Tag Archive | "TED"

Solar Reaches Flipping Point

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Solar Reaches Flipping Point

Posted on 06 May 2015 by JasonK

A few days ago Tesla solved one of the bigger problems for renewable energy – low cost storage.

Tesla’s home battery, named “Powerwall,” is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that mounts on the wall and comes in 7 kilowatt-hour or 10 kilowatt-hour versions, the company said in a statement. Deliveries will begin in late summer and the price starts from $3,000, Tesla said.”

Distributed energy generation – especially solar, has been growing at a very fast pace in the last few years. Ironically one of the big problems with so may homeowners generating their own power is that grid owners don’t know how to manage all of that surplus electricity flowing back in their direction.

A battery system can help with that but until now those battery systems have been very expensive and only used by those who are off the grid. The Powerwall battery may not be the full answer but it is a revolutionary step in that direction.

Actual mileage will vary ( as they say) – you still need to check the key variables in your location but having cheaper battery technology will change the game. In NZ Utility of the future – A customer-led shift in the electricity sector  (via the WhatPower Crisis websitea PWC industry background is available as a downloadable pdf. A year before Powerwall was even ready those authors noted:

“As battery storage technology becomes more commercially viable, customers will be able to combine solar PV generation and storage; thus enabling them to offset usage during peak tariff periods and rectify the current asymmetry between solar generation and energy consumption patterns.”

Solar in Hawaii

“In Hawaii, where 12 percent of the homes have solar panels, handling the surplus power is putting pressure on the state’s biggest utility.”

“The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.”

It is a huge challenge to the business model and one we will see elsewhere as the critical mass of solar installations grows. See the full story at Solar Power Battle Puts Hawaii at Forefront of Worldwide Changes

“As a result, many utilities are trying desperately to stem the rise of solar, either by reducing incentives, adding steep fees or effectively pushing home solar companies out of the market. In response, those solar companies are fighting back through regulators, lawmakers and the courts.

The shift in the electric business is no less profound than those that upended the telecommunications and cable industries in recent decades. It is already remaking the relationship between power companies and the public while raising questions about how to pay for maintaining and operating the nation’s grid.”….

“It is also upgrading its circuits and meters to better regulate the flow of electricity. Rooftop solar makes far more power than any other single source, said Colton Ching, vice president for energy delivery at Hawaiian Electric, but the utility can neither control nor predict the output.

“At every different moment, we have to make sure that the amount of power we generate is equal to the amount of energy being used, and if we don’t keep that balance things go unstable,” he said, pointing to the illuminated graphs and diagrams tracking energy production from wind and solar farms, as well as coal-fueled generators in the utility’s main control room. But the rooftop systems are “essentially invisible to us,” he said, “because they sit behind a customer’s meter and we don’t have a means to directly measure them.”

What is needed is a new business model for the electricity companies. In Hawaii the local utility barred installations of solar in a number of areas – so much so that some homeowners actually went off the grid altogether by installing batteries to store their power.

That is not an option for most home solar power users but the new Powerwall battery pack from Tesla will change the financial equation once again by adding flexibility to their usage patterns.

A few days after the NYT Hawaii story came out the NBR in New Zealand Renewables menace traditional power model. The heading seems a bit dramatic but it comes from a consultant working in Europe and watching similar changes play out in the German electricity market. Briony Bennett writes

“Alone, one solar-powered household cannot produce enough electricity to perturb the traditional power model. Yet, the arrival of hundreds and thousands of prosumers on the grid has the potential to be destabilising as seen with commercial solar generation.

These four issues are part of a bigger problem: electricity infrastructure and markets are inflexible. They were not designed to manage decentralised and unpredictable electricity production. Nevertheless, this is the model we will have to manage in the future. Distribution lines also have ramping limits constraining how quickly power flows can be increased or decreased. Volatile prosumers and commercial wind and solar farms compromise the grid’s technical stability.”

Predictably there is some denial and over reaction such as Why Tesla’s Powerwall Is Just Another Toy For Rich Green People. Somehow the author of that article misses the point there are many scenarios outside of the typical US setup where a much less expensive storage battery will help consumers dramatically.

Why Tesla’s battery for your home should terrify utilities – Elon Musk’s electricity empire could mean a new type of power grid

“It’s quite a bind: by fighting net metering, utilities would help make battery storage more economically viable, driving the transition to a distributed grid.

