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Hydro Versus Batteries: Tasmania Pushes Its Undersea Cable Plan

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There is no question that hydroelectric power is a wonderful thing. It’s green, it’s renewable, it’s emissions-free, and it’s relatively inexpensive.  There is also no question that water can be stored behind a dam for days, weeks, months, or even years before it is used to spin turbines that generate electricity.

Tasmania has an abundance of hydroelectric power — quite a bit more than it needs, actually. It would very much like to sell some of its excess electricity to the rest of Australia. The plan put forward by Hydro Tasmania and TasNetworks is known as the Marinus Link — a 500-kilometer-long undersea transmission line linking Tasmania to Melbourne. From there it would connect to the utility grid on the mainland, making Tasmania Australia’s national battery, so to speak.

But there’s a flaw in the Hydro Tasmania plan. According to a report written by the highly regarded Dr. Bruce Mountain for the Victoria Energy Policy Center, the Marinus Link is a money-losing proposition that will only make less economic sense in coming years as the cost of grid scale battery storage continues to decline. Here’s a quote from the Executive Summary that pretty much says it all.

“The main conclusions of that report are that 1,500 MW of four-hour battery can be provided for less than half the cost of Marinus Link; that the same capacity of six-hour battery can be provided for 79% of the cost of Marinus Link and that 1,500 MW of eight-hour battery storage is still cheaper than Marinus Link.

“In other words, even if Hydro Tasmania is able to provide, for no additional cost, 1,500 MW that it could export to Victoria day-in day-out for eight hours at a stretch for the foreseeable future, it will still be cheaper to build 1,500 MW of batteries in Victoria rather than to build Marinus Link. Of course the Tasmanian electrical system has no-where near the power or energy capability needed to provide 1,500 MW of supply to Victoria for 8 hours every day and so many billions will be needed to expand its storages and energy production in Tasmania in order to be able to provide the capacity that Marinus Link claims to offer.”

The ending of the report is just as brutal. “We now feel able to conclude that not only does Marinus Link have no chance of competing with battery alternatives but that if Hydro Tasmania develops pumped hydro capacity in Tasmania it is very likely that, like Snowy 2.0, it will be stranded from the outset.”

Cuanto Cuesta?

So how much would the Marinus Link cost? The proposal calls for building two new 750-megawatt undersea power cables between Tasmania and Victoria at a cost of about $3.5 billion. Hydro Tasmania, which is owned by the state of Tasmania, plans to store power in Tasmanian dams by releasing water to generate electricity for export to Victoria when prices are high, and pumping the water back into dams when power prices are low.

According to MSN, Mountain claims that if the Marinus Link is funded by the Tasmanian or Commonwealth governments, taxpayers will be left paying for an asset that would cost more to build than it can earn. “It would be placing a dead weight on the shoulders of the people of Tasmania, if indeed the people of Tasmania bear most of the cost. If it’s borne by the Commonwealth in some way, it’ll be placing a burden on all taxpayers and energy consumers depending on how the bid ends up, when you build an asset that can’t compete.”

Mountain also expressed skepticism about the the long term benefits of construction jobs associated with the projects. “It would be much better for the community if the government simply gave that money out — frankly, it would be less of a loss for the community. Building a white elephant, a dead weight loss, entrenches disadvantage.” No namby-pamby, wishy-washy words from the esteemed Dr. Mountain. Better to take that money and just throw it in the street.

The Case For Marinus Link

Hydro Tasmania and TasNetworks aren’t giving up the fight. TasNetworks general manager for Marinus Link Bess Clark says both batteries and pumped hydro storage will be needed as Australia’s energy market transitions away from fossil fuels. “Marinus Link presents a once in a generation opportunity to double Tasmania’s clean energy, helps combat climate change, puts downward pressure on power prices and creates thousands of local jobs,” she says, before adding that modeling by the Australian Energy Market Operator shows the Marinus Link will be a key part of Australia’s energy grid in the future.

A spokesman for Hydro Tasmania said batteries wouldn’t be able to meet all of Australia’s energy storage requirements and that deep storage like pumped hydro will be needed. “It’s not a question of having one or the other. We will need all the relevant, cost competitive technologies to play their part to ensure all Australians have a power system that is reliable, secure and affordable,” he said.

