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

Greens push 100pct renewables plan for W.A.

By Giles Parkinson

The Greens Party has unveiled an ambitious new document that outlines possible pathways to turn Western Australia – one of the most energy-intensive states in the world – into one where its stationary energy needs are powered 100 per cent by renewable energy sources in less than two decades.

The Greens offer two principal scenarios to transform the coal and gas-dependent grid known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which includes the capital Perth and the most populous regions. The first involves a heavier reliance on solar thermal and storage technologies currently deployed in Spain, the US and elsewhere, while the second relies more on currently cheaper technologies such as wind energy and solar PV. Both are supported by bio-mass and pumped hydro.

According to Scott Ludlam, the WA-based Senator whose office anchored the report with the help of specialist consultants, the plan seeks to make two important points – one that it is feasible, and two, it will not cost much more than business as usual (BAU).

Indeed, even using somewhat conservative technology cost forecasts for the various forms of solar, and to allow for a safety-first  approach to capacity requirements, the study concludes that the levellised cost of electricity in the various renewable scenarios ranges from $208/MWh to $221/MWh by 2029. (We go into detail further down)

The levellised cost of electricity in the BAU case is not much cheaper – $203/MWh. While it has lower up front capital costs – $20 billion vs $60 billion, the balance of the BAU scenario bill will be paid in fuel costs, which for gas and diesel customers in WA is already proving expensive and forcing those on isolated and remote areas in particular to already consider solar alternatives.

Report boosts solar thermal hopes


The prospects for a solar thermal power station at Port Augusta have been given a boost, with predictions of a significant drop in costs for the process.

The CSIRO is predicting solar thermal energy costs will halve by 2020.

The energy is produced by a steam turbine, heated from concentrated rays of the sun.

The group Repower Port Augusta has been working towards replacing that city's coal power stations with solar thermal.

Mark Ogge from the group says the latest prediction should speed up the change.

"There's international companies really interested in building it," he said.

"The cost of solar thermal power is coming down, the price of gas is going up, so the stars are absolutely aligned for solar thermal power to be built in South Australia," he said.

"All that's required is a bit of leadership on behalf of the South Australian Government."

He says the latest prediction is another boost.

"This is just the latest in a long line of studies and reports that say that the cost of solar is going down, the cost of fossil fuels is going up," he said.

"It's just high time we stopped worrying about reports and just got on with the job and built a solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta."

Mark Ogge presenting Repower Port Augusta report

In Australia, Record Weather Fuels Climate Policy Process

In January, Australia had it all: drought, fires, tropical cyclones, tornadoes, floods, and record-breaking heat. "It's been the most challenging month in the 27 years I've been a climatologist," says Neil Plummer, assistant director of the Climate Information Service at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.

Now, politicians will see how the astounding weather is affecting the political climate. Science, business, and other groups are weighing in on an Australian Senate effort to assess the country's readiness for extreme weather. "We want to see a more structured and strategic response to national disasters," says a spokesperson for Senator Christine Milne, the Australian Greens Party leader who pushed for the study, known as an inquiry.

There's little question the inquiry is getting more attention after last month's disasters. Several cities reached historic highs for heat, and January's average mean temperature (29.68°C) surpassed records set more than 80 years ago, in January 1932. Meanwhile, Queensland farmers estimate they've lost crops and livestock worth AUS$100 million to floods. And Queensland Premier Campbell Newman estimates economic losses from cyclone Oswald and associated tornadoes at AUS$2.4 billion. "Sadly, I think that figure will rise," he told reporters last week.

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.

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