an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Our clean energy ups and downs

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So in the light of the federal government’s most recent abandonment of an energy policy, it’s about time for a more positive update – perhaps – on what’s happening in the field of clean energy around Australia. 

I should start by plugging the Renew Economy blog/website, the best source for info on what’s happening round the country, both technology-wise and politically. Giles Parkinson has recently reported there on an important change of tack from the conservative International Energy Agency (IEA) vis-a-vis fossil fuels. The IEA has long been a big promoter of coal but last year it shocked its conservative backers by admitting that the coal boom was over and that the future was with renewables. The IEA has just published its annual World Energy Outlook, which recognises that coal production will have to be substantially reduced if we are to meet Paris targets. It notes that PV solar costs have dropped to the point that it’s the cheapest energy option in most countries, with wind power also becoming much cheaper and more viable. China, while still a massive consumer of fossil fuels, is leading the way in rapidly reducing that consumption.

Meanwhile, in Australia… Another report, this time from the G20, reviews the climate action performance of member nations. Called the Brown to Green report, its 2018 version rates Australia’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) targets as ‘insufficient’. That’s to say, they’re disappointingly unambitious and would be likely to worsen the situation if other nations followed. To quote from the report:

The 2018 CAT assessment confirms that Australia’s emissions are set to far exceed its NDC target for 2030 under current policies.

With no guidance or serious interest from our federal government, none of this is surprising, but there are projects completed and underway that give hope for a turnaround, and of course the conservatives are set to lose power in the upcoming federal election. Not that I’ve heard anything much about Labor’s renewable energy plans. 

As reported previously, and elsewhere, South Australia’s Tesla battery, mocked by fossil fuel dinosaurs Scott Morrison and Matt Kanavan, has exceeded all expectations, due to its ability to respond super-rapidly to system breakdowns, and Tesla’s success at Hornsdale has led to more projects here for the California-based company. Victoria’s Bulgana Green Power Hub, a project designed by Neoen Australia, will feature a 20MW/34MWh lithium-iron Tesla battery and a 194MW wind farm about 15ks east of Stawell in west-central Victoria. It should be complete by the end of 2019. The NSW government’s energy network operator Transgrid is purchasing Tesla Powerpack systems to be installed in a number of locations to smooth out variable solar generation and to facilitate growth of solar infrastructure. Small-scale Powerpack systems are already operating in Melbourne and Rockhampton. 

There will be another Tesla battery (25MW/34MWh) in SA soon, at the Lake Bonney wind farm. Interestingly though, the renewables developer Infigen Energy, which will build the battery, is concerned about future batteries investment in Australia because ‘the rules of the market do not yet favour battery storage, and battery storage costs need to fall further’.

In any case, state governments and private companies are forging ahead with clean energy projects in spite of federal indifference and inadequate legislation. One market, though, which seems to be stalled in Australia is the EV market.

And after a quick bit of research, I’d say I’ve understated the issue. According to Behyad Jafari, chief executive of Australia’s Electric Vehicle Council, the global average for electric vehicle purchases is about 2% of all car sales, with Norway leading the way at 20%. Australia’s uptake is at 0.2%, about the lowest in the western world, though surveys have shown that Australians are excited and intrigued by EVs. A large Roy Morgan survey recently found that half those surveyed were interested in buying an EV or a hybrid. So clearly there are barriers to investing in an EV here. Apparently the biggest barrier is the lack of a decent recharging network, according to research, with actual  vehicle cost coming a distant second. With no government action either on infrastructure or on import taxes and charges for EVs, it’s hard to see a big uptick in EVs in the near future.

However, some are optimistic, at least for the long term. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has predicted that Australia will start really getting on board with EVs by 2025. Its analysis of Australia is part of its global forecasting. It predicts that ‘by 2040, some 40 per cent of all vehicles on the road in Australia will have a plug, and 60 per cent of new car sales will be electric’. Only twenty-odd years to wait – nice if you’re young. Again, pressure needs to be applied to what should be an incoming Labor government in the next few months to support the EV industry as well as other clean energy schemes. 

And how about here in South Australia, with the conservatives winning the state election in March 2018? Fortunately, the plans and developments of the previous government are unlikely to be jettisoned because they’re clearly having a positive effect and are popular here. South Australia has been regularly targeted by federal conservatives as a crazy outlier of sorts for its focus on renewables, but the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has predicted that SA will be sourcing 100% of its energy from renewables by 2025. The scenario here is complex, and I may need to do a few posts to get my head around the issues and the technology, but briefly, SA currently gets around half of its energy from natural gas, and a third to a half from wind. The percentages vary on a daily basis. Solar also produces an increasing share – both rooftop and larger scale commercial solar. Over time, it’s expected that commercial or utility solar will play a much larger role, and gas turbines will be phased out. Utility storage will also be an increasing part of the mix from around 2025. 

I’ll try to get a handle on what’s going on in South Australia in a future post, because at the moment terms such as ‘synchronous generation’, ‘dispatchable capacity’, ‘grid level services’ and even ‘base load’ are giving me the screaming heeby-geebies. And once I familiarise myself with these terms I should be able to apply them elsewhere. I do get the impression though that base load, which has much to do with reliable on-tap energy (because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow) is a term much beloved by fossil fuel heavyweights and derided, at least to a degree, by the renewable energy crowd. So I think I’ll focus first on that in my next post, especially with regard to the new battery storage technology.  

Written by stewart henderson

November 20, 2018 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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