Solar Thermal Models Built

Another four of our famous solar thermal models have been built in NSW, thanks to the efforts of Beyond Zero Emissions volunteers, the Paramatta Climate Action Network, and the Granville Men’s Shed. The models are of a concentrated solar thermal plant with a molten salt storage (CST+) power station. They are used to engage and educate the public in the renewable energy discussion.

The models were unveiled to the public at Parramatta Mall last week, generating a lot of interest from curious passers-by.

“The model we already have has always generated interest, but when we had four models side by side this time, it took me twice as long to set them up because people kept stopping to ask about them,” said BZE volunteer Terry McBride. “People asked a lot of questions about what the models were and how they worked, so we talked to them about how the solar plants can produce 24-hour power, and gave them information to take away. It’s a great tool because some people go on the website and download the Plan, and even change their lifestyle. The people who don’t still come away with the knowledge that [renewable energy] can generate 24-hour power, and realise that they’re being lied to by the people who say otherwise.”

Granville Men’s Shed president Bill Tibben also expressed his enthusiasm for the joint venture. “This type of project is a win-win for the Men’s Shed. We get to put our minds to work on how to build it, as well as educate ourselves on renewable energy. It is then used as an educational tool for a very important issue in the community right now.”

According to McBride, one model would stay in Parramatta while the others will be sent interstate. Two will go to South Australia to join the ‘RepowerPort Augusta’ campaign, and another is bound for climate action groups in Victoria.

WME leaders list 2012: GOVERNMENT + NGO LEADER

The idealistic realist

Matthew Wright
Outfit: Beyond Zero Emissions
Position: Executive Director

Completely decarbonising our coal-rich nation by 2020 might be seen as an idealistic notion, but not to Matthew Wright. As co-founder of the NGO Beyond Zero Emissions, he has provided insight into an Australian future powered only by renewable energy. As challenging as this may be for some policymakers and industry players, Wright still considers himself very much a realist.

“We look at how to get to a completely decarbonised economy as cheaply as we can by using international off-the-shelf technology,” he says.

Since BZE doesn’t receive any government or industry funding, relying on donations alone, Wright says the biggest achievement so far has been to provide a research-based transition plan for Australia’s energy future.

This plan, Zero Carbon Australia 2020 was started as an initiative of BZE and the Climate Emergency Network with support from Climate Positive. ZCA is now a research collaboration between BZE and the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute.

Work on the plan commenced in early 2009 and encompasses stationary energy, transport, housing and construction, land use, industrial processes and replacing coal export revenue. Version one of the stationary energy plan has been published.

Aside from its research contribution, perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of BZE is the organisation itself. Over the last six years it has attracted more than 500 volunteers working on a renewable energy future, simply because “they love it”, Wright says.

Now we’re cooking without gas!

Zero emissions buildings are good for your health

Common wisdom has it that gas is the best for cooking and it’s the most efficient for heating.

This thinking is out of date, as will be demonstrated in a talk at the Healthy Buildings Symposium by Trent Hawkins, Buildings Plan project director for renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

The health risks from gas are sadly well known. Gas leaks from old hot-water systems have asphyxiated people. Leaky gas pipes have caused explosions. Old gas heaters and stoves may produce toxic carbon monoxide gas, and often start fires.

But is there a responsible, environmentally friendly alternative?

Modern reverse-cycle airconditioners can provide heating at a high level of efficiency. This is because they don’t try to create heat – they just concentrate heat in the air, and move it into (or out of) buildings with a heat pump. It’s the same way a refrigerator works.

The best performing units can now deliver 5 joules of heat for every joule of electricity they consume. Heat pumps can also provide hot water efficiently without using gas. 

The most efficient electric stoves avaliable are induction cooktops, which are the standard in Europe. The induction process means the stovetop doesn’t heat up like a gas or electric element stove – another health bonus when you consider the risk of burns and fire.

Of course, gas is also a fossil fuel, and increasingly dirty as we move into coal-seam gas production.

BZE’s Zero Carbon Australia buildings plan will be released in September this year.

The plan will show how to get a massive reduction in the amount of energy used to heat, light and cool our homes and commercial buildings. This is consistent with the recommendations of the previously published stationary energy plan, which outlined a realistic way to a 100% renewable electricity grid.

The buildings plan doesn’t only advocate replacing gas with modern appliances. It also proposes to insulate buildings and reduce air-infiltration. This means less exposure to extreme temperatures, increasing health and  comfort.

Trent will speak from 11:45AM to 12:45PM on Monday July 9, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Plaza Terrace auditorium. This talk is free –for more information or to reserve a place, visit:

For info on the Healthy Buildings Symposium


For more information contact Trent Hawkins on  407 070 841       

or Emma Carton (BZE QLD general manager)416 584 769     

Denying responsibility for our fossil fuel exports

As Prime Minister Julia Gillard greets other world leaders at the Rio+20 sustainable development summit, a close look at the official messages her government is sending to the world on our behalf reveals a fundamental contradiction.

On the one hand, the Government appears aware of what is at stake on climate change. "This is the critical decade," proclaims the Government's official submission to the conference. "Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of the climate change our children and grandchildren experience".

Yet the part of the submission on "sustainable mining" - one of its "priority" themes for the summit - makes no mention of the impacts of the huge quantities of fossil fuels we mine for export.

The Government submission focuses narrowly on the economic and social benefits that mining can provide when it is properly regulated. In this sense, Australia posits itself as a leader, "well positioned to work in partnership with developing nations to assist in spreading the benefits of mining in a sustainable way".

Undoubtedly, the local impacts of Australian mining are better regulated than in many developing countries, and it is legitimate for Australia to help such countries improve their governance processes.