Manghani believes utilities aren’t doomed, but they may undergo a radical transformation, becoming something closer to service providers and minders of an increasingly distributed grid rather than the centralized power producers they are today. Such a system would require lots of batteries to help balance the load and supply extra power during peak times, which is why GTM estimates the market will grow from $48 million today to about $1 billion in 2018.”…

“Another potential bright spot for utilities is Tesla itself. If electric vehicles take off, demand for power will go up, helping compensate for people whose homes are relying less on the grid.”

In other related news a few weeks ago I saw a Tesla S up close. It is a seriously impressive all electric car. The owner is investing his own resources to setup charging stations around New Zealand for Tesla’s.

All of which brings us back to the new Tesla Powerwall battery. Anecdotally I have heard of some solar power enthusiasts using a Nissan Leaf as a mobile battery pack for their home generation. At about $40k in NZ that is expensive and probably not that practical but it is much less than the containers full of batteries I have seen over the years.

My daughter wrote up a school project on inventors a few weeks back. Incredibly the “approved” inventor was Edison. I suggested Elon Musk would have been a better choice especially since she is a Marvel comics fan and Musk is as close to a Tony Stark archetype as you could get.

Clearly some utility companies and commentators are still in denial mode about the imminent business model changes signalled by these changes. In New Zealand Meridian Energy has 189 solar panels installed on the roof of the War Memorial Museum.

And in this weeks news the Vector utility is taking the PowerWall battery seriously. Vector enters ‘special relationship’ with Tesla

“Vector has been working for some months to cement this “special relationship” with Tesla to provide the Tesla home battery to New Zealand.

“This is the start of a significant change in the energy industry. Tesla is the largest producer of batteries in the world, as well as the most cost effective, and this strong relationship will allow us to take it to the next level across the country,” said Mackenzie.

Stiassny said that Vector had recognised some time ago that the energy business was destined for change.”

If you haven’t watched the clip below where Musk answers questions on Tesla, Solar City and Space X you really should. It predates the Powerwall battery announcement.

I love the part in this clip where Musk says that reasoning from first principles leads to breakthroughs rather than reasoning by analogy which is our default thinking mode.

Well, I do think there’s a good framework for thinking. It is physics. You know, the sort of first principles reasoning. Generally I think there are — what I mean by that is, boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.Through most of our life, we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations. And you have to do that. Otherwise, mentally, you wouldn’t be able to get through the day.

But when you want to do something new, you have to apply the physics approach. Physics is really figuring out how to discover new things that are counterintuitive, like quantum mechanics. It’s really counterintuitive. So I think that’s an important thing to do, and then also to really pay attention to negative feedback, and solicit it, particularly from friends. This may sound like simple advice, but hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.

In my view solar are reached a flipping / tipping point and that is hugely positive.

P.S Another view : The Tesla battery heralds the beginning of the end for fossil fuels

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There are no crew on spaceship Earth -mixed messages about Mars

Posted on 19 March 2015 by JasonK

TED 2015 is on right now in Vancouver and while I am not there (one day:) I have been watching the various media streams when I have a moment.

What I was struck by on the first day was what I think is a profound dissonance between a couple of presentations on the general topic of missions to Mars and the implications.

While I recall previous talks by Prof Brian Cox “Why we need the Explorers” and various others over the years in support of the general thesis I was very interested in Lucianne Walkowicz was talking about this year.

Contrast the comment attributed to Elon Musk (below) “50,000 people living on Mars by 2050″ with a more sobering assessment by Walkowicz.

Lucianne gave a TED talk in 20111 Finding planets around other stars so she has a different perspective to most of us. Marcus Wohlsen of Wired.com has been writing about #TED2015 this week – scroll down to Day one or search on the title “TED Day One: Mars Isn’t a Good Backup Plan for Humanity” or for another view On blazars, quantum computers, and looking for life on Mars: A recap of TEDFellows Session 1 at TED2015

“But the biggest challenge to an audience steeped in Silicon Valley pieties was astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz. Her work involves looking for what she called “choice alien real estate,” searching the cosmos for planets that might be hospitable to life. “The more you look for planets like earth,” she said, “the more you appreciate our own planet itself.” Among the planets that don’t quite measure up is Mars.

