Thursday 14 April 2011

Solar scheme so successful that the plug will be pulled

Sydney Morning Herald
9 April 2011, Page: 4

THE Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, is looking for new ways to slow the runaway demand for rooftop solar systems that has put pressure on electricity prices and made it harder to sell the government's proposed carbon price. Mr Combet is understood to be very concerned at the huge growth in rooftop solar, fuelled by generous state and federal subsidies, and is considering options to slow demand, including requiring households to buy bigger and more expensive systems to be eligible for a reduced federal government subsidy.

State governments have become increasingly alarmed at the pressure on electricity prices from the federal subsidy, which flows straight through to power bills because it requires electricity retailers to buy "solar credits" awarded for renewable power generated on household roofs. And federal Labor is worried the scheme is forcing increases in electricity bills just as it is struggling to sell its new carbon tax.

In December, when almost half of a 6% increase in a draft determination for increases in Queensland electricity prices was caused by the federal renewable energy target, the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, wrote to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, asking her to review the federal scheme. The NSW Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has promised a "solar summit" to determine the costs of the state government's feed in tariff, which the former Keneally government reduced from 60¢ to 20¢ a kW to try to rein in booming demand.

In December Mr Combet sped up the phase out of federal payments for rooftop solar photovoltaics, announcing that from July 1 the government would give out four, rather than five, tradeable solar credits for every MW of roof generated renewable electricity. The tradeable certificates dramatically reduce the upfront cost of a rooftop solar installation a benefit worth about $6000 for a system of 1.5 kilowatts, and are heavily marketed by solar companies.

The government is understood to be considering reducing the number of certificates further, from four to three. It is also looking at changing the subsidy to push buyers towards bigger and more efficient systems, perhaps up to 2 or 3 kilowatts. The scheme is due to be phased out by July 2014, but some industry groups argue the scheme should be scrapped altogether with the introduction of a carbon price.

Small scale photovoltaics reduce greenhouse emissions at a cost of about $200 or $300 a tonne of CO₂, compared with the expected starting price of a carbon tax of $20 to $30. The schemes also disadvantage poorer households who cannot afford the upfront costs of the solar installation, and in effect subsidise the households who can afford them, through higher power prices. Benefits are especially lucrative in NSW and the ACT, where the state feed in tariff pays households for all the electricity they generate. Other states only pay for the excess power fed back into the grid.

$100m green energy demand

Adelaide Advertiser
6 April 2011, Page: 26

AUSTRALIA'S top renewable energy body is calling on the Federal Government to increase its existing $40 million set aside for emerging renewable industries to more than $100 million. The key recommendation in the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy (ACRE) report, released yesterday, won industry support. Leading figures said a larger pool of funds under the Emerging Renewables program could provide vital help in advancing the sector.

Federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said ACRE's independent advice would play an important role in guiding government support for renewable energy and his spokeswoman expected the minister to respond to its recommendations within the next few months. "Australia's great potential to produce renewable energy hinges on our ability to develop a range of renewable energy technologies and drive down their costs", Mr Ferguson said.

"The program of work ACRE sets out in its strategic directions is an important step towards achieving this objective:" Australian Solar Society chief executive John Grimes welcomed the final report's commitment to finding ways to support work into storage and grid connection technologies for solar.

And he particularly supported its finding that largescale solar showed more potential than small rooftop installations. It found: "Industrial scale solar generation located in Australia's best insolation zones provides the greatest prospect for lowest cost and abundant solar power". It said micro generation through rooftop systems was less prospective and current technologies meant they were below economic scale. "We need to move to big scale solar in Australia", Mr Grimes said.

"South Australia, in particular, has solar resources that are world class and the state is well placed to capitalise on that". The solar society now wants the Federal Government to also look at using part of revenue raised from a carbon tax to fund large scale solar projects. "And what we need for solar is a plan for the future that includes a strong Renewable Energy Target as well as an assessment of the best solar in Australia", Mr Grimes said.

