EcoSouth Solar Blog

Here is news and thoughts of the EcoSouth team regarding all things solar. No information contained here should be relied upon for its accuracy without independently verifying it.

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Recent blog posts

Are microgrids possible now?

What a question! - I saw a recent article denigrating the possibility of distributed generation, and I thought it wasn't well-researched, or perhaps the author had his own motivations for only seeing selective evidence to suit his preconceived idea. He largely argued for centralised generation "under the control of" the ever-watchful electricity utility.

Below is a response I wrote about this, revolving around a proposed micro-grid for 1,000 people in Onslow WA. (PS - if a whole community can off-grid for a given amount, then a micro-grid is even more economic, as community power-sharing now occurs)

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Battery Power for your Wall?

Hey, you want a battery system??   Heard of a PowerWall-  Why? - you may well ask.
  >add fanfare here!<
** The Journey is Just Beginning!! **

You want to: achieve cost-effective protection against rising power-bills

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What happens when your inverter gets old?

Ok, so if solar panels are supposed to last 25 to 30 years, how many years can you expect your solar inverter to last?

A very good question, with no clear-cut answer, I'm afraid.

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Consider Corrosion

Corrosion issues should be considered for solar panels and framing systems on roofs, as it is a harsh environment up there, AND the general expectation is that these things should last for 25 years, at least! In this context, corrosion is a real issue over time.

Some common sayings we all hear: "Dissimilar metals corrode!" and "Only use stainless-steel with aluminium, as they don't corrode". Well, they are only 'sound-bites', and there is a LOT more to it. Suffice to say, a well-designed system with selected materials will give the longest life.

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Some burning questions of quality

In our service rounds, we sometimes come across in-your-face results of either dodgy components or dodgy practices. The latter is intriguing, as even quite decent components can go faulty with potentially disastrous results, IF the original installation practice was lacking.

Here are two cases of 'burn-outs' of components.

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Dangers of Coal

We all hear things like: "There are a lot of harmful emissions from fossil-fuel generators like coal", and perhaps there is mention of "CO2" and "climate-change" or even "global warming", and we assume its all the one thing - well, its not.

Coal is called "dirty coal" for very good reasons - namely, health reasons.

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RET Review - the report is a crock of questionable assumptions

The much-awaited review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) has been completed. As you may be aware, it was 'hand-picked' by the Prime-Minister's office, and consists of people with known antipathy to renewable power. (There is also now an ironic legislative 'problem' in that the Climate Change Authority (CCA) is mandated by law to undertake a review of the RET, but since the PM's own office has now done this, what does the CCA do?)
Unsurprisingly, the report handed down is draconian in its recommendations - either severe curtailment, or abolition. This in spite of submissions from the public and industry as follows:
- 754 detailed submissions for the RET
- 55 detailed submissions being mixed or neutral
- 56 detailed submissions calling for its abolition
- 23,272 community submissions for the RET !!

The RET report relied on two studies: one commissioned by ACIL-Allen, the other by Deloittes.
An example of points from the review, through these studies:
- "The RET will cost $22 billion in cross-subsidies if it is not changed"
Very challengeable depending on the assumptions made in the studies. The Deloittes report was criticised by the renewables industry bodies as making questionable, if not void, assumptions, such as energy demand will continue to rise, and there will be no effect from the upcoming energy storage revolution.
- "Renewable energy generation has almost doubled under the RET"
True - thats what it was designed to do - supplant generation from non-renewables. (So why were non-renewable energy providers and distributers allowed to over-invest in capacity? They were the ones who assumed rising energy demand)
- "The RET is exerting some downward pressure on wholesale electricity prices"
True - as is in line with its designed expectations. Makes sense to me that an investment is desired to result in lower running costs.
- "The RET has delivered a modest level of reductions in greenhouse emissions but is a high cost approach to delivering that aim"
All depending on assumptions, but one wonders: the ACIL-Allen report does state that abolishing the RET will result in some price-rise for consumers over the years. Perhaps they are being 'anti' (like other assumptions) and there will actually be 'great' price-rises instead of 'some'?

