Carbon Conservation & Energy Efficiency


Bruce Rowse & Team

Archive for the ‘Carbon conservation’ Category

Imagineering a better place

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Today I had the fortune to see Shai Agassi, founder of Better Place, talk about his vision for the electric car future. Shai calls himself an imaginer – “I imagine the future and engineer towards it”. His vision of an electric car future is elegant, simple, and achievable. Australia is a key part of his strategy to get the world to a tipping point which results in all cars becoming electric.

For electric cars to replace petrol cars they must be cheaper and more convenient. Yet the electric cars available now are more expensive and less convenient because of their short range and limited recharging options.

One of the keys to Shai’s vision is treating the battery – the single most expensive component in an electric vehicle – like gasoline. The battery becomes a consumable, not owned by the car owner. By taking out the battery its possible to make vehicles that are price competitive with gasoline vehicles.

A second key is the electricity grid, which is everywhere, and which he called “the longest extension lead in the world”. By extending the grid to having recharging points where cars are parked, vehicles can be charged whenever they are not in use. Better Place will be buying only wind or solar generated electricity for use in its vehicles.

A third key, for longer trips, is batteries that can be swapped over in a minute. The first prototype has just been built in Japan. So on a long trip (over 200kms) you pull into a battery station, change your battery, then keep going. It will take less time to change your battery than to fill your car for petrol. For a typical suburban vehicle typically there would be around 12 to 15 battery changes per year.

Paying per km you travel – for the electricity and battery amortisation – is still cheaper than the equivalent cost of petrol per km.

The result is:

  • Cars that cost less to buy than fossil fuel powered vehicles; and
  • Cars that cost less to run than fossil fuel powered vehicles.

Of course a large investment is needed to build the infrastructure – the recharging points and battery change stations. But if cars are cheaper, if they cost less to run, if petrol is only going to keep increasing in price, and if there is going to be continued regulation and incentive to reduce carbon emissions this is not a insurmountable hurdle.

Shai believes that the “tipping point” will be reached once three countries have proven the concept. Then the rest of the world is likely to follow – and follow quickly. The first country is Israel, which first supported the idea. Renault are investing one billion dollars in producing a electric vehicle, which will first be sold in Israel; they are aiming to sell 150,000 vehicles in the next few years. The second country is Denmark. And the third country is Australia, with Looksmart founder and former Victorian parliamentarian Evan Thornley heading up Better Place in Australia.  Australia was chosen for a couple of reasons. First its big, unlike Israel and Denmark, and thus provides a demonstration that the technology is suited to big and small countries. Secondly we have large sprawling cities, involving a long suburb to city commute, not dissimilar to many North American cities. A third reason would be that we have a relatively small population of cars, so the net capital cost is relatively low. Shai also said that Australia has lots of Lithium, iron and phosphate, the components used in electric vehicle batteries.

With a country full of electric cars, each with large storage capacity, the intermittent nature of electricity generation from wind and solar can be overcome. When the wind blows and the sun shines batteries in parked cars everywhere will be charged. When its calm and cloudy cars can then feedback into the network. And we move towards the smart grid or distributed network.

The choice of Evan Thornley as Australian CEO is interesting. Clearly Better Place will need tremendous IT and communication infrastructure to communicate with vehicles and the smart grid and monitor battery condition and charge levels. Its hard to go past one of the people who was involved in driving widescale uptake of the internet as a leader.

This future is not that far away. Various governments around the world are now offering subsidies to those who purchase electric vehicles. And in Beijing gasoline cars will be progressively banned from the streets. By 2014 no fossil fuel powered vehicles will be allowed in Beijing.

Shai believes that within 10 years we could have three to four million drivers using electric vehicles in Australia.

Shai Agassi spoke at the inaugural 2009 Alfred Deakin eco-innovation lecture. These lectures will feature optimistic innovation driving a more sustainable world. Shai’s positive vision is a great inspiration and a fantastic way of kicking off the lectures.

Virtual desktops provides large computer energy savings and are becoming easier to deploy. Great for schools and offices!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Virtual desktops provides large computer energy savings and are becoming easier to deploy. Great for schools, universities and offices!

Most of the time only a small fraction of a computer’s power is being used. If you took a office or school with say 100 PCs, with an average load of say 15%, in effect 85 of the PCs would be redundant if it was possible to take advantage of the full power of 15 PCs across 100 work stations.

By employing “thin client” or “virtual desktops” this is made possible. With virtual desktops one PC “box” can then be used to power multiple workstations. This leads to very large energy savings. Additionally by reducing the number of “boxes” there is a resource saving. Maintenance costs are reduced and total lifecycle cost is lower.

There are some impressive examples of where this technology is now being used. Ncomputing is a vendor of virtual desktops, with 180,000 units deployed in schools in Macedonia. Canon in Thailand are using virtual PCs, as is DHL in Peru. In the USA virtual desktops are being used in schools in California and Wisconsin. In Australia its customers include schools such as Wondonga South Primary (Vic), Brighton Public School (SA), MacGregor State High (Qld).

In Australia Gold Creek and Parlmerston district schools in the ACT are using thing client computers supplied by Dycom. RMIT University in Melbourne is also using thin clients.

