Tag Archives: Elon Musk

Tesla and its implications: it’s a wild time

If you read our piece Tuesday on Tesla’s new PowerWall battery storage announcement, but spent the past three days thinking about whether you wanted to get one for your own home, well, you waited too long.

According to several reports, Tesla has sold 38,000 PowerWalls since its announcement a week ago, and is now sold out through mid-2016. Not terribly surprising since its Nevada Gigafactory to manufacture batteries for both its cars and electricity storage use won’t even be completed until then.

Perhaps more significantly for the future of clean energy, Tesla also has sold 2,500 of its larger PowerPacks. Those are the systems designed for commercial, industrial and utility purposes. And those 2,500 batteries will surely store a lot more power and enable a lot more renewable energy deployment than will the larger number of home systems.

That’s especially true since, as several media outlets reported (perhaps a little too gleefully),  the home systems aren’t–yet–particularly useful for going off the grid or even enabling rooftop solar owners to store their own power generated during the day and use it at night.

SolarCity, the rooftop solar company of which Tesla’s Elon Musk is chairman, isn’t even marketing the smaller (7 kw) battery that would serve that purpose. Again, not yet.

All batteries are designed for specific purposes. In this case, the 10 kw PowerWall is intended only to handle the occasional power outage experienced by the grid and thus enable consumers to have some (although a quite small) amount of backup power to keep some essential systems running. It is designed to cycle only about 50 times/year.

The smaller 7 kw battery is designed to cycle much more frequently–a few hundred times per year–making it suitable for rooftop solar owners to store their electricity and use it on a daily basis. But SolarCity won’t market it right now because current net metering policies (in which rooftop solar owners sell excess power back to utilities) established in most states make more economic sense for homeowners than saving their power and using it later.

Some other companies, and there are a growing number planning to sell the PowerWall,  may market it for the purpose of homeowner energy independence, but for the most part, that’s still a few years into the future.

So does all this mean that Tesla, and electricity storage generally, is not the fundamental game-changer, the new paradigm, that we and many others described it as just a few days ago?

Not at all. As we wrote Tuesday, “What Tesla is doing–and we’re just at the very beginning of this transformation–is changing the entire nature of electricity generation and distribution.” Let’s emphasize “the very beginning of this transformation.”

The significance of Elon Musk’s Tesla battery-powered announcement is two-fold: first, Tesla has dramatically lowered the cost of electricity storage, and has done so even before its Gigafactory is in operation. Mass production will lead to both lower prices and greater capacity. Tesla competitors will also have to up their game and develop lower-cost batteries. Second, Tesla is doing this with the precise intent of entirely transforming the nature of electricity generation and distribution, and of moving the entire world–as quickly as possible–to a clean energy future.

Indeed, Musk already is saying that Tesla’s energy storage business could become larger than its automobile business  –and Musk isn’t shy about his intent to make his car business compete with the General Motors, Toyotas and Hondas of the world.

As nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen has famously pointed out, “The nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time humankind is so dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight.”

We have now figured it out. And we’ve figured it out in a way that is beginning to make economic sense. This is following the solar trendline itself: first, the technology was developed and matured; then the cost became accessible; and finally, where we are now: the cost has dropped to the point where it is not only competitive, it is increasingly the lowest-cost option and will be so nearly everywhere before the end of this decade.

But it’s not only Tesla; they have competitors both in the battery storage arena and other storage technologies. For larger, utility-scale uses, for example, compressed air storage was figured out by the ancient Greeks; now it’s becoming a viable technology and competitor to Tesla’s PowerPack.

As EarthTrack’s Doug Koplow pointed out yesterday, the economics and trends are clear: storage beats nuclear power.

