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Subsidies, blackouts and rising energy prices, but it isn’t renewables who are the culprits – the story of aluminium smelting in Australia

While the Coalition blame blackouts and rising energy prices on renewable energy and call for an end to subsidies, the real culprits are going unnoticed.

Aluminium smelters are the biggest user of electricity in Australia – about 15% of total generation.  They are also the most highly subsidised industry and have been since they began operation.

When Australia’s smelters were built they benefited from very cheap, long-term electricity agreements with government-owned power companies. These smelters were paying around half to two-thirds of the price paid by other large industrial electricity consumers and about one tenth the price of residential consumers.

An example of such subsidies was the decision to support Alcoa for Point Henry and Portland, made by the Liberal government in 1979. In 2009, Rob Maclellan, who was in cabinet for the decision, described it as a “collective moment of insanity”. This deal was inherited by new private sector owners of generation assets and added $2.45 to every MWh sold in Victoria.

Moving to commercial electricity prices would add about 50 per cent to the average wholesale price applying to these smelter contracts, the Grattan Institute estimated in a report in 2010.

When the carbon price was introduced, the aluminium smelting industry argued that they would go out of business if they weren’t compensated.

Alcoa and Alumina Limited were granted the highest level of compensation available – carbon permits that covered 94.5 per cent of carbon emissions from their smelters and refineries in the 2013 financial year, and permits that covered 93.27 per cent of carbon emissions in the 2014 financial year, to be gradually phased out over a decade.

This not only allowed Alcoa to keep operating, it delivered them a windfall of $60 million in 2013 gained from the sale of excess carbon credits.

In a results presentation covering the first three months after the repeal of the carbon price, Alcoa said “Loss of carbon tax credits in Australia drove higher energy costs.”

Moving on to 2016 and power company AGL was resisting pressure to do a sweetheart deal with Alcoa for cheap power, putting its Portland smelter in danger of closing until, once again, the taxpayer came to the rescue with the Victorian government providing $200 million and the federal government another $30 million with the proviso that the plant must remain operational until June 30, 2021.

AGL also supplies the electricity for the Tomago aluminium smelter in NSW through the Liddell power station and it is the CEO of Tomago who has been lobbying politicians to keep the power station running and to build new coal-fired power generators.

Chief executive of the state’s largest electricity user, Tomago Aluminium’s Matt Howell, said aluminium smelters needed baseload supply “and practically, that means thermal, either coal or gas”.

“And whilst we’re not ideologically opposed to renewables, wind and solar – they certainly have their place in many applications – but there is no aluminium smelter anywhere in the world that is powered by wind and solar,” Mr Howell said.

Conveniently, Howell ignores companies like Norwegian producer Norsk Hydro and the Lochaber smelter in Scotland whose smelters use hydro-electric power to make aluminium, which translates into carbon emissions at one fifth the scale of those generated by coal-derived power.

AGL’s contracts with the smelters allows them to direct them to shut down briefly during times of peak demand, a situation slammed by Howell who called it “the $100 million decision”.

“If a potline is shut down for longer than an hour it can quickly turn to custard, literally,” Mr Howell said.

But once again, Mr Howell seems unaware of innovation in his own industry like that being pilot-tested at one of German producer Trimet’s smelters.

“EnPot” technology allows a smelter to modulate its power use by up to 25 percent at the flick of a switch, according to Geoff Matthews of Energia Potior, which makes the kit.

That not only opens up the potential for smelters to help manage electric grid flows, changing usage according to price and availability, but breaks one of the industry’s great technical constraints of having to run at 100% capacity all the time.

AGL’s manipulation of demand from the smelters sounds like a good idea but it isn’t completely altruistic.  If the smelters, who have cheap contracts, shut down during times of peak demand, it allows AGL to sell that electricity on the spot market for insanely high prices.

If Tomago Aluminium had ignored AGL’s request for a potline shutdown in February, the company would have been forced to pay the wholesale price applying at the time, at the cap of $14,000 per megawatt hour because of the extreme conditions, with a final bill of $5.25 million for 75 minutes of energy.