Mars might have been inhabited by life once, Walkowicz said. But these days, she said, compared to earth, it’s a pretty terrible place to live. She pointed to the fact that humans have so far failed to colonize the least hospitable places of our own planet, such as deserts, which have the advantage of a rich, highly oxygenated atmosphere. Aspirations to colonize Mars, as described by Walkowicz, have an air not of innovative ambition, but of giving up.

If we can figure out how to make Mars habitable by humans, she said, we ought to be able figure out how to keep earth habitable for humans, too—an effort at which we are currently failing miserably.

That last statement about how we should “figure out how to keep earth habitable for humans” really struck a chord with me (italics are mine.)

Here is a talk she gave earlier. When this years talk is released on video I will update this post with the new clip. Lucianne is not some disinterested bystander; she works on the NASA’s Kepler mission so to hear her frame her talk in this way is significant.

Many years ago Marshall McLuhan was quoted as saying – “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew”. What I think Lucianne is saying is that we aren’t behaving like crew and really solving the big issues that face earth. Instead we are like a bunch of passengers trying to get off to the lifeboats of Mars.

I’m surprised that given that #TED2015 is being held in Canada that quote is not being mentioned. I’m guessing that McLuhan himself may have been referencing “Operating Manual For Spaceship Earth which is a short book by R. Buckminster Fuller, first published in 1968″.

In my view the short version is that we shouldn’t give up on spaceship earth – despite it being a hard question to ask and answer. Like in the famous “Space Seed” episode of StarTrek 1967 I’m paraphrasing here – Khan says despite the improvements in technology, we humans are still much the same and in 2015 that is still the case.

I look forward to the video of  Lucianne’s latest talk but in the meantime here is another quote by her.

For anyone to tell you Mars will be there to back up humanity is like the captain of the Titanic telling you that the real party is happening later on the life boats,” Walkowicz said. “It is hubris to believe that interplanetary colonization will be enough to save us from ourselves.

What do you think?

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Ed Snowden at TED 2014

Posted on 24 March 2014 by JasonK

Last week Ed Snowden appeared at the TED 2014 conference via telepresence robot. Of the 2046 registered TED members who have rated that talk so far most of the votes were that the presentation was “courageous” and “informative”.

ted-ed-snowdonI would encourage everyone who is interested in the balance between individual privacy and security intelligence ( oxymoron alert right there) to watch this video and the follow up by the NSA spokesperson (Richard Ledgett) which came a couple of days later.

Here is a snippet of the transcript where Edward (ES) is talking about the PRISM programme.

“ES: The best way to understand PRISM, because there’s been a little bit of controversy, is to first talk about what PRISM isn’t. Much of the debate in the U.S. has been about metadata. They’ve said it’s just metadata, it’s just metadata, and they’re talking about a specific legal authority called Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
That allows sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country’s phone records, things like that — who you’re talking to, when you’re talking to them, where you traveled. These are all metadata events.

PRISM is about content. It’s a program through which the government could compel corporate America, it could deputize corporate America to do its dirty work for the NSA. And even though some of these companies did resist, even though some of them — I believe Yahoo was one of them — challenged them in court, they all lost, because it was never tried by an open court.

They were only tried by a secret court. And something that we’ve seen, something about the PRISM program that’s very concerning to me is, there’s been a talking point in the U.S. government where they’ve said 15 federal judges have reviewed these programs and found them to be lawful, but what they don’t tell you is those are secret judges in a secret court based on secret interpretations of law that’s considered 34,000 warrant requests over 33 years, and in 33 years only rejected 11 government requests.

These aren’t the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open Internet should be.”

Further into the conversation Ed notes the the difference between public interest and national interest and that there are many more revelations to come. (CA) stands for Chris Anderson who was asking the questions.

ES: “The public interest is not always the same as the national interest. Going to war with people who are not our enemy in places that are not a threat doesn’t make us safe, and that applies whether it’s in Iraq or on the Internet. The Internet is not the enemy. Our economy is not the enemy. American businesses, Chinese businesses, and any other company out there is a part of our society. It’s a part of our interconnected world. There are ties of fraternity that bond us together, and if we destroy these bonds by undermining the standards, the security, the manner of behavior, that nations and citizens all around the world expect us to abide by.

