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.

Driving energy demand back 30 years

By Tristan Edis

Last week I attended a presentation looking at just how much we could reduce household energy consumption within 10 years without loss of comfort or amenity just by using technology already readily available. 

The results were striking and worthy of entry to Climate Spectator’s charts of the week. 

In findings that should send chills down the spines of energy suppliers, co-author Lloyd Harrington outlined that it was technically feasible to cut household energy consumption (both gas and electricity) in half compared to a business as usual path within 10 years. This would mean energy consumption would be brought down to levels that prevailed when Back to the Future was at the cinema.

For those who’ve never heard of Lloyd Harrington, he is like a walking, talking encyclopaedia on the energy consumption of electric and gas appliances and equipment.  He can cite passages from arcane technical standards governing everything from televisions to refrigerators to light bulbs. Then he’ll proceed to tell you how some Asian appliance manufacturer managed to game the test procedure for refrigerators through some clever computer software. 

I’ve seen him in Australian Standards meetings even manage to out-argue appliance manufacturers with superior understanding of the technical characteristics of their own products. 

Over the years he has steadily built-up an incredibly detailed computer model of each of the different items that influence energy consumption in Australian households down to the level of individual appliances. He has constructed this using in-house surveys, appliance sales data, and cross checks against energy consumption data from government and utilities.

So, in other words, people should think twice before dismissing this analysis as the product of some starry-eyed greenie.

According to Harrington, the chart below illustrates Australia’s historic and current path for residential energy consumption without further government policy.

Australian household energy consumption by fuel-function type 1986 to 2020

Source: Energy Efficient Strategies and Beyond Zero Emissions

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.

Everybody in the house say yeah

By Michael Green

To get to zero emissions, residents need to walk the talk.

In 2008, the City of Yarra set a target to be carbon neutral by 2020. Not just council headquarters - the entire inner-city municipality. But how does a whole district go carbon neutral? It can't rely on government subsidies, or an unforeseen technological breakthrough, says Alex Fearnside, chief executive of Yarra Energy Foundation, the organisation established in 2010 to make it happen.

Instead, it needs to start with residents pounding the pavements, knocking on doors and sharing their knowledge. That's the cornerstone of the foundation's campaign, called Yarra Project Zero.

''We have some very active citizens already. We know that about one-in-10 households and one-in-20 businesses are well on the way to zero emissions,'' he says. ''Yarra Project Zero is about recording those stories and making them known to others. It's about amplifying them, and showing that retrofitting is a normal and practical action to take.''

As a baseline, the foundation calculated Yarra's carbon footprint from electricity and gas use in 2008-09. About a quarter of those emissions come from households, and the rest from businesses, large and small.

(The zero emissions target also includes the impact of transport, consumption, food and waste - but the project starts with electricity and gas.)

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.

Can Sydney Green The Grid?

By Justin Field and Norman Thompson

The City of Sydney's trigas generator scheme is being built by Origin - Australia's largest coal seam gas producer. What happened to the transition to biogas, ask Norman Thompson and Justin Field

Read part one of Norman Thompson and Justin Field’s story on Sydney’s trigas scheme here

Sydney Council’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan targets a 70 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels. At the centre of the plan is a trigeneration (trigen) network across the city that will burn gas to deliver electricity, heating and cooling to city buildings.

The aims of the plan are commendable and emission reductions on this scale are needed Australia wide. But the implementationvia a trigen network that will be built and maintained by Australia’s largest coal seam gas company (CSG), Origin Energy, raises serious questions about its ability to achieve the emission reduction targets.

According to the City’s Trigeneration Master Plan, council has "resolved that by 2030 renewable gases from waste and other … sources will replace fossil fuel natural gas in the trigeneration systems". This means that until that time CSG, which currently makes up around 5 per cent of NSW supply, will be used to power the system.

The plan suggests the City has identified sufficient waste-derived renewable feed-stocks to generate and supply biogas to the trigen system, however it acknowledges the plans for moving to renewable gas are yet to be finalised.

