Know this, Tillerson. Big News on Batteries, EV.

February 2, 2017

Lord Love a Duck Curve. Not.

Tillerson and Putin may not be able to move fast enough to catch up with Renewable Technology.


One of the problems that comes from reliance on solar power is the “duck curve” where the solar panels produce more power than is needed during the day, and standby power is needed in the evening when demand is high and the sun goes down. The common solution has been to turn on natural gas “peaker” plants to produce power when the needed in those few hours. But in Southern California, a big natural gas leak turned into what Melissa called an epic ecological disaster, sending utilities searching for an alternative to gas.

duck curve© If it looks like a duck … (Photo: California ISO)

One of those alternatives that people dreamed about just a few years ago was giant batteries, and Elon Musk promised that he would make them in his new Nevada factory. What is really astonishing is that in just three months, Tesla has delivered a giant battery farm with 396 stacks of batteries that can provide enough electricity to power 15,000 houses for four hours, about how long it takes to shave the peaks, to kill the duck.

Even the experts are shocked at the speed this is happening at: According to the New York Times,

“I had relatively limited expectations for the battery industry in advance of 2020,” said Michael J. Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission. “I thought that it would not really accelerate and begin to penetrate the electric grid or the transportation world for a while to come. Once again, technology is clearly moving faster than we can regulate.”

Natural gas peaker plants are expensive and controversial; you want them near the user, but the NIMBYs come out in force. Battery packs are much simpler, they are modular and they are scalable. According to Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel in Bloomberg,

“There were teams working out there 24 hours a day, living in construction trailers and doing the commissioning work at two in the morning,” Straubel said. “It feels like the kind of pace that we need to change the world.”


Just about every analyst agrees that the electric vehicle market is poised for rapid growth. But how rapid?

It’s not an idle question. The rate of EV growth will have huge implications for oil markets, auto markets, and electric utilities. Yet it is maddeningly difficult to predict the future; forecasts for the EV market are all over the place.

I don’t think the wide range of projections means that we’re blind here, though — I think we can make educated guesses. Specifically, I think history justifies optimism, the belief that the high-end projections (like those in a new study I discuss below) are closer to the truth.

Let’s walk through it.


Caption: Introducing the all-new Chrysler Pacifica. 30 miles without gas. 80 MPGe. 530 mile total driving range.

EVs could do serious damage to oil — or not much

Transportation accounts for a huge portion of US carbon emissions. As recently as 2014, it was behind the electricity sector — 26 percent of US emissions to electricity’s 30 percent. But as Vox has reported, and the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) just confirmed, as of 2016, they have crossed paths. “Electric power sector CO2 emissions,” EIA writes, “are now regularly below transportation sector CO2 emissions for the first time since the late 1970s.”

transportation vs. power sector emisisonsEIA

Today saw the release of a new study from the Grantham Institute for Imperial College London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative. It argues that solar photovoltaics (PV) and EVs together will kick fossil fuel’s ass, quickly.

“Falling costs of electric vehicle and solar technology,” they conclude, “could halt growth in global demand for oil and coal from 2020.” That would be a pretty big deal.

The “business as usual” (BAU) scenarios that typically dominate these discussions are outdated, the researchers argue. New baseline scenarios should take into account updated information on PV, EV, and battery costs. (The EIA doesn’t expect inflation-adjusted prices of EVs to fall to $30,000 until 2030, even as multiple automakers say they’ll hit that within a few years.)

And baseline scenarios should take into account the commitments made in the Paris climate agreement, they say.

(All the data and assumptions are available along with the study, and there is an interactive dashboard that allows you to fiddle around with scenario results, if you want to dig in.)

Using that new baseline produces some pretty eye-popping numbers. To wit: “EVs could make up a third of the road transport market by 2035, more than half the market by 2040, and more than two thirds of market share by 2050.”

And also: “Oil demand could be flat from 2020 to 2030 then fall steadily to 2050.”

Again, that would be a very big deal! Most big forecasters, and big energy companies, expect coal to rise at least through 2030 and oil to rise basically forever.

These new scenarios do not reflect hippie idealism, they just take seriously a) the cost curves demonstrated by PV, EVs, and batteries so far, and b) what countries said they would do in Paris. They assume that all this talk about climate change is not a bunch of BS — that it’s a real problem and we’re really going to try to solve it. (Admittedly, Trump has complicated that picture, but he can’t stop the rest of the world.)


23 Responses to “Know this, Tillerson. Big News on Batteries, EV.”

  1. Thanks for this, Peter. This is hope-inspiring.

    I’ve been thinking about what Trump could mean for our climate, and I keep coming back to an idea inspired by James Hansen and “his” kids climate lawsuit.