It’s not going to be instantaneous. The change will be nearly invisible for a while. We’re in the very beginning. But the energy transformation is happening–right before our eyes. Don’t close them too long, or it may even pass you by. It’s a fascinating, hopeful, wild time. The clean energy future and accompanying end of nuclear power and fossil fuels are nearly in sight, and will become so blatantly obvious even Exelon will be able to see it. In fact, Exelon and its ilk already do. That’s why they’re thrashing about greedily trying to get as much as possible in their waning days before their obsolete technologies and utility structures all come crashing down around them.

For those of you interested in the more practical side of the issue; this article compares the costs of Tesla’s PowerWall with other currently available residential storage systems.  This post from Australia’s ReNewEconomy features a downloadable app that will help you determine what level of solar and storage will be appropriate for where you live while a post from Rocky Mountain Institute discusses how much battery storage your rooftop solar system may need.

Michael Mariotte

May 8, 2015

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2015/05/08/tesla-and-its-implications-its-a-wild-time/

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Tesla wants to change the world. It just might happen.

The Tesla PowerWall. Photo by Tesla.

The Tesla PowerWall. Photo by Tesla.

Last week, Elon Musk and his Tesla corporation changed the world. Or so you might think from reading the press coverage about Musk’s long-expected announcement that the gigafactory Tesla is building in Nevada will produce batteries not only for Tesla automobiles, but to use as storage for renewable energy–especially rooftop solar–as well.

EverReady is probably pretty jealous; an announcement about a new battery has never received so much attention. Continue reading

Nuclear Newsreel, Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site's capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

The Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas. WCS wants to triple the site’s capacity and slash its liability at the same time.

It’s been a while since we caught up on the news, so let’s jump right in….

Nuclear Power

EPA chief Gina McCarthy has in essence admitted that our analysis of the EPA’s proposed carbon rules is correct: they are intended to boost the nuclear power industry, and are especially an effort to protect those uneconomic reactors–mostly owned by Exelon–that would close without more subsidies. However, McCarthy also demonstrated that she doesn’t know much about nuclear power or the reactors she’s trying to keep open: “There are a handful of nuclear facilities that because they are having trouble remaining competitive, they haven’t yet looked at re-licensing (to extend their operating lives). We were simply highlighting that fact,” McCarthy said at a round-table discussion with business leaders in Chicago. In fact, of the dozen or so reactors that have been publicly cited as in danger of closing because they’re losing money, only Exelon’s Clinton reactor has yet to receive a license extension. Perhaps that lack of knowledge at the top levels of the EPA is the reason the proposed rule is so inartfully worded.

In any case, McCarthy’s admission is just one more reason to make sure the largest possible response is provided to the EPA. The first step is signing and spreading the word about the NIRS/CREDOMobilize petition here. The next step is to begin organizing to attend, speak out and protest at the four public meetings EPA is setting up for public comment.  Continue reading

Nuclear Newsreel, Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Nuclear Power

A piece of metal from a broken impeller blade, 5 inches by 12 inches long, has become wedged inside the Palisades reactor’s pressure vessel and workers have been unable to remove it. Palisades’ owner Entergy Corp. says it wants to just leave the piece where it is, but the NRC says it is evaluating the safety significance of the problem and won’t allow restart of the reactor until the evaluation is complete. Palisades, one of the more decrepit reactors in the country, has been shut down 10 times since 2011 for various repairs. The article also includes some interesting anecdotes from UCS’ Dave Lochbaum about some past cases where pieces of metal have accidentally entered reactor pressure vessels.

The NRC has its own version of the children’s game Mother May I? According to Dave Lochbaum of UCS it’s called NRC May I, and it’s where reactor owners modify reactors or procedures without first obtaining NRC permission. Lochbaum explains how the process works, which is under 10 CFR 50.59, and calls the large number of violations of the process in recent years “troubling.”

