Renewable energy

Electricity prices fall: renewable energy deserves merit

By Dylan McConnell

Dylan McConnell is a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne

Let’s be honest: the relationship between renewable energy and the electricity market is complex. So what does the latest report from Australian energy research firm RepuTex tell us?

Well, for a start, coal-fired power has reached a ten-year low.

The report, widely covered in the media, shows coal now makes up 74.8% of the National Electricity Market (NEM), down from 85.8% in 2008-2009.

At the same time the contribution of other energy, and renewable energy in particular, has risen. Hydro power makes up 8.7% of the market, with wind making up 3.8%, both record highs for these energy sources. This leads to the conclusion that greenhouse emissions in the NEM have also reached a ten-year low.

The RepuTex report indicates that both increased renewable energy generation and weaker demand is putting a “squeeze” on traditional generation.

This is ultimately reducing the market price of electricity as renewable energy competes with coal and other traditional energy sources. But, as said, the relationship between renewable energy, competition and market prices is complex.

Does renewable energy lower prices?

In 2011 the Victorian Auditor-General reported that the brown coal industry was concerned that the 10% renewable energy target would deliver too much too quickly which would reduce wholesale electricity prices and impact on brown coal generators.

We looked back and modelled the hypothetical impact of distributed solar photovoltaics (PV) on electricity prices in 2009 and 2010. Lowering the wholesale cost of electricity might offset the costs of renewable energy support schemes.

Using the model we estimated introducing 5,000 megawatts (MW) of solar would lower the market price of electricity by more than A$1.8 billion over 2009 and 2010. When we completed this analysis there was a minuscule 385 MW of solar in the electricity market. Now there is already 2,500 MW, making our estimate look conservative.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) forecasts 12,000 MW to be installed by 2030 in their “moderate” scenario. The impact of PV on market demand is already starting to show on the market.

The average wholesale electricity prices for 2011-12 were the lowest (in real terms) since the market commenced in 1998. Even with the carbon tax, prices are not much above the long-term average of about A$50 per megawatt hour (adjusted to 2013 dollar terms). Recently, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) reported that wind generation is moderating wholesale electricity prices in South Australia, and when there is less wind, prices are higher.

Another myth busted on the road to 100% renewable electricity

By Mark Diesendorf

Ten years ago it was extraordinary for scientists, engineers, policy-makers and decision-makers to consider the possibility of 100 per cent renewable electricity for a country or group of countries. However, the progress of several key renewable energy technologies has been so rapid that the scene has totally changed since then.

Solar photovoltaic modules have dropped about 75 per cent in price. Current scientific and technological advances in the laboratory suggest that they will soon be so cheap that the principal cost of going solar on residential and commercial buildings will be installation. On-shore wind power is spreading over all continents and is economically competitive with fossil and nuclear power in several regions. Concentrated solar thermal power (CST) with thermal storage has moved from the demonstration stage of maturity to the limited commercial stage and still has the potential for further cost reductions of about 50 per cent.

Two countries, Denmark and Scotland, have official targets for 100% renewable electricity, Denmark by 2050 and Scotland, which already has a lot of hydro, by 2020. To meet its official greenhouse gas target of at least 80 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050, Germany will have to achieve close to 100 per cent renewable electricity too. The governments of these countries are not just talking – they are implementing policies to achieve their targets.

Hour-by-hour computer simulations of 80-100 per cent renewable electricity are an inexpensive and informative means of investigating different options and for busting some of the old myths about renewable energy. They have been performed for at least eight countries and regions. In Australia a ground-breaking single simulation was performed by the NGO Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and published in 2010.

Subsequently the University of New South Wales group of Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and Mark Diesendorf performed many simulations of 100 per cent renewable electricity in the National Electricity Market (NEM). In our initial research on the technological feasibility, we found that we could change some of the expensive assumptions made in the BZE study, namely discard the hypothetical transmission link to Western Australia and greatly reduce the large proportion of CST power stations, and still meet the NEM’s reliability criterion. We could further increase the reliability by making small reductions in the winter peak demands through energy efficiency or demand reduction using ‘smart’ devices.

Germany grabs renewable lead as Australia drops back

By Finn Peacock


In 2009, Germany sprinted past the European Union's 12 per cent Renewable Energy Target three years ahead of schedule.


Germany's response? Raise the bar.


Europe's biggest economy is now aiming for 35 per cent of energy to be derived from renewable sources by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030, 65 per cent by 2040 and 80 per cent by 2050.

