Change is on the horizon

Battery 413x289Wind is currently the cheapest way for suppliers to produce electricity, with solar catching rapidly. Rooftop PV is the cheapest way for homeowners to meet their household energy needs. But although over 1.3 million Aussie homes have solar panels on their roofs our nation still produces a LOT of emission from electricity generation. In my humble opinion the only thing holding the electrical revolution back (other than vested interests) is storage.

The variable nature of the renewables means that our society’s current energy habits can’t be fully satisfied without a much greater investment in renewables at a scale that is not achievable by the individual and seemingly undesirable by our government. If only there was a way that the excess energy being produced by renewables during peak times, especially rooftop solar during the day, could be stored and used at night.

Another area where energy storage has been holding the electric revolution back is cars. There have been many excuses the motor industry has given for not producing electric cars: cost, performance, long recharge times, range anxiety, battery lifetime. Tesla Motors has pretty much single-highhandedly addressed everyone of these excuses. Tesla’s latest car, the Model S, is incredibly quick, can go up to 500km on a single charge and is competitively priced with rivals. However, the naysayers out there will still complain that Model S isn’t a car for everyday people (as it is a luxury car with a $100,000 price tag) and that the recharge time, which is a few hours,  is too long as it only takes a few minutes to fill a car with petrol. However, it looks like all the remaining hurdles on the path to the electric revolution (households storing energy from rooftop solar, electric cars being too expensive and the recharge time of electric vehicles being too long) are about to be jumped.

Tesla Motors is creating the world’s largest battery factory, which it calls a Gigafactory. Once the Gigafactory is fully operational by 2020 it expected to double the world’s production of lithium-ion batteries, and bring prices down 30%. The massive increase in battery numbers will allow Tesla, and other car manufactures, to greatly increase the number of electric cars being built, and greatly reduce costs. This extra supply will also help increase availability and affordability of energy storage options for homes, the impact which is best described by this article; here are my highlights:

Just as the precipitous decline in the cost of solar cells and wind turbines over the past 10 or 15 years has made it possible for people to easily make their own power, these batteries will make it possible to easily and cost-effectively store it, freeing consumers from the tyranny of the big power companies.

And it will happen fast, according to Jemma Green, a researcher at the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute.

“We’re talking about grid parity in 24 to 36 months,” she says.

“And what that means is it will make more sense to put batteries in and store excess energy during the day than it will to buy power from the grid at night.”

In as little as 2 to 3 years households world-wide may be in a position to disconnect from the grid (although in practice probably wouldn’t want to) and consume nothing but clean energy and zero on-going cost. Although the Tesla Gigafactory will address energy storage, it won’t help with improving recharge times for electric cars, but don’t worry, someone else has.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have figured out how to make lithium-ion batteries with a new architecture, which speeds up the charging time and increases the battery life by a factor of 10 or more. Thus allowing cars to be recharged in as little as 5 minutes. The best news is that the team believe the technology is only 2 years away from being on the market.

It appears that the next few years are going to see a lot of changes in world of energy storage, which should hopefully cause event bigger changes in global energy generation and usage.

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The world’s best ever electric car just got better

Tesla Model SToday Tesla Motors announced the Model D, which is the all wheel drive version of the Model S sedan.

The Model D has two electric motors – one per axle – and due to efficiencies designed into the new AWD system the car will have a slightly longer range (around 15 km).

What impresses me most is due to the car’s increased ability to put power to the ground, the car is capable from accelerating from 0 – 100 km/hr in 3.2 seconds, which has got to make it close to the fastest four-door car ever made.

The car also has a range of new features, including driverless lane changing.

 

365 1/4 Days of Science – The Science of 2014

365 14 Days of Science 500x200

For the past five and a half years I have been organising a public science series called BrisScience. In two weeks (13th of October) BrisScience is holding a very special event: a science-based comedy panel show (think along the lines of Good News Week or Spicks and Specks). Usually I MC BrisScience events, but this time I will actually be a part of the fun as I’m one of the panelists competing for scientific glory.

If you’re worried that it’s going to be a train wreck because you think I’m as funny as a door stop, don’t be; professional comedians on both teams to ensure you have plenty of laughs. If you’re concerned that the scientific competency will be quite low, don’t be; world-leading scientists will be each team.

The event is on the 13th of October from 7:30-9pm (doors open at 7pm) at The EdgeState Library of Queensland, South Brisbane. Tickets are $15 and available online here. More info, including a list of everyone participating, can be found at www.brisscience.org.

Australia’s universities surge in world rankings

Australia’s universities have made a surge in QS Top Universities world university rankings,  with the entire with the entire Group of Eight making the top 100. Here are the rankings of Australia’s top universities:

Although the rankings show the success of Australia’s top universities, it also highlights the wide gap between the Group of Eight and the rest of Australia’s universities. After The University of Adelaide the next highest ranked Australian universities are Macquaire University and The University of Newcastle at #254 and #257 respectively.

After The University of Queensland at #43, Queensland’s next best universities are:

Humans need not apply

A couple of years ago a magazine cover caught my eye with the title Technological Singularity. Being not familiar with the term I decided to read the article to find out what on earth it could be. In short the technological singularity is some time in the future when technology – specifically artificial intelligence – overtakes the ability of humans and lead to human beings being replaced in the workplace by robots and other technological marvels. The magazine then went on to say that once this happens society will experience a rapid acceleration in wealth, technology and living standards. The article used history to back up its claims.

When humans realised it was easier to plant crops and raise herds than it was to hunt and gather they did so. As man was no longer nomadic, settlements were formed and there was an a sudden and sharp increase in the global population, which had been fairly constant during hunter-gatherer times. This discontinuity happened around 10,000 BC and is referred to as the Neolithic or Agrarian revolution.

The next significant revolution (in my humble opinion) is the Industrial Revolution. With the introduction of machines the days of mankind producing everything by hand were gone. The rate at which technology progresses increased sharply, and as a result living standards over the past 200 years improved far more than any time in history.

With both the agricultural and industrial revolutions the need for workers was never replaced, the roles humans had in the workforce simply changed. However, what do humans do once we make machines and computers that can do any job better than ourselves? Some might say that there will always be a job for humans to do, even if it’s just to build better robots and computers. But what happens when machines can make themselves better than we can. If you’re still not convinced, watch this:

This video was created by CGP Grey.

An exploding volcano

This is a short post about a video I just had to share. It’s footage of a volcano in Papua New Guinea exploding!

Something that really caught my eye were clouds being formed by the shock wave visible from 0:13 – 0:18. It’s also pretty impressive when the shock wave reaches the camera.

The world’s biggest carbon market coming soon

China green eco flagA few weeks ago a I wrote a piece about the city of Beijing banning coal-fired electricity by the year 2020. Although this is a great step for a single city, it was only a very small step of marathon journey China would have to take to clean up its act as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The good news it hasn’t taken long for China’s next step – which is mammoth in comparison – to become global news. For those interested I highly recommend reading this article by Reuters. Here are the opening paragraphs to wet your appetite:

China plans to roll out its national market for carbon permit trading in 2016, an official said Sunday, adding that the government is close to finalising rules for what will be the world’s biggest emissions trading scheme.

The world’s biggest-emitting nation, accounting for nearly 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, plans to use the market to slow its rapid growth in climate-changing emissions.

China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon it emits per unit of GDP to 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.