But is it right that we take such a narrow view of the impacts of mining given the need for urgent climate action in this "critical decade"?

By framing sustainability as a matter of localised environmental, social and economic impacts, the Government leads us to focus on the process of mining, distracting our attention from the product of that process.

Solar tariff fitted up

Commission counts only the upfront cost, misses savings

Solar feed-in tariffs have been framed. By focusing on the cost but ignoring the savings from solar power, a backlash is being encouraged when we should be celebrating success.

The Australian has used statements from the Essential Services Commission of South Australia (ESCOSA) to claim that the state’s solar Feed-in Tariff will cause over $100 a year rise in South Australia’s already-high electricity bills.

“This high figure shows two things,” said Matt Wright, Executive Director of renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

“Firstly, the policy has succeeded very well in deploying solar power, even if they were unprepared for it.

“Secondly, they haven’t understood the flow-on benefits and don’t realise that solar is generating savings too.

“Research by University of Melbourne, and separately by ROAM Consulting, shows that the lower wholesale electricity prices that have been achieved in South Australia has more than offset the cost of funding the Feed-in-Tariff.”

Repower Port Augusta Petition: support Australia's first solar thermal plant

Click here to sign the petition

We Have A Choice – Add Your Voice !

Australia is the sunniest continent in the world yet we are slow to harness the potential of our solar energy.

 I support replacing Port Augusta’s coal generators with renewable energy: particularly baseload solar thermal supported by solar PV and wind. This would provide 24 hour baseload electricity and...

- Create 1800 jobs

 - Save millions of tonnes of CO2 annually

- Lead the switch to a renewable energy economy

 - Eliminate the serious health impacts of coal and gas

 - Ensure more stable electricity prices for South Australians


Click here to sign the petition

Repower Port Augusta: Help us win!

Support the call for Australia's first solar thermal plant

Beyond Zero Emissions is leading a campaign to get Australia’s first solar thermal power plants built - and we need your help.

Repower Port Augusta is gaining momentum. Next week we are heading to the SA Parliament, the RPA Alliance has gained interest from unions and business groups and the Port Augusta local group is holding a pivotal vote in the community next month.

Click here and make a tax deductible donation to join the campaign at this critical point.

Short-circuiting an electric price surge

According to energy minister Martin Ferguson, our electricity infrastructure will undergo a $42 billion upgrade over the current five-year regulatory period.

At around $6000 per household, these grid upgrades are the biggest contributor to recent and forthcoming electricity price rises.

Much of that is chasing our tail, upsizing the grid to meet ever growing peak air conditioning demand.  Rather than building new poles and wires at such huge cost to electricity consumers, reducing electricity demand is one of the solutions.

In the year 2000, Australia had approximately four million air conditioning systems with an average rated cool value of 4kW (real-time maximum output not electrical input).

This figure doubled by 2011 – we now have approximately eight million air conditioning units throughout Australia.

Co-efficient of Performance (COP) figures are used to determine how energy efficient a heating or cooling system is.  COP is a measure of the energy multiplier that is achieved by concentrating and moving (or removing) ambient heat through the refrigeration cycle. Refrigeration, derived from the compression and expansion of gases, is what drives reverse cycle air conditioning heat pumps. With this system, the heat energy harvested (or removed) is a multiple of the electricity used.

South Australia wind power figures vindicate radical energy plan

Yesterday energy consultants EnergyQuest broke the news that wind power supplied 31% of South Australia’s electricity in the last quarter.

Solar panels added another 3.5% to put renewable energy’s share in that state well above coal (26%) and getting close to gas (39.5%).

31% wind energy is up from 21% 12 months ago. Just six years ago, the contribution of wind in South Australia was close to zero.

Beyond Zero Emissions spokesperson Matthew Wright says the findings vindicate his group’s controversial Zero Carbon Australia plan, which outlines a transition to 100% renewable energy in ten years.

“The message this sends is that Australia can rapidly reduce its high fossil fuel use and carbon emissions, over ten years, not the commonly suggested 2050 date for serious emissions reduction targets.

 “Our plan has wind providing 40% of the annual energy of Australia, and making that transition in ten years. Clearly, progress in South Australia shows that we aren’t being so radical after all. Maybe our 40% was conservative: SA are nearly there already, and still adding more wind capacity.

 “If we combine the variable output of wind farms with a flexible, dispatchable renewable energy source we can abandon fossil fuels altogether. Modern solar thermal plants, that can run around the clock off stored heat can do this.

 “We are helping to develop a plan for the first such plants to replace the coal power stations at Port Augusta.

 “Wind energy has proven it is up for the task. We just need to get the right policy such as a feed-in tariff to support the newer solar thermal plants, and Australia can kick its fossil fuel habit for good.”


Sydney trigen? Try again with renewables

Since the industrial revolution, when cities became dirty places, we have been removing pollution from their streets and neighbourhoods.

We’ve seen old central coal plants closed down and replacements built hundreds of kilometres away.

Stricter and stricter vehicle emissions standards have been enacted to reduce local pollution and improve the health, wellbeing and happiness of city dwellers.

So why would you choose to then bring a gas power plant back into the centre of the city, where it will release large quantities of health-damaging nitrogen oxide?

A subsidiary of Origin Energy and the City of Sydney have done a deal to start rolling out trigeneration (“trigen”) gas generators in the most heavily populated urban area of Australia.

Trigen is being touted as the new clean, decentralised system for generating power. You might hear about its fabulous efficiency, or the potential to burn renewable bio-gas in future, but when you remove the spin, it’s just re-packaged fossil gas.

But our concern is not just that it’s not renewable, or the nitrogen oxide gases, among other pollutants, that will damage respiratory health. As it turns out, trigen’s carbon emissions and energy efficiency aren’t that great either.

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