Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia

Energy storage Pumped hydro: all you really need is 
some reservoirs and a big hill. 

The race is on for storage solutions that can help provide secure, reliable electricity supply as more renewables enter Australia’s electricity grid.

With the support of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), we have identified 22,000 potential pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) sites across all states and territories of Australia. PHES can readily be developed to balance the grid with any amount of solar and wind power, all the way up to 100%, as ageing coal-fired power stations close.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are now the leading two generation technologies in terms of new capacity installed worldwide each year, with coal in third spot (see below). PV and wind are likely to accelerate away from other generation technologies because of their lower cost, large economies of scale, low greenhouse emissions, and the vast availability of sunshine and wind.

Graph of New generation capacity installed worldwide in 2016.
New generation capacity installed worldwide in 2016. ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Although PV and wind are variable energy resources, the approaches to support them to achieve a reliable 100% renewable electricity grid are straightforward:

  • Energy storage in the form of pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) and batteries, coupled with demand management; and
  • Strong interconnection of the electricity grid between states using high-voltage power lines spanning long distances (in the case of the National Electricity Market, from North Queensland to South Australia). This allows wind and PV generation to access a wide range of weather, climate and demand patterns, greatly reducing the amount of storage needed.

PHES accounts for 97% of energy storage worldwide because it is the cheapest form of large-scale energy storage, with an operational lifetime of 50 years or more. Most existing PHES systems require dams located in river valleys. However, off-river PHES has vast potential.

Off-river PHES requires pairs of modestly sized reservoirs at different altitudes, typically with an area of 10 to 100 hectares. The reservoirs are joined by a pipe with a pump and turbine. Water is pumped uphill when electricity generation is plentiful; then, when generation tails off, electricity can be dispatched on demand by releasing the stored water downhill through the turbine. Off-river PHES typically delivers maximum power for between five and 25 hours, depending on the size of the reservoirs.

Most of the potential PHES sites we have identified in Australia are off-river. All 22,000 of them are outside national parks and urban areas.

The locations of these sites are shown below. Each site has between 1 gigawatt-hour (GWh) and 300GWh of storage potential. To put this in perspective, our earlier research showed that Australia needs just 450GWh of storage capacity (and 20GW of generation power) spread across a few dozen sites to support a 100% renewable electricity system.

In other words, Australia has so many good sites for PHES that only the best 0.1% of them will be needed. Developers can afford to be choosy with this significant oversupply of sites.

Map showing Pumped hydro sites in Australia.
Pumped hydro sites in Australia. ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Here is a state-by-state breakdown of sites (detailed maps of sites, images and information can be found here):

NSW/ACT: Thousands of sites scattered over the eastern third of the state
Victoria: Thousands of sites scattered over the eastern half of the state
Tasmania: Thousands of sites scattered throughout the state outside national parks
Queensland: Thousands of sites along the Great Dividing Range within 200km of the coast, including hundreds in the vicinity of the many wind and PV farms currently being constructed in the state
South Australia: Moderate number of sites, mostly in the hills east of Port Pirie and Port Augusta
Western Australia: Concentrations of sites in the east Kimberley (around Lake Argyle), the Pilbara and the Southwest; some are near mining sites including Kalgoorlie. Fewer large hills than other states, and so the minimum height difference has been set at 200m rather than 300m.
Northern Territory: Many sites about 300km south-southwest of Darwin; a few sites within 200km of Darwin; many good sites in the vicinity of Alice Springs. Minimum height difference also set at 200m.

The maps below show synthetic Google Earth images for potential upper reservoirs in two site-rich regions (more details on the site search are available here). There are many similarly site-rich regions across Australia. The larger reservoirs shown in each image are of such a scale that only about a dozen of similar size distributed across the populated regions of Australia would be required to stabilise a 100% renewable electricity system.

Picture of Araluen Valley near Canberra.
Araluen Valley near Canberra. At most, one of the sites shown would be developed. ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Picture of Townsville, Queensland. At most, one of the sites shown would be developed. 
Townsville, Queensland. At most, one of the sites shown would be developed. ANU/ARENA, Author providedThe chart below shows the largest identified off-river PHES site in each state in terms of energy storage potential. Also shown for comparison are the Tesla battery and the solar thermal systems to be installed in South Australia, and the proposed Snowy 2.0 system.
Graph showing Largest identified off-river PHES sites in each state
Largest identified off-river PHES sites in each state, together with other storage systems for comparison. ANU/ARENA, Author provided

The map below shows the location of PHES sites in Queensland together with PV and wind farms currently in an advanced stage of development, as well as the location of the Galilee coal prospect. It is clear that developers of PV and wind farms will be able to find a PHES site close by if needed for grid balancing.