I think the public has to decide where they want their money to go. Do we want to continue paying for digging and transporting coal, for every kWh we use, with virtually no incentive to increase the safety and respiratory problems it causes to the local public when accidents like that at Morwell occur? And pay we do, via the 'traditional' subsidies for non-renewable energy providers: we all pay $2billion per year specifically to coal and gas miners in the Fuel Tax Credits scheme, and there is an estimated further $2billion in tax concessions to non-renewable fuel users and producers. Has this been factored into the Deloittes and ACIL-Allen reports? - I doubt it!
Straight-away the public has no choice but to "drink the kool-aid" if they do not read more widely.
Do we want to make tiny payments for the rest of the RET program, that in effect deliver greater savings to the consumer, than the actual cost?

As one commentator said:
"The report says that the solution to the oversupply of generation capacity is to stop more renewables. But the whole point of a renewable energy target is to REPLACE generation capacity by closing dirty coal generators. The fossil fuel lobby just refuses to accept that some generators have to close."

In line with this, the Governor of Virginia (USA) proposed a tax for the sales of energy efficient cars because they use less petrol, which means less money goes into the highway trust fund to repair roads. Hybrid and electric car owners were up in arms: why should those saving petrol and significantly reducing pollution be penalised? By the end of 2013, a bipartisan coalition abolished the law. Perhaps, if the revenue was recognisably impacted by more electric vehicles, then the tax should be raised *for all* users! This would hasten the retirement of petrol vehicles. (However, I suspect the answer maybe more complex).

Another commented on the health costs:
"The biggest subsidy is not fully pricing the costs of climate change." In the long term yes, but in the short term the biggest externality relates to the health impacts of air pollutants. (for example see papers by Epstein at Harvard and US Economist Nordhaus - both published in 2011). Air pollutants especially fine particulate matter and ozone (a secondary pollutant) confer the majority of health impacts that include heart disease, stroke, asthma and lung cancer. These costs are paid by communities now and cumulatively into the future.
When the costs of these illnesses and their economic impacts are included, the full price of coal more than doubles. Nordhaus found the externalized costs of coal fired generation to be 0.8 to 5.6 time value added. Meaning coal is at best worth nothing to communities. That is how much we are subsidising fossil fuels electricity generation."

It is a great opportunity to force reform or closure on aging dangerous, unhealthy coal plants, and encourage energy sources where *there is no ongoing cost of the fuel itself* !!!! Why this appears to be of lost signifigance in so many reports, I do not know. Australia should be up in arms about the hypocrisy and short-sightedness of cutting investment that would otherwise help newer technology with zero fuel costs to develop and mature.
Make no mistake - wind turbines, rooftop solar, coal and gas are ALL helped with paid subsidies - $2billion per year fuel subsidies for energy extraction industries, and a further $2billion per year for tax concessions. Wind and solar have proven success for delivering zero fuel-cost energy that reduces wholesale prices, but with no ill-health effects. Coal and gas industries are essentially unchanged - reliant on subsidies with no forseeable termination date, on-going fuel cost for every kWh produced, being a respiratory health hazard during handling and in case of accidents - and no promise of any change or improvement!
Another case of the Emperor's new clothes: "Look how wonderful the coal and gas industries are compared to wind and solar" -not.

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The Dangers of Cheap - Switches

