Zero Carbon Australia Buildings Plan Update

Slides from Trent's presentation are available here

The Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) Buildings Plan is set to launch in the coming months. The ZCA Buildings Plan aims to demonstrate that there are no technical barriers to zero emission buildings in Australia. Project Director, Trent Hawkins, will take us through energy efficiency retrofits, thermal modelling software, implementation timelines, economic case studies, and the renewable energy strategies, that will make every building energy self-sufficient (i.e. zero net energy consumption) within a decade. 

Whatever your incentive, energy efficient building design and sustainable performance is an absolute no-brainer. It would reduce Australia's total carbon emissions. It would present energy savings for bill payers and more healthy and comfortable homes. This also has reciprocal benefits for government spending: a healthier population and more breathing room for the transition to renewable energy.

Trent's presentation vodcast (via University of Melbourne's Echo360 lecture capture system) can be found here

Zero emissions homes: save the climate and money, in comfort.

If you aim for a zero-emissions house, you can live in comfort, while saving money and the climate. That’s the message from research and practice, according to climate and renewable energy think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

Members of the public will have a chance to see it for themselves on Sustainable House Day this Sunday September 9th, when BZE researcher Richard Keech and BZE volunteer Michael Day are showcasing their homes to the public.

Michael has recently won the Yarra Sustainability Awards for "innovation in sustainable design" and has had his home featured in Sanctuary Magazine.

Richard has showcased his home in Moonee Valley and has conducted extensive monitoring and analysis on his house since retrofitting it for sustainability.

“I’ve saved over $14,000 on avoided energy charges since 2007,” Richard said.   

“At this rate I’ll repay the upfront costs in about ten years, and in the mean time the home is much more comfortable.

“And after the investment is repaid, I’ll be cutting my cost of living significantly.”

Trigeneration: Sydney's white elephant

Matt Wright

The City of Sydney is comparing apples with oranges when it promotes its Trigeneration Master Plan (designed in partnership with Origin Energy and subsidiary Cogent Energy) as cleaner than burning coal in centralised power plants.

Beyond Zero Emissions’ fundamental criticism of the trigen plan has yet to be adequately answered. In May, I pointed out in an article that it’s easy to look better than the coal-dominated status quo, but it would have been more legitimate if the City of Sydney had compared its plan to other possible efficiency upgrades with similar capital expenditure and energy costs.

Now the Property Council of Australia has weighed into the debate with a submission that backs this up. The Property Council suggests that energy efficiency (demand reduction) and renewable energy sources should be the first priorities before trigen is considered.

This suggestion is welcome. Inefficiency in city office energy use is driven by poor building design, and high peak loads when old, inefficient air conditioners are used to compensate for this poor design.

It’s time for the City of Sydney to park the trigen plan, and start implementing energy efficiency measures and building renewables. If it does that thoroughly, it will find trigeneration unnecessary.

Trigeneration plant

Trigeneration gas engine

Gas industry in denial over carbon emissions

MEDIA RELEASE 4th September 2012

Industry talk of developing an industry in “low emissions” coal-seam gas is a fantasy, according to renewable energy and climate think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE).

Yesterday, the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) released their  Australia’s Unconventional Energy Options report, which advocates the development of unconventional gas supplies such as coal-seam gas and shale gas.

The report found that “the social licence to operate is in serious jeopardy” according to CEDA chief executive, Stephen Martin.

BZE’s Executive Director Matthew Wright said “Unconventional gas not only hasn’t got, but also doesn’t deserve a social licence.”

“There is all this talk of lower emissions with gas, but we have yet to see a convincing evaluation of the emissions from leaking methane, a killer greenhouse gas, in unconventional gas fields.”

Clouding a bright solar thermal future

The July 31 Australian Energy Technology Assessment from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics has been hailed by the government, and renewable energy advocates, as a step forward for Australia’s ‘clean energy future’.