Map showing solar PV (yellow) and wind (green) farms currently in an advanced stage of development in Queensland,
Solar PV (yellow) and wind (green) farms currently in an advanced stage of development in Queensland, together with the Galilee coal prospect (black) and potential PHES sites (blue).ANU/ARENA, Author provided

Annual water requirements of a PHES-supported 100% renewable electricity grid would be less than one third that of the current fossil fuel system, because wind and PV do not require cooling water. About 3,600ha of PHES reservoir is required to support a 100% renewable electricity grid for Australia, which is 0.0005% of Australia’s land area, and far smaller than the area of existing water storages.

PHES, batteries and demand management are all likely to have prominent roles as the grid transitions to 50-100% renewable energy. Currently, about 3GW per year of wind and PV are being installed. If this continued until 2030 it would be enough to supply half of Australia’s electricity consumption. If this rate is doubled then Australia will reach 100% renewable electricity in about 2033.

Fast-track development of a few excellent PHES sites can be completed in 2022 to balance the grid when Liddell and other coal-fired power stations close.


This article was co-authored by:
Image of Andrew BlakersAndrew Blakers – [Professor of Engineering, Australian National University];
 
Image of Bin LuBin Lu – [PhD Candidate, Australian National University] and
 
Image of Matthew StocksMatthew Stocks – [Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University]

 

 

 

 

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More coal doesn’t equal more peak power

 Lake Liddell with power stations.

The proposed closure date for Liddell, AGL’s ancient and unreliable coal power station, is five years and probably two elections away. While AGL has asked for 90 days to come up with a plan to deliver equivalent power into the market, state and local governments, businesses and households will continue to drive the energy revolution.

At the same time as AGL is insisting they won’t sell Liddell or extend its working life, government debate has returned to the Clean Energy Target proposed by the Finkel Review. Now Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is suggesting a redesign of the proposal, potentially paving the way for subsidies to low-emission, high-efficiency coal power stations.

But even if subsidies for coal are built into a new “reliable energy target”, there’s no sign that the market has any appetite for building new coal. For a potential investor in a coal-fired generator, the eight years before it could produce a cash flow is a long time in a rapidly changing world. And the 30 years needed to turn a profit is a very long time indeed.

We also need to remember that baseload coal power stations are not much help in coping with peak demand – the issue that will determine whether people in elevators are trapped by a sudden blackout, per Barnaby Joyce. It was interesting that a Melbourne Energy Institute study of global pumped hydro storage mentioned that electricity grids with a lot of nuclear or coal baseload generation have used pumped storage capacity for decades: it’s needed to supply peak demand.

Solar power is driving down daytime prices – which used to provide much of the income that coal plants needed to make a profit. Energy storage will further reduce the scope to profit from high and volatile electricity prices, previously driven by high demand and supply shortages in hot weather, or when a large coal-fired generator failed or was shut down for maintenance at a crucial time.

There is now plenty of evidence that the diverse mix of energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, renewable generation and smart management can ensure reliable and affordable electricity to cope with daily and seasonal variable electricity loads. New traditional baseload generators will not be financially viable, as they simply won’t capture the profits they need during the daytime.

The government is now focused on AGL and how it will deliver 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable supply. In practice, appropriate policy action would facilitate the provision of plenty of supply, storage, demand response and energy efficiency to ensure reliable supply. But the government is unable to deliver policy because of its internal squabbles, and AGL looks like a convenient scapegoat.

Demand response is already working

It is astounding that conservatives can continue to blame renewable energy for increasing prices. They are either ignorant or have outdated agendas to prop up coal. A smart, efficient, renewable electricity future will be cheaper than any other – albeit not necessarily cheaper than our past electricity prices.

Along with other studies, CSIRO’s recent Low Emission Technology Roadmap showed that the “ambitious energy productivity (and renewable energy)” scenario was quite reasonably priced.

While the debate continues to focus on large-scale supply, “behind the meter” action is accelerating through demand response, energy efficiency and on-site renewables. As I mentioned in a previous column, the ARENA/AEMO demand response pilot has attracted almost 700MW of flexible demand reduction to be delivered before Christmas, and another 1,000MW by December 2018. That’s nearly as much as Liddell could supply flat out. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

Spending a few hundred million dollars to prop up an old coal plant for a few years would shift it to the high-cost end of coal generators. So when prices fall, it would be one of the first coal plants to have to shut down, and among the last to come back online when prices rebound. This would add to the stress on the facility and the management challenges of operating it – unless it had preferential cheap access to a lot of pumped hydro capacity.

