25 09, 2023

Electric Vehicles and Solar Energy – Their Role in Climate Change Mitigation

By |2023-09-18T16:29:12-07:00September 25th, 2023|Categories: Articles|

By Tom Mommsen (SSREC)

1 – Preamble

As made perfectly clear in the recent reports from the IPCC, the world must stop burning stuff. Not in 2025 or 2030. Now. When emissions reductions were discussed in the early noughts, an annual 4% decrease – mainly of carbon dioxide (CO2) – would have put the lethal climate crisis monster back on its chain. Lots of talk, hardly any actions and increasing emissions followed, especially in Canada. By 2020, that number had increased to 7.6% emissions reductions per year and must include methane; instead, the earth’s atmosphere has seen a global increase of 6% in 2021, while still ignoring most large sources of methane. The planet has about seven years to get it together. No more delays. No more waiting for pies in the sky offering the perfect solutions.

CO2 mitigation curves 1.5 degrees C

Luckily, many powerful tools to mitigate the climate crisis, to decarbonize and to diminish its effects are already available: trees, eel grasses, mangroves, methane-munching bacteria, electricity from solar and wind, and electrified transportation, including electric vehicles (EVs), and of course, energy conservation, public transport, energy-saving housing and, first and foremost, abandoning the world’s addiction to fossil fuels.

It’s imperative to use as many of these tools as possible and use them wisely and properly. And, fortunately, they are not prohibitively expensive, especially considering what is at stake. In fact, one could argue that they are absolutely essential, considering what is at stake. However, none of these decarbonization routes support the status quo since they are clearly disruptive to business as usual. Thus, they are reviled by industries and their enablers busily perpetuating fairy tales about their own environmental prowess, banging on about transition fuels, praying at the altar of incrementalism, and by seeding misleading myths about their actions and the energy transition.

The globe has already experienced global warming exceeding 1.1 °C, while people are being deluged with inventively named, but frighteningly real, climate-change phenomena like atmospheric rivers, rain bombs, heat domes, derechos, fire clouds, together with more traditional ones – all reaching unprecedented extremes – like hurricanes, typhoons, water spouts, droughts, tornadoes and forest fires. And, of course, sea level rise and just for the record, the continuously rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, two of the most potent global warming agents. The one newly […]

18 09, 2023

Solar Energy and Battery Storage – A Primer

By |2023-09-18T15:55:00-07:00September 18th, 2023|Categories: Articles|

by Tom Mommsen, SSREC

Solar modules combined with batteries are increasingly popular – if somewhat expensive – because they allow homeowners and small businesses to generate and store their own emission-free electricity while saving on their electricity costs. Without battery backup, solar has two drawbacks: 1. it doesn’t generate any energy in the dark and 2. it stops generating electricity the moment the grid is interrupted. In a grid blackout, you’ll be sitting in the electrical dark, even though the sun may be shining. A small battery bank (and a smart inverter) solves both problems – for a price.

Why consider a battery?

Why should one consider a battery with a solar array purchase or post-solar purchase? A few reasons come to mind immediately, and they all have slightly different repercussions on battery demands and design.

  1. Use solar energy when the sun does not shine. It’s a daily event, where you will store excess solar energy in the battery and call upon that energy in the evening and at night. If the day wasn’t sunny enough to fill the battery, the battery could be topped up from the grid (for a price). This will cycle the battery daily, but the amount of energy stored should match or exceed your power demand (kW – i.e. how much power?) and length of time for your energy demand (kWh, i.e. for how long?).
  2. Backup during grid interruption. Extreme climate change events are increasingly creating havoc with grid reliability and grid interruptions are becoming more frequent and ever longer in duration. In this case, the batteries are called on relatively infrequently and for unknown periods. The 24 interruptions of 2022 in the Gulf Islands of BC, where the authors reside, ranged from a few minutes to three days. However, in one catastrophic interruption (in winter 2018), the grid was unavailable for 12 days. Such extremes are hard to handle with a battery.Focusing on the ‘minutes to 3-day’ interruptions, battery capacity should match the (reduced) demand during an emergency supporting freezers, fridge, router and some other devices (definitely not a plasma TV; not really the best time to fire up an electric sauna or dry your hair either!), where 3-5 kW power output should suffice, and perhaps 5-8 kWh per day may get you through the power outage – don’t forget that […]
17 07, 2023

SSREC’s Guide to BC Hydro’s Net Metering Questionnaire

By |2023-07-17T22:20:59-07:00July 17th, 2023|Categories: Advocacy, Articles|

Last March and April, BC Hydro held two workshops on net metering as part of a series of engagement activities for their net metering program. As part of the activities, a questionnaire was sent out to participants and net-metering customers to comment on possible policy changes. The questionnaire is now closed but it may be of interest to Co-op members and readers to learn more about the ins and outs of net metering policy-making; and SSREC’s position.

In short, SSREC’s position is: “For now, we should make a very strong effort to support the current net metering policy and NM rate and help the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) in their initiative to force BC Hydro to do a proper consultation on Virtual (Community) Net Metering”.