Any suggestion that aluminium smelting is not viable in this country is always met by cries of what about the jobs.

Almost twenty years ago, the Australia Institute produced a report Subsidies to the Aluminium Industry and Climate Change.

“The smelting industry employed around 5350 people in 1995-96…. the subsidy to aluminium smelting in Australia is A$840 million per annum or $157,000 per employee.”

Goodness knows how much it is now.

Perhaps those people would be better employed building wind and solar farms and pumped hydro stations than working in the extremely dangerous and toxic environment of aluminium smelting.

Losing an industry is always a difficult decision but, with their resistance to innovation, their reliance on subsidies, their huge drain on a stressed electricity grid, the enormous greenhouse gas emissions they produce, and their inflationary effect on electricity prices, Australia would be better off without them.

35 comments

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  1. Miriam English

    Thanks Kaye, for clarifying this. I had no idea of this wrinkle in energy prices.

    I agree. We’d be better off without that industry if they refuse to move with the times, are so dependent upon subsidy, they push so strongly for greenhouse gas pollution, and have such a bad effect on energy prices. Or maybe a more modern aluminium industry could push them out of business… though there’s not much chance of that while the existing industry is so heavily subsidised.

  2. Kaye Lee

    Miriam, it’s funny how situations can change so quickly.

    In 2014, Tony Wood from the Grattan Institute wrote…

    “With two of Australia’s six smelters now gone, what are the ramifications if the other four follow suit? For the electricity sector, which is already under pressure from falling demand, losing a customer base representing around 15% of the market would be a big blow.”

    That was February 2014 when the problem was falling demand – something Labor seem incapable of highlighting.

    Wood went on to say…

    “A long-term positive future could emerge for aluminium production in Australia if rising carbon prices drive a low-cost, emissions-free electricity supply sector in Australia.

    But in the context of current climate change politics, with carbon pricing set to be repealed and the Renewable Energy Target now under review, this prospect seems frustratingly far away.”

    All thanks to Tony Abbott who smashes his way around destroying things with not the slightest idea of what he is doing.

  3. Kaye Lee

    And as for any surprise about Liddell, the government knew AGL’s intentions before the NSW govt sold it in 2014. They just chose to ignore it in exchange for a minor short term sugar hit that would relieve them of soon-to-be stranded assets, encouraged by Abbott’s asset-recycling fixation..

    “In a statement to the stock exchange on its purchase of Macquarie Generation and its Liddell and Bayswater power stations in 2014, AGL said it had bought MacGen on the assumption that Tomago Aluminium would close in 2017, meaning the Liddell power station would no longer be needed to produce electricity.”

    http://www.theherald.com.au/story/2501176/agl-flag-closure-of-tomago-smelter/

  4. Charles

    Good research Kaye, thanks.
    The aluminium industry is necessary yet seems to create more problems than it solves.
    Alcoa paid no tax on $521M revenue and Aluminium and Bauxite Company zero on $223M in 2014-15. Australia has become a fabled land where the govt gives away resources, fails to collect tax on multi-national companies and then expects ordinary citizens to subsidize electricity costs as well. What’s the point of our govt really?
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-09/tax-data-transparency-ato/8106178

  5. Kronomex

    Legislate federally that that heavy electricity leeches like Alcoa and Alumina Limited build and use their own power stations. Will it happen? Not bloody likely, they’ll scream and bleat and lobbyists will rain down on the LNP like a cyclone. Any hint of losing donations and they will go into a panic to keep their corporate masters happy beyond compare.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Kronomex,

    Matt Howell, who is the CEO of Australia’s largest single electricity consumer – the Tomago Aluminium Smelter – thinks that Australia needs a new coal power plant.

    When asked about emissions, Howell said “We believe that the use of the latest generation coal-fired power technology is perfectly appropriate.”

    if such plants produce electricity so cheaply, reliably and with low emissions then why wouldn’t his company build one themselves?