In the medium to long term, we do need to work out how to supply electricity for 24/7 industries but, according to AEMO, this is not urgent. We don’t know how much of that kind of industry will be here in ten years or so, given high gas prices, the age of their industrial plants, and their relatively small scale relative to their international competitors.

On the other hand, they may adapt by investing in behind-the-meter measures. Or they could relocate to sunny places and be part of what the economist Ross Garnaut has called the “low-carbon energy superpower”.


This article was written by:

Image of Alan Pears -

Alan Pears – [Senior Industry Fellow, RMIT University]

 

 

 

 

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What about the people missing out on renewables? Here’s what planners can do about energy justice

Energy Justice Solar panels are integrated into a block 
of flats in the Viikki area of Helsinki, Finland.

The rapid shift to new energy sources is outpacing land use planning in cities. As interest in renewable energy burgeons, another concern has emerged – energy justice.

Improvements in renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and storage technology benefit more advantaged populations like homeowners. These innovations are generally beyond the reach of more disadvantaged groups like renters, pensioners, students and the working poor. Researchers see this as an emerging energy justice concern.

Energy costs hit the poor harder

Image of a woman reading a power bill
Rising power bills hit lower-income households particularly hard. shutterstock

recent report, prepared by the Australian Council of Social Service, The Climate Institute and the Brotherhood of St Laurence, highlighted the disproportionate impacts of energy poverty. Current policy settings and energy price rises make life even more difficult for people who are already struggling to pay their power bills.

Energy price rises can affect residents’ ability to cool or heat their homes, cook food and get hot water. Ultimately, this can have dire consequences for people’s health and wellbeing.

Attention has been drawn to the inability of such households to tap into renewable energy in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Less well known are the emerging opportunities to reduce energy poverty. These include solar leasing, energy co-operatives and landlord incentives.

Solar leasing

Solar leasing is a strategy where a homeowner signs an agreement with a company to install solar panels. Up-front costs are limited and the system is paid back incrementally over its lifespan. In theory, this could enable landlords and low-income owners to gain access to cheaper solar energy.

There are many variations on such leases. One involves the owner buying power back from the leasing company, which sells surplus power to the grid. Another is where the owner obtains a low-cost loan, such as those offered by the Fannie Mae foundation in the US.

Some caution is warranted before entering such agreements, not least because leases can make homes harder to sell.

The relative vacuum of Commonwealth energy policy in Australia is prompting some local governments to step in. The City of Darebin in Melbourne is an example. Its Solar Saver Program aims to help pensioners and other low-income earners get solar panels on rooftops. The panels are installed up-front and paid back through rates.

Image of a house with solar panels
Some councils are helping pensioners and other low-income earners to install solar panels to cut their energy bills. Michael Coghlan

Community renewable energy co-operatives

A second idea is to increase competition in the energy market by enabling communities to generate their own energy. Community renewable energy projects are an example.

But such projects need not be market-based. A recent innovation in New South Wales has been the development of an energy co-operative in Stucco apartments, a non-profit, student housing complex. This small-scale co-operative generates solar energy and stores it in batteries, selling it to tenants in the building, who are low-income students.

Larger versions exist in Germany. There whole villages have become energy co-operatives of sorts, achieving energy self-sufficiency.

Landlord incentives

A landlord who makes improvements such as double glazing should be able to claim these as a tax deduction. Paul Flint/flickr

Several commentators have identified the need for better incentives and penalties to encourage landlords to retrofit properties to make them more energy-efficient.

This includes changing the tax system. If rental properties are upgraded – with insulation, more efficient hot water systems, energy-efficient stoves or windows – these costs should count as legitimate tax deductions. Currently, these improvements are not treated as repairs and instead are depreciated over time.

Similarly, new minimum standards for energy efficiency in rental properties are needed. The NSW BASIX system is a step in this direction.

The energy justice challenge for planners

Land use planning systems are typically future-oriented. But most of the buildings that will exist in the middle of this century are already built.

We need to update planning systems to better manage systemic changes in existing built environments. These changes include the transition to renewable energy and associated energy justice concerns.

There are possibilities for improvement. For example, planners can learn from early innovations like the Stucco model. Working proactively with community energy co-operatives could reduce uncertainty for all stakeholders, minimise time wasted and maximise returns for participants.