Take up of thin clients could however be much stronger. Victoria’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has reported weak demand from schools inquiring about the National Secondary School Computer Fund which is part of the Commonwealth Government’s Digital Education Revolution.

The flexibility of notebook computers is certainly an advantage over thin clients. However for total minimum power use and minimum life cycle cost and resource use its hard to beat a thin client or virtual desktop system. Thin clients should certainly be seriously considered by anyone involved in computer purchasing and network administration.

Voltage reduction could save 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas – part 2

Monday, July 13th, 2009

A few months ago I wrote a blog posting about how tighter regulation of electricity supply voltages could save Australia 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.

However a comment on that posting suggested that voltage reduction may not result in any useful savings.

Below I report on the results of an experiment we undertook to identify how much power can be saved, if any, by operating equipment at a lower voltage.

We measured a variety of single phase loads at different voltages. A variable transformer was used to vary the voltage. A German made Power Tech plus plug in power meter was used to measure voltage, current, power and power factor at the different loads. Loads experimented with included typical single phase lights, computer equipment and a fan.

experimental set up to measure power draw at different voltages of a range of single phase loads

experimental set up to measure power draw at different voltages of a range of single phase loads

The experimental set up is shown above. Below is a graph showing the results of the testing.

graph of power draw vs voltage for a variety of single phase loads

graph of power draw vs voltage for a variety of single phase loads

This graph clearly shows that for common lighting loads power consumption decreases with decreased voltage

  • Incandescent lamp (resistive load)
  • T8 fluorescent (inductive load)
  • T5 fluorescent (electronic ballast)

The reduction in power consumption with the T5 fluorescent (with an electronic ballast) was unexpected.

The fan, with a single phase (shaded pole?) motor, also used less power with lower voltage, interestingly the power factor improved as voltage was lowered, with the power factor the highest at 220 volts.

The PC computer and monitor both showed lowest power consumption at 230 and 240 volts, but power consumption generally did not decrease with voltage. Power factor improved a little at lower voltages.

This experiment shows that for a variety of loads power consumption is in fact less at lower voltage.

For heating or cooling loads equipment may need to run longer when at lowered voltage to reduce the same amount of heating or cooling, with no net energy savings.

Three phase synchronous motors are unlikely to use any more or less power (a theoretical assertion, we don’t have the equipment to test), having the motors run at 230 volts rather than 240 or 250 volts however is unlikely to cause motor damage due to excess current as the voltage difference is only small.

But with lighting and many single phase motors power consumption drops with lowered voltage.

My back of the envelope calculations still come up with a saving of around 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas if voltages were closer to the 230 volt standard rather than being at 240 to 250 volts.

If high voltage drops in distribution were a problem additional network infrastructure could be used to deliver a more consistent voltage across the network. 2009 is the year of the “smart grid.” A smart grid could mean multitap transformers that can be changed on the fly to deliver a more consistent 230 volts across the whole electrical network.

Its nice to consulted on voluntary carbon abatement

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Yesterday I attended the public consultation in Melbourne about accounting for and measuring voluntary greenhouse gas savings. The consultation was run by the Offsets Policy Team from the Department of Climate Change.  

It was good to be consulted and heard, and made me feel a little less disenfranchised by the CPRS.

Four or five years ago I attended a number of state government consultations on climate change. There was always strong disagreement and a lack of consensus. Yesterdays workshop was doubly satisfying for not only feeling that my opinions were being heard, but to also see that pretty well everyone else who attended was expressing the same view point. Many individuals and small businesses want to make a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And we want our contribution to be a real, recognizable contribution that actually reduces carbon emissions and is additional to that which would be achieved by the CPRS.

It was reassuring to be able to ask questions like “what is the definition of a small business under the CPRS” and learn that this same question had been asked in similar workshops around the country.

Hopefully the workshops will help the government make changes such that voluntary carbon ababement by businesses and organisations not liable under the CPRS is recognised. In a way that the business doesn’t have to “pay twice” to get their carbon abatement recognised. And that withdraws the carbon voluntarily saved from the CPRS.

Have your say on whether voluntary energy savings are recognised under the CPRS

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

Starting today, public workshops are being held by the government to get public opionion and advice about how voluntary climate change action can be taken into account when setting emission caps for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS).

Workshops are being held on the following dates:
11 June 2009 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Rydges Hotel Perth Corner Hay & King Street, Perth
12 June 2009 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Mercure Grosvenor Hotel 125 North Terrace, Adelaide
30 June 2009 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Chifley at Lennons 66 Queen Street Mall, Brisbane
16 June 2009 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Wesley Conference Centre 220 Pitt Street, Sydney
24 June 2009 9:00 am – 12:00 pm
Rydges on Swanston 701 Swanston Street Carlton, Melbourne

To attend register your interest at:

Voluntary action isn’t recognised under the proposed CPRS unless you pay to have the carbon retired into the Carbon Trust. In other words you pay twice – you pay to actually cut your carbon emissions (eg upgrading your office lighting by installing reflectors. Then, if you want the carbon you’ve saved to be “retired” so it can’t be traded by one of the large companies participating in the CPRS you have to pay again to lock it up in the Carbon Trust.

This is a tremendous disincentive for voluntary action. So have your say at these workshops.