Renewable energy

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.

Transition towns in a post carbon world

As the USA faces a “Frankenstorm” following a record breaking drought, we look at the ideas and people  preparing a transition from the age of Carbon to the age of Zero Emissions. BZE radio, unlike the mainstream media, not only connects the dots but offers climate solutions.

Richard Heinberg, author of "The End of Growth" and “Powerdown” speaks with Vivien Langford from Beyond Zero Radio at his hotel in Sydney. Richard was visiting Australia on a speaking tour and spoke at the Festival of Dangerous ideas. Thanks to Peter Dowson for filming this interview (click YouTube video above).

Transition Towns is a global movement building resilient, sustainable, vibrant and happy communities. It is a community based response to the future challenges of climate change and peak oil. For more information on Transition Towns, go to

Lancer Lieber and Peter Dowson of Transitions Bondi talk  to Vivien about getting our food from local sources including urban gardens. They are helping groups of Bondi people install solar panels at a manageable price. We talk about understanding how to get the most help from  local councillors who are committed to lowering our carbon footprint. They are inspired by the Transition Towns Movement which is preparing people to be resilient and live sustainably as climate change affects all our lives.

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”.

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