103 Comments

I think people underestimate how much recent technological shifts will benefit rural development in developing countries.

1) Solar + batteries makes rural electrification much easier.

2) Cheap smartphones enable rural people access to financial services such as money transfer, loans and insurance. They can also get easy access to weather forecasts.

3) E-bikes wouldn't just benefit young urbanites. Most rural people get around using bicycles. Cheap e-bikes will increase their e effective travel distance.

4) Computer vision (which is a product of machine learning) will enable precision agriculture. These new agricultural devices will reduce fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide needs by 40-80%.

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Rural electrification will also make it easier for locals to provide cold storage and agro processing services to farmers, increasing local value added.

Electrolysers will also enable small scale fertiliser production.

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Rural bank accounts also make it easier for low capability governments to provide direct cash transfers to the poor as seen in the case of India.

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Precision robotic weeding and fertilizing is definitely the only way to efficiently do organic farming, and I hope that gets developed quicker.

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I think organic farming is just the left wing version of flat earth. I just see precision agriculture as a productivity tool.

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So do I, but precision robotic pest control and fertilizer are most efficient as far as fertilizer and herbicides, and just happen to be organic, at least when they use lasers instead of micro spritz of glyphosate. The EU regulators may just say even a laser makes food not organic. I don’t know any of the agricultural robots kill insects with or without lasers, but it would be good to see.

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I’m not sure what you could mean comparing organic farming to “flat earth” ignorance. In California organic farming is a $14 billion+ industry and growing:

https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/organicprogram/pdfs/2021-2022_california_agricultural_organics_report.pdf

And since organic farming uses fewer or no toxic pesticides, farm workers are safer working on them:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4532340/

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Organic farming requires three times more land to grow the same amount of food. Hence worse for the environment. People who support organic farming typically also want to ban GMOs which again is an anti intellectual and anti science policy.

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How well does solar with batteries handle refrigerators, which need to run all through those hot nights in rural developing areas, or during cloudy monsoon seasons? In Africa it is pretty easy to build transmission lines in open areas, and reliable power plants would support industry instead of just subsistence living.

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Neither wind, nor sunshine has enough energy density to provide cost-effective replacement for what’s currently being provided by hydrocarbons & nuclear energy.

There isn’t enough land to devote, cost-effectively, to solar & windfarms and neither is there sufficient volume of minerals to manufacture, cost-effectively, the vast quantity of the inanimate animals that would be required to populate the farms if governments are fucked in the head enough to pursue such ruinous course of action.

Absent government subsidies, none, repeat, none, of these fantasies (EVs, PV, wind turbines & storage batteries) is commercially viable, as evidenced by the investor-exits and concomitant share-price collapses of practically every company involved in the fairy tales.

I’m not interested in debating this.

I just want to nail my colours to the mast so that I can be seen, convincingly, to be on the right side of history after the climate change hypnotic spell is broken, or, at least, when the shrill screaming subsides in the face of reducing temperatures.

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Did you actually look at the electricity generation mix by hour for California over the past two years? Noah linked some charts. Fossil fuels are dying, because solar and batteries are just too cheap and flexible to compete.

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This is clearly a person who has made up his mind and does not want to be bothered with the facts.

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Completely agree. Climate change is absolutely terrifying, and if there are still people who deny it after 12 month long record-breaking heat, then there really isn't anything that will convince them otherwise.

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Jun 15·edited Jun 15

Even absent climate change, wind or solar with storage to balance it out is the cheapest power available anywhere, and the "what do you do if the wind isn't blowing" is bullshit, we know from experience now that when the wind isn't blowing _in one place_, it _is_ blowing somewhere else. The renewable grid is going to be cheaper and more productive than the fossil grid.

I'm still strongly in favor of further research and development on other sources -- geothermal anywhere, based on adapted fracking techniques, is quite exciting. And I generally agree with Noah, and Matt Yglesias, on nuclear. And I think whoever solves the _long term_ storage problem (moving kWh not from day to night, or across a few days, but from summer to winter) stands to make a trillion dollar fortune.

But honestly even if we just massively "overbuild" wind and solar, such that we produce enough energy for the day (including shifting some solar to the night via storage), even on the winter solstice with relatively poor wind production... that's going to unlock amazing new industries because then on high-production days, what are we going to do with all the extra energy? Desalination (no more water shortages, anywhere!), renewable-driven production of hydrogen from water and jet fuel from CO2 in the air, electric-driven metal smelting, probably more stuff we haven't even imagined yet.