“Unacceptable” parts were supplied to at least seven U.S. nuclear reactors. Dresser Rand, which manufactured the parts, said one of its vendors provided the unacceptable materials to the company, which then used them to build the parts. The company discovered the problem after the parts were delivered and reported it to the reactor sites involved. It’s unclear whether the parts are in use at any of the reactors; two say they are not in use.

cutaway of the WIPP radwaste site

cutaway of the WIPP radwaste site

A concise, useful explanation of the problems at New Mexico’s WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Project) transuranic radioactive waste site from Idaho’s Snake River Alliance.

Yesterday we reported that Russian aggression toward Ukraine is threatening a Finnish nuclear project partly owned by Russia’s Rosatom. Today it’s the Czech Republic’s turn: two government ministers say Russia’s actions make Russia’s government-owned Atomstroyexport unfit to participate in building new reactors there–yet another obstacle toward building the reactors which already has been threatened by the government’s unwillingness to provide taxpayer subsidies for the project.

From the Ecologist: UK taxpayers will be liable for billions if the Hinkley Point reactor project proceeds–when alternatives would be cheaperMeanwhile, the Guardian asks, “Where next for the UK nuclear industry” as part of its Great Energy Debate series.

Democracy bulldozed to clear way for nuclear industry: villagers in India protest against farcical public hearing. Thousands of Indians are protesting various nuclear projects on a near-daily basis, but the government keeps acting to repress them.

Clean Energy

Tesla’s endgame: Why electric vehicles are just the beginning. The company’s real aim is complete transformation of electric utilities. The battery factory Tesla is building seeks to reduce the cost of batteries by 50% by 2020, and eventually down by 75%. At that level, rooftop solar coupled with battery storage will make economic sense everywhere–indeed, not just economic sense but a level where it would be folly not to do that. And that spells the death knell for traditional utilities. As the article from Utility Dive states, “The overarching purpose of Tesla Motors (and the reason I am funding the company),” Musk wrote in The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me), “is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy.” Tesla isn’t the only company working towards a renewable-powered future, but it may be both the most visionary and the most aggressive.

Screen-shot-2014-03-03-at-2.14.40-PMA new report from the Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance (SEEA) shows that energy efficiency retrofits done in 16 cities across eight southern states yielded an astounding 387% return on investment. The program spurred $3.87 million in economic input and 17.28 new jobs for every $1 million invested, according to SEEA, and likely will lead to more programs in the region, which historically has lagged behind the rest of the country in efficiency. Florida–one of the worst of the worst when it comes to energy efficiency–received the greatest proportional benefits.

Austin, Texas has signed an agreement for new wind power that will allow it to reach its goal of 35% renewable energy by 2020 four years ahead of schedule (when was the last time anyone heard of a nuclear project “ahead of schedule?). By reaching its general renewable energy goal early, Austin will now concentrate on meeting its goal of 200MW of solar power by 2020–half of that locally generated.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/03/04/nuclear-newsreel-tuesday-march-4-2014/

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Why we’re writing so much about the changing nature of the electricity business–everybody else is. Oh, and because it’s important.

If how much is written about a topic is an indication of how important or perhaps timely the topic is, then the issues of distributed generation, the changing nature of how Americans will obtain their electricity, and the effects of both on electric utilities, are of both extreme importance and timeliness. We have been reporting on these issues almost daily, citing articles and adding to the conversation, but today the plethora of articles, opinions, predictions and information–and good ones at that–is almost overwhelming.

That major changes are coming should be obvious to anyone without blinders on–or perhaps anyone who hasn’t overinvested in nuclear power and fossil fuels. The only questions now are how fast those changes will be implemented and how extensive they’ll be.

If you haven’t been following the issue, here’s the brief (and simplified) synopsis: Distributed generation–for the most part small-scale rooftop solar (from your local Wal-Mart to your own house) and wind farms, coupled with increased availability and affordability of electricity storage (primarily batteries) coupled with increased energy efficiency in both buildings and appliances and smart electric grids are completely changing the nature of the electric utility business.