    If cities, clubs/groups, et al were to sue the Trump Adminstration, how much of a difference could be made by them? I suspect that quite a large difference could be made.

    • 1happywoman Says:


      I hate to sound like a Debbie Downer, but I disagree that “quite a large difference could be made” with lawsuits.

      Good lawyers cost a lot of money, and the federal gov’t and fossil fuel interests have virtually unlimited amounts of it to file motion after motion, each of which must be responded to, driving the plaintiffs’ legal fees ever higher.

      Fees for Hansen’s “Juliana” lawsuit and other cases he’s involved in have run about $100,000/yr, and the 501(c)(3) that’s funded them is almost out of money now. See p. 2 at this link:

      Also, Hansen had hoped the Obama administration would settle:

      If even the Obama administration wouldn’t settle, you know the Trump administration would litigate to the death, including every possible avenue of appeal.

      The deep-pocketed defendant’s game is always delay, delay, delay while bleeding the plaintiffs dry with burdensome discovery requests and motion practice.

  2. Ron Voisin Says:

    Well…let’s all agree to put this on our lengthy lists of “definite maybe’s”.

    Here’s a more likely scenario:

    Compact Thorium reactors are commercialized. Every NFL city is powered by a few dozen units. Their distributed installations are essentially fail-safe and made extraordinarily affordable as they are mass-manufactured in Thorium reactor factories (status:2030).

    The reactor miniaturization process continues. Eventually you can purchase a refrigerator sized unit that can power and individual home for 30 years before replacement (status: 2040).

    The reactor miniaturization process continues. Tractor-trailers and family autos are powered by miniature reactors that fit under their hoods. These vehicles autonomously go wherever told to go. They never are refueled in their life expectancy and there are no fueling stations in America (status: 2050).

    Enormous reserves of fossil fuels continue to be meekly mined for specialty uses.

    Clean water is ubiquitously available the world over as Thorium reactors power high performance desalination in all sizes from County to City to residential.

    The liberal-progressive mindset continues to survive with ever-more-mundane fears that are ever-more-loudly broadcast.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Voisin is apparently sober enough today to recognize and cut-and-paste screeds that make some small sense (up to a point). Yes , nuclear reactors could and should be used to cut our dependence on fossil fuels, but Ron’s “find” starts to fall apart at putting reactors in individual homes and goes over the edge at putting reactors “under the hoods” of vehicles.

      Ron sounds like his usual drunken self with this closing—-“The liberal-progressive mindset continues to survive with ever-more-mundane fears that are ever-more-loudly broadcast”, but it IS at least coherent (probably because it too is a cut-and-paste).

      • Ron Voisin Says:

        Thanks for the endorsement Though, nothing I’ve said is from cut-and-paste.

        I always knew you would be a great wingman.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Always glad to acknowledge when someone with an IQ in the low 80’s manages to sound like they’ve made it to 90. Go, Ronnie!

          And anyone who believes that comment was original to Ron is probably looking forward eagerly to owning a beachfront home in Miami, which they will pay for using the huge profit they’re going to make when they sell the coal company stock they have been buying since 1/20/17.

      • webej Says:

        Small-scale reactors are not that crazy. The Oak Ridge experiment with thorium LFTRs was undertaken (successfully) with the idea of powering long-range strategic bombers. Unfortunately, choices made then incorporated light-water reactor design into nuclear subs, and the whole nuclear industry has been determined by government subsidy, regulation, momentum, need for plutonium as by-product for arms on its current pathway to the detriment of other possibilities whose potential was never explored.

        Affordability would be a bigger question than the possibilities for miniaturization.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          Reactors similar in size and design to the Oak ridge LFTR (MSRE) could be used as “neighborhood” power supplies—-each one could supply ~5,000-6000 homes. They would take up about as much space as a house and would NOT be cheap. But maybe when the SHTF we’ll give them a try.

          But that’s as “small scale” as anyone with any sense would go—-I for one DO NOT want any of the many morons on the road driving around with “miniaturized” radioactive waste dumps under their hoods. Nor do I want those cars parked unattended where the terrorists can access them for materials to make dirty bombs. You know, those terrorists that all those 3-year-old Syrian refugees are going to turn into if we don’t ban them?.

          (And stop being VERA’s little helper and spouting anti-government BS about “other possibilities whose potential was never explored”, presumably because America is inferior to Russia).

          • webej Says:

            Didn’t mention Russia or Merica. Just the Oak Ridge experiment, which was started with the idea of a small enough scale to power an aircraft, but in 1964. It’s hard to say what the smallest scale could be, since experiments were halted.

