Friday, July 23, 2010

Photoelectric Applications 1.0

OK... random entry here. I was driving home today through a bunch of road construction. I noticed several porta potties along the way. It made me think about a potential photoelectric application. I have thought of many B-side applications of photoelectrics over the years. I will try to collect them here.

--Photoelectric smoke detectors. Once upon a time the company I worked for did a community outreach project at a trailer park. A few weeks earlier a trailer had burned down and the occupant was killed. The fire department determined that the smoke detectors failed to alarm due to dead batteries. I think we should build photoelectric smoke detectors. They could still sound an alarm or indicate a warning light even when their batteries were dead.
--Photoelectric porta potties... Put a PE powered fan on these fuckers.
--Photoelectric standby power. My Cable box light doesn't need to tell me what channel it's on when I'm not watching it. My microwave doesn't need to tell me the time. VCRs (just kidding) and DVD players are other applications. We could incorporate a PE strip on these gadgets that trickle charged the time, channel and XYZ function. In addition to charging a small battery the photocell would be able to tell whether or not lights had been turned on for the last few days and turn off the display function if nothing was going on for X amount of time. This will happen.
--Photoelectric trickle charging of cell phones. No brainer. Slap in some A-si and extend battery life.
--Photoelectric lights. We have the outdoor variety but the indoor variety could work too. They could be set up next to the windows for charging. Even if they only extended the daylighting in a room for a short period of time it might be a feasible application. This application could complement daylighting developments in LEDs.
--Photoelectric emergency lighting. Emergency lighting is already battery powered. Make it PE battery powered. You don't need to use these lights often so they will always be topped up. The ability to situate these lights in stairwells that are normally lit without needing to run wires could make this a winning application. It might just promote more safety lighting.

I have so much fun thinking in this way I can't describe it. PE can't go in everywhere but it can go in a lot of wares.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

The GIG is Down - Version 1.0

Grass is Greener (GIG) technologies promise you everything tomorrow for a hamburger today. Daydreaming about their Neato Factor is fine but these hope technologies become cuss-worthy bad when they steal stage from true talent.

The List (I'll add to this as I come across appropriately screwy examples. Eventually I'd like to break these down into categories.)

High Altitude Wind
Solar Islands
Solar Space Power
Super-conductive Transmission Lines
Tidal Snake

12 PowerPoint Slides That Confused the Earth

An astute reader made a comment on Greentech's recent offering. Sierra Fong says, "Information graphics should be immediately understandable and contain all the information you need. That’s what people react to."

What about information graphics that are immediately understandable but communicate a mixed message that may contain more bad than good? We know cartoons and cowboys sell cigarettes but it took us a while to figure out who was buying. Clearly, there needs to be some consideration of the unintended consequences of seemingly simple messages.

The famous information graphic slide (a genre really) I have a problem with is the type that shows the area required to power the US (or where ever else) with solar panels. This slide communicates the idea that it doesn't require a lot of land (overall) to power the US. Unfortunately, it mis-communicates the area requirements and logistics of transmission. It also communicates the worst sort of over-centralization that you can possibly think of. The area of land slide is immediately "understood" but how much truth and how much lie come packaged together?

Relatively easy fix for this one. You create a "Million Points of Light" slide. That dumb 50 by 50 km square plot of PV turns into a constellation that would look something like the almost famous "US at night" slide. I think you'll get a more honest message from this sort of display. Does it pass the immediately understandable test? I don't know. To be continued after arts and crafts time.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Of Moore's Law and Float Effects

A Moore's Law for solar should predict the rate at which the $/kWh price of photoelectricity falls and tie this into market growth. This prediction would partly be based on learning curve potentials but mostly on market conditions. There are several things at work.

The Float Effect Rides High Down Incentive Lane

There's a distribution of incentives in the world market. These incentives have inspired solar developers to move into Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, California, New Jersey etc. The higher the incentive the more developers move in. You'd expect this to push down system prices but prices tend to float at a level higher than input costs would have you expect.

The best (or worst) example of solar incentives increasing prices comes from Spain. Their particularly high Feed-in Tariff coupled with high insolation, floated system prices to up over 6 Euro/Watt in 2008 - A nosebleed level compared to today's average prices of about 3 euro/Watt in Germany. There were several factors in play that led to these high prices. One could say it was all because of the silicon shortage which pumped up module prices. This certainly had something to do with the high prices but remember that the silicon shortage (at least the severity of it) was attributable to incentive programs like Spains' in the first place. Supply and demand for silicon, inverters, labor etc. feed into the float effect but are not the primary driver. The primary driver of the float effect is the incentives themselves, the high FiT in this case. If a solar installer knows the FiT rate, they can infer an acceptable IRR for their customers and from this know how much they can get away with charging. If there's any sort of supply shortage, a high incentive and a limiting time factor the installer holds all the cards and can set system prices at will. Spain's FiT program ended badly. There's no market left. There's no way to see if the Float Effect is still playing out there. We have to look at Germany for this.