Fundamentally we are going to shift to renewables _because they're cheaper and better_. The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age isn't going to end because we ran out of oil. We figured out a way to make cheaper, cleaner, politically-safer, more-abundant energy.

People who insist otherwise just look foolish.

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Jun 9·edited Jun 9

Dude, I live in Iowa, where we already get most of our energy from wind: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_Iowa

It's cheap, effective, and has minimal impact on farming. Why would we ever go back?

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Where do you think you get your power in the middle of July when the wind is not blowing? Every one of those wind turbines has a gas-fired back up.

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Nobody said other energy sources are going to disappear tomorrow. There’s definitely a role for them in the short to medium term. Absent major government subsidies for gas or coal, however, I can’t see any incentive for their share of generation to do anything but decrease in my part of the world

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They do not need subsidies, they provide base-load. The problem is intermittent power requires backup, making those wind turbines twice as expensive as they seem to be.

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In Iowa and vicinity there's still more coal generation than gas, along with plenty of base-load nuclear. https://physics.weber.edu/schroeder/energy/PowerPlantsMap.html?lat=42.03297&lng=-93.40576&zoom=7&yr=2022&dotm=0&dotsz=0.34&show=2047

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Jun 9·edited Jun 9

Then how can wind power be “most”, as stated above? I suspect a large portion of that is sold to Illinois or Minnesota.

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A great deal of US electricity crosses state lines, so looking at generation data for a particular state can be quite misleading. That's one reason I made the map linked above.

I don't know where to get data on gross electricity exchanges between states. As of 2021 at least, Iowa was a net electricity exporter. https://www.datawrapper.de/_/cJ3kn/

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So, if you export most of the wind-generated power, you really only need a fraction of the total in gas-fired backup to accommodate your in-state customers, with base-load handled by coal and nuclear. Kind of what can be seen on your linked maps.

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The furor of your rhetoric is a clear sign that facts are not on your side.

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Eva aren’t commercially viable without subsidies? I’m going to have to stop you right there.

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You predict reducing temperatures?

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I don’t predict. The Milankovitch Cycles do that.

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They might, with some caveats:

Since orbital variations are predictable,[39] any model that relates orbital variations to climate can be run forward to predict future climate, with two caveats: the mechanism by which orbital forcing influences climate is not definitive; and non-orbital effects can be important (for example, the human impact on the environment principally increases greenhouse gases resulting in a warmer climate[40][41][42]).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milankovitch_cycles

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Yes, but...

One thing that would make EV's and other battery powered machines (call them BPM's) less expensive is a standardization of battery compartments or containers. BPM's sold today each have a container, or holder, into which battery cells are packed, and each of these containers are designed to fit only the BPM it was designed for. These battery holders are not usually owner serviceable -- you can't open it up and pop in new battery cells, which are generally standardized in terms of dimensions. This makes the battery system, the container and the battery cells, completely proprietary to the manufacturer of the BPM, which means the manufacturer faces no competition when the owner needs to purchase a replacement battery. Replacement batteries often cost upwards of half the cost of the BPM, leading the owner to make the decision, more often than not, to replace the BPM rather than buy a new battery. And try to find a replacement battery unit for a BPM that's more than a couple of year's old. I bought an E-bike a couple of years ago that now needs a nearly $500 replacement battery, all because I didn't use the bike enough (it sat for nearly a year without being re-charged, which apparently caused the internal battery cells to die). My electric lawn mower, which I really liked, had to be scraped because after four years I could no longer find a replacement battery. The lawn mower was otherwise in great condition.

You don't go to the dealer to buy a replacement lead-acid battery for a gas-powered car. You can get car batteries just about anywhere car parts are sold, which necessarily keeps the cost of the batteries down.

There are lithium battery reconditioning services out there, and I will probably see about getting my e-bike battery fixed that way. But there aren't many of these servicers out there.

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EV’s may well indeed replace ICE’s at some point. However I generally don’t like idea of government forcing changes in the marketplace becasue generally they are really crappy at understanding markets.

So I’ll just leave you with this. Currently EV sales are flat. The may well change but with the effective banninf of Chinese EV’s there still is a problem with cost. As recently reported the number charging stations that have been built are 7. At this rate it will be decades. There still is not solution for apartment dwellers either. Even if your number of EV’s on the road is correct I will remind you there are approximately 275 million cars and trucks on the road.

My issue is that nobody seems to understand the word transition....Transition would never have been instantaneously. So, you may be right but your timeline has some problems.