Planners can also develop new policies and processes – such as model town planning schemes – to work with communities in delivering other small-scale renewable energy projects such as community solar farms and microgrids. Another possibility is to alter strata title laws to make it easier to install solar in apartment buildings.

Modern land use planning was driven in large part by a desire to improve public health and social justice by regulating development. Today’s planners should regard efforts to improve energy justice as a new but entirely appropriate professional responsibility.


This article was co-authored by:

 

 

 

 

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New rules for retailers, but don’t sit there waiting for your electricity bill to go down

 Information about discounts will be 
simpler, but you’ll still have to do the legwork to shop around. 

It sounds like good news. After summoning the heads of Australia’s major electricity retailers to Canberra, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday announced that the government will take “decisive action to reduce energy prices for Australian families and businesses”.

But look a little closer. Yes, the retailers have agreed to some small but important measures that will make it easier for customers to find the best electricity deal. But there is no guarantee energy prices will fall. And your electricity bill will only be lower if you, the customer, take action.

Retailers’ current advantage

At the moment, retailers typically encourage consumers to sign up by offering a discount on the bill for a fixed period – normally one or two years. After this period expires, customers usually face higher prices for their electricity.

Some lucky customers will be put on an equivalent tariff and their electricity costs will not change much. Others will lose the discount – which can be as much as 30% of the bill. And some unlucky customers will be placed on the retailer’s “standing offer” – usually the most expensive plans in the market.

All the retailers have to do is to send you a letter informing you of the change. Lots of customers find those letters too confusing or time-consuming to read, and throw them in Electricity retailers current advantage

the bin. Those who do read and understand it don’t necessarily take action: almost half of Australian households have not changed their electricity retailer in more than five years.

How the new deal could help you

Under the deal that Turnbull has brokered with the retailers, every consumer on a lapsing deal will be sent more comprehensive and helpful information that will encourage them to switch. This will include details of cheaper available offers, and information from websites that compare prices across the various plans and retailers.

Second, as the Grattan Institute recommended in our March report, Price Shock, retailers will now have to be more explicit about what happens if you don’t sign up to a new offer. Specifically, that means detailing exactly how much it is going to cost you.

Third, retailers will have to report to the Australian Energy Regulator how many customers are on lapsed deals. This may seem like a lot of red tape for not a lot of impact. But a lack of information on how many customers are on what type of deal has been a major barrier to understanding what is happening in the electricity market. This increased transparency will encourage retailers to reduce the number of customers they have on lapsed contracts.

The new deal includes other welcome measures, mainly designed to help poor households reduce their bills and make sure they do not face increased costs as a result of late payments. (To be fair to the retailers, they already do a lot for customers whom they consider to be “in hardship”.)

It’s still down to you

The deal will doubtless improve the retail electricity market. Retailers will take on more responsibility for helping their customers onto a better deal. And those customers who are most at risk from very high prices will get more protection.

But these are only incremental steps and do not ensure that customers will pay less for their electricity. While more simple information will be available, it will still be up to the consumer to act on it. The bottom line remains the same: if you want to pay less for electricity, you need to search for and sign up to a cheaper deal.

Customers should be under no illusions. Energy prices are still going to be high for as far as the eye can see.

Gas prices remain way above historic levels. Wholesale electricity prices are also high. Network costs – the price we pay for the poles and wires – have grown enormously over the past 20 years, and ultimately those costs find their way onto our bills. And the much-needed policy stability on greenhouse emission reductions that can put downward pressure on electricity costs remains elusive.

Under the new rules, consumers might be able to get a cheaper deal, but this doesn’t mean they will get a cheap deal.

It may be months before we know whether the new measures are enough to encourage consumers to go out and find a cheaper plan or retailer. The danger is that, in a year’s time, too many consumers will still be stuck on expensive electricity deals.

Even if huge numbers of consumers switch, there are still fundamental issues in Australia’s electricity market. Prices won’t come down across the board until these are resolved.

This is a welcome move by the government. But it only addresses a fraction of the problems in the electricity market. The big question for the prime minister is, what next?

 

This article was written by:
Image of David Blowers David Blowers – [Energy fellow, Grattan Institute]

 

 

 

 

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Solar is now the most popular form of new electricity generation worldwide

Solar PV outstripped coal as the leading 
source of new electricity generation worldwide last year. Image/Lukas Coch

Solar has become the world’s favourite new type of electricity generation, according to global data showing that more solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity is being installed than any other generation technology.

Worldwide, some 73 gigawatts of net new solar PV capacity was installed in 2016. Wind energy came in second place (55GW), with coal relegated to third (52GW), followed by gas (37GW) and hydro (28GW).