The ACRE report, finalised after being released for consultation in December last year, also recognised the potential of geothermal energy. It said once proven, it could be competitive with fossil fuel sources. Yet it faced challenges in making the technology work and in attracting investment. Funding of $40 million has already been set aside under the Emerging Renewables program for developing ocean and geothermal, and Australian Geothermal Energy Association chief executive Susan Jeanes said the possibility of more funds being available to the sector was good news.

"We're very happy that the report has been released and very happy that it opens the door for us to put proposals forward to government", she said. "It's a commitment, if followed through, to support pilot demonstration plants". "It is a signal from the government to support the industry moving forward, we're very pleased that there is this acknowledgement of the importance of geothermal". Wind energy was also covered in the report, with an acknowledgment that the technology was now widespread and ACRE's priority would be in considering support for technology to improve grid connection issues.

Wave, ocean and tidal technology was listed as another priority. Fraser Johnson, renewable energy manager at Oceanlinx, supported the report's commitment to helping develop a regulatory regime around ocean jurisdictions. Oceanlinx, which is in discussion with the state government about a SA project, has previously built and operated three wave energy projects at Port Kembla, about 100km south of Sydney.

Research key to new sources

Adelaide Advertiser
6 April 2011, Page: 26

GOVERNMENT plans to establish the Australian Biofuels Research Institute will encourage a more commercial focus for bioenergy. Support would go to projects for second generation biofuels (including algae) and biopower and bioheat projects. Bioenergy involves converting biomass to heat, electricity or fuels, including using sugar cane residues, wood waste and biogas from landfill. The challenge for first generation biofuels such as ethanol was to be economic without subsidies.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Climate-change inertia 'costs nation $1bn'
7 April 2011

INACTION on climate change over the past year has increased the cost to households and businesses of meeting Australia's minimum 2020 greenhouse target by $1 billion, a study has found. The analysis by ClimateWorks Australia found the easiest and cheapest ways of cutting greenhouse gas emissions were being lost due to delays in introducing climate policies. Despite this, Australia's minimum 2020 target, a 5% cut in emissions below 2000 levels, could still be achieved using existing technologies at a cost below $32 a tonne of CO₂ emitted.

Reaching a 25% target by 2020 the minimum emissions cut recommended by climate scientists without buying international carbon permits would need a carbon price of $100 a tonne. ClimateWorks executive director Anna Skarbek said Australia had gone backwards on climate over the past year.

She said a potential 5 million tonnes of emissions cuts equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road had been lost. Those emissions had been locked in through, for example, land clearing that could not be reversed or the failure to impose fuel efficiency standards on new cars. Cars bought this year will, on average, stay on the road for 20 years.

''We can't make it up; we've missed it,'' Ms Skarbek said. ''Essentially, we've lost savings. It means we're going to spend an extra $260 million a year on energy that we could have saved.'' Ms Skarbek said technologies were available today to achieve Australia's greenhouse targets. ''It shows it doesn't cost as much as you might think, but it is an exponential increase if we delay,'' she said. The analysis builds on a low carbon growth plan for Australia that last year spelt out potential emissions cuts in 54 areas.

Contrary to concern about the cost of reducing emissions, the latest analysis found nearly a third of Australia's 5% target could be achieved through steps that would be profitable by 2013 even without a carbon price. Introduce a carbon price of $20 a tonne and two thirds of the cuts needed could turn a profit.

It found failure to act over the past year had added $1 billion to the bill to reach the 2020 target. A separate report by the Grattan Institute finds that only a carbon market can cut emissions fast enough for Australia to meet its 2020 target. An analysis of more than 300 climate programs found that 40% of Australia's emissions reductions have come from just three market based schemes, including the existing renewable energy target.

Mallee trees key to men power

West Australian
4 April 2011, Page: 17

Mallee trees in the wheat belt could be the next big source of green energy, say Curtin University scientists who have developed a method to turn woodchips from the trees into gas. The technology could offer a self contained source of renewable energy for remote towns, where oil mallees have already been widely planted in a bid to combat soil salinity. The technique, called "biomass gasification", creates a gas rich in hydrogen that can then be burned as fuel.

