The freedom revolution to kill power bill confusion

By Stephen Bygrave. From Climate Spectator, July 22 2014.

With the amount of rhetoric flying around regarding electricity bills and energy in recent years, you’d be hard pressed to find any points of clarity amongst the noise. For the average punter with little knowledge about energy and politics, the public discussion is bewildering, however much their electricity bill may concern them.

Let's take a selection of assertions that have been made in the “expert” and partisan commentary on the energy market to illustrate some of these points:

  • Everyone acknowledges that we need to use more clean energy, but the Renewable Energy Target is too high.
  • The carbon price is destroying the economy and raising your electricity bill, but repealing it may not lower bills.
  • Power bills went up because your neighbours installed solar, but if you install solar, your power bill will go down.
  • Solar isn't reliable because the sun doesn't shine at night, yet the energy grid can't accommodate all the solar power being generated.
  • Clean coal is ready to roll but nowhere to be seen. Wind turbines, which are now quite visible in a number of locations, are sadly unreliable.
  • Wind turbines may make you sick, yet fires in coalmines are nothing to worry too much over.
  • Gas is low emissions, clean and cheap yet gas bills have started to rise sharply.
  • Fracking is needed for energy security, yet state governments have enacted moratoriums against it.

However, it's the simple truths that manage to cut through all the noise.

One simple truth is that renewable energy has led to lower wholesale electricity prices. This occurs due to a well-researched (but little reported) dynamic in energy markets known as the Merit Order Effect (see this video that explains it clearly). Perhaps the reason it hasn't caught on is because there's little or no evidence that lower wholesale prices have been passed on to consumers in the form of lower energy bills. Certainly, there has been little reporting of the effect.

We have on the other hand seen many (misleading) appeals to a supposed public good, blaming solar homeowners for everyone else's rising electricity prices.

All this hasn't stemmed the flood of homes embracing solar. There's well over a million households in Australia now generating their own solar electricity.

Now, as gas bills begin a sharp climb that could emulate the previous rise in electricity bills, those solar panels on your neighbours' house will look even more enticing.

The race to build Australia's first 24-hour solar power is on

Climate solutions think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions welcomes news that power company Alinta will pursue a solar-thermal “power tower” to replace its ageing coal power stations at Port Augusta in South Australia.

Alinta announced today that its preferred option is a 50 megawatt plant that can store enough solar energy (as heat) to run for 15 hours at night.

Beyond Zero Emissions published a high-level study in 2012 into solar-thermal options for Port Augusta and helped locals launch a campaign to replace the town's coal power stations.

BZE's CEO Stephen Bygrave said the news is a great win for solar.

“This new technology that can supply clean solar power at night will revolutionise our energy supply, and as I've said, that it's inevitable it will be built in Australia. Now the race is on to see which state, and which town, will see the first power tower built”, Mr Bygrave said.

“Port Augusta just pulled ahead in that race. I congratulate the people of Port Augusta and all the groups that have supported this campaign for sticking it out and keeping the solar-thermal with storage option on the table. ”

Image from Repower Port Augusta.

“Alinta are to be congratulated for seeing the value in expanding renewables.

“This progress has been made possible by the existence of the Federal body ARENA [Australian Renewable Energy Agency], which provides funds for these feasibility studies.

“As the residents of Port Augusta know, it's crucial that we keep such support bodies to make a smooth transition to the power of the future.

“We hope that ARENA is able to continue funding this vital work, and that the Renewable Energy Target and Clean Energy Finance Corporation can then help fund the construction of Australia's first baseload solar power station.

“These institutions have been criticised by some recently, but this shows once again that the future lies with renewable energy and we ought to support it.”

Beyond Zero Emissions’ 2012 study on Port Augusta complements the research organisation’s  series of Zero Carbon Australia plans, published in conjunction with The University of Melbourne, that shows how Australia can move to 100% renewable energy in ten years with the political will to do so.

Fossil industries skating on thin ice

Stephen Bygrave, June 2014

Recent news from the US shows how threadbare the fossil fuel industry is becoming.

First, the new wave of "unconventional" fossil fuel extraction has had a significant upset, as the previously hyped Californian shale oil field has had its estimated size cut by an incredible 96%, casting doubt on the truth of worldwide unconventional oil and gas reserves, as the creatively named shortlink suggests (click to read the article in The Guardian).

We've seen this echoed here in Australia with Deutsche Bank and now HSBC deciding not to fund the Abbott Point coal terminal.

Investment group Barclays have downgraded the entire US electric utility industry. Why? Here's what they had to say:

"Over the next few years... we believe that a confluence of declining cost trends in distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) power generation and residential-scale power storage is likely to disrupt the status quo... We believe that solar + storage could reconfigure the organization and regulation of the electric power business over the coming decade."

Moving slowly on Very Fast Trains

By Jon Fairall. The Saturday Paper, Jun 7, 2014.

The case for fast trains has never been stronger, and inaction just drives the cost higher.

The engineering think tank Beyond Zero Emissions recently released a report on the construction of a high-speed railway. The project’s leader, Gerard Drew, told a meeting in Sydney that on his scheme the Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne corridor would be linked by 2030 with trains running at 350km/h and possibly faster.

The study proved such a project could be justified. More importantly, perhaps, it demonstrated it could be financially viable. “High speed rail would halve air travel,” says the group’s chief executive officer, Stephen Bygrave. “It’s faster, more convenient and it will make a profit.” 

On the basis of overseas experience, the study team estimated that, if the line was built by 2030, 65 per cent of people travelling Brisbane–Sydney or Sydney–Melbourne would use the train. Given current projections of the growth of traffic along the corridor, that implies about 68 million passengers a year. 