Together, PV and wind represent 5.5% of current energy generation (as at the end of 2016), but crucially they constituted almost half of all net new generation capacity installed worldwide during last year.

It is probable that construction of new coal power stations will decline, possibly quite rapidly, because PV and wind are now cost-competitive almost everywhere.

Hydro is still important in developing countries that still have rivers to dam. Meanwhile, other low-emission technologies such as nuclear, bio-energy, solar thermal and geothermal have small market shares.

PV and wind now have such large advantages in terms of cost, production scale and supply chains that it is difficult to see any other low-emissions technology challenging them within the next decade or so.

That is certainly the case in Australia, where PV and wind comprise virtually all new generation capacity, and where solar PV capacity is set to reach 12GW by 2020. Wind and solar PV are being installed at a combined rate of about 3GW per year, driven largely by the federal government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET).

This is double to triple the rate of recent years, and a welcome return to growth after several years of subdued activity due to political uncertainty over the RET.

If this rate is maintained, then by 2030 more than half of Australian electricity will come from renewable energy and Australia will have met its pledge under the Paris climate agreement purely through emissions savings within the electricity industry.

To take the idea further, if Australia were to double the current combined PV and wind installation rate to 6GW per year, it would reach 100% renewable electricity in about 2033. Modelling by my research group suggests that this would not be difficult, given that these technologies are now cheaper than electricity from new-build coal and gas.

Renewable future in reach

The prescription for an affordable, stable and achievable 100% renewable electricity grid is relatively straightforward:

  1. Use mainly PV and wind. These technologies are cheaper than other low-emission technologies, and Australia has plenty of sunshine and wind, which is why these technologies have already been widely deployed. This means that, compared with other renewables, they have more reliable price projections, and avoid the need for heroic assumptions about the success of more speculative clean energy options.
  2. Distribute generation over a very large area. Spreading wind and PV facilities over wide areas – say a million square kilometres from north Queensland to Tasmania – allows access to a wide range of different weather, and also helps to smooth out peaks in users’ demand.
  3. Build interconnectors. Link up the wide-ranging network of PV and wind with high-voltage power lines of the type already used to move electricity between states.
  4. Add storage. Storage can help match up energy generation with demand patterns. The cheapest option is pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), with support from batteriesand demand management.

Australia currently has three PHES systems – Tumut 3Kangaroo Valley, and Wivenhoe – all of which are on rivers. But there is a vast number of potential off-river sites.

Picture of potential sites for pumped hydro storage in Queensland
Potential sites for pumped hydro storage in Queensland, alongside development sites for solar PV (yellow) and wind energy (green). Galilee Basin coal prospects are shown in black. Andrew Blakers/Margaret Blakers, Author provided

In a project funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, we have identified about 5,000 sites in South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, the Canberra district, and the Alice Springs district that are potentially suitable for pumped hydro storage.

Each of these sites has between 7 and 1,000 times the storage potential of the Tesla battery currently being installed to support the South Australian grid. What’s more, pumped hydro has a lifetime of 50 years, compared with 8-15 years for batteries.

Importantly, most of the prospective PHES sites are located near where people live and where new PV and wind farms are being constructed.

Once the search for sites in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia is complete, we expect to uncover 70-100 times more PHES energy storage potential than required to support a 100% renewable electricity grid in Australia.

Image of Potential PHES upper reservoir sites east of Port Augusta, South Australia.
Potential PHES upper reservoir sites east of Port Augusta, South Australia. The lower reservoirs would be at the western foot of the hills (bottom of the image). Google Earth/ANU

Managing the grid

Fossil fuel generators currently provide another service to the grid, besides just generating electricity. They help to balance supply and demand, on timescales down to seconds, through the “inertial energy” stored in their heavy spinning generators.

But in the future this service can be performed by similar generators used in pumped hydro systems. And supply and demand can also be matched with the help of fast-response batteries, demand management, and “synthetic inertia” from PV and wind farms.

Wind and PV are delivering ever tougher competition for gas throughout the energy market. The price of large-scale wind and PV in 2016 was A$65-78 per megawatt hour. This is below the current wholesale price of electricity in the National Electricity Market.

Abundant anecdotal evidence suggests that wind and PV energy price has fallen to A$60-70 per MWh this year as the industry takes off. Prices are likely to dip below A$50 per MWh within a few years, to match current international benchmark prices. Thus, the net cost of moving to a 100% renewable electricity system over the next 15 years is zero compared with continuing to build and maintain facilities for the current fossil-fuelled system.