Last week the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry threw its “wholehearted support” behind the Marinus Link project. “We know that this project will be fantastic not just for employment across the state over the next 50 years but also for the growth of business within Tasmania,” TCCI CEO Michael Bailey said.

All Of The Above

There are two sides to this debate and they both have points in their favor. Pumped hydro can supply power far longer than any grid storage battery in existence. A battery can react in milliseconds; pumped hydro cannot. One of the benefits of battery storage is its frequency and voltage regulation capability. Both save grid operators money but are services pumped hydro cannot provide.

Then there is the question of timing. Bruce Mountain tells the Sydney Morning Herald the Victorian Big Battery, composed of dozens of Tesla Megapacks, will be commissioned shortly, while a similar installation at Jeeralan should be ready by 2026. There are four more storage battery projects in the pipeline as well. A further four major batteries are likely to proceed. Those will all be in place and operational before the Marinus Link becomes operational.

“Battery storage capacity will be built and operational in Victoria long before Marinus Link and the Battery of the Nation developments in Tasmania are close to operational,” the VEPC report says. “Marinus Link continues to have no prospect of competing against battery alternatives in Victoria.” Mountain adds, “Considering the much higher efficiency and responsiveness of chemical batteries than pumped hydro, if pumped hydro is developed in Tasmania it is surely likely that it, not batteries, will sit idle.”

“It’s not a question of having one or the other,” Hydro Tasmania counters. “We will need all the relevant, cost-competitive technologies to play their part to ensure all Australians have a power system that is reliable, secure and affordable.” Tasmania also is investing heavily in the power of wind, something it also has in abundance.

The Trouble With Transmission

Solar power advocates like to say that a gigantic solar farm in a small corner of the Sahara desert could power all of Europe and the UK — if there were transmission lines connecting the two areas. In the US, some people dream of New Yorkers getting solar power from California after the sun sets on the Big Apple. That could happen if there were transcontinental high voltage transmission lines.

That being said, transmission lines can be hugely expensive to construct and maintain. They are also subject to disruption from any number of causes — wind, earthquakes, wild fires, even malicious damage. The world is learning a hard lesson about making stuff in one place for consumption in another place using a flotilla of cargo ships to connect the two. Anything that can go wrong often does go wrong and at the worst possible time. Just ask Puerto Rico about relying on distant generating stations to power its major cities.

Pumped hydro is an important piece of the energy storage puzzle but it can’t just be plunked down close to the places where demand for electrical energy is high. In theory, battery storage facilities can be sited almost anywhere. Ideally, they can go where retired thermal generating stations are located, places with the advantage of already having the connections needed to feed the stored power into the electrical grid.

Planning For The Future Is Hard

The objection is not to Tasmania’s abundant hydro power. The objection is the cost of getting it to distant markets at competitive cost. Then there a time considerations. What may seem like a good idea today may not look quite so appealing a few years down the road when the economics tilt more in favor of one solution than another. When there is not an unlimited supply of money, it is best to invest what you have in solutions that will be fiscally viable for the longest period of time, not one that will be come economically noncompetitive before the end of its useful life.

Perhaps Tasmania would be wise to invest its dollars in technologies that turn its excess electricity into green hydrogen or ammonia, which could then be exported at reasonable cost to anywhere in the world. The issue is not energy storage. The issue is energy transmission. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in Australia, where wise energy planning at the federal level appears to be an alien concept.


 

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The Solid-State Energy Storage Dam Is About to Bust Wide Open

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New solid state lithium-ion energy storage technology is still in the R&D phase, and it has already attracted EV manufacturers who love the idea of packing more muscle into smaller spaces while saving on weight, improving performance, and enhancing their safety profile, too. Now it looks like the stationary storage field is also coming over to the solid-state side, too.

QuantumScape Is On A Solid-State Energy Storage Tear

For those of you new to the topic, conventional lithium-ion batteries are based on a liquid electrolyte, which can be a bit testy unless properly engineered.

One emerging solution is to ditch the liquid electrolyte altogether in favor of a solid material, such as a specialized ceramic. The solid-state approach is also a tricky one, but one of the scientists pursuing the solid-state unicorn is famed University of Texas researcher John Goodenough, who is widely credited with inventing the rechargeable lithium-ion technology of today, and that is a pretty good indicator of the quality of the research in that direction.