    It is not as if this is beyond an aluminium company to do such a thing. Alcoa until recently was the long-time owner of the Anglesea Coal Power Station in Victoria.

    The Boyne Aluminium Smelter in Queensland is part owner of the nearby Gladstone Coal Power Station. In addition, several of Australia’s alumina refineries own significant power stations.

    Also, if he doesn’t like the idea of owning one, there’s nothing to stop him from underwriting the construction of such a plant by someone else through offering a long term contract to buy all its power over a 20 year life. Such arrangements are a standard practice across the globe.

    But the thing is that he’s probably got a better idea.

    Rather than Tomago Aluminium having to pay for a new coal fired power station, why not get you to pay for it instead?

    Yes, while the aluminium industry seems to have little difficulty buying power stations in Australia and around the globe, he reckons the government (and by that he means Australian taxpayers), should do it instead.

    Howell tried to suggest that government should pay for the power station rather than his company, because the government was subsidising renewable energy which made it hard for the existing coal plants to compete.

    This argument is complete rubbish.

    If Tomago wrote out a contract promising to buy every unit of electricity from a new coal plant (or an existing one for that matter) at the price its owner needs for it to be viable, then why would the operator of the coal plant care about the subsidised cost of a wind or solar plant?

    It is completely irrelevant to how much electricity they can sell and the price they sell it, which is set by the contract with Tomago.

    You see, Tomago Aluminium is doing what the aluminium industry has been doing for decades the world over – fooling politicians to give them electricity (or power stations) below its underlying cost with the allure they’ll be creating (or saving) lots of jobs.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/new-coal-power-plants-great-dont-pay-60618/

  7. Miriam English

    As if we really needed it, here’s yet another great reason to get money out of politics.

    With their loudly proclaimed love of the free market, it’s jarringly dissonant that the LNP is so heavily into distorting the market like this. But then, their love for the free market is really just a sham. They say whatever they’re paid to say.

    For the love of dog! I am more interested in the free market than they are, and I think I clearly see its many shortcomings and flaws, along with its genuine value. They seem to have no clue and no interest, other than short-term money for themselves and their party. Screw Australia.

  8. diannaart

    Socialism is acceptable if the far-right do it.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Some of the world’s largest producers of aluminum are now starting to push environmental sustainability as a market differentiator.

    Consumers may soon have a choice of buying green, low-carbon aluminum or “black” metal with a higher carbon footprint, raising the prospect of a two-tier market structure.

    A new Aluminum Stewardship Initiative (ASI) is in the process of creating sustainability benchmarks for the aluminum supply chain from bauxite mining to recycling, backed by aluminium producers Norsk Hydro, Russian giant Rusal and Rio Tinto among others.

    Forward thinking producers see “sustainability” as “a market driver”, to quote Rio, as major users include carbon footprint and environmental performance in their buying criteria.

    The ASI’s membership includes automotive heavyweights such as BMW, Audi and Jaguar Land Rover and consumer groups such as Coca-Cola, Nespresso and Apple.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-aluminium-environment-ahome/how-would-you-like-your-aluminum-green-or-black-andy-home-idUSKBN18703X

    Once again, we risk falling behind world trends because of the dinosaurs’ unholy marriage to coal.

  10. Miriam English

    Now, there’s a marriage I’d be happy to see outlawed. 🙂

  11. john ocallaghan

    These are the same bastards that shut down the auto industry because they are a unionised work force,so before i go on and write something utterley filthy and offensive about this Govt i will stop while i am ahead and preserve my dignity!~!~

  12. guest

    When we see foreign companies wanting the Government to build coal-fired power stations, or a railway line to convey their coal to the coast, and so many commercial enterprises paying no tax, and large irrigators stealing water from other irrigators, so many shonky ponzi schemes and frauds, Oz tax avoiders living in other places, etc etc while the poor are regarded as “leaners” sucking on the welfare teat, one can only wonder what the economic gurus are doing in this country if not feathering certain nests.