            A thorium reactor has a closed fuel cycle, so it should be next to impossible to open it up for regular mortals. Since the thorium fuel cycle includes decay to Ur-232, opening it up would certainly kill any terrorists exposed to the gamma radiation. Ur-232 is so toxic that it is virtually impossible to handle outside of specialized facilities. [LFTR’s are breeders, and can reprocess most actinide wastes, leaving a much smaller amount of radioactive waste, which remain radio-active for much shorter periods than current reactors which have high volumes of waste that needs to be sequestered for 10^7 years]

          • dumboldguy Says:

            It IS hard to get you to pay attention, isn’t it?. It’s not a question of “It’s hard to say what the smallest scale could be”, but what I pointed out—-the stupidity of having all those expensive and dangerous little nukes everywhere when so many cheaper and safer alternatives exist.

            I doubt you served in the military—-if you had, you’d know that shaped charges, thermite grenades, and EFP’s make it quite easy for “regular mortals” to “open” one of the small reactors of a size that would be put in a car. They wouldn’t actually scoop out the bad stuff with their hands, but rather blow up the unit in the car or remove it and put it somewhere and then blow it open (although a lot them ARE “suiciders”, so who knows)

            And 10^7 years is 100,000,000 years—-you missed by quite a bit there!

          • webej Says:

            He dumb
            I never said anything about putting them in a car, only about scale.
            I did make a mistake, 10^6 (1 million, in the order of hundreds of thousands)
            10^7 is only 10,000,000, by the way. Some waste products have half-lives greater than; it’s hard to give a one size fits all number.

    • The cost just keeps coming down on solar and storage. That is why oil is going to get its ass kicked.

      Then finally last fall, the offered price beat the costs KIUC currently incurred on its grid generationg night time power from burning petroleum. And it got the dispatchable, demand response management it hadn’t planned on.

      “This is completely different. I can potentially replace the oil-generated power we’ve been using at night,” Kelly said.

      “The other piece that’s appealing to us is the price, because are very price conscious here,” Kelly said. Storage technology, he noted, became availble a few years ago but was too expensive to consider.

      “This is coming in at 14 cents a kilowatt hour or 145 a megawatt hour, which is very competitive with our standard solar without storage” he said.

    • schwadevivre Says:

      OFFS not sodding thorium reactors

      Various countries have been researching Thorium reactors of various types – but there is still no energy producing reactor on stream and no date for when that might happen.

      Despite the claims of the Thorium addicts there are still problems with radioactive contamination and horrendous problems with chemical toxicity.

      The only advantage Thorium reactors have is that they can, in theory, be designed to be fail safe avoiding core meltdown

  3. Ron Voisin Says:

    Oh, I forgot to say:

    And the world is favorably a half degree or so warmer than today (status: 2050).

    Ever more agricultural land has been returned to natural habitat as 3D growing and point-of-use water and nutrient delivery are widely implemented.

    Human population has grown to >9Billion while agricultural land use is almost cut in half (status: 2050).

    Bio-diversity is, by 2050, recognized to be skyrocketing. Confusingly to many (especially the likes of dumboldguy), it is further recognized that there is no time in the whole of the 20th and 21st centuries when this wasn’t so.

    Some demented portion of the population continues to believe that humans are cancerous to the Earth but most all understand that that cancer exists in this thinking and no where else.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Ron has apparently been drinking, and his IQ is slipping back into the low 80’s. This comment is just nonsense.

      Ron HAS succeeded at the only thing he’s good at, though—-distracting us from the topic at hand and wasting our time. I’m done with him. When I return to this thread, I will go OT.

  4. J4Zonian Says:

    Electric power emissions have included more and more methane as fracked gas has taken over from coal. Not counting that in the emissions (as CO2e) may be giving a more optimistic view than is real, on your graph showing it lower than transport emissions.

    On a more significant note–we damn well better be doing better than half of cars electrified by 2040; that may seem like a rapid pace compared to previous technology shifts but is way, way, way too slow to bolster wind and solar production the way we need, provide peak production times with an outlet (so to speak) of created demand, time-shift power to times of higher other demand (the duck neck, 4-7 pm, e.g.), and most importantly, to dramatically reduce GHG emissions in concert with that enabled increase in solar and wind, so we avoid that annoying collapse-of-civilization thing that’s rapidly approaching. Studies like Hansen et 2015 point to the extreme harm that will be happening by 2050, accelerating at that point. Although effects up to then may be essentially unstoppable, that acceleration may still be something we can do something about. But only if we take much faster action to reduce emissions immediately. By putting money into public transit and making all public vehicles electric, maybe we can reduce the number of vehicles on the road and thus increase the share of electric vehicles faster than the EIA and other projections think we can. Further, as we find we’re making even faster progress into the chaotic and violent world of climate catastrophes than we expect now, can we expect to keep making progress on renewables, efficiency, and reduction of military use of fossil fuels as well as a reduction in destruction of infrastructure that war causes into that era? Or should we do whatever it takes now, to make it happen as fast as humanly possible, to beat that degradation of society?

