Why I have six air conditioners

By Matthew Wright

CLIMATE SPECTATOR reports: A year ago I retired my old, dirty and inefficient gas wall heater, when I had it confirmed that it was using a significant amount of energy heating up outside rather than just inside my house like I would have expected.

Australians are generally unaware about the renewable heat resources available to domestic households, as a clean, safe and efficient competitor to dirty fossil gas.

That's why I bought six air conditioners. Air conditioners have a bad name and a bad wrap and it's completely unearned and unfair. Air conditioners are wonderful technology, like a laptop computer, smartphone or radiology machine. Air conditioners should rightly be called heat pumps, because they pump heat from one location to another. In doing so they concentrate that heat. They can pump heat out of our room making it feel cooler. Or than can pump heat into your room making it warmer.

There is nothing to feel guilty about here.  What you should be feeling guilty about is if you don't have a reverse cycle air conditioners, and you're heating with gas or electric resistive (bar radiators, oil filled heaters, electric fan heaters etc).

The Age Business Day: Coal, shale, sand? Your gas is as good as mine

The Age Business Day reports: WE ARE adults here. We know that there will be some very tough trade-offs that will be needed to tackle climate change. But the oil and gas industry is asking too much if it wants Australians to incur the costs of a coal seam gas (CSG) boom, without clearly pointing out the benefits.

Until lately it was widely assumed that gas is a cleaner-burning fuel than coal, with lower greenhouse gas emissions. The rise of unconventional gas extraction - whether from shale, coal seam or tight sand gas fields - has called that assumption into question, and guess what? The answer is frightfully unclear.

It would be fair to say most of the data is old or industry-funded or based on different practices used for extraction overseas. Or hidden.

The ''We Want CSG'' ads sponsored by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association say coal seam gas burned to produce baseload electricity produces ''up to'' 70 per cent fewer emissions than coal.

Who's afraid of feed-in tariffs?

By Matthew Wright

CLIMATE SPECTATOR reports: Feed-in tariffs were always set to be controversial – they turn the electricity market on its head by opening it for true competition. But they got more controversy than they deserved thanks to the mistake of green groups who only lobbied for feed-in tariffs for small-scale generators, and the incompetence of state government energy departments for managing to draft legislation that didn’t learn from the spectacular success of the German feed-in tariff legislation, the Renewable Energy Sources Act – legislation that has undergone 10 years of tweaking, overhaul and improvement.

There are two ways that a feed-in tariff will turn the market on its head. The first is through guaranteeing to any private investor/generator (be it big or small, private, bank or equity backed) that they can have a connection to the electricity grid and  a guaranteed buyer of their electricity.

Independent power producers are already allowed, in theory, to participate in the “deregulated” Australian Energy market. Some commentators even claim that our market is one of the most liberal markets in the world, but is that really the case?

Push for Solar Thermal Plant

Beyond Zero Emissions Strategic Director Mark Ogge at a potential Concentrating Solar Themal power site near Port Augusta, South Australia.

THE TRANSCONTINENTAL reports: An organisation that wants to convert Port Augusta’s power stations to solar thermal plants visited the city again last week to further promote its bold vision for future power generation.

Beyond Zero Emissions first proposed the idea to Port Augusta City Council in December last year but have since ramped up their campaign with conjecture that the city’s Playford B power station could close under a carbon tax scheme.

GREEN DEALS: Solar thermal thinkfest

CLIMATE SPECTATOR reports: About 1000 experts from the emerging solar thermal energy industry have gathered in Grenada, Spain, for the IEA-sponsored SolarPACES conference, with several dozen Australians also in attendance. Groups from the Australian Solar Institute, the ANU solar thermal research centre, the CSIRO, the ACT government and technology developers such as Transfield Novasol and Wizard are also in attendance.

Matthew Wright, the head of Beyond Zero Emissions, says two major themes seem to be emerging from discussions – one is a concession that solar PV has won the day in terms of costs of electricity generated, and the other is that the future of solar thermal lies in storage. These themes are being played out in the US, where non-storage thermal projects funded by government loan guarantees are being substituted by solar PV because of costs, but projects with storage are going ahead.