In April 2012 Sydney Council signed an agreement (pdf) with Origin Energy’s totally owned subsidiary Cogent Energy to begin building the trigen system. Under the agreement "Origin will be responsible for the ongoing operation and maintenance of the trigen plants".

Origin Energy has a 37.5 per cent stake in Australia Pacific LNG which is constructing a Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plant at Gladstone in Queensland. Origin is responsible for construction and operation of the project’s CSG fields.

Neither Origin nor Cogent have notable experience in biogas projects and Origin promotes itself as Australia’s largest producer of coal seam gas.

Denmark's largest biogas plant, Lemvig

Sydney Council's Gas Gamble

By Justin Field and Norman Thompson

Sydney City Council wants to install gas generators as part of its sustainability plan - but there are concerns the scheme could encourage coal seam gas development in NSW, write Norman Thompson and Justin Field

Sydney Council’s Sustainable Sydney 2030 plan targets a 70 per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emission compared to 2006 levels in the city’s local government area.

A large part of this reduction is planned to be achieved by building a network of gas burners throughout the city that will simultaneously provide power, heating and cooling to public and private buildings. This approach is known as trigeneration, or trigen.

The gas burners will use natural gas, ultimately taking the city off the coal fired electricity grid. Sometime prior to 2030 the city hopes the trigen system will begin to use biogas generated from processing of municipal waste and the digestion of crop residues.

In April 2012 Sydney Council signed an agreement with Origin Energy’s wholly owned subsidiary Cogent to begin building the trigen system. The total cost of this project will be $440 million (in 2010 dollars) by 2030.

Every CSG well another nail in manufacturing's coffin

We could cover every farm and forest with CSG wells and we'd still be paying top dollar for gas, writes Mark Ogge. If we want cheaper prices (and a stronger manufacturing industry), we need to ban gas exports.

NSW Resources and Energy Minister Chris Hartcher claims there will be "catastrophic consequences" if the state does not develop more coal seam gas. He seems to believe that by doing so there will be more gas for local industry and that this will prevent soaring prices.

The Australian energy market operator has reported a drop in demand for gas in NSW from both industry and households. At the same time, demand for electricity in the state is also falling, as energy efficiency measures begin to pay off, and householders install more and more solar panels.

The reason that gas prices are set to rise has little to do with farmers and environmentalists opposing coal seam gas, as Minister Hartcher would like us to believe. Rather, it is because the multinational gas giants that are extracting the gas are selling it in advance to overseas customers.

Within the next three years, three massive gas export terminals in Queensland will begin operating. This will allow them to export vast amounts of gas by ship to Asia. The price they can get for the gas in Asia is around $15 per Gigajoule, around four times the amount we pay in Australia (see table 22, p75).

These companies will not sell gas to Australian factories, power stations or households for a quarter of the price they can get overseas. Once the export terminals start operating, if Australians want gas, they are competing with the Asian market and will have to pay Asian prices minus the cost of exporting it. This means the price in Australia is likely to at least double, or even triple (see Chart A, p7).

And that's if you can get it.

Don't waste solar energy on coal

Port Augusta is the ideal location in South Australia for a solar thermal power plant, due to its very good direct annual solar radiation and its proximity to a strong piece of grid infrastructure that services the old lignite burning power plants that are located there, owned by Alinta.

There has been a campaign for some time to repower Port Augusta, after the town was named as one of 12 key power generation sites in the Zero Carbon Australia stationary energy plan.

This campaign has garnered a lot of support and gained a great deal of momentum.

But now we're at a turning point where we may get a type solar thermal plant that is of little use in promoting a shift away from fossil fuels.  A plant that will not create an inspiring vision, nor support greater understanding and learning-by-doing that will shift us from a 19th century fossil fuel economy, to a 21st century renewable-powered, cleantech economy.

The plant being proposed is a cheaper option being proposed by electricity company Alinta. But buyer beware - you get what you pay for.

Coal train bound from Leigh Creek mine to Port Augusta

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