Gas can no longer compete with wind and PV for delivery of electricity. Electric heat pumpsare driving gas out of water and space heating. Even for delivery of high-temperature heat for industry, gas must cost less than A$10 per gigajoule to compete with electric furnaces powered by wind and PV power costing A$50 per MWh.

Importantly, the more that low-cost PV and wind is deployed in the current high-cost electricity environment, the more they will reduce prices.

Then there is the issue of other types of energy use besides electricity – such as transport, heating, and industry. The cheapest way to make these energy sources green is to electrify virtually everything, and then plug them into an electricity grid powered by renewables.

A 55% reduction in Australian greenhouse gas emissions can be achieved by conversion of the electricity grid to renewables, together with mass adoption of electric vehicles for land transport and electric heat pumps for heating and cooling. Beyond this, we can develop renewable electric-driven pathways to manufacture hydrocarbon-based fuels and chemicals, primarily through electrolysis of water to obtain hydrogen and carbon capture from the atmosphere, to achieve an 83% reduction in emissions (with the residual 17% of emissions coming mainly from agriculture and land clearing).

Doing all of this would mean tripling the amount of electricity we produce, according to my research group’s preliminary estimate.

But there is no shortage of solar and wind energy to achieve this, and prices are rapidly falling. We can build a clean energy future at modest cost if we want to.

 

This article was written by:
Andrew Blakers – [Professor of Engineering, Australian National University]

 

 

 

 

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In the absence of national leadership, cities are driving climate policy

Image of Sydney at night The City of Sydney is aiming to get 
50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030. HjalmarGerbig 

Imagine a future in which every one of Australia’s 537 local government areas, including all our capital cities and major regional centres, achieve net zero greenhouse emissions. It might sound like a pipe dream, but it could be closer than you think.

A new Climate Council report, released today, tracks the climate action being taken at the local government level. It gives myriad examples of cities, towns and local shires, in Australia and abroad, setting and achieving ambitious goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable transport.

In a 2016 Climate Institute survey of attitudes to climate change, 90% of respondents indicated that the federal government should shoulder the bulk of responsibility for action, with 67% saying Canberra should take a leading role. Yet given the current policy paralysis at Commonwealth level it is little wonder that some states seem determined to go it alone on setting ambitious clean energy targets.

Meanwhile, it’s at the local government level where enthusiastic action to embrace a more sustainable future is really taking off.

For some, the inspiration for action was a pledge by more than 1,000 mayors, local representatives and community leaders to move to 100% renewable energy. The promise was made on the sidelines of the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, at an event called the Climate Summit for Local Leaders.

Since then, US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement seems simply to have strengthened this resolve. More than 350 US mayors responded to Trump’s decision by pledging to reach 100% renewable energy for their communities by 2035.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that transforming the way energy is used and generated in cities and towns worldwide has the potential to deliver 70% of the total emissions reductions needed to stay on track for the 2℃ global warming limit set by the Paris Agreement. The IEA has described cities as the key to decarbonisation.

The leaders of some of Australia’s own major cities are certainly no slouches when it comes to climate aspiration:

Ambitions are also high at regional and local council levels. One in five councils surveyed by Beyond Zero Emissions indicated they were aiming for “100% renewable energy” or “zero emissions”. Examples detailed in the Climate Council report include, among others:

  • Yackandandah, Vic: 100% renewable energy by 2022
  • Lismore, NSW: 100% renewable energy by 2023
  • Uralla, NSW: 100% renewable energy in 5-10 years
  • Newstead, Qld: 100% renewable energy by 2017
  • Darebin, Melbourne: zero net emissions by 2020.

Power to cities

To coincide with the report, the Climate Council is also today launching its Cities Power Partnership, a free nationwide program that aims to transform Australia’s energy future from the ground up.

Thirty-five councils, representing more than 3 million Australians (12% of the population), signed up to the program even before it was launched. To join, councils identify five items in the “Power Partners pledge” that they will strive to achieve. These items include increasing the proportion of renewable energy generated within the local area; improving energy efficiency; providing sustainable transport options; building community sustainability partnerships; and engaging in climate advocacy.

The new Cities Power Partnership.

Participants will then complete a six-monthly online survey on progress. In return, the Cities Power Partnership will provide incentives for councils to deliver on their selected targets and to work together to help each other. Members of the partnership will have access to a national knowledge hub and an online analytical tool to measure energy, cost and emissions savings of projects. They will also be buddied with other councils to share knowledge; receive visits from domestic and international experts; be connected to community energy groups; and be celebrated at events with other local leaders.