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EV sales are not flat. That was hysteria / misinformation. They are up 20% in the US compared to 2023 (and going up everywhere):

https://www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2024/05/19/the-vibes-lie-electric-vehicles-accelerate-toward-50-of-global-sales/

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EVs sales in the US are flat (I suspect mostly because “EV = Tesla” for many people and tesla isn’t cool anymore.) Globally, EV sales continue to increase rapidly, and that will accelerate as well-made, low cost Chinese models hit the world.

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EV sales, as have all car sales, have slowed since about winter.

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I see more than 7 charging stations just in the little area where I live my life.

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Jun 9·edited Jun 9

Funny, the charging stations I see on a regular basis either always have the same cars plugged into them or are gathering dust.

The first charging station I ever saw was about 10-12 years ago, near Interstate 70, and had not been used since installation. I figured it must have been a mistake, somebody wanted it in Manhattan, NY and it ended up in Manhattan, KS!

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Yeah, I see the same people on the bus all time, too. I guess the bus is useful to only a handful of people...

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No mention of solid state batteries? They seem to be the game changer with using more abundant materials, fast charging, maybe a 900 mile range for EVs, and longer lasting. Of course that's still a developing story.

Are the numbers quoted by Nat Bullard anywhere near coming to fruition next year?

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How heavy would the EV be with the 900-mile battery?

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Not sure but it must not be too heavy with that kind of range.

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I have a regular oldie trike. I’m thinking of upgrading to a battery trike. Lots of hills here. But I’m concerned with A) theft while shopping B) battery safety. It certainly is a new world! Thanks for sharing.

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For the theft issue, one is to find a secure lock that can't be bolt-cuttered and insulated from liquid nitrogen. The other is to get a little tracker, like Tile, and embed it somewhere where it can't be removed. It will help track the trike if it is stolen.

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It’s cute that energy density tripled, when it needs to jump up three orders of magnitude to matter. And also not be volatile.

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What do you mean by “matter”? The fact that batteries are already one of the major sources both of transportation and of grid scale electricity provision means that they already matter.

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Three orders of magnitude would make batteries more energy dense than liquid hydrogen, maybe they have to be capable of powering rockets to matter!

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And yet, in part due to batteries, California is continuing to reduce fossil fuel use to power its grid significantly — down 46% from spring 2023 to spring 2024:

https://x.com/mzjacobson/status/1798420836493533234?s=46

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If you want solar power to be a major part of our electrical generation capacity then you can't expect to charge electric cars at night because solar power obviously doesn't work then.

Where workplaces exist in suburban business parks and have their own car parking (these may admittedly be less common now due to remote working) they should be strongly encouraged to fit solar-powered EV charging facilities, as this is where the cars will be during the daylight hours when solar power is useful.

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I'm with Jenny Chase on this one: "It may well be that 'negative power prices for a few hours every sunny day, followed by high evening power prices when the sun goes down' is a problem solved by capitalism and batteries." https://bsky.app/profile/solarchase.bsky.social/post/3kct4h7n2ze2a

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This is where the short-term time-shifting enabled by batteries makes a lot of sense.

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In California where this is actually deployed now, time shifted battery energy lasts less than 4 hours after sunset, so not really there yet, which also goes against Noah’s statement that batteries have solved solar intermittency problems.

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The technology is there to solve the intermittency. It needs further deployment. More batteries = longer time shift.

Also wind power compliments solar incredibly well. Just needs more deployment.

https://x.com/davidosmond8/status/1795657769754001900?s=46

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Those four hours after sunset are when most electricity demand occurs. If you look at the actual mix of power generation in California, nighttime load is mainly done by hydro and wind, and hydro can pick up more of the night if solar becomes even more dominant in the day (hydro can time shift when water goes through the turbines).

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In Australia majority of EV charging already happens during the afternoon when electricity prices are low to basically negative.

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If they actually had negative rates, you could buy a bunch of batteries and get paid to charge them during negative peak and then sell it back at the opposite peak. Negative costs and positive sales might even pay for the batteries after a reasonable timeframe.

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People already do that mate. Residential battery systems are booming.

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Yes, indeed, that's a fine incentive for building grid-scale storage, and that's why the ISOs have designed the markets to work that way.

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One disappointment is that no new technology has been invented to replace the lithium ion battery. For decades, I have been reading that materials science was soon going to revolutionize the battery. I'm still waiting.

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While there hasn’t been anything that beats lithium ion, there are many chemistries that are almost as good. Pay attention to the alternatives when the price of Lithium or Cobalt increases!