Solid-state battery materials were a known thing by the early 19th century, but commercial interest in solid-state batteries didn’t really pick up a head of steam until 2020, when the idea took off like a rocket in the electric vehicle field.

The solid-state battery firm QuantumScape currently cites relationships with three automakers, including Volkswagen Group. The two companies began collaborating on solid-state EV batteries in 2015.

They have upped the ante since then, with plans in the works for a pilot manufacturing facility in Germany. In a recent letter to shareholders, QauntumScape described the battery manufacturing plan and issued a progress report on its four-layer solid-state cells, with each layer consisting of “a cathode, a solid-state separator, and an in-situ formed lithium-metal anode.”

Next Steps For Solid-State Energy Storage

QauntumScape is not letting the energy storage grass grow under its feet. Last week the company announced an agreement with the leading energy technology company Fluence, which is the first non-automotive partnership for its lithium-metal battery technology.

That’s a significant development, considering that as recently as last summer the market analyst IDTechEx was assuming that electric vehicles would lead the demand for solid-state batteries, followed by smart phones. Stationary storage could skip right over both of their heads in short order.

“The strategic relationship brings together two companies leading in technology innovation focused on accelerating clean energy adoption and reducing global carbon emissions,” QuantumScape enthuses. “The companies will collaborate on what they believe to be a first-of-its-kind solution to incorporate QuantumScape’s battery technology into Fluence stationary energy storage products as specific technical and commercial milestones are met.”

The two firms are eyeballing a hot growth rate for stationary energy storage in the coming years. Fluence already has a track record in deploying energy storage to improve transmission networks and replace new gas peaker plants, so look for the partners to zero in on those areas as well as others.

As a partner company that links Siemens and the utility AES, Fluence is in a good position to speed those lithium-metal batteries to market whenever they come rolling off the assembly line.

More Solid-State Batteries For More EVs

Meanwhile, last spring Ford and BMW also hooked up to the solid-state battery train last year. Mercedes-Benz and Stellantis caught the solid-state bug, too. GM dropped a hint about its future solid-state battery ambitions last month when it formed a partnership with the Korean firm POSCO Chemical. Toyota and Hyundai are also reported to be on board.

That’s an awfully big field of energy storage players scrambling for technology that probably won’t hit the market until 2025. However, it does give the R&D folks time to work out any remaining kinks.

One especially interesting development recently popped up in a study published in the journal Nature, which describes a “a class of elastomeric solid-state electrolytes with a three-dimensional interconnected plastic crystal phase.” The new electrolytes demonstrate “a combination of mechanical robustness, high ionic conductivity, low interfacial resistance and high lithium-ion transference number” along with “a powerful strategy for enabling stable operation of high-energy, solid-state lithium batteries.”

The research is a collaboration between the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

In a press release on the new study, GIT explains that elastomers are common synthetic rubbers. Rubber is not the first material that comes to mind when the topic turns to next-generation energy storage materials, but the research team gave their elastomer a high tech twist that transformed it into a “superhighway for fast lithium-ion transport with superior mechanical toughness, resulting in longer charging batteries that can go farther.”

“The key breakthrough was allowing the material to form a three-dimensional interconnected plastic crystal phase within the robust rubber matrix. This unique structure has resulted in high ionic conductivity, superior mechanical properties and electrochemical stability,” explains GIT.

The new electrolytes prevent the lithium dendrite growth that bedevils their liquid counterparts. GIT also notes that fabricating the new electrolyte is a relatively simple, low temperature process that yields a high quality result.

But…What About The Lithium?

Yes, what about it? EV supply chain observers have been watching the lithium supply chain like a hawk. The general consensus is that there needs to be a serious uptick in availability as the energy storage market takes off.

Solid-state technology can assist, partly by introducing more robust batteries with a longer lifecycle, and by decluttering the recycling pathway. However, the global lithium supply chain still has to pump itself up as the demand for batteries accelerates.

Lithium mining and brine extraction are two solutions at hand, but they can easily run afoul of environmental and cultural preservation goals. A more promising area of lithium R&D is geothermal extraction without the use of large evaporation lagoons.

Last June our friends over at the US Department of Energy produced a blueprint for lithium supply in the US and noted that “The worldwide lithium-battery market is expected to grow by a factor of 5 to 10 in the next decade.”

“The U.S. industrial base must be positioned to respond to this vast increase in market demand that otherwise will likely benefit well-resourced and supported competitors in Asia and Europe,” they added.

