High-speed rail cost and timeline “laughable”

April 11, 2013

Researchers who have performed their own analysis of the high-speed rail link from Melbourne to Brisbane have today questioned the governments announced 45-year timeline and $114 billion costing.


“When John F. Kennedy saw a challenge worth taking he decided to get on with it as quickly as humanly possible, and in 8 years Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon. On the other hand, some would have us believe building a high-speed railway from Melbourne to Brisbane will take 45 years,” said Gerard Drew, high-speed rail researcher for climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“The economic windfall which high speed rail will deliver to Australia has finally been recognised by the Federal Government, and that's a good thing.

“But we fear that political delay and gold-plating could leave this as just a dream for another two generations of Australians.

“The rail network that was built all over the eastern states was built with picks and shovels over 100 years ago, much of it in less time than has been suggested for this project,” Mr Drew said.

“45 years is laughable.”

Beyond Zero Emissions have done their own study on the HSR route in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR). Their research, which will be published in full in May, indicates that the chosen HSR route could be built for under $70 billion, a lot less than the $114 billion quoted in the latest government study.

Solar panels reduce everyone's power bills

 

May 10, 2013

Australia's one million (and counting) solar powered households could be keeping everyone else's power bills down, by suppressing wholesale electricity prices.

That conclusion is drawn from a peer-reviewed paper recently published in the Journal of Energy Policy. The paper is a result of a joint research effort between the Melbourne Energy Institute and climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Feed-in tariffs have been criticised by some, because all electricity users – with or without solar panels – pay the costs of the tariff on their electricity bill,” said Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Ben Courtice.

“However, the “merit order effect”, explained in this paper, offsets the cost of a low to medium feed-in tariff. It is often overlooked in setting policy in Australia, with the result that solar households aren't getting fair recognition, with feed-in tariffs being set too low.”

State governments in the last two years have been keen to slash the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) arrangements that guarantee a premium (or at least minimum) payment for solar electricity generated, saying they cost too much.

The merit order effect (see explanation below) means that solar power (and other renewables) displace more expensive forms of generation in the national electricity market, thereby lowering the wholesale price paid by all users. Failure to include this effect misrepresents the overall costs of solar support schemes.

“Contrary to state governments' assertions, feed in tariffs and solar PV may actually lower electricity prices paid by consumers. The current feed-in tariffs in several states are abysmally low and could be raised to a fairer level without impacting consumer prices,” said Mr Courtice.

The paper models the effect of up to five gigawatts (GW) of rooftop solar panels across the Eastern states' electricity network. This is about double what is currently installed in Australia. The researchers calculated the effects of from zero to 5GW of extra rooftop solar panels on the electricity market, over the years 2009 and 2010, based on the real electricity market data from those years.

The researchers' modelling suggests that the price suppression (merit order effect) resulting from 5GW of solar would have been worth $628 million in 2010, 8.6% of the total value traded that year. In 2009, the value could have been $1.2 billion, over 12% of the total value traded that year.

The lower electricity wholesale prices caused by the merit order effect should flow through to consumers in their electricity bills. This effect can offset the cost of support schemes and results in a wealth transfer from electricity generators to all consumers.

“When governments cite the cost of FITs but ignore offsets such as the merit order effect, they are effectively overstating the overall cost of supporting solar,” Mr Courtice said.

“Solar power is a cheap and effective way to reduce pollution, and it should receive better support so it can keep growing in Australia.”

Clean electricity makes fossil gas redundant

Climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions have today published a briefing paper on the use of gas as a fuel in buildings. The evidence shows that fossil gas' reputation as a clean, safe and cheap fuel needs to be re-considered.

Beyond Zero Emissions have criticised the fossil gas industry for increasingly using dirty and controversial coal-seam gas (CSG) for both export and domestic gas supply.

CSG has raised questions about leaks of the gas from and around the gas wells, as documented on Four Corners last week.

However, even traditional fossil gas mains and distribution networks leak.

CSG wells

The briefing paper was prepared by Richard Keech, who is working on the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan for BZE.