BC Hydro will be conducting net metering related engagement activities throughout 2023 – more information and updates are available at BC Hydro Net Metering Program. There are also a variety of ways you can get involved in rate design at BC Hydro.

Guide to respond to BC Hydro’s questionnaires on two Net metering sessions Mar/April 2023

Rank the compensation mechanisms in your order of preference.

Response: Traditional

Don’t rank the others because they are all unsuitable.

Rank each compensation mechanism in your order of preference for commercial customers:

Response: Traditional

Don’t rank the others as they are all unacceptable

General comments about compensation mechanisms

BCH hasn’t provided any evidence that the current system of compensating NM customers in kilowatt hours and reconciling at the end of the year is not working. The system works well for many reasons:

  • The currency of kilowatt hours makes sense as it encourages people to conserve energy and be aware of the energy they are using in the correct currency for energy
  • Compensation is not monetized, since it trades kWh for kWh, unless people have excess production over the year. Very few people do.
  • Reconciling over a year makes sense because of the seasonal variability in energy use, production and climate and it is the simplest
  • BCH should be compensating net metering customers for their personal outlay in providing energy to the grid – BCH does not consider the benefit of receiving almost emission-free energy with no outlay.
  • Energy input from NM customers […]
19 04, 2023

Musings on Capturing Solar Radiation with Solar Panels

By |2023-04-19T20:26:10-07:00April 19th, 2023|Categories: Articles|

By Tom Mommsen & Risa Smith

Capturing solar radiation with solar panels makes sense for a number of important reasons:

a. Conceptually: Input from the sun is fairly predictable, entirely free of charge and will last for a long time.

b. Economically: Solar modules produce electricity for residents at about half the cost of electrons delivered by BC Hydro or Fortis. And while residential rates are going up, solar costs continue to drop.

c. Environmentally: Solar modules have a very small carbon footprint. Over its complete life cycle (from mining and transport, through purification, module manufacture, framing, to cabling and installation), a solar panel will produce less than 6 g of CO2e per kWh, and the embedded energy is repaid in about 8 months of the panels’ 35+ years life cycle. The carbon emissions are at least 50 times lower than those from the supposedly emission-free large hydroelectric installations.

Dozens of peer-reviewed research articles in the last decade have confirmed that large hydro generates at least 300 g CO2e per kWh. Further, hydroelectric installations generate substantial amounts of methane (natural gas), a gas with a global warming potential 85-times higher than carbon dioxide. PV’s life cycle does not involve methane generation.

d. Politically: Widespread adoption of solar energy empowers people to think about energy differently, points to the importance of local control and responsibility of power generation and consumption. It also provides local energy security, while putting decisions on energy issues under individual and local control. This takes decisions and control out of the hands of remote energy managers and bankers who have neither understanding of nor commitment to local needs .

The energy consumers will evolve into producers/consumers (prosumer) that should result in mothballing antiquated ideas about unidirectional energy generation from centralized sites, transmission and distribution. These will be replaced with a more equitable distribution of energy generation.

(Modified from an article originally published in Galiano’s Active Page – March 2023) What is Solar Energy? Live Solar System Monitoring Dashboard

2 04, 2023

Musings on capturing solar energy to provide energy for a battery electric vehicle (BEV)

By |2023-04-02T18:59:01-07:00April 2nd, 2023|Categories: Articles|

By Tom Mommsen & Risa Smith

With British Columbia phasing out the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEV) in the next dozen years and switching to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), it’s interesting to look at solar in the context of ‘fuelling’ an electric vehicle.

On average, a personal car in BC travels ~15,000 km per year. Propelled by an internal combustion engine, the car will burn some 1350 L of gasoline each year, using 9 L/100 km, containing around 12,000 kWh of energy. Plus an allowance of about 20% is needed to get the fuel from the ground into the tank (pumping, cleaning, refining, transport etc.), for a total of 14,400 kWh year. This needs to be compared with the energy demand of a BEV that (a very conservative estimate) uses 18 kWh/100 km, plus another 15% of losses in energy conversions, for an annual total of 3200 kWh/15,000 km.

Figures 1a and bCalculating the cost of the fossil fuel is straightforward, multiplying the 1350 L/y by the average cost at the pump ($1.65/L) will give an expense of $ 2225/y, while the cost of BC grid electricity propelling a comparative BEV amounts to $ 403/y (3200 kWh @ $ 0.126/kWh; blended rate of tiers 1 & 2). This is 80% lower than the gasoline expenses for an ICEV (Fig. 1a): $ 1825 saved every year.

And, let’s face it, it may be a while before BC gasoline prices will reach as low as $ 1.65/L.

What if solar panels were installed to generate those 3200 kWh?

On Galiano, a 3.3 kW solar installation would be required, costing around $ 7500 (average), for 7 to 9 panels (depending on wattage), rails, inverter, cabling and installation. While this seems to be a rather large expense, one has to remember that annual savings of replacing gasoline with solar electrons (6.2 cents/kWh, i.e. about half the cost of grid electricity) amount to $ 2225/y.

