Thursday, July 11, 2019

Grid "duct-taped together" says ANU Entrepreneurial Fellow

Greetings from the Shine Dome at the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra, where Dr Lachlan Backhall is presenting the ANU Entrepreneurial Fellow Inaugural address. In introducing Lachlan, Professor  Schmidt,
the Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University recalled how he had sought advice on renewable energy for his farm. His battery/solar system can now provide power during a blackout, and provide a good financial return. The VC commented that this is a "dumb" solar system, and much more is possible with the smart energy technology Dr Backhall has championed.

In his address Dr Backhall pointed out that the introduction of electricity was heralded as a revolution in energy use, but was resisted by entrenched industry. Also towns in regional NSW from 1888 acted to provide their own electricity supply and this has parallels with today's micro-grids. Apart from regulatory issues, Dr Backhall suggested that communities need to work how how they can share energy storage facilities.

Dr Backhall also pointed out that almost all tramways in Australia had been electrified by the start of the twentieth century. At this time there were few cars, but one third were electric, with lead acid batteries. The short range of these cars was addressed with public charging facilities hand battery swap schemes. While electric cars declined in the 1920s, he suggested some of the business models from this era may have parallels today. He suggested by the 2020s electric cars will have displaced internal combustion engines. He also speculated that electric cars might be used to transport energy: charge at point point and then drive somewhere are discharge into the grid.

Dr Backhall mentioned that there was early debate as to when streetlights should be turned out, as people should be home in bed. He did not point out that streetlights were previously off five nights, each lunar month, when the full moon was bright enough to see by (da Cruz, 2013).

Dr Backhall concluded by describing our electrical system as "duct-taped together", and suggesting there were better engineered options including renewable energy. He also said "No one in their right mind would build a new coal fired power station in Australia today".

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