Mr Keech explained that “In the production and distribution of gas there's leaks all along the way.

“There was some limited data out of South Australia that suggested it was in the order of 7%, but the official figures put it at around 1.5%. In reality it's probably somewhere in between.”

Fossil gas is methane. Mr Keech said “The 20-year climate effect of methane is currently understood to be about 105 times that of CO2. It only takes about 2.6% leakage to effectively double the net climate effect of gas.

“With any technology that carries some risk, we weigh the hazard against the benefits.

“That balance has now shifted, especially as fossil gas supply is now moving to CSG. We're seeing that the hazard is much greater than it was once seen as, and the benefit much less.

“Ceasing gas use in buildings is the low-hanging fruit of a larger fossil fuel phase out that is ultimately necessary if a climate catastrophe is to be avoided.

“BZE concludes that clean electricity now makes fossil gas redundant.”

BZE will release the Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan in mid 2013. The plan will outline how replacing buildings' gas appliances with renewable electricity powered heat pumps and induction cooktops can make a large reduction on carbon emissions and energy use.

This statement has been changed to correct the leakage rate to double the climate effect of methane, which is 2.6% not 1% as we had erroneously stated.

Download the briefing paper here (PDF) http://media.bze.org.au/nogas.pdf
Richard Keech interview on Radio Beyond Zero (podcast) http://bze.org.au/media/radio/richard-keech-130407

NSW should call CSG industry bluff, go to zero gas

Threats that the NSW government's restrictions on the coal-seam gas industry will cause a price rise are a bluff that NSW residents should call, according to climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“The gas industry has no real commitment to domestic gas supply, and certainly not to cheap supply,” said BZE spokesperson Ben Courtice.

“The gas companies are not desperate to frack NSW for more CSG because they care about the NSW gas supply. They need it for their LNG export trains and contracts with Asia.”

Export commitments, and the move into costly and dirty shale and coal-seam gas, are already driving gas costs up. From $3-4 per gigajoule now, prices are expected to soon rise to as much as $10/GJ.

But gas companies are desperate to secure reserves. For example, gas company Santos' total proven, probable, possible and contingent gas reserves (known in the industry as “3P + 2C”) fell 26% in the last two years, indicating they are struggling to meet their commitment to GLNG export contracts (See PDF)

Image: walking the CSG pipeline (from Friends of the Earth/flickr)

Conflicting opinions have been voiced on NSW gas supply security. Despite numerous announcements that shortages could come as soon as 2015, the head of BHP Petroleum chair Michael Yeager recently said “it's more important to let the citizens of Victoria and NSW and to some degree even Queensland (know) there's plenty of gas to supply those provinces indefinitely"

Whatever the truth of this matter, it is already clear that no new gas power stations are required, with electricity demand falling in Eastern Australia for the last three years. AGL recently put on hold their proposed 1000MW gas power plant at Dalton for the foreseeable future.

Zero gas: the way forwards

“Gas corporations want to access NSW' coal-seam gas at all costs, but is NSW really at risk of shortages? Not if we move towards zero gas use – which our analysis shows is the logical step, from an economic as well as environmental perspective,” Mr Courtice said.

“At the prices we are going to be seeing, no-one will be building new gas power stations in Australia, and households will be hurting at the hip pocket if they rely on gas appliances.”

“NSW can do better than allow itself to be bluffed and bullied by the gas companies. NSW could tomorrow begin to transition away from dirty fossil gas and implement efficient electric technologies powered by renewable energy.”

BZE's research has identified that the technology to replace fossil gas use is now cleaner, more efficient and cheaper to run:

  • Household heat pumps and induction cooktops can replace fossil gas appliances with greater efficiency and safety, and lower operating costs and greenhouse emissions;

  • An energy efficiency program as simple as changing halogen light globes across Australia for new LEDs could reduce electricity demand by as much as one large coal power station;

  • Fossil gas and coal power stations can be replaced with a combination of wind farms, solar panels, and large solar-thermal power plants with molten salt heat storage for backup to run at night.