    And btw, why is anyone still listening to the EIA on anything with renewables and numbers in it? Haven’t they been wrong in the same direction so many times they have no credibility any more?

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Putting aside the issues of whether we should pay attention to EIA’s (or anyone else’s) future projections-estimates-SWAGs-and PFTA figures, Jeffy is right on the money with the thought that it is all “way, way, way too slow”. Even if the transportation versus electric power curves continue to make positive moves (and even accelerate), it should be obvious to anyone with minimal graph-reading skills that over the nearly 30 years from 1988 to 2016 CO2 emissions actually finished higher?

      And don’t say “but they LOOK LIKE they peaked in 2008, and, and…”, or speak of “half the cars electrified by 2040” because that’s not going to happen either. All pie-in-the-sky unknowns being manipulated by the voodoo math of economists, not scientists.

      As we diddle around and take time out from dealing with climate change because the county is now being run by morons, the rest of the world is going to say “America First?—F**K that! = I want as much as an American has now—electricity and a car—-and if I have to burn coal and gasoline to get them cheaply, so be it”. Read Hot, Flat, and Crowded to better understand that.

      PS Watched a great PBS Nova show last night on batteries, and learned more about salt water and other newer types of batteries that seem to have potential. Watch it if you can. (And be amazed at how nasty Lithium batteries are—-you know, the ones Musk is building in the gigafactory for use in all those EV’s that he will not deliver on schedule?)

  5. webej Says:

    Peak oil is not about running about but about maximum flow. Conventional liquids have in fact already peaked, and many in the peak-oil camp see the current low-growth economy (deflation) as the result of the decrease of Energy Returned on Energy Invested.

    On a positive note, Germany and the Netherlands are thinking about banning fossil-fueled car sales by 2025, 2032, 3035 (at the cabinet level) just to mention various dates, depending on whether it is the political right or the left speaking. Of course it would take longer to get them off the road. However, the upsurge of EV’s and autonomous driving will coincide. Autonomous driving will encourage governments to ban manual driving, since the two do not mix well. In the Netherlands the roads are already (being) prepared to accomodate 4 rows of cars on 3-lane highways, driving in close formation at up to 150km/hour, to avoid building more roadway. Autonomous cars will behave better than humans, leading to doing away with stop signs and speed bumps and policing the road. Current practice already forbids older cars in urban areas due to micro-particle pollution norms, so governments will have extra reasons to ban older cars sooner.
    Ironically, autonomous driving along with uber-type routing technologies will make personal car ownership much more optional, and increase capacity use of the existing fleet. This in turn would lead to far less vehicles on the road.
    There are also plans for banning fossil fuels for home-heating by 2050.

    Deflation of oil/coal demand would also lead to price deflation. This could mean they stay competitive with solar for a longer time. Worse, it could mean oil will be dumped at cheaper prices in third world countries where demand is now damped by price. The dynamics are hard to predict.

    Whether solar/wind can be ramped up fast enough to meet EV (and regular electrical) demand is unknown. If EV’s cause more fossil-fueled electrical generation it would be crazy, since there are tremendous losses involved in generation and transmission. More solar + batteries will lead to competition between grid-based centralized generation and local non-grid connected storage/generation, increasing the costs of grids. Electrical home heating with fossil-fueled grid electricity is also crazy, wasting most of the heat. Non-grid connected energy is much more efficient.

    There is also the possibility of technology break-throughs:
    [1] Advances in super conducting could lead to high-voltage DC conduits enabling the transport of PV/CSP electricity (concentrated solar power) from desert areas to areas where there is more demand for heating and electricity. CSP has as an advantage that, using molten salt, it already buffers demand for periods when the sun is not shining. It could also lead to completely revamping political relationship between countries with deserts and those without, transporting sunlight/heat as it were.
    [2] Advances in battery technology or super capacitors could make EV’s much lighter and increase their range/improve charging times. The irony of EV’s now is that a lot of the charge is required to transport the batteries comprising a great deal of the vehicle’s weight.
    Hydrogen seems likely to remain an eternal prospect, like fusion.

    It is a fool’s errand to make projections for so many moving parts. That said, urgency demand that the EU should be spending at least €400 billion a year on research and pilot projects. Importing fossil fuels makes no sense, and a European army is unlikely to stave of climate change. There needs to be an effort on the same scale as defense or health-care spending. China too has every reason to invest to outlive pollution and energy imports.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: