Renewable energy

Renewables: Australia's a land of plenty

By Peter Hannam

When feisty UN climate change chief Christiana Figueres swept into Sydney this week, she mocked suggestions Australia is alone in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

“Nothing could be further from reality,” Ms Figueres told the Lowy Institute.

Rather than excoriate the government for holding out on signing up for the second round of the Kyoto Protocol to set emission targets, the diminutive diplomat instead stressed how the country was “blessed” with renewable energy resources the envy of much of the world.

While many nations were keen to tap such resources in order to improve health and lower carbon emissions, the real appeal, she said, was economic: “None of them is trying to save the planet. They're doing it because it's in their national interest and that's the most important motivator.”

But for national interest to be rightly understood — and acted upon — it helps if the population is aware of what's possible.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the body charged with running the nation's energy supply, has modelled the feasibility of switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030 and 2050. This week, AEMO buried its findings in its monthly Energy Update.

The national electricity market is now about 200 terawatt-hours (or 200 million megawatt-hours), a total the AEMO modelling found within reach, and then some:

“The study shows there is potential to produce around 500 times that [total] if all possible sources of renewable energy available across eastern and south eastern Australia were tapped into.”

The huge multiple was derived even with conservative assumptions, such as excluding any land with a greater than 1 per cent slope from consideration for solar power, national parks and local planning rules which have tightened restrictions on wind farms in states such as Victoria. Much of South Australia and Queensland were also omitted from the study's range.

World insolation map from

Parliament supports motion for solar


Today the South Australian Parliament committed to looking seriously at building solar thermal in Port Augusta.

The House of Assembly voted to support a motion to set up a select committee to investigate Beyond Zero Emission’s proposal to replace the coal plants in Port Augusta with solar thermal.

“It is encouraging to see bipartisan support for proposal that will create 1800 jobs, support regional development, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Hannah Aulby said today.

“Port Augusta has the sun, the workforce, the transmission lines, and the community support to make this project a real success.”

The alternative for South Australia is to rely on a gas power plant to meet future electricity demand. This would cause electricity prices to rise significantly as an expanding gas export market causes gas prices to double.

“Gas is a false choice for South Australia. Gas prices will double in coming years, putting significant pressure on domestic industries and households. Solar thermal can provide energy security and employment opportunities for Australian industries.”

For comment or interview
Hannah Aulby
Ph 0427 079 729

Rising prices show we must get off gas


Australian households are to be hit by another rise in energy bills, this time due to rising gas prices, as highlighted by a report released today.

“This just confirms what we were already saying: It’s time to get off gas energy,” Beyond Zero Emissions’ Executive Director, Matthew Wright says.
“Whether it’s householders replacing gas appliances with efficient modern electric ones, or governments introducing policy for the building of renewable wind and solar power instead of gas power stations, the writing is on the wall: If you want stable prices and energy security then get off gas.”

A report released today, commissioned by the Australian Industry Group, finds gas prices are rising as they are being tied to international prices due to the development of an export industry.
A doubling of domestic gas prices is expected, as a result of the booming LNG export market. This will threaten the supply to domestic industries such as manufacturing. It will make electricity from gas power stations dearer, and household gas appliances much more expensive to run.

The report explains that domestic industries currently receive gas supply at $4-6 per gigajoule. While energy companies will profit from international prices that are above $10 per gigajoule, domestic consumers and industry face a nightmare scenario.

The AIG report shows that the gas export expansion will cause a $7 billion loss to the economy – coupled with increased greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination, damaged farm land and broken communities.

“Gas is getting dirtier and dirtier as conventional supplies run out and we go into coal seam and shale gas. It’s also more expensive. Rising prices are not the only reason to get off gas," Mr Wright said.

“Modern electric household appliances are far more energy-efficient than gas equivalents, with less carbon emissions, and increasingly, much cheaper to run.

“Renewable energy has been lowering electricity prices. In South Australia the Essential Services Commission has lowered the prices for households by some $160 off the back of their falling wholesale prices.”

Power of the wind – how renewables are lowering SA electricity bills

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power appear to be the impetus behind a South Australian proposal to substantially drop electricity prices, just as other states are hiking theirs.

The Essential Service Commission of South Australian (ESCOSA), which regulates retail electricity prices, has released a draft price determination that proposes an 8.1% reduction in the electricity standing offer, (that is, the default retail price that must be offered to South Australians, at a minimum).

The proposal, which follows an ESCOSA investigation into the wholesale energy costs, translates to a reduction of $27.19/MWh, potentially lowering South Australian electricity bills by an average of $160 per household.

And while it is not specifically acknowledged in the determination, this may be the first time the “merit order effect” of renewable energy sources can conclusively be seen flowing through to consumers in Australia.

The Merit Order Effect

There is nothing special about the “merit order effect”. Quite simply, if you introduce more of a product into a market (that is, increase supply) then prices fall.

The introduction of new capacity upsets the prevailing merit order (the order in which electricity is dispatched, from lowest to highest cost) lowering market prices.

