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.

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.

Coal seam gas mining documentary to air

It was a film that first prompted Forster’s Holly Rankin to educate herself about Coal Seam Gas mining (CSG) and she aims to use the same medium to help educate others with the screening of ‘Bimblebox’ a documentary about CSG in Australia.

“I went to a screening of Gasland in Sydney in 2010 and it really scared me,” Holly recalled.

“I was completely unaware of it (CSG) what it was and what it did and afterwards I really wanted to see what coal seam gas mining was going on in Australia.” 

The 2010 film directed by Josh Fox focuses on communities in the United States impacted by CSG mining and features one memorable scene in which a farmer sets his running tap water alight. It was nominated for an Oscar in 2011. 

Opponents of CSG mining are concerned that hydraulic fracturing (known colloquially as fraccing), the process by which the gas is extracted, poses a threat of contamination of water sources.

“ Having grown up in Forster around our beautiful waterways I feel they need to protected from contamination and people need to be aware of the dangers CSG poses.”

As state and federal governments continue to investigate the possible expansion of CSG mining and with numerous wells already sunk in the neighbouring Hunter and Gloucester areas Holly and her group Youth Against CSG Mining in the Great Lakes, which boasts 300 members on its facebook site, have organised a screening of Australia’s first comprehensive documentary about the practice.

“It’s primarily about education,” Holly said.

“I’m not a scientist, I’m still learning about what it is and the impact it can have but we want to encourage people to find out before it ends up here.”

Bimblebox, directed by Michael O’Connell, looks at the effects of CSG around the country including the in the Hunter Valley and the Illawarra regions with interviews with residents and experts on the issue.

The film features many prominent members of the debate against coal expansion in Australia including Guy Pearse (Global Change Institute), Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (University of Queensland) and Matthew Wright (Beyond Zero Emissions) and sets shots of the Australian landscape to the music of indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (known primarily as Gurrumul).

Go LED and kill Hazelwood?

By Trent Hawkins

According to analysis conducted by Beyond Zero Emissions, lighting in homes is responsible for about seven per cent of household electricity use, and around 30 per cent of electricity for commercial and retail buildings.

That's quite a large amount of energy use, but it could be about to fall drastically, perhaps by as much as a large coal power station's worth of electricity demand. That's a hefty amount when energy utilities are already seriously challenged by falling electricity demand.  

As reported by Gerard Wynn, LEDs (light emitting diodes) are now set to dominate the global lighting market. In the general lighting market the consultants McKinsey & Company forecast a 45 per cent market share for LEDs by 2016, up from 9 per cent in 2011. 

Electronics giant Philips has completely ceased research and development into fluorescent lighting technology, recognising that the future is in LEDs. Other companies in the semiconductor business, not traditionally in lighting, are getting in on the act. In Australia, companies are springing up that come into your home or business and do a full change-out to LEDs. Even McDonald’s restaurants are making the switch.  

Beyond Zero Emissions' Buildings Plan research is proposing a full switch to replace all existing lighting with LEDs within 10 years. This would result in up to 80 per cent reduction in lighting energy use for most building categories.

These energy savings are in the order of 15 terawatt-hours of electricity per year: more than Victoria's notoriously polluting Hazelwood power station could produce if it ran flat out, non-stop, for an entire year. Avoiding the burning of all that brown coal would avoid CO2 emissions of over 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year. 

The US Department of Energy chart below shows the trajectory of improvement of LED lights as compared with other technologies. There is a lot of further improvement to be had, with the US DOE supporting a realistic goal of reaching 200 lumens/watt (compared to 60-90 lumens/watt in products on the market now).

Chart from US Department of Energy (USDOE) - “Solid-State Lighting Research and Development: Multi-Year Program Plan”, April 2012.

And this improvement in light output only begins to tell the story of why LEDs are taking the lighting market by storm.

Australia Could be Powered by 100% Renewable Energy Within 10 Years

By Charley Cameron

It’s perhaps a bit surprising that Australia—with its sunny self-presentation—is not only the world’s largest exporter of coal, but at 28 billion tonnes of CO2 per year creates the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. In tandem with this, the country also has immense potential for generating renewable energy; it really is quite sunny, with large areas of open land and surrounded by water. So much so, claims a report by the University of Melbourne and the collaborative Zero Carbon Australia Project, that the country could be powered by solar and wind energy alone within 10 years—if the political will existed.


australia renewable energy, carbon emissions, green house gases, university of melbourne, zero carbon project, wind energy, concentrated solar thermalPhoto via Shutterstock

A turn for the better

If there’s one thing Wonthaggi has plenty of it’s wind. Energy researcher BEN COURTICE looks at whether it could prove to be one of the shire’s biggest assets.

IF YOU install solar panels to offset your entire electricity use, you pay no electricity bill – you may even get a credit. There are options to achieve this on a larger, regional or town scale, if communities work together.

Wonthaggi could supply all its own energy, on an annual basis, from a small wind farm. In fact, it could easily be a net exporter of large amounts of renewable energy, via the electricity grid, as the wind resource in the region is better than most parts of the country.

Crunching the numbers based on the existing information makes this clear.

The small existing Wonthaggi wind farm has a nominal capacity of 12 megawatts (MW) from its six turbines. Its annual output in 2011 was 28.3 gigawatt-hours (GWh).

With a population of just under 6900 in 2011, Wonthaggi has about a third of the Shire’s mainland population. Assuming a similar proportion of electricity use, that makes about 25 GWh per year energy use (using state government energy use figures from 2007).

That's less than the output of the wind farm. So six two-megawatt turbines can do the job now.

If the aim is energy independence, though, much more can be done.

If households in Wonthaggi reduced their own energy use, then more clean energy would be exported to other, less windy regions such as Melbourne's suburbs.

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