Game on!

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EVs Beat Diesels As Electric Car Sales Ramp up in Europe

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Auto analyst Mathias Schmidt tells the Financial Times that sales of battery-electric cars in Europe and the UK were higher than sales of diesel-powered cars for the first time in December. “The diesel death march has been playing on repeat since September 2015 when ‘Dieselgate’ was first unveiled — causing VW to draw up the first plans of the ID.3 within 30 days of the scandal coming to light,” he said. The December data indicates 176,000 battery electric vehicles were sold in December — 6% more than in December, 2020 — as opposed to 160,000 diesels.

The Financial Times goes to some lengths to point out to its readers that the boom in electric cars is largely attributable to generous government subsidies and draconian emissions rules that force manufacturers to build low and zero emissions cars. That approach, of course, is anathema to “free market” advocates. If it weren’t for the fact that the world is hurtling toward a climate catastrophe of unimaginable proportions, such market machinations might be condemned and rightfully so.

The Financial Times reports the German government is about to revisit the wisdom of tax credits for diesel fuel that make it 14 cents per liter cheaper than premium gasoline. The love affair with diesel in Europe began after the OPEC oil embargoes in the 1970s.

Diesel engines do squeeze more miles out of a gallon of fuel than gasoline engines, and so there was a reason to promote the sale of diesel-powered vehicles at that time. The mechanism most countries chose was to increase taxes on gasoline and decrease taxes on diesel fuel. The justification for doing that has long since evaporated, however.

According to SwissInfo, sales of electric vehicles — including plug-in hybrids and conventional hybrids — reached a “tipping point” in 2021, particularly at the end of the year. For the period from September to November, fully electric vehicles accounted for 18.3% of new registrations. Including plug-in hybrids, that figure rose to 28% according to the Touring Club Switzerland. The Tesla Model 3 leads all other EV models in sales in Switzerland. The Volkswagen ID.3 is in second place, with less than half as many cars sold.

“Given the ongoing technological advancements, increased social acceptance and the ever-increasing choice of electric vehicle models, the development of electromobility is progressing faster than expected. The 50%-mark for fully electric vehicles, which most experts expected only around 2030, should therefore be reached significantly faster than expected,” TCS said.

While Switzerland’s EV charging infrastructure is on par with that in other European countries — a total of 8,497 public charging stations were available across Switzerland as of the end of 2021 — there are still too few chargers available for apartment dwellers and those who park on the street. “The hurdles for home charging are still too high for tenants, owners of apartments and residents who park on the streets,” says Krispin Romang, managing director of the Swiss eMobility association.

Switzerland is implementing new laws designed to slash carbon emissions by 50% in 2030 as compared to 1990. They include tightening tailpipe emission standards to make them similar to those imposed by the EU. Fines imposed by the new law will be used to pay for charging infrastructure upgrades.

The Takeaway

The Financial Times may harrumph about government subsidies and regulations, but they are working. If they smack of socialism to some, so be it. Socialism is preferable to extinction any day.

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Extreme E Sustainability Award Goes to Team X44 (Video)

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X44 have become the first winners of the Extreme E Sustainability Award after topping the standings in the series’ inaugural Count Us In Challenge. The Extreme E Count Us In Challenge is a simple way for people to take practical and impactful steps that reduce their carbon footprint — and challenge governments, cities, and businesses to accelerate progress on climate action.

Extreme E aims to accelerate the adoption of clean and electrified transport to help protect people and the planet, with the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge also supporting the UN’s Race To Zero campaign. Race to Zero is a global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

Extreme E is a challenging racing expedition, a global odyssey, taking 100% electric SUVs to extreme environments. They have a single goal in mind — to highlight the destruction of our planet and to inspire people, companies, and locations to urgently change course and go on the positive journey we must all take. The racing series hopes to inspire everyone to change course for the good of our home planet.

Fans vote for the Extreme E Sustainability Award by supporting their favorite team through making healthier lifestyle choices for themselves and the planet. They set up a profile with Count Us In to keep track of the carbon they are saving. The tracking also adds steps to all the steps people make on the Extreme E platform.

Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Extreme E, congratulated X44 as the winners of the Extreme E Sustainability Award via the series’ first-ever Count Us In Challenge. “Sport is an incredible platform to not only raise awareness of the climate crisis,” Agag said, “the single biggest threat to our planet today, but also inspire action to tackle it. At Extreme E we will continue to push the boundaries and shine a spotlight on the issues we face, along with the need to act now to help protect our futures.”