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You can forget about replacing Li for batteries, as it is the most potent possible electrochemical "fuel." However, electrochemists and engineers will continue to find better ways to exploit its potential. (Pun intended.)

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Other batteries are being developed, but lithium-based batteries keep getting refined and improved upon. I’m not sure why you’re “disappointed.”

https://www.businessinsider.com/nio-has-developed-ev-battery-with-a-1-000km-range-2023-12

Long-term iron-air battery looks like it’s going to get built in California:

https://www.energy.ca.gov/news/2023-12/cec-awards-30-million-100-hour-long-duration-energy-storage-project

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Long live the battery. Long live our electric future!

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I have an e-bike and battery powered tools. I still have a gas powered chainsaw, but the electric one is so much handier. I would love to have solar and wind power generation at my home and await the day that we all have some level of home power generation. Backup may be necessary, but …

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If you need backup, consider getting an electric truck. The Ford F-150 Lightning, the upcoming Chevy Silverado electric and Rivian design their trucks to be electric generators as well. Keep in mind that the vehicle's range will be its energy budget so you have to plan accordingly.

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Cars, smartphones, drones, etc. are fine but batteries still can’t come close to storing enough power to allow solar or wind generation to occur without backup base load (usually nat gas) power

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Not yet completely without base load power. But both gas and hydro are becoming less significant. Here’s a site you can see moment by moment mix of generation in California on any particular day: https://engaging-data.com/california-electricity-generation/

It looks like January is about half fossil fuels, but in recent weeks gas is providing only a small fraction of electricity at any time.

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Studies show that lithium ion batteries are generally economic in the 2-4 hour discharge range at nominal power. Maybe up to 8-12 hours. At a certain ratio of energy to power, and easily anything beyond a 24-hour battery, the redox flow battery becomes more economic. Checkout the vanadium or iron chemistries (among others) if curious!

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And 20 years from now, when environmental groups are complaining about pollution from battery plants, what happens?

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Something new! There are issues with everything. That doesn’t mean they aren’t improvements. Importantly, CO2 is a global problem, while heavy metals are local problems that can be fixed locally, the way SO2 and N2O and the like were in the 1980s with a very simple set of regulations that no one even noticed (except that we can breathe easily in Los Angeles now).

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Los Angeles has had issues with a former battery plant, Exide. Toxic metals from the long-closed plant have spread for miles to working-class residential areas in eastern and southeastern L.A. County.

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“Recycling can deliver new battery materials without the expense and environmental impact of new mining.”

https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/recycling-renewables/the-biggest-ev-battery-recycling-plant-in-the-us-is-open-for-business

And recycling batteries is extremely effective:

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/recycled-lithium-ion-batteries-can-perform-better-than-new-ones/

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Totally agree, Noah. Look here a note on how to use the car batteries as storage device for the electric grid:

https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/jJap6KhzFe3mgh32M/electric-vehicles-and-renewable-electricity

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Yup.... article does hold up well. At a "first principles" level...

1) Electric Transmission: Centralizing on one energy transmission modality makes a lot of sense economically. For transmission, you want properties of efficiency and speed... electricity is the obvious choice. Nearly instant transmission over vast distances and most efficient from a cost point-of-view (vs pipelines, tankers, etc). The tradeoff of instant transmission is that it does not store energy.

2) Generation: Given a grid, one can power it with a variety of fuel sources, and this can provide a great deal of redundancy.

3) Consumption: The electric motor is more efficient and more reliable as compared to its internal combustion counterpart.

4) Storage: The Achilles heel has been storage, and as you point out batteries are the key to solving this problem. Primary battery chemistries provide the most efficient solution, but things like hydrogen fuel cells are a good solution for larger energy density situations.

5) Intelligent Management: Finally, you did not mention this, but today, all the various component pieces (transmission, consumption, storage) exist but there are many very inefficient and "open" loop situation. The big lever (enabled significantly by battery storage) is to add various levels of intelligence to the management of network. This is just starting to happen now (solar+battery as an example), but will accelerate in the next decade. The impact will be pretty dramatic in terms of overall energy usage and efficiency.

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Here in India, EV growth has practically stalled, once the government decided it had had enough of subsidizing those. Almost every prospective car buyer I know is thinking only about ICE. Not sure why the economics are so different compared to the US.

Similarly, while solar power is almost cost competitive with thermal on a marginal cost basis, it loses out once you add the cost of storing it in a battery to ensure 24-hr supply

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