ABC: Alcoa - seeing through the carbon tax doomsday predictions

Mattehew Wright

ABC Drum reports: In his own immortal words, it's time for Opposition leader Tony Abbott to "move on" from blaming the proposed carbon price for every manufacturer's decision to cut Australian jobs.

Mr Abbott invoked this ill-informed view again on Wednesday when Alcoa suggested it may have to shut down its aluminium smelter at Point Henry in Geelong, which employs 600 people, because it was uneconomic.

Yet Alcoa itself distanced the review of its Geelong operations from the imminent carbon tax because it understands that the Federal Government is exempting the company from the harshest pain of the tax.

Alan Cransberg, head of Alcoa Australia said in this week's press release:

It was important to note that the review has not been prompted by a future price on carbon. The present situation is a result of low metal prices, a high Australian dollar, and input costs. The future price on carbon would be an additional cost, however Point Henry smelter is already losing money.

Alcoa could have elaborated by explaining that in many countries where there already is a price on carbon that aluminium sectors are thriving.

Brace for an electric shock

Germany's 37 million households will soon be paying half as much on their annual electricity bills as Australian households. An average German household pays just $1060, or about $88 a month, for electricity to run their computers, lights and other household appliances, while an Australian household in 2013 will be paying a whopping  $2117, or $176 a month, according to the Australian Energy Market  Commission (AEMC).

Australian retail electricity prices will rise 37 per cent from 2010-2014 (AEMC), widening the chasm between German and Australian bills and bringing hardship to Australian families already doing it tough from the high dollar and the financial crisis. And it’s going to get worse. As our electricity bills soar, Germany's electricity bills will rise minimally. According to the German energy agency (DENA), bills will rise just 20 per cent by 2020. For most families this will be offset by the legislated German-wide 20 per cent energy efficiency target, which will result in a further reduction of electricity consumption in German homes, reducing bills even more.

This may be contrary to what you've read in the popular press and understand about relative electricity costs between our two countries. Germans and Australians are basically paying the same amount for each retail unit of electricity at the meter, with Germans paying 0.31 Australian cents today which Australians will match next year (0.31 cents in 2013/14). The difference is the volume purchased, as highlighted above. Germany has a comprehensive climate and energy security policy suite that drives renewable growth and energy efficiency across the economy, which has led to average households that use half as much electricity as Australian households.

Germany's low electricity bills are saving families so that they can now spend on the important things in life, but that's not all that Germany's highly efficient electricity sector has achieved with its lower bills for consumers:

House swap: I’ll take wind turbines over a coal mine

Wind turbines. You either love them (like 75 per cent of us), or hate them (15 per cent). Or, you couldn’t care less.

Coal mines: you either love them, like those who reap their profits (20 per cent), or you hate them (80 per cent), like those who have to live near them.

The problem of differing public attitudes to energy sources has been discussed at great length and with an increasingly hollow invective. To break the logjam, we need a mechanism of comparison that satisfies people’s intellectual, emotional and political intelligence.

Renewistan or Carbonopia: where would you rather live?

Matthew Wright

Published last November, Andrew Charlton’s Quarterly Essay Man-Made World: Choosing between progress and the planet made some fundamentally important points: that solutions to climate change must allow for economic development in poorer countries; that a large part of the solution is available from improved technology; and that “our goal should be to create a world with abundant, clean and cheap energy for all.” However there are other data and other analyses leading to other conclusions.

The feasibility of a 100 per cent renewable energy future has been demonstrated by the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan, an award-winning analysis published by Beyond Zero Emissions, with The University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute in 2010. The Plan confirms that currently available renewable technologies are sufficient to meet the climate challenge. No peer reviewed analysis has challenged the feasibility of the Plan. Neither the Stationary Energy Plan, data nor analyses were referred to by Charlton.

A Leaf to hide Australia’s peak oil embarrassment

Matthew Wright

Fortunately for the Federal Government, it can use a “Leaf” to hide its growing embarrassment at being exposed for suppressing its own report warning of sharp declines in global oil production in five years time.