Historically this has been observed when new coal power plants have been added to the market. But the Renewable Energy Target (RET) and other schemes such as the state based feed-in tariffs, are introducing more renewable electricity (supply) to the national electricity market.

Renewables typically have no fuel costs (free sun and wind), and thus have the lowest short run marginal cost of production. This ensures they are lower in the merit order and dispatched prior to anything else in the market. Like a new coal plant, this additional (and low marginal cost) supply also lowers wholesale prices.

This merit order effect has been well documented internationally, and is now widely recognised in South Australia, which has both the highest installed capacity of wind (1203 MW) in Australia, and the highest per capita installation of rooftop Photo Voltaic (PV) solar power.

The volume weighted wholesale prices in SA have reduced from $70-$80 /MWh between 2008-10, to around $45 in 2011, in parallel to the installation of wind and solar capacity (and the flat-lining of demand).

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has noted that the South Australian wholesale prices are lower than they have been since the start of the national electricity market, and that the wind “tends to depress the South Australian regional prices”.

Wind farm advocates combat loss of momentum

FRIENDS of the Earth (FoE) is hoping to form a broad community alliance to restore the momentum for wind energy in the south-west.

FoE Yes 2 Renewables community co-ordinator Leigh Ewbank said it was meeting with Moyne Shire Council, wind energy companies, turbine manufacturers and community members to form the alliance to try to overcome obstacles that had deflated interest in wind energy in Victoria.

In an address at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus yesterday, Mr Ewbank said the state government’s decision to give residents the power to veto proposals for wind turbines within two kilometres of their homes had sapped the momentum for wind energy.

Aaron puts hand up and feet down

IT'S not often that a person gets the urge to walk 325 kilometres over two weeks to make a point.

But when it comes to environmental sustainability, former Broughton Anglican College student Aaron Morellini (pictured) was happy to put his hand up.

Mr Morellini, 21, will join about 100 other people when he walks from Port Augusta, South Australia, to Adelaide to boost support for the Repower Port Augusta campaign.

The movement seeks to replace two soon-to-be decommissioned coal plants with solar thermal power in an effort to keep the town's economy and workforce afloat.

Mr Morellini said the South Australian government was now considering not replacing the plants, or replacing them with a gas plant which could increase demand for coal seam gas.

Australia: Making its way toward a low-carbon future

Twenty-eight billion tons. That is the amount of carbon Australia pumps into the atmosphere every year. Consequently, with such an impact, the nation has been tagged as the world’s largest-emitting nation per capita. So much for this distinction, Australia has been trying to make a change.

Especially for the past several months, the country has been making successive announcements about what it is going to do to shift to a future with lesser emissions. And despite its heavy carbon footprint, Australia can lead the way toward a zero-carbon future, according to a recent report from Beyond Zero Emissions.

The report, “Laggard to Leader,” suggests that the country can be the future’s leader in employing renewable energy resources from being a laggard in terms of its efforts to mitigate climate change.

“What is required to make this happen is leadership through action from policymakers and society, with firm decisions made quickly that will allow this transition to occur,” stressed in the report.

Australia can lead zero-carbon prosperity – group

Despite its contributions to the world's total carbon emissions, Australia can lead the way toward zero-carbon prosperity while United Nations negotiations are at a standstill, a report from Beyond Zero Emissions suggests.

The report, "Laggard to Leader," proposes that Australia institute a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments as the centerpiece of a global campaign to phase out fossil fuels.

They say that the country's "immense" sphere of influence over emissions - due to high domestic greenhouse gas output - and the growing coal and gas exports would be ideal to lead the world's "decarbonization."

The concept views that reducing carbon emissions must be a shared responsibility for many of the emissions that occur in any one place. In addition, the efforts must be done in smaller groups, focusing their efforts on the individual sectors and processes that cause emissions.

Queensland awaits the new BZE Buildings Plan

Eco-conscious Queenslanders will be pleased to learn the launch of a new Zero Carbon
Australia plan by the award winning non-profit educational and research group, Beyond Zero
Emissions (BZE) is fast approaching.

Like the Stationary Energy Plan launched in 2010, the new Buildings Plan draws on many
experts who have volunteered their time to compile it. The plan will explain how to transition
Australian's buildings sector to zero carbon emissions, through energy efficiency retrofits and
other clean tech strategies, saving consumers money and emissions.

Lead author on the plan, Trent Hawkins says, “Imagine buildings efficiency programs in the
near future which include the features of a "virtual power station", with solar panels, heat-
pump boosted solar hot water, reverse-cycle airconditioning, bulk and silver insulation, air
sealing, induction cooktops, and efficient LED lighting.”

Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Buildings Plan

The Zero Carbon Australia 2020 (ZCA2020) Buildings Plan aims to demonstrate that there are no technical barriers to zero emission buildings in Australia. A dedicated team of about 50 pro-bono researchers from architects, builders and economists, to engineers, programmers and much more, have spent the last 18 months designing a zero net energy consumption building stock for Australia, through energy efficiency retrofits and zero carbon standards for new buildings.

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