What began as a conversation with Sydney based science video maker John Davis about the aviation pursuit of non fossil carbon releasing fuels or energy this weekend quickly turned to strategies by which airlines, home owners and consumers in general could bust the pricing power of coal and oil companies.
Davis says the disruptive technology of solar energy capture and the improvements in battery storage performance can destroy the ability of power companies to collect peak pricing rates, such as those people now pay on hot days for home or work place air conditioning.
This is not a matter of selling domestically generated power back into the grid at the ‘ridiculously’ low rates offered today, but storing it in the largest and most efficient battery possessed by an increasing number of people, which is in their hybrid cars.
Even when power is purchased in the normal way to recharge a hybrid car, it is cheaper than peak demand power, and if your vehicle has a range of 200 kilometers for suburban driving, and you only use around 50 kilometres of it a day, the cheapest way to power your house or perhaps your workplace or small business is off the surplus in its battery, the price of which is falling over time in real terms while its carrying capacity rises.
With Airbus and Boeing both anticipating batteries that are sufficiently light but powerful enough to make a worthwhile contribution to the total fuel needs of shorter range inter-city flights within a few decades, it could be that companies could trade the bulk excess power in their hybrid fleets in exchange for full or part payment of flights for their executives, or individuals could elect to drain part of their vehicles reserves at an airport for a similar trade on the price of a fare.
When you need to air condition your house on a hot day when your hybrid vehicle is idle, the cheapest source of that power may be its battery, not power drawn from the grid.
Of course there are a lot of things that could go wrong with such a scenario. Big coal could have the political muscle to prevent the use of technological advances to by-pass peak charging, but in tomorrow’s world, such distortion of market forces to fit a national energy innovation suppression policy could also weaken the Australian economy compared to those of other states with an open approach to scientific advances.
Davis has set up an internet site that explains the various alternative technologies and their vital statistics and pros and cons, for producing electrical and liquid fuel energy without using fossil-carbon liberating oil, gas and coal.
He cautions that Australia has a very narrow and flawed perspective on alternative energy, in that it is lacking any real will in promoting innovation and smarter uses of existing green energy processes.
He says that while America can be criticised for denialism and circumspection in its public discussions of clean energy, it has already made itself almost totally independent of external sources of oil and gas, and its private sector is already engaged in energy saving and recycling on a broader and deeper scale than seen in Australia.
America spends less time arguing about carbon, yet is doing far more about it.
“It’s not so much about green principles as seizing every opportunity or avenue to drive down the costs of energy to create business advantage,” he says. “It’s not as much about denialism as it was, but dollars.”
He says the result is that US consumers and business appears to be moving very strongly toward finding solutions to a problem that is not even popularly recognised.
This is manifestly true in its aerospace industry, lead of course in the US by Boeing, whose electric hybrid airliners ambitions have been discussed regularly on Plane Talking.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.