High speed rail cheaper than Albanese thinks

Transport minister Anthony Albanese is trying to derail the promising High Speed Rail option before it even leaves the platform, according to climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Mr Albanese appears to have decided to write off this nation building project before even releasing the report which he has been sitting on for four months,” said BZE's Zero Carbon Australia Transport researcher Gerard Drew.

“It is time to allow the public to consider the proposal. It’s unacceptable for the government to dismiss this publicly financed research before the costs and benefits have been shown.”

BZE, in partnership with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), has analysed high-speed rail route options for Melbourne to Brisbane to arrive at a significantly lower cost figure than the Phase 1 AECOM study for the government, released in 2011.

“Based on the first study, we think that a price tag at the lower end of AECOM's costing range is what we should expect from the high speed rail network”, said Mr Drew.

“Mr Albanese has declared that the alignment 'has got to be in a straight line' which is certainly false. This assumption can inflate the project cost by a huge degree by unnecessarily forcing it through adverse terrain. For example, a kilometre of tunnel can cost more than 10 times as much as track on flat ground.

Image: Mapping the path of least resistance (dark blue) and precise route with optimised horizontal curvature (light blue), including bridges (purple) and tunnels (dark red)

This summer, BBQ without cooking the planet

For the summer holiday season, the first thing on everyone's mind is naturally how to minimise their carbon emissions.

Well, maybe not the first thing on everyone's mind, but it is at least possible to have a barbie without contributing extra greenhouse emissions – and probably more convenient, too.

And you don't want that hot summer sun getting even hotter with climate change, after all!

Electrify your shrimp!

Do you get stressed out by those last minute runs to the servo to fill your gas bottle (or to buy a bag of briquettes) before the big family party? What if you've already had too many beers to even do the drive?

Well you can now save the environment, and a car trip as well, if you make your next barbecue an electric one.

If you have solar power, or purchase 100% renewable energy from your energy supplier, then an electric barbecue is definitely the most environmentally sound way of barbecuing those shrimps, kangaroo steaks, or even better, lentil burgers and vegetarian sausages.

We should point out, electric barbecues are quick-heating and easier to clean, too!


Pic: if you're really keen, see if you can get a solar grill...

Hartcher should stop providing PR for the gas industry

Beyond Zero Emissions statement, 20 December 2012

New South Wales Energy Minister Chris Hartcher recently said “If we are unable to access gas the lights will go out. It's as simple as that." (Daily Telegraph, 9 December 2012).

The statement is clearly wrong, on many counts (see below). Why is Hartcher making such nonsensical statements?

The only function of this scaremongering is to provide PR for the gas industry.

Coal seam gas companies operating in eastern Australia – Shell, British Gas, Conoco Phillips, Origin, Santos, AGL, and others - have a constant need to “book” gas and oil reserves in advance. This demonstrates to the share market that they have a future, despite dwindling global oil discoveries.

Now, however, they have over-committed gas exports to the Asian market and are frantically searching high and low to make up this shortfall – employing whatever methods they have – from fracking farms to pressuring ministers.

This rush has nothing to do with providing lighting, or anything other than higher prices to energy users in New South Wales. It does, however, require the one thing that coal seam gas seems to have lost: a social license to operate.

Hartcher is clearly wrong. Further, he should be supporting clean, renewable energy such as wind and solar, not more fossil fuels.

Coal Seam Gas operations in NSW's Pilliga forest

Is dirty gas killing clean coal?

CSG fracking: destroying carbon capture & storage potential?

Media release, December 17, 2012

“Fracking” to tap unconventional gas resources could destroy the much-hyped “clean coal” carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Earlier this year, Scientific American reported findings that “many of the same shale rock formations where companies want to extract gas also happen to sit above optimal sites envisioned for storing carbon dioxide underground that is captured from power plants and industrial facilities.”

Now that unconventional gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing of coal and shale beds is well underway in Australia, the same questions need to be asked of CCS efforts here, such as the Callide project in Queensland that has recently been in the news.