The Float Effect vs. The 2009 Recession

Germany provides a better snap shot of the Float Effect at work. We've seen system prices float down with the FiT over several years, crash in early 2009 due to limited liquidity (a discontinuity) and equilibrate by the end of 2009. We saw average system prices in Germany step down by about 9% with the year end degression. What was the year end degression you ask? 9 percent. If Germany remains the driving market, the Float Effect predicts that the July 1st degression will lead to a 13% step down in prices, followed by another 3% step down in September and another 13% step down in January. Will Germany remain the driving market? For 2010 definitely, for 2011 probably.

The Float Effect vs. The Competitive Market

The Float Effect becomes most useful when we start visualizing the longterm competition of photoelectricity with the grid. To be continued...

Hubbert's Sneak

Hubbert peak theory is the prediction/observation that petroleum production will follow a bell-shaped curve. Photoelectric growth will follow a bell-curve too - a sneaky curve. See graph...

SNL aside: You likeah my photoshop... yes... the photoshop is good no... yes... You likeah the photoshop... It's good yes... And scene.

The graph describes how the photoelectric market will evolve. We should see this trend in Germany first. DISCLAIMER: The curve will not be smooth but the stages of growth should be observable.

Stage 1. Healthy growth until market saturation.
Stage 2. Deceleration until equilibrium.
Stage 3. Floating equilibrium

Deceleration is due to a combination of technical and market factors. We can expect the competitive economics of PE to become less favorable in time due to an increasingly less attractive stock of potential sites and falling incentives in the case of FiT countries. There is only so much PE the current grid can handle and this will eventually slow growth if the mitigation of instabilities can't keep pace. A third factor has to do with global demand for PE which will eventually make other markets more economically attractive and halt the decline of local PE prices which fueled the healthy growth stage.

Equilibrium is a combination of trends.

1. Improving economics on the system side should be pulling the market back towards growth.
2. Improved engineering and smart operating strategies should mitigate grid instability issues association with PE.
3. You'll naturally reach a balance point between the rate at which modules are getting retired and rehired.

The floating equilibrium stage is due to more of 2 & 3.

This curve describes localized markets only. I'd expect the world market perspective to smear out most of these details. The world market would have a longterm equilibrium of course but this is too far away to be interesting.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Power Sketch - A Work in Progress

The Theory

My thinking is that PV will have a tendency to pull some demand into the day and push some supply into the night. The combination of less load and excess generation at night will push night time prices down. As prices fall you hit trigger points that encourage different trends and strategies. One price signal might encourage a strategy of two shifting coal plants while another price signal would encourage full blown storage. We know both strategies have already been used so I think it’s reasonable to expect them in the future under circumstances similar to those which have encouraged them in the past.

The Status Quo

Traditionally there's been a dynamic between hydroelectric and thermal generation in power systems. Hydroelectric units have flexible operating characteristics and their reservoirs give them storage. These qualities give hydro operators the ability to sell into high priced markets mostly during the day and buy from cheap markets at night while they store up water. This happens in the Northwest (NW) where hydroelectric operators sell expensive electricity to California during the day and buy nightly from thermal generators in the Southwest (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado) that don’t want to turn down their units. This is a mutually beneficial situation for the SW and NW operators. The NW trades their flexibility to the SW for cheap energy.

The Imaginary Scenario

Let's say we see a rapid 10, 20, 30, 40 GW progression of PV into California over the next 10 to 15 years. How does this change California’s energy mix? To identify the displaced energy you'd have to look at the combination of pre-existing contracts, competitive pricing and reliability rules that give preference to internal generation vs. imports. My rough guess is that PV will displace natgas imports first, some percentage of internal natgas generation second and then move on to displacing imported hydro and coal (mostly hydro but it's hard to tell). Less hydro sold to California will mean the NW operators will probably start selling more to the Southwest (SW) to displace NG there. But then if the SW starts installing a bunch of PV too you’d expect some of the NW imports to get pushed out in preference to internal generation. With less customers to sell daytime electricity to the NW operators will have to start operating their units more at night or else their reservoirs will overfill. This means the coal operators that have always sold to NW at night will have a smaller market to sell into. The upshot is that there will be excess power on hand at night and this will lead to lower prices, different operating strategies and maybe some storage projects. This is how PV could lead coal operators to install bulk storage. It's just a theory.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants

This phrase is credited to Bernard of Chartres. The version I learned in school came from Newton: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Newton liked Giants you see but he didn't want to be be seen as the little person in the equation.

Another way to rephrase this idea is: Understanding proceeds at every elevation by climbing upon ideas. But then I noticed with a wow, the word understanding is a standalone four syllable story of the very idea I'm describing. Perhaps some Carlinization has occurred over the years. I don't know.

Carlinization [n. see George Carlin]

Of or relating to the linguistic phenomenon that occurs when successive generations of yahoos add complexity to a simple and/or concise idea.

Interestingly, Carlinization is itself an embodiment of Carlinization. That makes me a yahoo.