    It is clear that there is misappropriation on a grand scale in the Lucky Country – lucky we aren’t on the bare bones of our backsides. Or is it that we are, just don’t know it yet?

  13. Mhoira White

    Privatisation is the reason the prices escalated. Everything is driven by profit. All utilities should be government run. They are not a luxury.

  14. John Holmes

    Perhaps it is time for a few hundred thousand dollars be invested into R&D for the production of aluminum metal using renewable energy systems. If the system can also be reversed so the energy used to make the metal can be recovered it would also have a huge potential as a battery system.

    Saw a discussion re this some time ago. I was not certain if it was a ‘real’ project or just a con. It was suggesting that a ship could be fitted out to convert aluminum back to the oxide while in port and selling the energy to the city, and then the oxide returned for processing back to metal. Of course we will need the CSIRO or whom ever to hold the patents.

    While we are at it, look at the reduction of iron ore to the metal as well in a carbon free system.

  15. Miriam English

    John, what an absolutely fascinating idea.

    Aluminium has an astonishingly great amount of energy held in the pure metal that is released when it oxidises. The only thing that stops aluminium exploding with an incredibly intense flame is the microscopically thin layer of extremely strong oxide on its surface.

    Unlike iron oxide (rust), which is soft and permeable and easily falls away, continually exposing the iron underneath to more air, aluminium oxide is very hard. Off the top of my head I can’t remember which gemstones are basically aluminium oxide (and I couldn’t be bothered looking it up).

    Thermite bombs and thermite lances, that are so hot they can eat their way through steel and concrete are made from powdered aluminium, I believe.

    So, yes, I imagine aluminium could make a brilliant energy storage system. I wish I’d thought of that. I’ll have to look into how the energy can be released in a controlled fashion as electricity. Fascinating. Thanks, John.

  16. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee

    “but there is no aluminium smelter anywhere in the world that is powered by wind and solar,” Mr Howell said.
    Conveniently, Howell ignores companies like Norwegian producer Norsk Hydro and the Lochaber smelter in Scotland whose smelters use hydro-electric power to make aluminium”

    Apart from the fact that it takes a tremendous amount of solar and wind energy to release and transport the water vapor required for for hydro power, I don’t see the connection.
    The question remains; do any wind turbine farms or solar Pv installations power any aluminium smelters?

    This article has some calculations. Perhaps, seeing as how you are a mathematician, you could peruse it and give me your opinion as to their validity. They were contested in the comments section but, the author, to my disappointment, dismissed them and left them unanswered.
    http://sunweber.blogspot.com.au/2017/08/heat-for-tomorrow-many-materials-used.html

    “As the sediments accumulate in the reservoir, so the dam gradually loses its ability to store water for the purposes for which it was built. Every reservoir loses storage to sedimentation”
    http://www.internationalrivers.org/it/sedimentation-problems-with-dams

    “In conclusion, calculating only the energy payback times of individual solar panels or wind turbines greatly overestimates the sustainability of a renewable power grid.”
    http://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/09/how-to-run-modern-society-on-solar-and-wind-powe.html

    “Solar photovoltaic energy is not as environmentally conscious as many think it is. Besides being an intermittent source of energy and more expensive than traditional technologies, it has serious waste disposal issues that few countries are tackling. The hazardous materials used in their construction are not easy to recycle and can contaminate drinking water if solely discarded with other electronic waste.”
    http://canadafreepress.com/article/will-solar-power-be-at-fault-for-the-next-environmental-crisis

    TANSTAAFL

    Miriam English
    Molten aluminum can explode on contact with water. This is one theory of the 911 tower explosions. The molten aluminum from the aircraft flowed into the water saturated lower floors.

  17. Miriam English

    Back to your renewable energy denialism, I see, Harquebus. [sigh]

    Your interpretation of Kaye’s point is too tight. Howell was justifying coal for powering aluminium smelters and dismissing renewable energy, erroneously focussing specifically on wind and solar energy. He neglects that they are not the only forms of renewable energy. Kaye’s point stands.