“Australia's booming coal-seam and shale gas industries are going to collide head-on with the government's promises to capture and bury our carbon emissions,” said Matthew Wright of climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Clean coal or CCS is a marketing term, and shouldn't be confused with an actual technology.

“If you add the huge costs of capturing, compressing and storing underground to coal combustion, renewables look cost-competitive already – and renewable energy costs are still falling.

“It's not good enough to pump the CO2 underground and just hope it stays there. There has to be genuine risk management – for the investors in these projects, as well as for the atmosphere.

“Geologically speaking, an investor would have to be pretty confident that a CCS reservoir has integrity and that the CO2 wouldn’t just leak out.

"Ironically it is not just the coal industry that is being undermined by this fracking business. The gas industry themselves is making claims that we should back them as a climate solution because it the future they will be offering gas with CCS."

“There's an easy way out of this conundrum. Build renewable energy, not new gas and coal infrastructure. It's guaranteed zero carbon emissions and it's getting cheaper and more efficient all the time.”

Solar research funding is just passing the buck

December 13 2012

Martin Ferguson's announcement this morning for $83 million for solar energy research is a diversion from actually building large solar, according to Matthew Wright from the climate and energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“While Australia is limiting its large-scale solar energy sector to research, other countries are going ahead and building it – and learning more in the process,” Wright said.

“If Martin Ferguson really supported large scale solar energy, he would have us build it now.

“China has just announced that, from almost nothing today, they will build three thousand megawatts of solar thermal capacity in the next three years. That's what we should be doing, too.” 

Beyond Zero Emissions are pushing for Australia's first large solar-thermal plants to be built at Port Augusta, to replace the two coal power stations there, in coalition with union, community and environmental groups and the Port Augusta council. 

Image: Abengoa solar thermal plant, Spain

The group has written a technical report on how it can be done, building on the 2010 Zero Carbon Australia plan which outlined a feasible plan to power all of Australia on 100% renewable energy. 

“Port Augusta would have to be one of the world's best locations for solar thermal energy: it has the grid connection, the skilled workforce, and a world-class solar resource.

“Building solar thermal plants, that store heat energy to operate at night, is the key piece of the puzzle to replace baseload coal and gas with clean and reliable renewable energy.

“24 hour solar power is what Australians want, and we've shown that it can be built.”

CSG leaks' carbon liability could end the industry

Media release 19/11/2012

Coal-seam gas (CSG) developers have been massively understating their carbon tax liability, throwing the whole future of the industry into question, according to climate and renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

Researchers at Southern Cross University have recorded significant levels of methane at the Tara CSG gas fields, indicating the likelihood of high fugitive emissions associated with their operations.

This finding follows similar information from the US Department of Energy coming from CSG fields in Wyoming, and other results from US unconventional gas fields.

Unlike the United States, Australia has legislated liabilities for fugitive emissions, which are included in our carbon price.

Currently, CSG developers are using an assumed fugitive emissions factor of 0.12%. This is based on a 1996 American Petroleum Institute document intended for health and safety, which explicitly states it should not be used as basis for emissions inventory accounting standards.

Tara CSG wells

Wind farms lowering electricity bills in SA

Wind farms are making a major contribution to lower electricity prices in South Australia, with bills set to fall $160/year on average.

The Essential Services Commission of South Australia has lowered standing contract electricity prices by 8.1% from January – around $160 per year savings on a typical bill. This was because wholesale prices are lower than previously expected. 

Climate and energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) says a common misconception has been thoroughly disproven: wind farms are actually lowering electricity bills.

“Unfortunately, the myth persists, judging by comments from GoSwitch’s Ben Freund reported in the Weekly Times (Oct 30).

“To conclude that wind farms are driving up prices shows an ignorance of the facts. South Australians should be thanking the wind industry for the savings,” says Matthew Wright, Executive Director of BZE.

 “Wind turbines have no fuel costs once built,” Mr Wright said. “In the electricity market, they out-compete fossil fuel generators and cause a lowering of prices. This is known as the “merit order effect” and is an accepted phenomenon in energy market analysis.”

