Gillard misses the real opportunities to reduce power bills and emissions

August 8, 2012

If Gillard wants to support households against price-gouging by electricity companies, she should look closer at renewable energy and energy efficiency, according to think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

Electricity retailers accused of over-investing in grid infrastructure (like poles and wires) would lose their justification if peak energy use spikes were reduced.  

One easy way would be to continue with programs such as the ill-fated roof insulation scheme of the Rudd government. Upgrading inefficient airconditioners would be another low-hanging fruit.

“We have estimated that subsidising half the cost of upgrading old, inefficient home aircon units could save the public about $2900 in avoided network upgrade costs per unit replaced,” says Matthew Wright, executive director of BZE.

“Solar panels and wind farms also keep prices down, because they displace the more expensive peak gas generators,” Mr Wright said. “This is known as the Merit Order Effect.

Germany’s solar panels would provide 25% of Australia’s electricity

If you took all the solar panels in Germany and put them in Australia, they would supply a quarter of our electricity demand.

In the first six months of 2012, 4.5% of total electricity demand in Germany was met by solar power. Put that capacity onto Australian rooftops, and it would supply 25% of our electricity.

Compare this to Australia’s weak efforts to meet the 20% renewable energy target, which has only achieved 4% additional renewables (wind and solar) in the last 5 years.

Germany’s solar capacity has grown 500% since 2007. The German government recently announced a 52-gigawatt target for rooftop solar capacity, to be achieved over the next 3-4 years. This would supply the equivalent of 50% of our electricity if installed in Australia’s sun.

Given the big reductions in solar panel costs in recent years, the cost of this rollout in Australia would be one quarter (25%) of what Germany has paid to date.

“Germany’s shining example is not alone,” says Matthew Wright, Executive Director of Beyond Zero Emissions.

“China has increased its 2015 target five-fold, and that is even expected to be exceeded.

“The rate of installation which we have seen overseas shows Australia is aiming far too low.

“We should set a target of 25% of our power from rooftop solar panels. Surely sunny Australia can match cold, cloudy Germany.

“Our large-scale renewables target should be increased to at least 25% by 2020, to drive the kind of wind power expansion we’ve already seen in South Australia across the nation.”

Germany has used feed-in tariffs for renewable energy generators, small and large, which is how they have driven their expansion.

“Before Campbell Newman slashed Queensland’s solar feed-in tariff, the state was seeing 1000 solar installations per day,” Mr Wright said.

“This solar installed behind the meter actually saves consumers money, as well as directly cutting our carbon emissions.

“It’s obvious we can do much better. If we set these targets we can achieve them with the proven feed-in tariff mechanism.”

Beyond Zero Emissions published the Zero Carbon Australia stationary energy plan in 2010 which showed how to go to 100% renewable energy in ten years.

In September, BZE will launch the Zero Carbon Australia buildings plan, which will recommend a massive increase in rooftop solar installations across the country.

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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

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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


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Repower Port Augusta: Help us win!

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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.

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