In the 20th century, that business model–designed to bring reliable and relatively affordable (if not often safe or clean) electricity to the entire nation–achieved its goals. Utilities built large “baseload” power plants, typically fossil fuel or nuclear powered plants that run 24/7, and an accompanying transmission grid to take the power from those plants to cities and towns all across the country. Regulators ensured they earned a profit on every step of that process. And the nation was indeed electrified.

But as we entered the 21st century, that business model began to fall apart. Most states chose to deregulate their electric utilities, and separated the jobs of power production from electricity transmission. Instead of regulators setting rates and ensuring profits, utilities began to be forced to compete with each other to sell electricity at the lowest rates to consumers. Inefficient and overly costly power plants began to close–a process that accelerated in 2013 with the unexpected shutdown announcements of five nuclear reactors. More shutdowns–in many cases aided by anti-nuclear campaigns–are likely this year and next. And dozens of dirty coal plants have closed in the past few years as well.

Meanwhile, technological advances, especially the plummeting costs of small-scale solar power and the advent of leasing arrangements which mean that consumers–both businesses and homeowners–can get solar installed on their rooftops without the high upfront costs, have made it possible for millions to produce their own electric power and sometimes even more than they need, which policies called net metering allow for them to sell back to the grid at market, and sometimes above-market prices.

As energy efficiency programs have begun to work, the average household and business is using less electricity than they used to. It now looks like peak electricity use in the U.S. was reached in 2007, and even with population growth we may never again reach that peak.

Wind power costs also have fallen over the years, and in many parts of the country are cheaper than their older competition: nuclear and fossil fuel plants. Smart grids, which are still in their infancy, make it possible for grid operators to more efficiently move between the intermittent power sources like wind and solar farms as their power is produced and wanes, providing more reliable access to renewable energy.

That’s where we are now. Where we’re going, sometimes called Utility 2.0, is what’s really exciting. The “internet of things,” where our devices, soon to include our entire homes and places of work, are connected to the internet, are enabling the smart grid to become really smart–to provide power to where it’s actually needed when it’s actually needed (and not at other times) from where it’s being produced (and in a somewhat similar fashion to the local food movement, that will more often than not be locally).

Electricity storage means that those big baseload plants will become obsolete. At the household level, who needs them when your rooftop solar panels provide all your electricity when the sun is up, and when it’s down you just shift to the batteries that have stored the excess power. Solar power 24/7. On the macro level (after all, most big city downtowns don’t have enough rooftop space to power themselves), larger batteries and other types of storage now in the early stages of commercialization mean that the power from wind, offshore and onshore, and large solar plants such as those sprouting up in California and Nevada (and even New York City’s Fishkills landfill), will also become 24/7. Add in some geothermal power where available, even more increased energy efficiency, the ability for cars to not only run on electricity but to generate electricity, and other technological advances on the horizon, and that old utility model has bitten the dust.

As we noted here on Wednesday, February 26, Rocky Mountain Institute has just released a report on when it will be cost-effective for the average household to just completely leave the grid if it wants–it’s sooner than you think. But whether we will end up with millions of micro-grids or will keep some form of regional grids as we have now is one issue for discussion; the reality staring all in the face is that we won’t have the kind of electric system we have now, and that’s coming sooner than most people think as well.

Traditional utilities are fighting this, of course, the same way all obsolete industries fight to remain relevant until they no longer are. And the nuclear power industry is fighting this too–that’s behind what for it is the absolute necessity of rigging the power markets to favor nuclear power over cheaper (and cleaner) energy sources. Without a rigged market, it can’t survive even in the current reality, much less the one on the way. Clean energy advocates should be actively championing and working towards the future–because it is the pathway to a nuclear-free carbon-free energy system.

Everything that has been said here has been documented in the past two months of GreenWorld, thus I haven’t put up links to each sentence–although I could have. Just scroll through the last two months, as I did yesterday sitting in a hospital room after a minor procedure, and you’ll see that. Even I was amazed at how this has been documented here.