Snowtown wind farm. Photo by David Clarke.

Parliament supports motion for solar

                              

Today the South Australian Parliament committed to looking seriously at building solar thermal in Port Augusta.

The House of Assembly voted to support a motion to set up a select committee to investigate Beyond Zero Emission’s proposal to replace the coal plants in Port Augusta with solar thermal.

“It is encouraging to see bipartisan support for proposal that will create 1800 jobs, support regional development, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Hannah Aulby said today.

“Port Augusta has the sun, the workforce, the transmission lines, and the community support to make this project a real success.”

The alternative for South Australia is to rely on a gas power plant to meet future electricity demand. This would cause electricity prices to rise significantly as an expanding gas export market causes gas prices to double.

“Gas is a false choice for South Australia. Gas prices will double in coming years, putting significant pressure on domestic industries and households. Solar thermal can provide energy security and employment opportunities for Australian industries.”

For comment or interview
Hannah Aulby
Ph 0427 079 729
Hannah@beyondzeroemissions.org

Rising prices show we must get off gas

                          

Australian households are to be hit by another rise in energy bills, this time due to rising gas prices, as highlighted by a report released today.

“This just confirms what we were already saying: It’s time to get off gas energy,” Beyond Zero Emissions’ Executive Director, Matthew Wright says.
“Whether it’s householders replacing gas appliances with efficient modern electric ones, or governments introducing policy for the building of renewable wind and solar power instead of gas power stations, the writing is on the wall: If you want stable prices and energy security then get off gas.”

A report released today, commissioned by the Australian Industry Group, finds gas prices are rising as they are being tied to international prices due to the development of an export industry.
A doubling of domestic gas prices is expected, as a result of the booming LNG export market. This will threaten the supply to domestic industries such as manufacturing. It will make electricity from gas power stations dearer, and household gas appliances much more expensive to run.

The report explains that domestic industries currently receive gas supply at $4-6 per gigajoule. While energy companies will profit from international prices that are above $10 per gigajoule, domestic consumers and industry face a nightmare scenario.

The AIG report shows that the gas export expansion will cause a $7 billion loss to the economy – coupled with increased greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination, damaged farm land and broken communities.

“Gas is getting dirtier and dirtier as conventional supplies run out and we go into coal seam and shale gas. It’s also more expensive. Rising prices are not the only reason to get off gas," Mr Wright said.

“Modern electric household appliances are far more energy-efficient than gas equivalents, with less carbon emissions, and increasingly, much cheaper to run.

“Renewable energy has been lowering electricity prices. In South Australia the Essential Services Commission has lowered the prices for households by some $160 off the back of their falling wholesale prices.”

Climate Positive supports Repower Port Augusta campaign for baseload solar thermal power

Beyond Zero Emissions  is pleased to announce that a significant donation from environmental non-governmental organisation Climate Positive will boost the campaign for baseload solar-thermal power for South Australia.

Climate Positive is a leader in climate protection and works with Australian businesses and organisations to raise awareness of the dangers of climate change. It is a pioneer in the field of restorative actions and has played an important role in getting people to take the first steps to decarbonise the Australian economy.

BZE wrote the blueprint for the popular grassroots campaign Repower Port Augusta, that is seeking to have that town’s coal power stations replaced with solar thermal generators.

“We will be expanding our campaigning in South Australia, educating and activating the community on the future power options for South Australia,” said Matthew Wright, BZE Executive Director.


Regional Australia to get the word on Zero Emissions buildings

MEDIA RELEASE October 4th 2012 

Beyond Zero Emissions has received a significant donation from the environmental NGO Climate Positive. This will help to take BZE’s message to a wider audience across Eastern Australia.

As a result, the upcoming Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan will be presented to many more audiences than would have otherwise been possible, especially in regional and metropolitan NSW and QLD.

“Climate Positive deserve recognition for their very important part in getting people to take the first step to decarbonise the economy,” said Matthew Wright, Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions.


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