In 2009, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese’s Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) published Report 117, which revealed “at some point beyond 2017 we must begin to cope with the longer-term task of replacing oil as a source of energy. Given the inertias inherent in energy systems and vehicle fleets, the  transition will be necessarily challenging to most economies aroundthe world”.


From ABC Radio National Drive Listen Here 

[Waleed Aly] 19 minutes past the hour, your're on RN Drive, Waleed Aly with you, its time for our Wednesday Panel.

Do you have Solar Power at home? Lots of Australian homes now do have rooftop solar panels
now, thanks partly due to government subsidies, but we have been less successful in developing large scale solar generation projects in Australia.

In the latest setback, the first two planned projects under the federal governments solar flagships program failed to meet the deadline to secure financial backing. One has been granted extra time, while the government has been forced to reopen tenders for the other project.

ABC: Germany has the wind at its back

Matthew Wright

THE recent clinching of a $1.9 billion Australian defence contract by the Germans illustrates to carbon price knockers that they need look no further for proof that an economy which relies on renewable energy can outsmart one dependent on fossil fuels.

Germany's electricity sector delivers 21 per cent of its power from renewable sources, such as the wind and the sun. Just 8.5 per cent of Australian power is provided by these sources, despite the fact that our continent has them in spades compared to the Germans.

This month it was reported that a Bendigo workshop planned to lay off 50 staff because it had missed out on a government contract to supply vehicles for the Australian Army.

The tender for Land 121 Phase 3 military vehicles was won late last year by German consortium Rheinmetall MAN which will export about 2,700 fully assembled vehicles to Australia.

Farmers squeezed out of energy boon

Stock & Land reports: LANDHOLDERS should be capitalising on seismic changes in how we generate energy, says Matthew Wright, but instead they are being pushed aside.

Mr Wright, executive director of Beyond Zero Emissions, thinks the thrust of current government policy will be to deny many landholders the ability to profit from wind generation, while compromising the enterprises of other landholders who host coal seam gas (CSG) operations without sharing in CSG profits.

Beyond Zero Emissions, a non-profit organisation, has the goal of moving Australia "from a 19th century fossil fuel based economy to a 21st century renewable powered clean tech economy".

Merit order: How solar FiTs could cut energy bills for all

A study from the Melbourne Energy Institute suggests that the benefits of solar energy on the National Electricity Market could outweigh the costs of feed-in-tariffs, and could deliver energy cost savings for all customers, rather than an impost as is commonly believed.

The conclusion comes from a draft of the latest update of its study – which also includes researchers from the ANU’s Solar Thermal Group, Beyond Zero Emissions, and Clean Technology Partners – into the merit order effect, which relates to the impact that energy sources with small or zero marginal costs (such as wind and solar) can have on the overall grid by lowering prices.

The merit order effect is considered crucial in the debate around clean energy deployment because it suggests that the cost of incentives – such as renewable energy certificates or feed in tariffs – can be offset by the benefits this energy has on wholesale prices in the NEM. Once a wind farm or a solar farm is constructed with an upfront subsidy, its low marginal cost means that it can bid beneath coal and gas generators into the energy stack. This reduces margins for the coal and gas generators, but it also delivers considerable savings on wholesale prices, particularly solar, as it delivers into the grid at times of higher demand.

Climate Spectator: Solar's hot, even when the sun is not

Matthew Wright

On the cloudiest day in the gloomiest weather, when I check my solar system I find it is still generating and exporting clean renewable energy into the grid. My solar system, like all rooftop solar systems, generates even when it's cloudy. That's because solar technology is able to produce electricity under diffuse light conditions.

Generally speaking, in the darkest, cloudiest hour on the gloomiest day, your solar system will be generating as much as 25 per cent of a normal clear day output. On a day with light cloud cover, your system could be achieving as much as 50 per cent of a normal clear-day's hour of production.

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