Greens push 100pct renewables plan for W.A.

By Giles Parkinson

The Greens Party has unveiled an ambitious new document that outlines possible pathways to turn Western Australia – one of the most energy-intensive states in the world – into one where its stationary energy needs are powered 100 per cent by renewable energy sources in less than two decades.

The Greens offer two principal scenarios to transform the coal and gas-dependent grid known as the South West Interconnected System (SWIS), which includes the capital Perth and the most populous regions. The first involves a heavier reliance on solar thermal and storage technologies currently deployed in Spain, the US and elsewhere, while the second relies more on currently cheaper technologies such as wind energy and solar PV. Both are supported by bio-mass and pumped hydro.

According to Scott Ludlam, the WA-based Senator whose office anchored the report with the help of specialist consultants, the plan seeks to make two important points – one that it is feasible, and two, it will not cost much more than business as usual (BAU).

Indeed, even using somewhat conservative technology cost forecasts for the various forms of solar, and to allow for a safety-first  approach to capacity requirements, the study concludes that the levellised cost of electricity in the various renewable scenarios ranges from $208/MWh to $221/MWh by 2029. (We go into detail further down)

The levellised cost of electricity in the BAU case is not much cheaper – $203/MWh. While it has lower up front capital costs – $20 billion vs $60 billion, the balance of the BAU scenario bill will be paid in fuel costs, which for gas and diesel customers in WA is already proving expensive and forcing those on isolated and remote areas in particular to already consider solar alternatives.

Go LED and kill Hazelwood?

By Trent Hawkins

According to analysis conducted by Beyond Zero Emissions, lighting in homes is responsible for about seven per cent of household electricity use, and around 30 per cent of electricity for commercial and retail buildings.

That's quite a large amount of energy use, but it could be about to fall drastically, perhaps by as much as a large coal power station's worth of electricity demand. That's a hefty amount when energy utilities are already seriously challenged by falling electricity demand.  

As reported by Gerard Wynn, LEDs (light emitting diodes) are now set to dominate the global lighting market. In the general lighting market the consultants McKinsey & Company forecast a 45 per cent market share for LEDs by 2016, up from 9 per cent in 2011. 

Electronics giant Philips has completely ceased research and development into fluorescent lighting technology, recognising that the future is in LEDs. Other companies in the semiconductor business, not traditionally in lighting, are getting in on the act. In Australia, companies are springing up that come into your home or business and do a full change-out to LEDs. Even McDonald’s restaurants are making the switch.  

Beyond Zero Emissions' Buildings Plan research is proposing a full switch to replace all existing lighting with LEDs within 10 years. This would result in up to 80 per cent reduction in lighting energy use for most building categories.

These energy savings are in the order of 15 terawatt-hours of electricity per year: more than Victoria's notoriously polluting Hazelwood power station could produce if it ran flat out, non-stop, for an entire year. Avoiding the burning of all that brown coal would avoid CO2 emissions of over 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year. 

The US Department of Energy chart below shows the trajectory of improvement of LED lights as compared with other technologies. There is a lot of further improvement to be had, with the US DOE supporting a realistic goal of reaching 200 lumens/watt (compared to 60-90 lumens/watt in products on the market now).

Chart from US Department of Energy (USDOE) - “Solid-State Lighting Research and Development: Multi-Year Program Plan”, April 2012.

And this improvement in light output only begins to tell the story of why LEDs are taking the lighting market by storm.

A turn for the better

If there’s one thing Wonthaggi has plenty of it’s wind. Energy researcher BEN COURTICE looks at whether it could prove to be one of the shire’s biggest assets.

IF YOU install solar panels to offset your entire electricity use, you pay no electricity bill – you may even get a credit. There are options to achieve this on a larger, regional or town scale, if communities work together.

Wonthaggi could supply all its own energy, on an annual basis, from a small wind farm. In fact, it could easily be a net exporter of large amounts of renewable energy, via the electricity grid, as the wind resource in the region is better than most parts of the country.

Crunching the numbers based on the existing information makes this clear.

The small existing Wonthaggi wind farm has a nominal capacity of 12 megawatts (MW) from its six turbines. Its annual output in 2011 was 28.3 gigawatt-hours (GWh).

With a population of just under 6900 in 2011, Wonthaggi has about a third of the Shire’s mainland population. Assuming a similar proportion of electricity use, that makes about 25 GWh per year energy use (using state government energy use figures from 2007).

That's less than the output of the wind farm. So six two-megawatt turbines can do the job now.

If the aim is energy independence, though, much more can be done.

If households in Wonthaggi reduced their own energy use, then more clean energy would be exported to other, less windy regions such as Melbourne's suburbs.

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.

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