Lewis Hamilton, founder of X44, explained that Extreme E, as a new sustainability initiative, “brings my vision for a more sustainable and equal world to life. Extreme E really appealed to me because of its environmental focus. Every single one of us has the power to make a difference, and it means so much to me that I can use my love of racing, together with my love for our planet, to have a positive impact.”

Fan support for X44 through the Extreme E Sustainability Award must come as solace to Hamilton, who lost the Formula 1 driving championship in 2021 when the FIA chose the final race and title winner. Mercedes conceded that “it’s going to take a long time for us to digest” the Formula 1 end-of-2021 season results, revealing that “we will never overcome the pain and the distress” that the final lap decisions caused.

What’s Behind the Extreme E Sustainability Award

Motor racing is a constant hub of transport innovation, and Extreme E represents the latest clean technology, running X Prixs in some of Earth’s most remote and stunning locations while raising awareness for the climate crisis. Extreme E and Count Us In joined forces ahead of Season 1 to launch the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge — a campaign using the power of sport and the excitement of motor racing to inspire fans to take practical steps on climate change. The sport for purpose series asked fans to take real pledges to lead a less carbon intensive lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.

The Extreme E Count Us In Challenge includes a variety of actions available to fans to contribute towards a greener future, including not using single-use plastic, walking and cycling more, eating more plant-based foods and driving an electric vehicle. Each step is attributed to the fans’ favorite team, and the team with the most steps at the end of Season 1 would win the inaugural Extreme E Sustainability Award.

The specific steps that Extreme E recommends to its fans are:

Drive electric: Make your next vehicle purchase electric.
Fly less: Reduce your air travel to dramatically reduce your carbon pollution.
Grow some trees: Grow trees to capture and store carbon.
Speak up at work: Come together with colleagues to make change at a bigger scale.
Volunteer: Donate your time and skills.
Dial it down: Turn down the heating in your home by a degree or two.
Switch your home: Move your home to a green energy supplier.
Tell your politicians: Ask your politicians to act or invest in infrastructure to support a step.
Cut food waste: Reduce the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away in your home.
Eat sustainable fish: Eat sustainably sourced fish.
Drink tap water: Stop buying bottled water.
Walk and cycle more: Travel by foot or bike whenever possible.
Talk to friends: Start a conversation about Count Us In and encourage others to take a step.
Buy sustainable palm oil: Look for products that use sustainable palm oil.
Use less plastic: Make plastic-free choices to reduce carbon pollution.
Eat more plants: Reduce the amount of meat in your daily diet.

The greatest fan support for the Count Us In Challenge was achieved by X44, who claimed the Award with 792 steps pledged, with JBXE (749 steps), and Rosberg X Racing (RXR) (422 steps) completing the top three. In total, the Extreme E Count Us In Challenge inspired 1,231 fans to take 3,207 steps saving 1,241,223 KG CO2.

Final Thoughts

Extreme E will continue on to Season 2 to go further in taking climate action and increasing fan interest in the Count Us In Challenge. In 2022, Extreme E will continue to race across the world’s most remote environments to demonstrate the performance and benefits of electric vehicles and clean technology, while highlighting the impact that climate change is already having on these ecosystems, such as melting ice caps, deforestation, desertification, retreating mountain glaciers, and rising sea levels.

Sébastien Loeb, X44, said: “I was very happy to learn that X44 won the Extreme E Sustainability Award for 2021. I joined the team hoping to discover more about the environment while doing what I love, and I have learned so much from the series and the different places we visited — in fact, I even bought my first electric car last year! To know that our fans have come on this journey with us and are making their own commitment to have a positive impact on the planet is inspiring, and I feel good about what we can achieve when we work together.”

When teams and fans take meaningful, simple steps in their own daily lives, they not only reduce their own carbon emissions — they’re added to a growing movement of people and communities showing leaders it’s time to accelerate progress on climate action.

Extreme E Season 2 begins in Neom, Saudi Arabia (19-20 February), before heading to Sardinia, Italy (7-8 May), Senegal or Scotland (9-10 July), Antofagasta, Chile (10-11 September), and Punta Del Este, Uruguay (26-27 November).

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