Ultimately, the CPP is designed to help local communities sidestep the political roadblocks at national level, and just get on with the job of implementing climate policies.

These may be only small projects when considered individually, but the idea is to link them into a network that, together, can make a big difference to one of our most significant challenges. After all, the only way to eat an elephant is to take one bite at a time.

This article was written by:
Image of Lesley HughesLesley Hughes – [Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University]

 

 

 

 

 

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Explainer: what can Tesla’s giant South Australian battery achieve?

Image of Tesla's batteries
Image of Elon Musk Tesla CEO Elon Musk has announced plans to build 
the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery in South Australia.

Last Friday, world-famous entrepreneur Elon Musk jetted into Adelaide to kick off Australia’s long-delayed battery revolution.

The Tesla founder joined South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and the international chief executive of French windfarm developer Neoen, Romain Desrousseaux, to announce what will be the world’s largest battery installation.

The battery tender won by Tesla was a key measure enacted by the South Australian government in response to the statewide blackout in September 2016, together with the construction of a 250 megawatt gas-fired power station.

World’s largest lithium ion battery will be installed in  under a historic agreement between  & SA Gov!
The project will incorporate a 100MW peak output battery with 129 megawatt hours of storage alongside Neoen’s Hornsdale windfarm, near Jamestown. When fully charged, we estimate that this will be enough to power 8,000 homes for one full day, or more than 20,000 houses for a few hours at grid failure, but this is not the complete picture.

The battery will support grid stability, rather than simply power homes on its own. It’s the first step towards a future in which renewable energy and storage work together.

How Tesla’s Powerpacks work

Tesla’s Powerpacks are lithium-ion batteries, similar to a laptop or a mobile phone battery.

In a Tesla Powerpack, the base unit is the size of a large thick tray. Around sixteen of these are inserted into a fridge-sized cabinet to make a single Tesla “Powerpack”.

With 210 kilowatt-hour per Tesla Powerpack, the full South Australian installation is estimated to be made up of several hundred units.

Image of Tesla PowerPack batteries on display in Mira Loma, California
Tesla PowerPack batteries on display in Mira Loma, California on January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Nichola Groom

To connect the battery to South Australia’s grid, its DC power needs to be converted to AC. This is done using similar inverter technology to that used in rooftop solar panels to connect them to the grid.

A control system will also be needed to dictate the battery’s charging and discharging. This is both for the longevity of battery as well to maximise its economic benefit.

For example, the deeper the regular discharge, the shorter the lifetime of the battery, which has a warranty period of 15 years. To maximise economic benefits, the battery should be charged during low wholesale market price periods and discharged when the price is high, but these times are not easy to predict.

More research is needed into better battery scheduling algorithms that can predict the best charging and discharging times. This work, which we are undertaking at Monash Energy Materials and Systems Institute (MEMSI), is one way to deal with unreliable price forecasts, grid demand and renewable generation uncertainty.

The battery and the windfarm

Tesla’s battery will be built next to the Hornsdale wind farm and will most likely be connected directly to South Australia’s AC transmission grid in parallel to the wind farm.

Its charging and discharging operation will be based on grid stabilisation requirements.

This can happen in several ways. During times with high wind output but low demand, the surplus energy can be stored in the battery instead of overloading the grid or going to waste.

Conversely, at peak demand times with low wind output or a generator failure, stored energy could be dispatched into the grid to meet demand and prevent problems with voltage or frequency. Likewise, when the wind doesn’t blow, the battery could be charged from the grid.

Image of a wind farm
A wind farm near Burra, South Australia. AAP Image/Angela Harper

The battery and the grid – will it save us?

In combination with South Australia’s proposed gas station, the battery can help provide stability during extreme events such as a large generator failure or during more common occurrences, such as days with low wind output.

At this scale, it is unlikely to have a large impact on the average consumer power price in South Australia. But it can help reduce the incidence of very high prices during tight supply-demand periods, if managed optimally.

For instance, if a very hot day is forecast during summer, the battery can be fully charged in advance, and then discharged to the grid during that hot afternoon when air conditioning use is high, helping to meet demand and keep wholesale prices stable.

More importantly, Tesla’s battery is likely to be the first of many such storage installations. As more renewables enter the grid, more storage will be needed – otherwise the surplus energy will have to be curtailed to avoid network overloading.

Another storage technology to watch is off-river pumped hydro energy storage (PHES), which we are modelling at the Australia-Indonesia Energy Cluster.