It is true that the estimates in the AETA are an improvement over the recent Energy White Paper. However, its modelling of high future costs for Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) energy are based on assumptions that are not specified, and so cannot be held up to scrutiny. This makes it impossible to judge their accuracy or compare them to alternative scenarios.

The Australian Energy Market Operator is soon to begin modelling a 100 per cent renewable energy grid for Australia. (You can see its scoping document here)

Beyond Zero Emissions is concerned that the confusion on CST costs caused by the AETA could lead to false results in AEMO’s modelling. CST is the key technology for achieving 100 per cent renewable energy in Australia.

Santos’ shale gas adventure to slug SA households over $260 a year.

Santos’ foray into expensive shale gas will increase household bills by a whopping $263 each year.

Santos has admitted that shale gas will double the wholesale price of gas, adding $163 to average gas bills, but neglected to mention the impact on electricity prices, which will add at least $100 to household power bills.

Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) spokesperson Mark Ogge said that “South Australia is dependent on gas for half its electricity. Doubling the wholesale price of gas will cost consumers another $100 or more on their power bill, bringing the total increase to more than $260.”

“Santos will make a killing out of shale, but households and businesses will pay for it, particularly since the company has point blank refused to put any gas aside for South Australians,” says Mr Ogge.

“Shale gas is a step backwards for South Australia,” says Mr Ogge. “These are unnecessary price rises, when there is an obvious alternative.

“South Australia is one of the sunniest places on earth. Investing in solar allows South Australians to avoid becoming dependent on polluting and expensive unconventional gas.”

Santos Moomba gas plant

Using coal exports as a lever for climate action

In the first part of this article, we provided evidence that suggests Australia’s current coal exports, and more so their projected doubling by 2020, is unlikely to be replaced by other international coal exporters, should Australia withdraw from the market.

We argued that restricting Australia’s coal exports could constrict the demand for coal – by pushing up the international market price. Our LNG exports could follow a similar path.

We drew on the report Laggard to Leader: How Australia can lead the world to zero carbon prosperity, published by climate and renewables think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions. The argument in that report is for a moratorium on increasing coal and LNG exports, and seeking agreements with other countries to begin phasing out those exports in tandem with deploying and developing renewable energy.

We can get a sense of just how much Australia can affect prices for these commodities, simply by looking at what the January 2011 Queensland floods did to coal prices. Around 34 per cent of Australia’s coal exports were affected (and Australia exports around 27 per cent of the world’s traded coal; that means there was a drop of nearly 10 per cent in traded coal).

While metallurgical (coking) coal prices spiked by as much as 150 per cent, “Thermal coal prices were also pushed up, with the benchmark price for thermal coal to Japan, Australia’s largest coal buyer, settled at a record $129.85 per tonne in April 2011.”

So what can restricting Australia’s coal exports leverage, and how is the best way to do it?

Can Australia’s coal customers shop elsewhere?

At the Climate Commission public meeting in Melbourne on July 24, when responding to a question, a Commissioner used what some call the drug dealer’s defence: if Australia stopped exporting coal, others would fill the gap.

Climate Commissioner Gerry Hueston explained that, in relation to Australia’s exports, “The key is to reduce the demand for these greenhouse heavy fuels, and if we stop supplying coal and perhaps even gas to some of these developing economies they’ll get it from somewhere else. So, it doesn’t solve the problem… they’ll get it from somewhere else too, if you put the price up.”

Newcastle coal ships queuing

Picture: Coal ships queuing off Newcastle

The previous night, a somewhat larger crowd gathered for the launch of the new report Laggard to Leader: How Australia can lead the world to zero carbon prosperity, published by climate and renewables think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions.

Report authors Fergus Green and Reuben Finighan outlined a very different view on Australia’s coal exports. Not only are they our responsibility, but they could be a point of leverage to kick-start a serious global response to climate change. If Australia stopped the expansion of our coal and gas export industry, and started moving towards phasing them out, it would accelerate the global transition to renewable energy.

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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