Why renewables are only half the Job

Renewables are only half the job of providing stable reliable power for any grid whether that be a micro-grid, off-grid, or the main grid

I’m an investor in an off-grid cabin business called Shacky (www.shacky.com)

Shacky places cabins with hosts in rural Australia, normally farms and remote properties with that experiential back-to-nature X factor. All the Shacky cabins are nowhere near the main power grid, so there is a need to provide power for them, the normal setup is solar panels with battery storage and a backup genset.

Over the years of operating these cabins in remote rural Australia, the team has worked out that the normal calculations for what solar is required to support the cabins are way off and have had to revise the calculations to include not just load factors but terrain, weather, location and other factors. The outcome from this model is that the installed capacity is 3-4 times larger than normal, plus the system still needs to include a generator to be 100% sure of continued power supply to the cabin 24/7. The inherent nature of solar only working for 4 hours a day max, on a bright sunny day, plus the natural occurrence of clouds, rain, shade, and even dirt on the panels will lower their output by a measurable amount, then there is the panel degradation over their lifetime which means a shorter life to recoup capital costs, makes this a costly exercise.

Without the Gensets, the cabins would still have a chance to run out of power very quickly and they often do, especially when some guests used to the full luxury of on-demand power and unlimited power are staying and think they can use the power the same as they do at home, even some special darlings wanting to charge their EVs when told that they can’t, some people are just don’t understand the limitations of off-grid living. 

Shacky overbuilds its systems to compensate for the shortfalls of a solar power system, which leads to a capital cost way higher than if it was just a straight-generation setup with a normal genset, Solar panels need to be replaced sooner than a genset, so we need to allow for the capital to replace the panels and batteries in a shorter time frame.

Now, If we scale up the use of solar, wind and batteries for a total grid scale implementation, I personally can not see how this can be done and produce on demand reliable power for a modern growing and electrifying economy, from my experience there does not seem to be a way to do this economically and in a way that will allow for everyone and industry to have full scale on demand power. This then leads to the question then how are renewables being promoted as cheaper then Nuclear, coal or gas power plants, for a start these plants have a useful economic life that is around 4 times longer then solar or wind generation technologies, renewables require a lot more land which is normally in valuable farm land areas or in our most diverse ecological areas, (where are the greenies now to save the forests?), Batteries are not a sustainable solution to time shift power as most don’t hold enough energy to supply reliable amounts when needed, So this leaves us with having to build extreme amounts of solar, wind and battery that will drown the country in debt, or we will need to reduce the amount of power we all consume, which is against the current policies of state and federal governments that want us to use more electricity and reduce other energy sources, The math does not add up to me.

As Shacky has found and as far as I can see the only stable reliable baseload power for any grid is a dense energy source Diesel, Gas, Coal or Nuclear, Base load power has tocome from a dense source of energy you could get away with small scale generation on personal homes with battery storage, but industry need large quantities of on demand baseload power and this I can only see can come from a dense and nimble form of energy.

On a different front the challenges that we have had a Shacky have lead us to look at other generation sources like Methanol powered fuel cell systems, these are expense to date but have a bright future as they are quiet, use a dense form of energy in Methanol which is a great carrier of hydrogen which the fuell cells use to generate power. Now these are a replacement for Diesel generators and still don’t solve the base load problem that cities and industry face.

As i see it If we don’t use all forms of energy and use the ones that suit the right situations in an economic and efficient way, we are going to reduce a once great, reliable power grid with inefficient and costly narrow focused energy sources that will not provide for the future needs of the country.