that the government could take an active hand in making clear and simple. If they were proactive about such things, and felt that a million houses with $10,000 worth of self-funded power generation might be economically stimulatory. They could get 10 billion worth of privately funded power generation of the most admirable kind just by passing some laws, and removing the lips of big business from the electricity nozzle.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to BenWilson,

    All the rest sell at retail, but buy at wholesale, which means the system saves an order of magnitude less money. Furthermore, there are no agreements that force them to stick to any deal made.

    I think this is the reason why some ppl just have solar hot water heating. It takes the complexities out! But distributed generation makes so much sense, and I think a responsible government would sort out the details, as you say.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew Stevenson,

    Vector is starting to run a home solar system package and Top Energy have done some trials for home systems with battery backups that have given them promising results.
    These are both lines companies, ie not the generator or retailer of the electricity you buy. It (appears) to work to their advantage to have this household system installed in their networks.
    There was also an industrial site in Auckland that installed a large array to help manage their peak energy usage. From memory, what made it viable for them was the depreciation on the panels (they last 15-20 years) rather than the energy savings alone.
    On the pricing side it gets complicated becasue different people buy at different rates. If the smelter started to generate power on site, would they get paid retail, wholesale, or their contract rate?
    Like you say, the devil is in the details.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 206 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I’d like to also note that the amount of power that could be generated from $10,000 setups is something like 4KW. A million houses generating that would give us 4000MW. This is around 4 times our current total capacity from all power sources. [Ed's note. See below for correction and further discussion. RB.]. Which is why I said earlier that a large scale uptake of distributed solar would gut itself – the bottom would fall out of electricity prices real fast, and presumably that would reduce the savings that could be made by installing solar. So it would probably balance out at a much lesser uptake, just left to market forces. Economies of scale would also drive down the costs, there would be more importers of panels, more technicians to install them, better processes at the power suppliers to get the installs to happen, improved design of the grid. It sounds like a free-market dream. Surprised that the supposed champions of the free-market, our neoliberal overlords, aren’t all over making it as easy as possible. But that presumes they actually have any real talent for organizing even such a simple thing as this, a solution completely in line with their supposed economic theories.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    It's probably worth remembering that the New Zealand government employs many of our best accountants, lawyers, and economists. I would imagine they could figure out the details of a power buy-back requirement if they were asked to...

    Since Jul 2008 • 1452 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Andrew Stevenson,

    Yes, my memory was that Vector was the most proactive in this regard. It does make sense from the grid's point of view to put smoothing suppliers right there where the power is being used.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW, in reply to BenWilson,

    A million houses generating that would give us 4000MW. This is around 4 times our current total capacity from all power sources.

    Not to deny that 4000 MW of distributed solar capacity would be huge, but current NZ electicity demand ie 3.30pm 2Apr13 is over 4700 MW and there is plenty of spare generating capacity.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 851 posts Report Reply

  • Angus Robertson, in reply to BenWilson,

    Surprised that the supposed champions of the free-market, our neoliberal overlords, aren't all over making it as easy as possible. But that presumes they actually have any real talent for organizing even such a simple thing as this, a solution completely in line with their supposed economic theories.

    You fail to appreciate the zen-like qualities of neoliberalism - that if the government doesn't build it, they will come. So that as people realise for themselves, with almost no assistance from the state, that something is worthwhile doing the neoliberals congratulate themselves and say "we made that happen, by doing nothing".

    Not that we have neoliberal overlords in this country.

    Auckland • Since May 2007 • 984 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to ChrisW,

    Thanks for that correction. I misread my source, which said 9,751 MW. I read that as 975MW. That was as at 2011, so yes, 4000MW added would only add 41%, rather than quadrupling it. Ta. Knew I was going to trip on one of these calculations. But as you say, that's quite a lot. Especially since once the main infrastructure is in place, jacking up a solar setup isn't much more than tacking more panels on the end of the array. As the price of the panels drops, the incentive to do this increases.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10633 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    Aside from the need to upgrade our grid to smart grid the main issue is as others pointed out the competitive nature of our retail power market. But could this be turned to an advantage?

    What if the energy company you sold your excess power to was not the one you bought power from?
    What if a distributed retail power company was set up purely to buy excess power from thousands of consumers with solar/wind setups? That company could sell that power back to the main retail power companies. That company would have some skin in the game and be motivated to treat their thousands of small power suppliers well, consistent pricing etc. It could even make sense they helped with capital costs.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 509 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Richard Aston,

    What if a distributed retail power company was set up purely to buy excess power from thousands of consumers with solar/wind setups? That company could sell that power back to the main retail power companies. That company would have some skin in the game and be motivated to treat their thousands of small power suppliers well, consistent pricing etc. It could even make sense they helped with capital costs.

    That sounds rather, er, socialist. The kind of thing that could happen in the people's Republic of Christchurch if they put that guy from Orion in charge. Hang on, he is in charge...Bugger.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

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