It can be a source of "baseload" power, because it provides a constant and reliable supply of energy, said Chun Zhu Li, who led the development team. Unlike many other biofuels, this method does not use food crops or even land that would otherwise be used for growing food, Professor Li said. Oil mallees are typically grown on marginal land. The mallee trees planted in WA could potentially generate 10 million tonnes of biomass that could be converted into gas fuel, he said. The project was developed with a $2.4 million Federal grant.

Council run wind farms on agenda

Hobart Mercury
4 April 2011, Page: 3

Hobart City Council is examining whether local councils should develop their own wind farm that could slash the power bills of Tasmanian households struggling with rising electricity costs. The council will tonight consider a report into whether developments such as locally owned wind farms would be viable. The proposal is for a group of councils to develop and operate their own wind farm. Areas such as the Midlands and other locations close to high voltage transmission lines are earmarked as possible locations.

The power generated would be sold directly to households or used at local government owned facilities which would in turn reduce council overheads and allow the savings to be re invested in other community projects. Alternatively, the cheaper power could be sold to local industries and used as a lure for to bring new businesses to the area. Deputy Mayor and Development and Environmental Services Committee member Helen Burnet said the idea was inspired by a privately owned wind farm project in the rural communities of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs in Victoria.

A community co operative supported by the Victorian Government has built a wind farm that produces enough energy for 2300 households, almost enough for all of the houses in the two districts. It is the first community owned wind farm in Australia and is expected to start producing power in the second quarter of this year. Ald Burnet said a consultant's report, which is already being conducted, would better guide councils on the viability of the project. "We are in a good position to take advantage of this technology and there is so much potential", Aid Burnet said. "Councils have an opportunity to work together on this and make a difference for the community".

It is a turnaround for the HCC with some alderman criticising a proposal by Hobart developer Robert Rockefeller to put wind turbines on the roof of two of his highrise buildings in the central business district. Many aldermen were unhappy about the llm wind turbines to be built on the ANZ building, saying it would spoil the view of Mt Wellington. But all supported the technology in appropriate locations. After fighting the objection, Mr Rockefeller gained approval but the project has since been put on hold. Four wind turbines were installed on the Marine Board building in July last year, but two of them failed in August, causing $100,000 damage.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Fossil fuels will run out of gas when the solar revolution arrives
March 22, 2011

It's a sure bet that solar photovoltaics will achieve retail electricity price parity within a few years. When that happens, it will signal the end of the game for fossil fuel baseload power. Back in 1988, my first hard disk cost me about $2000. It seemed a risky investment at the time, especially given my existing investments in tape drives, but it was a 20 megabyte marvel of technology. Freeing me from time consuming tape back ups, it revolutionised my working life. Scaled up to a terabyte, that disk would have cost about $200 million in today's terms. But I can now buy a terabyte disk drive for under $200.

Demand for disk storage has grown beyond all expectation. Each year, for more than 30 years, costs have been halved, driven in part by the annual doubling in storage density Kryder's law. Industry analysts expect at least another hundred fold cost reduction by 2020. Technology driven cost reductions are typical of industries dependent on advanced material science. The drivers are clear. Innovation provides the technology push and demand pulls the learning.

In information technology, the rate of learning beggars belief, driving a million fold reduction in the cost of disk storage since 1988. In the energy sector, technology driven learning applies most pertinently to solar photovoltaics (PVs). The cost of PVs is reducing by about 20% for each doubling in deployment. At present rates, doubling is taking 18 months, so PVs get six times cheaper every 10 years. There is no reason to expect the learning to stop for many decades and deployment rates can be increased to accelerate the learning.

With PV electricity about seven times more expensive than coal fired power on a levelled cost basis, we can expect wholesale price parity by 2022. And when we get there, other electricity generation technologies especially those subject to rising fuel costs will soon be out of business. Why? Because PV costs will continue to fall. Financiers and governments should be sensitive to this timeline. It will turn the electricity market on its head. Distinctions like baseload will no longer matter, as coal will not be able to attract investment. Expensive assets will likely be stranded.

