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4. The Tea Room

Tea? People used to drop in for tea. Sometimes visitors stay for tea.

This portal is for those who are familiar with the OzEA project and website. Here we place materials that are more 'inner workings', including plans, musings, requests, contributions, highlights and notices. Tea room regulars are encouraged to make your presence known from time to time.

[Thursday 21st February 2013 ]

Am picking up the OzEA ball again - new Tea Room comments in coming weeks.

[Friday 30th December 2011 ]

OzEA Future - Thoughts and Questions

IF nothing further were to happen with OzEA, what has been achieved?

Well ... I convinced myself, and maybe some others, that renewable electricity can provide an increasing portion of overall supply -- that the variability problem is soluble. But the case is not well developed, including especially the need to model the transmission. I'm not so worried about cost because this comes down to a trade-off against timeframe; society at large will decide how hard to push the timeframe.

Managing the variability of renewable supply (in particular wind and solar) depends critically on 'storage' and 'buffering' in various guises, and on gas turbines fulfilling much the same role as now. The analysis underpinning the Third Story included six hours thermal storage capacity in the Concentrating Solar Thermal plant, and 30 GWh of Pumped Hydro Storage. In this way a naive 'capacity credit' of 20% for 50% renewable supply can be improved to around 50% for 50%. The prospect of formalising (i.e. abstracting) the interplaying factors -- that is the temporal {wind, solar, fossil} supply and demand dynamics in combination with storage and buffering mechanisms -- into a simple model is appealing, but not an obvious priority. Working the 2004 and 2005 data through for the empirical view would come first, and it's not clear that even this will be done.

I think a specific and immediate need is to understand the value of demand management. In trying to cut-to-the-chase on this, I keep coming back to a 'toy' scenario: it would not be difficult for my home air-conditioner to include thermal storage, perhaps with an insulated drum of cold water included in the loop. The sums are not hard -- this could allow substantial load shifting. What value does this load shifting have? Is it worth pursuing this sort of development?

The NEM electricity wholesalers obtain a large fraction of their cash flow from the peak demand times. The current market structure may represent a huge disincentive to the prosecution of demand side management. Is this a sensible concern? [see here to discuss]. Maybe these demand side issues can be practically explored outside of the NEM, say in the Darwin-Katherine market where the power system is run as a corporatised government entity.

Back to the opening question: what value is there in OzEA as it exists now?

The OzEA approach to presenting data and analysis is a significant demonstration of how Open Science can be done. Who might be interested in learning or templating from this? Also, what prospect is there for other Australian researchers and renewable energy groups to adopt OzEA as a place for data presentation, and discussion of analysis and methods? Can OzEA transition away from the single dominant narrator model and into a more community driven workhorse?

So many questions. If you have any answers, or just comments and thoughts, please make them known.

[Sunday 11th December 2011 ]

OzEA Status Update

In a practical sense the OzEA project 'fell over' in July 2011. We ran out of cash. Kudos to Barry for funding this work as far as we got. We still hope to get the project back on its feet, but it's not likely to happen tomorrow. Basic issue is that Francis has been sucked into HR work (of all things), and has simply not been able to do anything serious here since the Third Story. Coming into xmas I'll write a longer piece here.

[Tuesday 9th August 2011 ]

Carving the problem at the joints

OzEA continues in a 'tools-down' mode while we work out how to recognise value from the project sooner rather than later. Here I briefly describe the current situation, and then outline some possible directions for consideration.

Work to date has focused on the variability problem in a simplified but concrete way. In the context of 50% renewable electricity, preliminary results are very encouraging and suggest the variability 'problem' is soluble. More focus is now needed on costs and timelines.

Renewable supply is variable and inflexible (it is what it is), while traditional coal-fired base-supply is also inflexible, but fairly constant rather than variable. In either case what matters is the demand remainder. This is the demand over and above the (inflexible) base-supply, which is met by the flexible and controllable parts of the supply system. Gas turbines, pumped storage hydro, straight hydro, and thermal storage within CSP all have moderate to high flexibility.

The difference between a system with renewable vs. traditional base supply is predominately in how and when these controllable elements are used to meet the demand remainder. Those who have followed this work will have noted that 'capacity credit' calculations do not capture the actual problem in a useful way.

To round out the work on what a 50% renewable NEM might look like, as per existing plans, is principally a matter of modelling the gross level transmission over the top of the supply-equals-demand dynamics. Rather than do this in a rough-and-ready way, we will take a more strategic approach. Specifically, a coherent organising principle is needed to dictate how transmission flows from supply sources to demand sinks. This organising principle is electricity cost, at each time and place (node and time-increment), and set in an analogous way to that in the NEM. Looking forward, we will want to also consider demand as responsive. We have somewhat developed plans for the implementation this model, and a (contingent) time frame to have done so by end 2011.

What would this work achieve?

There are many possible answers, but they are somewhat fragile at this point. Certainly, the process of building the model/s and running them against renewable supply dynamics will bring key issues into relief.

So, we work now to gain clarity on what value current or other work plans might realise. With some external input, we have identified five areas of particular interest:

  1. Transmission system analysis from a renewables perspective
  2. Renewables, smart grids and system stability
  3. Evolutionary paths to 50% renewables (via 20%, 30% and 40% 'stepping stones')
  4. Identifying potential 'market failures'
  5. The cost of achieving 50% renewables

Each of these aspects will be discussed in more detail on the OzEA forum page in coming weeks. Your thoughtful contributions to these discussions will be appreciated.

Cost, either implicitly or explicitly, underlies all these aspects. Arriving at simple headline costs, such as for a transition to 50% renewables, is fraught. To remain anchored we centre the accounting of costs around the electricity itself.

Core business for OzEA is to provide high-level analysis that is as empirical as possible. By providing abstractions and views that 'carve the problem at the joints' we contribute to a thoughtful and mature discussion about Australia's medium term aspirations for renewables. We seek your input in directing our energies strategically.

[previous tea room]

fc - Feb 2013