But here are a few more posts I found just this morning that provide some new context and perspective:

Among the most ardent champions of the new system are Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk and his cousin, Solar City’s Lyndon Rive, who appeared yesterday at the California Public Utilities Commission to talk about our energy future.

Said Rive: Storage is a game-changing product. Those in the game don’t want to change the game. Utilities are trying to delay the game from changing.

Musk added that Tesla is working to create stationary battery packs that will last long, be safe and compact enough for houses. In other words, Musk’s vision is not just for Tesla to eventually become one of the world’s major auto manufacturers, it’s larger that that: it’s to bring Tesla into every household.

Musk also endorsed a carbon tax: The right move is a broad carbon tax. Our taxes for gas are very low compared to the EU. We should tax the things that are bad over the things that are good. Like we tax cigarettes and alcohol more than bread. It seems like common sense. It’s time for us to get serious on a carbon tax on a national basis. It’s economics 101. It’s so obviously the right move, but politicians are afraid of it.

commercial_installed_solar_pv_costsStephen Lacey is one of the better-informed writers on energy issues. He too sees solar power coupled with battery storage as an existential threat to utilities and in this article explains more about that, while also explaining in greater detail the Rocky Mountain Institute report mentioned above.

John Farrell at the Institute for Local Self Reliance is another who has been writing extensively on these issues. In this article, he asks: Is utility 2.0 a forecast or a post-mortem? And he concludes that for many utilities, it’s the latter–it may already be too late for them to jump on board–although some commenters disagree. Snippet:

Look at Georgia Power. They’re struggling to complete new reactors at their Vogtle nuclear power plant, and costs are rising despite over $8 billion in federal loan guarantees. But thanks to a coalition of environmentalists and the Georgia Tea Party, the state’s public utilities commission has required the utility to invest in distributed solar power. The utility will get 525 MW of new clean power generation, years before either new reactor will generate a single kilowatt-hour. And by 2017, the earliest the reactors could come online, it will cost less for Georgia Power customers to get solar energy from their own rooftop than to buy it from the utility.

Finally, David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, which owns 53,000 MW of power plants, most of it fossil fuels, but also some nuclear and some renewables, has been outspoken on the need for utilities to adapt to the new model. In this article, he says it is “shockingly stupid…to build a 21st-century electric system based on 120 million wooden poles….” Crane has famously said he believes the new system will take about as long as it has taken smartphones to supplant landlines (though obviously that remains a work-in-progress), and that rooftop solar is the future. Here he even admits that NRG’s own power plants could become a liability for the company in the not-so-distant future. Crane is no anti-nuclear advocate, in fact he remains a supporter of nuclear power, but adds that there is no support in either the political arena nor private sector for traditional reactors or small modular reactors. The article goes on: Beyond nuclear, Crane said that the public’s perception of renewable energy technologies is vastly more positive than it was even a few years ago. “Green doesn’t mean a compromise of capability and price,” he said, adding that consumer products like Tesla S are “kicking ass.”

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/02/28/why-were-writing-so-much-about-the-changing-nature-of-the-electricity-business-everybody-else-is-oh-and-because-its-important/ ‎

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Nuclear Newsreel, January 16, 2014

Strike threat looms at Entergy’s Indian Point reactors, already battered by economic & legal challenges. The unions, including control room operators, are threatening a strike at Indian Point and have even set up “practice” picket lines in front of the site. But this story goes beyond the labor strife and looks more deeply at the growing list of challenges faced by Entergy which could well lead to shutdown of the reactors. Let’s keep adding to the pressure, folks….