With costs still high, the key is to get PVs to the stage where market momentum drives the learning. Since PVs can be distributed on buildings where they compete on retail price terms, we can expect that in just a few years. With retail prices typically more than double the wholesale price, retail parity is expected in 2016. Technology breakthroughs might get us there even sooner.

At the University of Melbourne, scientists in the Victorian Organic Solar Cell Consortium are developing ultra cheap printable PVs. In a remarkable demonstration, they have already printed them on a substrate similar to the one used to print our $10 bills. Backed by $11.75 million in Victorian government funding, the Melbourne group has set 2014 as a target for a printable solar cell with 10% efficiency and a lifetime of 12 years suitable for mass production. This would truly revolutionise the world. With just one printing press costing about $25 million, they could print enough PVs to match Australia's existing electricity generation capacity in just 10 years. Roll over Gutenberg!

To meet all the world's energy needs about 16 terawatts would require 350 printing presses costing about $8.5 billion. That is about the same as one new nuclear power station providing less than a hundredth of a% of the power. Sound like the stuff of fantasy? Only if you don't get the power of Kryder's law. The production rates will be challenging, but this is where the market excels imagine energy companies touting free building materials think ElectroBond and PVglass provided they can harvest the energy. When our buildings power our transport system, the green energy revolution will be unstoppable.

Ignoring the PV revolution could be catastrophically expensive. New investment in power generation is desperately needed and gas fired power is the option of choice at today's prices with a carbon price less than about $50 a tonne. But PV's equivalent of Kryder's law, and the phenomenal work going on in our research labs, is telling us investment in gas will be risky. Falling PV costs are likely to strand such assets way before their use by date.

Professor Mike Sandiford is director, Melbourne Energy Institute.

NSW eyes ACT borders for wind turbines

Canberra Times
2 April 2011, Page: 12

The ACT could become surrounded by wind turbines up to 160m tall as the NSW Government targets its borders for renewable energy production. The NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water suggests the area around Yass, Goulburn and Cooma could soon become the "wind farming hub of NSW" due to its high altitude, consistent westerly winds and north south oriented ridge lines.

There are already four wind farms operating in the area and applications to install another 400 turbines across Boorowa. This is without counting applications for another five wind farms in the Vass Valley and two more near Cooma. Renewable energy precincts coordinator Andy Hughes said it could soon get to the point where the giant electricity generators would be visible for up to 25% of motorists' journeys around the outskirts of the ACT.

"The most high profile farm is Collector where there'll be 89 turbines at 150m tall each. That's the height of the water to the top of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney", he said. "If you look at the map, that farm will join Crookwell to Bungendore, so in terms of visual impact if you drove [between the two towns], you'd be in line of sight of wind farms up to half of your journey".

Mr Hughes said Crookwell, west of Goulburn, was one of the first in NSW to trial wind farms, in the late 1990s. There, the turbines, at 45m tall with a capacity to produce 5 MW per hour, can generate enough power to run 3500 homes. Those numbers have since grown to include 120 turbines at four wind farms including Crookwell (west of Goulburn), Cullerin Range (12km east of Gunning), Capital (near Bungendore) and at Gunning/Walwa (15km north east of Gunning). Between them, these farms have a total capacity of 221 MW and can power at least 48,500 homes.

Ms Hughes said there were at least five more wind farms planned at Yass and two at Cooma, though companies were submitting applications and selling the projects to other companies at such a fast rate it was hard to keep count. Such plans have drawn vocal opposition from a number of community groups, including the Friends of Crookwell. Those opposing the wind farms claim the turbines are a bushfire risk, increase rates of bird strike, decrease land value, can cause migraines and cancer as well as affect unborn babies.

The wind farms have split some communities, particularly as a state regulation referred to as Part 3A allows companies to gain state permission to develop the farms without permission from local councils. But Mr Hughes said community consultation, particularly with landholders, was a key requirement of each company's application and millions of dollars of profits were donated back to the community for local community based projects.