In other words, the money for the solar installation would be paid back in 3.7 years, after which all transportation in the BEV would be free. Sounds like a sweet deal, that becomes even sweeter when the impending investment solar income tax credit (30%) is considered, which reduces the amortization period to 2.6 years.

With a life expectancy of 35 years for the solar array, one could drive the EV 32 years for free! You’d basically be pre-paying […]

23 05, 2018

Solar Myths

By |2022-05-25T15:35:14-07:00May 23rd, 2018|Categories: Articles, Solar Myths, Solar News|

The science around solar is crystal clear. Yet some myths persist.

by Tom Mommsen, Focus on Victoria, April 28, 2021

EVEN THOUGH ENERGY MATTERS rate high in the public’s attention, it is discouraging how many myths are being repeated by the media, by bloggers and in general discussions about solar power, especially about photovoltaics (PV). Yes, we are talking about those “unsightly” blue or black panels that are increasingly found on houses and in fields of dreamers, environmentalists and other-ists who clearly deserve being made fun of for their unaesthetic choices! However, do we really want to immediately dismiss multitudes of Africans, Americans, Asians, Chileans, Europeans, First Nations, Ikea, Nova Scotians and many, many others, simply because they embrace a technology that is anathema to British Columbia’s government and BC Hydro? A silent and long-lived technology that provides energy security, is environmentally benign and, heaven forbid, one of the least expensive means to generate clean electricity for the future? How silly.

In the following, we will debunk ten myths about solar power and inject some science and real numbers into the discussion. It is definitely a discussion whose time has come. Never mind that the energy input is absolutely free for another couple of billion years or so and delivered, without charge, directly to your roof. Never worry about price increases, spills along the supply-chain, world-class emergency measures for clean-up, whale populations or disruption of the energy flow. Every time solar spills are reported, people just take off for the park or reach for the beach towel with their only worries whether they have brought enough sunscreen and a two-meter (79 inches) measuring tape for social distancing.

The trouble with myths is not that they are so difficult to rebuke—the science around solar is crystal clear, the economics unclouded and logic should prevail. Alas, such myths are so pervasive and wrong on so many levels, it’s tough to know where to start. Still, it’s a fun game to debunk solar myths, so let’s start with some general ones, using examples from British Columbia.

Myth #1. BC doesn’t get enough sun. PV should be left to sunny places like California or Abu Dhabi. Well, actually, BC receives plenty of sunshine, somewhere between 1500 and 2250 hours per year, considerably more than solar powerhouses like Germany, France or the UK that receive about the same amount of sunshine as parts of Alaska. Need we say […]

10 03, 2017

Community Solar in BC – A Short Primer

By |2022-03-17T15:23:34-07:00March 10th, 2017|Categories: Articles|

By Kjell Liem (Saltspring Island) and Tom Mommsen (Galiano Island)

BC communities are starting to embrace solar energy and a solar revolution seems imminent: Solar energy is a local solution to our energy needs, keeps valuable energy dollars in the community, is environmentally friendly, control rests with the locals and it creates much needed local employment at a time when many traditional areas of the economy are struggling. In the last decade, different types of community solar projects have evolved all over the world, with BC lagging behind. However, enthusiasm and knowledge about solar energy are growing rapidly and as we show below, BC communities are now taking major strides to catch up. These efforts have one thing in common: Initiative comes from the bottom up, i.e. from citizens, communities, regional districts, municipalities and local small utilities. These are the essential driving forces and demonstrate true leadership to address climate change, without reliance on or limited help from provincial or federal governments. At the time of writing, all Western provinces have some sort of direct support for solar. Alas, BC is dragging its heels and the only crumb is a PST exemption for solar equipment from former premier Gordon Campbell’s time, instead of embracing and supporting the new economic reality, job creation, and low carbon economic development mandate (and commitments to the Paris Agreement).

The case for solar electricity

In recent years, electricity production from photovoltaic (PV) panels has become highly cost-effective and its cost will only decrease in the future, irrespective of what producers of competing fossil fuel technologies claim. Luckily, input for solar will remain free of charge for another few billion years or so, guaranteed. During 2016, the cost of unsubsidized1 utility-scale PV electricity fell to between 3.2 and 4 cents (CAD) per kilo-Watt-hour (kWh) in places like southern California, northern Chile and Abu Dhabi. Singling out Abu Dhabi, we admit that the Persian Gulf region (3462 h/y) receives 50% more annual sunshine than, say, Dawson Creek, BC (2213 h/y) and we can’t really expect similar pricing for BC. However, PV modules perform better at lower temperatures and hence if corrected for temperature, a PV array in Abu Dhabi only produces 30% more solar electricity than one in Dawson Creek. Plus, cleaning of the PV arrays after sandstorms built into the cost for Abu Dhabi, does not really apply to Dawson Creek, further compensating for the lower sunshine hours […]

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