    I’ll agree with your points about reservoirs silting up and reducing their capacity. I don’t particularly like dams. They have other, massive ecological and hydrological problems I won’t go into here.

    Anything that is very hot will cause a steam explosion. In the case of molten aluminium it would be the water exploding, not the aluminium, I expect. There’s no need to invoke exotic mechanisms in the collapse of the Wold Trade Center buildings. Their destruction has been perfectly well explained by the NIST investigation. You’ll notice in the videos there are no explosions. Aluminium did have a part to play though, as part of the internal structure (off-hand I can’t remember exactly which part — it was too long ago) they softened, causing the physical strength to be compromised so that the building began to collapse from within. Aluminium has quite a low melting temperature.

  18. Kaye Lee

    What does water vapor have to do with have to do with hydro? I thought it worked on mechanical energy as water runs downhill.

    “This article has some calculations. Perhaps, seeing as how you are a mathematician, you could peruse it and give me your opinion as to their validity.”

    Just because there are some numbers there doesn’t make this valid research. Please don’t waste my time with crap like that. I would really much prefer that you link to peer-reviewed scientific papers that actually relate to the point you are trying to make rather than five million links that have nothing to do with each other or the topic of discussion. That is always your approach and it makes any sort of sensible discussion impossible. I also get the distinct impression that you don’t actually read the articles because you cherry pick sentences that completely misrepresent the actual conclusions.

    How about you pick ONE topic and show some credible research to back up what you are saying. I am not interested in reading what random bloggers have to say on a whole range of unrelated topics. Forget the scattergun barrage. It’s pointless and annoying.

  19. Michael Taylor

    I would really much prefer that you link to peer-reviewed scientific papers …

    And THAT was the first thing we learnt at uni re the scientific method. If it cannot be validated, then it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on.

  20. Harquebus

    Articles here advocating ‘renewable energy’ are peer reviewed? If not then, what are they worth?

    I try to present articles that non scientists can ‘comprehend’ but, if peer reviewed is what you want then, I will endeavor to provide.

    Kaye Lee
    “What does water vapor have to do with have to do with hydro?”
    Ever heard of ‘rain’? Sometimes I wonder about you.

  21. Kaye Lee

    So you were talking about rain when you said “it takes a tremendous amount of solar and wind energy to release and transport the water vapor required for for hydro power”? Perhaps you could elaborate on what you mean.

    Are we going to include the energy required to keep the sun burning in our calculations about solar energy?

  22. diannaart

    https://www.journals.elsevier.com/renewable-energy/

    Knock yourself out H, I mean it, KNOCK YOURSELF OUT.

    Elsevier is an information and analytics company and one of the world’s major providers of scientific, technical, and medical information. It was established in 1880 as a publishing company. It is a part of the RELX Group, known until 2015 as Reed Elsevier.

    https://www.journals.elsevier.com/renewable-energy/

    BTW rain is the condensation of water vapour, not vapour itself.

  23. Harquebus

    diannaart
    Thanks for that. A quick look through that site has produced nothing noteworthy so far but, I will investigate further.

    As to my comment regarding hydro. I know that. It’s part of the hydrological cycle and is powered by the sun.
    Didn’t any of you learn about this at school?

  24. Kaye Lee

    Ummm you are completely avoiding the point. For us to use hydro power does not require us to produce the energy of the sun and the wind as you seem to be implying. We don’t have to do invest any energy to make rain (or wind or sunshine) happen – that’s the whole point of renewables. Surely you aren’t counting them in your EROI calculations?

    Or did you just make a mistake and are incapable of saying so?

  25. Kaye Lee

    As for “Articles here advocating ‘renewable energy’ are peer reviewed? If not then, what are they worth?”….

    We are not writing scientific papers here. We discuss policies and current affairs. If I wanted to make a claim about comparative EROI I would most definitely want it to be backed up by expert research. You have been completely unable to do that.

