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.”

Why are we buying insurance from power companies?

By Richard Keech

Much has been said in the discussion about the introduction of smart meters. According to Michael West in the Sydney Morning Herald, “smart meters and ‘flexible pricing’ merely shift the business risk from the company to the consumer”.

This entirely misses the point that shielding consumers from the price volatility is counter-productive. In our electricity generation system, wholesale energy is traded on an open market where the laws of supply and demand dictate prices from minute to minute. However the consumer is shielded from dynamic price changes, contributing to ridiculous wholesale price spikes for a few hours per year. Sometimes peak price can be more than one hundred times the typical off-peak price.

So ‘protecting’ consumers from dynamic pricing is a reason why the wholesale price is so unstable in the first place. The wholesale price volatility would be reduced if consumers are exposed to the price. This  would also lead to lower peak demand, therefore less peak-time generating capacity has to sit idle most of the time.

So yes, at present the power retailers do assume peak pricing risk, but in return they extract from every consumer a significant premium built in to the everyday price of electricity. Since we pay them a premium in return for avoiding some risk, that puts our power retailers in the insurance business.

As a power consumer, I would love to avoid paying that risk premium for the 99 per cent of hours when wholesale price is low to moderate. So West’s proposition that flexible pricing is a way of the power companies to offload risk misses the point that there is significant potential for lower everyday prices through the paring back of the risk premium that gets passed to consumers in power tariffs.

BZE 2011-12 Annual Report now available

BZE's Annual Report for the financial year 2011-12 (and a bit beyond) is now available. You can download it here.

A big well done to volunteers Liem and Robin for their work in putting it together!

(NOTE: Some people have trouble downloading files from our website, with some downloads stopping before completion. If you have this problem then right-click on the link and "save link as" to save the file onto your computer)

High praise for Port Augusta solar hub plan at Civic Trust's annual Awards and Brickbats

A PLAN to transform Port Augusta into a green energy hub has been lauded at the Civic Trust's annual Awards and Brickbats ceremony.

However, the State Government's axing of heritage advisory services in its May Budget is the stand-out among this year's brickbats.

The Civic Trust a public think tank that engages in social and environmental discussion said state heritage assets would suffer from longer response times, reduced access to advice for owners, a rise in inappropriate works and degradation of heritage significance.

"The decision to cease State Heritage Advisory Services disadvantages state heritage owners, puts additional pressure on local government and is likely to lead to a long-term devaluation of the state's history," said trust chairman Darian Hiles.

A blueprint to replace Alinta Energy's emissions-intensive Northern and Playford B brown coal power plants with renewable energy infrastructure was the inaugural winner of the opportunities category, endorsed as the state's most promising project.

It also took out the people's choice award. 

Mr Hiles said the benefits of the project, including the construction of six solar thermal plants and 95 wind turbines, would be wide-ranging. "It would create 1800 jobs, alleviate the health impacts of coal, save five million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year and provide stable electricity prices and energy security," he said.

"Unfortunately the Government has decided not to proceed with the subsidy that was anticipated, which appears to be very short-sighted and needs to be redressed."

Alinta had carried out initial studies on building a solar thermal plant at Port Augusta but a September decision by the Federal Government to scrap plans to buy out the Playford B station has made the project financially challenging.

The company is seeking $65 million from the Federal Government towards the expected $200 million cost of building a 40-50 megawatt solar thermal plant.

Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery will appear before a State Parliament select committee this month to talk about the proposal. In other Civic Trust awards, the Colonel William Light Award for excellence in urban design was awarded to the Anglican Parish of Glenelg extension.

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

Coal seam gas faces tax bill of billions

By Paddy Manning. Source: Sydney Morning Herald

AUSTRALIA'S coal seam gas industry could face future carbon tax liabilities of up to $4 billion a year if ''fugitive'' emissions of methane from unconventional gas production turn out to be substantially higher than expected.Three huge coal seam gas-to-LNG projects worth $60 billion are under construction in Queensland by BG Group, Origin Energy and Santos. Both BG and Santos have had multibillion-dollar cost blowouts this year. Investors are nervous about costs, execution and rates of return on these LNG projects.

On Sunday, federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson told the ABC that news last week of a potential $20 billion cost blowout at Chevron's Gorgon project in Western Australia was ''not good in terms of attracting further investment''.

The federal government calculates carbon tax liability for conventional and unconventional gas alike, using estimates that just 0.12 per cent of the produced gas escapes to the atmosphere.

But recent studies of unconventional gasfields in the US and Australia suggest emissions could be 4 per cent or higher.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has doubled its own estimate of fugitive emissions to 2.4 per cent and Australia's Department of Climate Change is reviewing its methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions from coal seam gas operations, for potential use in the 2013 National Greenhouse Accounts.

Think tank Beyond Zero Emissions has calculated that a typical coal seam gas well producing a terajoule a day of methane, and producing 1 per cent fugitive emissions, would incur a carbon tax liability of $31,700 a year at the current rate of $23 a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.

A well that leaked 4 per cent would be liable for tax of $126,800 a year.

Condamine river methane bubbles - video by Dayne Pratzky

Alinta seeks $65m from Federal Government for solar thermal plant at Port Augusta in South Australia

By Cameron England. Source: Adelaide Advertiser

ALINTA Energy wants the Federal Government to stump up $65 million for a solar thermal plant in South Australia to secure electricity generation for the next 15-20 years.

Alinta chief executive Jeff Dimery said the company wants to press ahead with an economic study into setting up a solar thermal plant adjacent to its Northern Power Station, but the project would not work without government help.

Mr Dimery argues other either unproven or much more expensive technologies, such as geothermal energy and rooftop solar panels, have been heavily supported by state and federal governments and it was time for proven solar thermal technology to get a look-in.

The $65 million would account for about a third of the expected $200 million cost of building a 40-50 megawatt solar thermal plant at Port Augusta.

The plant would complement the Northern Power Station, which burns coal from Leigh Creek, both extending the life of the Leigh Creek coal resource and ensuring jobs for the local community.

Mr Dimery said unlike geothermal power, which is yet to demonstrate its commercial viability, solar thermal is currently in use around the world.

Leigh Creek coal mine

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