Audio: Sydney high speed rail launch

Beyond Zero Emissions has conducted the second launch of its High Speed Rail report, this time on the evening of 30 April in Sydney. The launch was co-hosted by the Institute of Environmental Studies (IES) at the University of New South Wales. There were over 200 attendees with a packed lecture theatre, and 12 volunteers from the BZE NSW team did a fantastic job running the event.

You can download an MP3 audio file of the launch here.

Sydney high-speed rail launch speakers. L to R: Gerard Drew, Research Director BZE; Philipp Bergeron (DLR); Geoff Kettle (Mayor of Goulburn); Nigel Lake (CEO, Pottinger); Bryan Nye (CEO, Australasian Railway Association); Phil Potterton (GHD, former head of BITRE); Stephen Bygrave, CEO, BZE; Professor Graciela Metternicht, Director IES; Emeritus Professor John Black, IES.

What renewables target do you want?

BZE's Stephen Bygrave writes:

As one of the architects of the Renewable Energy Target in the late 1990s, it is revealing to see yet another government review of one of the most successful climate policies in the past 2 decades. This review follows an earlier one conducted only months ago by the Climate Change Authority.

So why another? Is it part of a plan to protect the status quo energy companies, and protect their business models that are rapidly becoming outdated?

The renewable energy target, introduced by the Howard government after the Kyoto negotiations in late 1997, was then a key element of the governments climate change platform to grow the renewable energy sector in Australia. It was arguably the strongest climate change initiative of those introduced by the government at the time, in addition to the establishment of the Australian Greenhouse Office, the world's first government agency dedicated to tackling climate change.

Beyond Zero Emissions finds high-speed rail service sensible and feasible

Daryl Passmore, The Sunday Mail (Qld), May 11, 2014

A high-speed train, such as this service in China, could put Brisbane within three hours of Sydney within a decade. Source: AFP

IMAGINE boarding a train at Brisbane’s Roma Street at 9am and getting off at Sydney’s Central Station at noon.

Imagine living near the beach on the Gold Coast and commuting to work in Brisbane’s CBD within 20 minutes.

Both could be a reality in little more than a decade, according to a new report which says high speed rail is not only achievable and affordable, but essential to Australia’s future.

Detailed research by Melbourne University’s Energy Institute, think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and the German Aerospace Center, concludes that a 1799km network linking Brisbane and the Gold Coast to Sydney and Melbourne could be operating by 2025.

“This is a faster, better, cleaner cheaper and more convenient form of travel. It is vital to Australia’s future,” Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Stephen Bygrave said.

Just 20 minutes from the Gold Coast to Brisbane?

By Damien Larkins and Bern Young, ABC Gold Coast.

Travelling from the Gold Coast to Brisbane in just 20 minutes could be a reality by the year 2025, researchers say.

A report from University of Melbourne's Energy Institute Energy Institute says an $84 billion high speed rail (HSR) network along Australia's east coast is the answer.

Australian think tank Beyond Zero Emissions, a part of the energy institute, says HSR is a clean, more efficient and faster way to travel.

Beyond Zero Emissions chief executive Dr Stephen Bygrave says existing networks in countries like Germany, Japan and China are already leading the way.

"It's an idea in Australia, but when you go overseas you see that this is actually a very real technology, a very real prospect," he said.

"The potential in Australia is huge, we're just not making the most of our potential."

Listen to the full interview of Dr Stephen Bygrave on ABC Gold Coast Breakfast with Bern Young. 

BZE: How we found high speed rail to be commercially viable

By Gerard Drew. The Urbanist (Crikey), April 24, 2014

Guest writer Gerard Drew from Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) explains the reasoning behind the organisation’s contention that east coast High Speed Rail line would cover its operating and capital costs

Guest writer Gerard Drew is Research Director with Beyond Zero Emissions (1):

After 30 years of discussion on high speed rail in Australia, and not a kilometre of track built for it, a cynic might assume that it’s never going to happen. But that would ignore what progress is being made overseas and recent analysis that changes the outlook for high speed rail in Australia.

The Zero Carbon Australia High Speed Rail report was published last week. It is a collaboration between think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE), the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute, and the German Aerospace Research Center.

The most important finding in the report relates to fare pricing assumptions associated with the estimation of high speed rail (HSR) commercial revenue. The point of difference is the air fare benchmark used as the competitive price level for HSR. This is a key point I believe was overlooked and misunderstood in the article on The Urbanist on April 15, High Speed Rail: too good to be true?

In the Phase 2 report produced by AECOM et. al. for the previous Federal government (completed in 2013), these air fare assumptions are not explicitly declared in the whole of the 534 page report, nor its 2,500+ pages of appendices, so some confusion is understandable.

Media Release: Badgerys Creek airport no solution for transport problems

An airport at Badgerys Creek is a patch job which does not address the fundamental constraints on Australia's economy, according to the publisher of the recent study into high-speed rail, Beyond Zero Emissions.
Media release, Beyond Zero Emissions, April 15 2014
For immediate release
"High speed rail has been shown by our report to dramatically reduce domestic air traffic at Sydney airport as well as addressing deeper deficiencies in our current transport infrastructure", said lead researcher Gerard Drew.
"Infrastructure is sorely needed but when we contemplate spending large sums of money in this day and age on long lived infrastructure we really must consider the needs of the future: the livability of our cities, the development of regional Australia and the reduction of our greenhouse gas emission."
"These issues will remain even if an airport is built at Badgerys Creek," said Mr. Drew.
"In fact, when we realise that high speed rail is still needed, the second airport will end up a mothballed relic."

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