  26. diannaart

    You are doing nothing to convince AIMN readers and contributors you possess any credibility on the topic of renewable energy. Making sarcastic comments to Kaye Lee and myself about our early education is about the most puerile thing you could do.

    Of course, the most offensive behaviour on your part is your knee-jerk refusal to consider anything apart from your own prejudices. No matter how verifiable the information I and many, many other people provide to you here at AIMN, you continue to dismiss everything.

    Renewable energy sources and technology will continue to improve and evolve exponentially, in spite of anything you do or say.

  27. Kaye Lee

    Just as an example of how you entirely miss the point H, one of the articles you linked to spoke about managing energy demand and I think that is a very valid consideration relevant to the article I wrote and exactly what is happening with aluminium smelters.

    What you got from the article was “In conclusion, calculating only the energy payback times of individual solar panels or wind turbines greatly overestimates the sustainability of a renewable power grid.”

    What I got out of it was “if the UK would accept electricity shortages for 65 days a year, it could be powered by a 100% renewable power grid (solar, wind, wave & tidal power) without the need for energy storage, a backup capacity of fossil fuel power plants, or a large overcapacity of power generators.” and “Adjusting energy demand to supply would make switching to renewable energy much more realistic than it is today.”

  28. Harquebus

    Here is a link that I posted here earlier that I think some might be interested in. Maybe adding some extra excerpts to give the gist will let it a pass. It does not cover the manufacturing of the equipment they use, an important omission in my opinion, only what they get out of it and how they get it.
    The home page is also worth a look. I have quite a few of their articles in my links library.

    “Living Energy Farm (Louisa, Virginia) is a community of people who support themselves without the use of fossil fuel.”
    “We have been led to believe that living sustainably or reducing our “carbon footprint” is difficult, expensive, reliant on new technologies, and involves personal discomfort. None of that is true. Living a comfortable and happy life supported by renewable energy is easy if we are willing to adjust our lifestyles to the rhythms of nature.”
    http://www.resilience.org/stories/2017-04-18/what-an-energy-revolution-looks-like/

  29. Miriam English

    H, I remember reading this when you first posted it. I just now re-read it. Good article, though I gently disagree with her on a few points.

    I don’t like high voltage systems. They’re dangerous if you make a mistake — they can electrocute people and can burn the house down. I much prefer low voltage. Just 12 volts does most of what I want.

    Like her, I prefer DC equipment. Inverters have become more efficient over the years, but they still waste energy and are extra cost. DC works fine. I pump water up from a well using a small DC motor on a solar panel. When I told a plumber about it a little while back he asked to have a look and was blown away that it even worked. He would have used a motor many times the size and power. But I’d calculated the pressure required to lift the water that height and selected a small, super-reliable model. It’s been doing the job for about a decade so far.

    I share her dislike of lead-acid batteries, but have added one to the solar pump. She’s right that it requires extra electronics (a regulator and a battery protector), but that’s not really terribly expensive, and it means the battery lasts a very long time. And it means I can pump whenever I need — even night if I need to. I only top up the tank when required.

    The tank delivers water gravity-fed, so no need for a pressure pump, but we have one anyway for various occasional uses. It only gets turned on for a short time a couple of times a week, unless there are more people here.

    [Dividing the post in two because I’m having difficulty posting.]

  30. Miriam English

    Communal living may suit some people, but I think they’re exceptions. Most of us can barely put up with those we dearly love if confined in close quarters for too long. I’ve known too many hippie communities fracture and break up to believe in communal living… at least for us borderline loony white people.

    Underground building can deliver a lot of the savings for individuals that she gets from communal living, but without the stress of living in close quarters to each other.

    Blowing the heated air from solar heaters is a good way of warming a place, but careful design can do the same passively, just by opening vents and letting convection move the air. A great advantage of that is that it can be reversed in summer by opening the vents during cool nights to help cool the place.

    I love the idea of her nickel-iron batteries and must look further into that.

    Burning wood for cooking and/or heating is a terrible idea.