CA: But it’s alleged that you’ve stolen 1.7 million documents. It seems only a few hundred of them have been shared with journalists so far. Are there more revelations to come?

ES: There are absolutely more revelations to come. I don’t think there’s any question that some of the most important reporting to be done is yet to come.”

Here is the clip.

“CA: Sorry. Do you think there’s a deeper motivation for them other than the war against terrorism?

ES: Yeah. The bottom line is that terrorism has always been what we in the intelligence world would call a cover for action. Terrorism is something that provokes an emotional response that allows people to rationalize authorizing powers and programs that they wouldn’t give otherwise. The Bullrun and Edgehill-type programs, the NSA asked for these authorities back in the 1990s. They asked the FBI to go to Congress and make the case.

The FBI went to Congress and did make the case. But Congress and the American people said no. They said, it’s not worth the risk to our economy. They said it’s worth too much damage to our society to justify the gains.

But what we saw is, in the post-9/11 era, they used secrecy and they used the justification of terrorism to start these programs in secret without asking Congress, without asking the American people, and it’s that kind of government behind closed doors that we need to guard ourselves against, because it makes us less safe, and it offers no value.”

Tim Berners Lee was on stage for a couple of questions at one point.

“CA: And Ed, I think you’ve read the proposal that Sir Tim has talked about about a new Magna Carta to take back the Internet. Is that something that makes sense?

ES: Absolutely. I mean, my generation, I grew up not just thinking about the Internet, but I grew up in the Internet, and although I never expected to have the chance to defend it in such a direct and practical manner and to embody it in this unusual, almost avatar manner, I think there’s something poetic about the fact that one of the sons of the Internet has actually become close to the Internet as a result of their political expression.

And I believe that a Magna Carta for the Internet is exactly what we need. We need to encode our values not just in writing but in the structure of the Internet, and it’s something that I hope, I invite everyone in the audience, not just here in Vancouver but around the world, to join and participate in.”

Feel free to join the debate over on the main TED site – Edward Snowden

The talk about a magna carta for the internet is a clear marker for the divide between concerned internet users and those in the “intelligence community”. We see the debate in terms of privacy and the protection of hard won freedoms of speech and thought and yet the NSA claims the same interests prevent them from doing that.

For New Zealanders the claims by Ed that the NSA is proactive to weaken legal protections and encryption technologies globally is one to watch. In this story just last week Snowden: US helped create loopholes in NZ law

“NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden says the United States’ spy agency has helped find or create loopholes in New Zealand law to enable widespread spying.

In testimony to the European Parliament, the exiled former NSA worker said the agency’s Foreign Affairs Division put pressure on other countries to change laws to create legal gaps through which mass surveillance could be carried out.”

… and later in that article it says:

“In listing New Zealand among countries targeted, he said: “Each of these countries received instruction from the NSA, sometimes under the guise of the US Department of Defense and other bodies, on how to degrade the legal protections of their countries’ communications.”

Cyber rights group Tech Liberty’s spokesman Thomas Beagle said the new laws introduced in New Zealand last year appeared surprisingly quickly.

“It was like someone had it sitting in a drawer ready to go. Who is really writing these laws.”

He said the greater concern was the lack of oversight. “It’s never being able to test what they are doing what they say.”

It seems like the NZ government is being disingenuous in claiming NZ is acting independently when behind the scenes deliberate measures are being taken to undermine trust and faith in the very government it seeks to protect.

After TED managed to get Ed Snowden to present they also asked the NSA if they wanted to offer their view. That presenation was delivered via video conferencing and Richard Ledgett: The NSA responds to Edward Snowden’s TED Talk gave a somewhat defensive pitch on behalf of the NSA.

Crucially Ledgett agreed that a greater level of debate over the governance and activities was needed. He still strongly believed that Snowden should have used internal mechanisms at the NSA to raise his concerns but as Edward noted those avenues were not available to contractors.

Ledgett clearly has had some media training and none of the questions put to hime were disclosed in advance so he did well to present an alternative view of the various NSA programmes but in the end he wasn’t that convincing and in my view gave a more idealogical viewpoint than something that would help to rebuild trust and faith in the NSA processes and various oversight structures.

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