Residents plan for renewable energy

THE STAWELL TIMES NEWS reports: Stawell Climate Action Group has handed over the results of a survey about renewable energy to Federal Member for Mallee, John Forrest.

Group spokesperson, Julie Andrew said of the 105 Stawell households that were surveyed, 91 percent wanted strong policies to support new jobs and investment in renewable energy.

She said a remarkable 90 percent of those surveyed wanted Australia to develop a plan to move to 100 percent renewable energy.

"We found when we talked with people and shared information, people in our region overwhelmingly want to talk about solutions," Ms Andrew said.

"They want to get behind a positive vision. They are tired of the negativity and bickering by politicians and just want our elected representatives to get on and do something."

Solar plans for coal-fired power stations

Scientists and engineers have drawn up plans to convert Port Augusta's two coal-fired powered stations to solar thermal plants.

Non-government organisation Beyond Zero Emissions will meet South Australia's Energy Minister Michael O'Brien this week to discuss the two stations' potential for conversion to solar.

Mark Ogge from the organisation says most equipment and staff would be kept under the plan.

"In a sense a solar thermal power plant is exactly the same as a thermal coal plant, the only difference is to produce the heat you use mirrors to concentrate the sun's energy rather than burning coal," he said.

Mr Ogge says converting the power stations from coal to gas would be too costly.

Solar thermal power proposal for Mudgee

Mudgee District Environment Group (MDEG) will discuss a proposal for a solar thermal power station for the Mid-Western Regional Shire at a public meeting next week.

MDEG spokesperson Bev Smiles said a feasibility study of the solar thermal power station project had found it would cost tax payers much less than the proposed Cobbora coal mine while causing no threat to water sources, farming communities, biodiversity or the earth’s atmosphere.

The 50MW solar thermal power station would provide base load electricity supplies covering up to 30,000 homes between Mudgee and Coonabarabran.

MDEG member Ian McAdam, who has researched the feasibility of a solar thermal power generator for the Mudgee area, will present the details at the public meeting on Thursday, September 22, at The Stables, in Market Street, Mudgee at 6pm.

Keeping power costs from going through the roof

Solar's holy grail, grid parity, is coming sooner than anyone expected and there's a scramble to work out the implications for our national electricity market.

It goes to this: is old-fashioned, centralised electricity supply a growth industry any more?

Australia has a peak-load problem, not a base-load problem. If we face supply constraints, it is during those few hours on the hottest summer days when everyone's airconditioner is on max.

We are not building new, energy-intensive industrial facilities such as steel and cement works, smelters and refineries, which run around the clock. In fact, due to our terms of trade and a high dollar, we're likely to be shutting those facilities - as BlueScope Steel announced last month, with the loss of 1000 jobs at Port Kembla and Western Port. The proposed carbon tax will hasten that process with the closure or overhaul of old emissions-intensive facilities.

The telegraph: Shining future for solar power

By Matthew Wright

BIG solar is up to the job of powering Australia.

I recently visited the world-leading solar power tower Gemasolar in Spain. It was exciting and inspiring and it's easy to see why.

The plant has only been in commercial operation for a couple of months but has already demonstrated that concentrated solar power can generate an electricity supply that is continuous, reliable and clean. That's right: 24-hour solar power.

Gemasolar uses sunlight to power a steam turbine that is exactly the same as those used in fossil plants. Molten salt tanks that store the sun's heat, much like a big thermos, allow it to generate electricity around the clock for 25,000 households. This mighty combination of concentrated sunlight and energy storage means the plant will run more hours per year than most nuclear and coal power plants.

And Spain is not alone. The US has half a dozen much larger projects in the pipeline that have attracted investment from forward-looking companies like Google. America's entry into solar thermal generation means big cost reductions.

So, if this great technology exists and if countries like Spain and the US, why is Australia not embracing it?

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