Even BP admits renewables are the fastest-growing energy source, will pass nuclear generation by 2025. BP dropped the pretense of it being a big player in solar power a few years ago, but even their analysis shows that renewables are the future. The figures are staggering: BP projects the use of renewables in power generation will rise 768 percent in China by 2035, 539 percent in India, 227 percent in Brazil and 277% in the U.S. Still, BP likely understates the case and still predicts fossil fuels will remain dominant, providing about 75-80% of the world’s energy (not just electricity) in 2035. A guy who is out to change that dominance is Elon Musk, owner of Wall Street’s favorite electric car company, Tesla Motors. This article looks at Musk’s plan to wean civilization from fossil fuels, not only through electric cars, but through his involvement with SolarCity, which is one of several companies behind the extraordinary acceleration of rooftop solar in the U.S. Musk is not the only one to believe that solar power will be the dominant source of electricity in the U.S. by mid-century, but he is one actually making that happen.

Two press releases from allied groups, Friends of the Earth and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, focus on the only two private new reactor projects in the U.S. moving ahead now–what’s left of the “nuclear renaissance.” SACE’s release talks about the continued secrecy from the Department of Energy in attempting to give a taxpayer loan for the Vogtle reactor project (a loan that reportedly has been blocked by concerns from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget). Taxpayers kept in the dark as deadline looms to finalize $8.3 Billion nuclear loan for Vogtle reactors. And FoE examines newly released documents that show all is not as rosy as the utility, SCANA, has publicly portrayed progress at South Carolina’s Summer nuclear project. Another nuclear debacle: Cost overruns, delays and construction woes bedevil V.C. Summer reactor project in S.C.

MOX funds in spending bill top budget request. Yesterday, we noted that the omnibus budget bill included more money for the controversial small modular reactor (SMR) program than requested by the Obama Administration. We forgot to mention yesterday that the SMR program last year received Taxpayers for Common Sense most uncoveted Golden Fleece Award. Today, as journalists continue to delve into the fine print of the 1,000+ pages of the omnibus bill, we learn that Congress wants to give the MOX program more money than the Administration requested. This program is even more controversial–after years of delay and overspending, the Administration actually wants to end this program entirely. The program involves building a facility at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site to reprocess reactor fuel into plutonium-based “mixed-oxide” fuel. It’s a dangerous, dirty, and entirely unnecessary program whose only real constituent appears to be Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC).

Report finds increased cancer cases near St. Louis radwaste landfill. The oldest radioactive waste dump in the US lies near the runways to the city’s airport; it’s a vestige of World War II that has never been cleaned up because, as is the case for just about all radioactive waste, no one wants it and there is really no place for it to go. As to why no one wants it–this story should make that clear.

How solar power beat natural gas in Minnesota. Seriously, if solar power can beat natural gas (which itself beats nuclear power and coal) in Minnesota–no one’s idea of a sunny resort area–then can there possibly be anywhere that solar power has not become the cheapest electricity source? Well, maybe in areas well-suited to wind power…

Stock analyst says avoid Exelon stock in 2014. and warns of nuclear shutdowns ahead. The analyst names three single-unit Exelon reactors he believes are vulnerable–Oyster Creek, Clinton and Ginna–that also have shown up on other lists of potential near-term reactor shutdowns. But he adds a fourth, the two-unit Quad Cities site on the Illinois/Iowa border, as vulnerable too, apparently due to competition from Iowa’s fast-growing wind industry.

Japanese taxi company refuses ride to anti-nuclear lawmaker in fear of retribution from nuclear industry.

The Colorado legislature yesterday beat back yet another attempt to weaken the state’s Renewable Energy Standard.

RealClearPolitics released a list of who it calls the 10 most influential legislators on energy issues. Some names on the list are obvious; some may surprise you.

Finally today, researchers at North Carolina State University have discovered a new way of storing energy from solar power production. Energy storage is probably the hottest field in the energy arena right now, and is the last, though quickly disappearing, obstacle before renewables become a 24/7 “baseload” kind of power source. Not that the old concept, still pushed relentlessly by the nuclear industry, of “baseload” power has the same level of relevance to a modern, distributed energy grid that it did in the 1970s.

Michael Mariotte

Permalink: https://safeenergy.org/2014/01/16/nuclear-newsreel-January-16-2014/