So many things we hear about what happens when you buy cheap.
Picture in question shows a 'disappeared' Solar DC switch. Not something you want on your system. As case in point, this can happen for a number of reasons:
1. Cheap nasty switch eventually fails - sparks, arcs, overheats, and in this case catches fire. Nothing you can do other than have a decent quality switch installed in the first place. Will the 'cheapest price' system have a decent quality switch? No prizes for guessing the answer is a resounding NO!
2. Maybe a reasonable switch was installed, at least one that has a few more years on it before it fails of its own accord. Now suppose the box containing the switch on the roof admits moisture - it only has to be seriously damp air, or just a half-dozen drips. Now this water will alternately evaporate and condense inside the switch-box on the roof AND after a period of time it will migrate down to the switch under the inverter! On a cold, damp morning the beads of water connect across the internals of the switch, and in the best case - the inverter will detect this, shut-down, and report a fault. In the worst case - the inverter might switch-off, but the water is still short-circuiting the array of panels.
Result is the same - worst case the switch on either, or both, the roof and under the inverter, do catch fire.
3. Once again, suppose a reasonable switch was installed, BUT the designer did not understand the manufacturer's datasheet! Sounds crazy, but the switch datasheets show the primary rating of these switches in European format - and not (or at least not clearly) in the mandated Australian format. Designers should be able to work this out, but I have encountered some situations where this was not the case. It means that the switch in effect only has *HALF* the rating it should for the given array. Eventually, the switch will succumb to failure following maybe a few years of heat/cold/moisture cycles, and will most likely fail just when it is being switched off because of an earth (eg moisture) fault.
This 3rd point is less likely, but is definitely out there in my opinion. Thats why we always say to turn off the AC Isolator first - that way strong DC current is not being interrupted, thus stressing an underrated switch.

What is peace of mind regarding decent switches worth?
Sales folk of cheap systems have no choice to tell you their switches are "of the highest quality". Incidentally, what happens to all the "low quality" switches then? Well, they may well be subject to a government safety recall! I wonder how many rock-bottom cheap solar companies got caught on the 3 or 4 recalls of bad switches that have happened so far?

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Sharp JM-1600E Over Voltage Setting

Sharp JM-1600E Over Voltage Setting

This article shows how to change the Sharp JM-1600E inverter AC voltage settings. This will allow the inverter to continue working for longer as network voltages rise. Once the inverter senses AC voltage above its upper AC voltage setting it will shutdown and wait for voltage to drop below this limit before turning back on to generate power again.  


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Electricity and Gas GOING UP!

Here is what I thought a good summary of how the energy market in Australia has got itself in a *real knot*, due to decisions made within/by/for the Australian energy market itself!

Unfortunately, the losers include all of us - prices of electricity and gas will rise. There is some saving grace in the measure of price stability that big wind and solar generation will give us, ie prices could be more volatile without them.

Electricity and gas prices: why you're paying more

Tagged in: benefit failure solar value
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SA Leads the way for *Low Energy*

This article highlights a few things: How low SA power usage has gone; How low it is forecast to go by the national Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO); How SA is a now a world leader(!) in the ratio of Renewable Energy to non-renewable energy usage; AND the speed with which the *change* of this ratio is occurring.

The AEMO are the folk who are charged with running the *artificial* energy market system Australia - and they seem to be in a difficult spot at present with solar, wind and energy efficient plant and appliances, all *severely* reducing, in a very quick way, the nice forecasts of rising power demand they made for the coal and gas people.

Tagged in: benefit ret solar value
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Renewable target cuts would deliver billions to gentailers as power prices soar

Scrapping or winding back Australia’s Renewable Energy Target would lead to significant increases in electricity prices, while delivering a windfall profit to power companies of as much as $70 billion, according to new analysis from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

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FREE solar!

I was cold-called the other day to see if I was interested in having solar installed for *FREE*!

Now, being in the solar game for 14 years, and never having encountered a true 'free lunch' yet, I thought I would just ask a few questions and get some idea of how this offer would work. It seems that, yes, the solar truly is installed for *FREE*!, but you then pay for the 'solar electricity you use' at a reduced rate.

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The advent of Micro Inverters - Scourge or Saviour?

Any new technology comes about for good reasons - folk won't buy if it does not deliver.

The question of concern here is - will it deliver for our market, and the signs we've seen so far give us doubts. Now that's not to say that these doubts can't be cleared up, its just that we are not getting the answers we would have thought.

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Facts about Solar and the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme

Solar on more than 2 million roofs – More than 2 million solar installations have been supported by the Renewable Energy Target as of 31 January 2014 – 1,176,000 solar PV systems and 845,000 solar hot water systems. This means that 24 per cent of the 8.4 million occupied private dwellings in Australia have a solar system.

Tagged in: benefit rebate ret stcs
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EcoSouth Website Refresh

EcoSouth is pleased to release our refreshed website, with a improved look and layout.

We have published a lot more content and pictures on our new website, with more to be added on an on-going basis.

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