Moore plan would foster fracking, say advocates

by Ben Cubby

ENVIRONMENT groups have attacked the trigeneration energy plan of the lord mayor, Clover Moore, saying it would entrench coal seam gas and stifle wind and solar power.

The City of Sydney council plans to slash the city's greenhouse gas emissions to 70 per cent below 2006 levels over the next 17 years, mainly by building a network of miniature gas-fired power plants around the inner city.

City of Sydney's Trigeneration Power Network Plan

THE City of Sydney plans to spend almost $5 billion building and operating a series of trigeneration power networks in the CBD and nearby suburbs.

by Christine Forster

This project will eventually involve digging up parts of the city centre, causing inestimable disruption and economic loss to the million people who live, work and visit here each day, and delivering only questionable environmental outcomes.

The council "trigen" project involves the development of 60mW of power capacity at four precincts in Green Square, Town Hall, Martin Place/George St and Pyrmont/Broadway. Ultimately, Council envisages installing 477mW of trigen capacity.

In Australia, Wind Power Is Already Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, And Solar Is Right Behind

According to the latest research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, electricity from wind power can now be supplied more cheaply in Australia than power from either coal or natural gas — and solar and other forms of renewable energy aren’t far behind.

Can we halve the cost of solar thermal by 2020?

Solar thermal energy will halve in cost by 2020, the new director of CSIRO’s Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative said today.

Solar thermal energy uses the concentrated heat of the sun to create steam, which turns a turbine and creates a clean, renewable power source.

However, it remains expensive compared to other forms of energy due to fossil fuel subsidies and the limited operator hours of solar thermal energy power plants.

The CSIRO’s $87 million Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative (ASTRI), which brings together the country’s top researchers in the field, aims to make solar thermal energy cheaper by developing new, more efficient technology and finding ways to reduce capital costs.

Solar Augmentation Project at Liddell Power Station


Novatec’s solar boiler recently commenced operations at the Liddell Power Station in New South Wales, and in doing so, demonstrated that existing energy infrastructure can work with clean energy technology to significantly reduce carbon emissions from power generation.

Solar Funding Evokes Mixed Reactions

$83.5 million for solar research funding as part of the United States- Australia Solar Energy Collaboration (USASEC) was announced by Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson on Thursday.
$33 million will go to the US-Australia Institute for Advanced Photovoltaics led by the University of New South Wales. $35 million will be provided to the Australian Solar Thermal Research Initiative, led by CSIRO.
$15.5 million has been allocated to collaborative research projects under the Open Funding Round of the USASEC.
"Today's funding commitment supports the collaborative efforts being made by our governments to drive innovation, build research and technical capacity, and provide pathways to solar commercialisation," Minister Ferguson said. 

High praise for Port Augusta solar hub plan at Civic Trust's annual Awards and Brickbats

A PLAN to transform Port Augusta into a green energy hub has been lauded at the Civic Trust's annual Awards and Brickbats ceremony.

However, the State Government's axing of heritage advisory services in its May Budget is the stand-out among this year's brickbats.

The Civic Trust a public think tank that engages in social and environmental discussion said state heritage assets would suffer from longer response times, reduced access to advice for owners, a rise in inappropriate works and degradation of heritage significance.

"The decision to cease State Heritage Advisory Services disadvantages state heritage owners, puts additional pressure on local government and is likely to lead to a long-term devaluation of the state's history," said trust chairman Darian Hiles.

A blueprint to replace Alinta Energy's emissions-intensive Northern and Playford B brown coal power plants with renewable energy infrastructure was the inaugural winner of the opportunities category, endorsed as the state's most promising project.

It also took out the people's choice award. 

Mr Hiles said the benefits of the project, including the construction of six solar thermal plants and 95 wind turbines, would be wide-ranging. "It would create 1800 jobs, alleviate the health impacts of coal, save five million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year and provide stable electricity prices and energy security," he said.

"Unfortunately the Government has decided not to proceed with the subsidy that was anticipated, which appears to be very short-sighted and needs to be redressed."

Alinta had carried out initial studies on building a solar thermal plant at Port Augusta but a September decision by the Federal Government to scrap plans to buy out the Playford B station has made the project financially challenging.

The company is seeking $65 million from the Federal Government towards the expected $200 million cost of building a 40-50 megawatt solar thermal plant.

Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery will appear before a State Parliament select committee this month to talk about the proposal. In other Civic Trust awards, the Colonel William Light Award for excellence in urban design was awarded to the Anglican Parish of Glenelg extension.

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