    The idea of a parabolic solar cooker really appeals to me, however I hate cooking and use the laziest method I can get away with: throw some frozen veggies in a bowl and put it in a microwave oven for 10 minutes. Frozen food sound wasteful, but it’s exactly the opposite. I waste virtually zero food now, whereas before I used to have to throw out a lot of spoiled food. The freezer essentially stops time so the food stays fresh until I need it. (I have ideas for how to build a super-efficient freezer, which is a future project.)

    Using the solar air heater for drying food is a lovely idea.

    I totally agree with her that it is easy to embrace a low-impact lifestyle. People tend to think it involves deprivation, but I think I live incredibly luxuriously, and I eat very little, almost never travel anywhere, waste very little, and it costs me hardly anything to do so.

  31. Harquebus

    Miriam English

    I don’t think that I have posted that link here before. I did email it to you some time ago though.

    I pretty much agree with you. 12v is something that I have been considering for some time. Mainly because of the existing equipment that can run on it. Charging the batteries is something that I haven’t figured out yet. There are 12v solar charging systems but, I prefer not to go down that path. Any suggestions from you would be appreciated.

    Parabolic solar cookers is also something that I have been considering. One should be easy enough to construct and alum foil I am thinking might be suitable for the reflector. They are also available as a camping accessory and I am keeping my eye open for a disused radio dish for this purpose.

    Do you have any wiring diagrams of your setup? I would be very interested is seeing them if you do.

    In regards to posting, one solution that I have found is:
    Copy the comment to the clipboard
    Post a small comment. e.g. “test”
    When the comment is posted, edit it and paste the original comment into the edit dialogue.
    Save the edit and the comment should appear. It has always worked for me.

  32. Miriam English

    I should add the solar pump to my website. Maybe I’ll make time to do that today. I have all the notes, calculations, and circuit diagrams. There’s not much to it.

    12 volt systems are a good compromise. The voltage is low enough to be relatively safe (though low voltage high current can still be dangerous), yet not so low that you have difficulties with connections. Cars used to have 6 volt electrics, but they had so many problems with connections because the slightest bit of dirt or oxide could interrupt the current, that they changed up to more robust 12 volt systems. There are some things in favor of 24 volts — many appliances built for boats and caravans are 24 volt, but I think 12 volt still rules.

    It is regrettable that the idiotic power companies and government are trying to push people away from renewables. The electrical system would be a lot more resilient if we had large-scale distributed generation, every house having solar panels. But the power companies have unwittingly made it so that we will see enormous numbers of people sever their connection with the grid in the future. I can’t wait til we cut our grid connection. I’ve come to really hate the power company, running their scam, upping the price while doing nothing more, and dishonoring their side of the contract to refund for electricity fed back into the grid from our solar panels… because they can. F#cking crooks.

    Thanks for the tip about posting.

  33. diannaart

    Awesome stuff, Miriam – you not only talk the talk but walk the walk – thinking and acting locally which is about the only power a citizen has available, if possible. (I am also a bit envious) 🙂

    Just one question to Harquebus.

    What are you doing besides talking? Often talking very disparaging things about renewables and to people who support the idea of sustainable energy. Why bother post the link to Living Energy Farm (Louisa, Virginia) at all? Don’t you know of anything local you support?

  34. Geoff Matthews

    I’m quoted in this article and very happy to have been mentioned, I’m also an advocate of modulating Aluminium smelters being integrated into a renewable energy grid, and believe that globally they can play an important role in decarbonisation. I were designing a heavily renewables supplied grid from scratch today, I would have a modulating aluminium smelter as a cornerstone partner. Not only does a modulating smelter provide resilience and stability to the grid, it can also act as a virtual power plant to liberate energy back when there is under-generation, as well as soaking up the excess during over-generation.

    This grid balancing role in itself allows the grid to increase the percentage of electricity generated from renewables, and helps lower the co2 emissions of the entire grid. Regards Geoff Matthews, Global Head of Strategy, Energia Potior Ltd

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