The South Australian Tesla-Neoen announcement is just the beginning. It is the first step of a significant journey towards meeting the Australian Climate Change  Authority’s  recommendation of zero emissions by at least 2050.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Ariel LiebmanAriel Liebman – [ Deputy Director, Monash Energy Materials and Systems Instutute, and Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University]
and
Image of Kaveh Rajab KhalilpourKaveh Rajab Khalilpour – [ Senior Research Fellow, Caulfield School of Information Technology, Monash University]

 

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via

 

The Finkel Review: finally, a sensible and solid footing for the electricity sector

The-Finkel-Review_power-stationThe Finkel review’s recommendations would  
put pressure on coal while encouraging gas and renewable energy Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s long-awaited review of the National Electricity Market, released Friday, will make a significant difference to Australia’s electricity system in three key areas: reliability (making sure the system generates enough power to meet demand), security (making sure the system doesn’t break), and governance (making sure the electricity market can run effectively).

Reliability

The review recommends a Clean Energy Target (CET), which will provide subsidies to new low-emissions generation. The actual choice of scheme is less important than its durability. If broad political agreement can be reached on this target, it can provide the policy certainty that industry crucially needs to build new generation capacity and meet electricity demand.

Finkel also proposes a Generator Reliability Obligation, which places a limit on further wind and solar power in regions that already have a high proportion of intermittent generation. New intermittent generators will have to provide backup for some of their supply, in the form of new storage or contracts with new dispatchable generators such as gas. The aim is to ensure that federal and state subsidies for renewables do not push too much intermittent generation into the market without adequate backup.

Large generators will also need to provide a reasonable notice of closure – the review suggests a period of three years – before leaving the market. The aim here is to ensure the market has enough time to respond by installing new generation.

Finally, the review floats the possibility of further changes to ensure reliability, potentially a day-ahead market to lock in supply ahead of time, or a strategic reserve – a mechanism by which the market operator can sign contracts requiring generators to sit idle unless needed in an emergency.

The market operator (AEMO) can already do this, and the report is silent on how a strategic reserve would be different or whether it is definitely needed.

Security

To secure the electricity system, Finkel calls for existing standards to be tightened and new mechanisms to be introduced.

Transmission companies will be required to provide and maintain a prescribed level of inertia in the system – high levels of inertia can prevent rapid changes in frequency that harm the system. Fossil fuel generators may be required to change their settings to control the frequency in the system, whereas new generators, including renewables, will be required to provide fast frequency-response services to help avoid frequency fluctuations that can damage the grid.

While technical in their nature, these measures will reduce the likelihood of instability in the system and provide extra tools to fix the it if instability arises.

Finkel also makes recommendations to bolster the emergency management plan for the 2017-18 summer and to encourage consumers – both residential and business – to reduce their demand at peak times. The review strongly encourages the development of “demand response” schemes to give consumers incentives to switch off and help smooth the load at peak times.

Governance

The biggest change to how the market will be run is the proposed creation of an Energy Security Board (ESB). The ESB will comprise an independent chair and vice-chair, as well as the heads of the three governing bodies: the AEMC, AEMO and the market regulator (the AER). At a minimum, the ESB will be responsible for implementing many of the Finkel Review recommendations, although the panel leaves scope for it to do much more.

Finkel recommends a comprehensive review of the rules governing the electricity market. It also argues for increased accountability for market bodies and the COAG Energy Council, through enhanced performance indicators and a beefed-up process for determining and monitoring priorities for the energy sector.

What happens next?

The report makes a range of other recommendations designed to ensure better service for energy consumers, more transparency in gas markets, and improved planning and coordination of electricity networks.

The Finkel Review successfully addresses the main issues confronting the electricity sector today. At the very least, it is a step towards a more reliable and secure system.

The devil, as always, will be in the detail. Much will depend on how the recommendations are implemented. Australian households and business can only hope that the new Energy Security Board and the nation’s political leaders will see this through.

This article was written by:
Image of David BlowersDavid Blowers – [Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

Explainer: what is a ‘low emissions target’ and how would it work?

How-a-LET-might-work_smokestacks Depending on the policy settings, 
a low-emissions target could conceivably award carbon credits to coal plants.
AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

The main job of the Finkel Review, to be released this week, is to set out ways to reform the National Electricity Market (NEM) to ensure it delivers reliable and affordable power in the transition to low-carbon energy. Yet most of the attention has been focused on what type of carbon-reduction scheme Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, will recommend.

The expectation is that he will advocate a “low emissions target” (LET), and it looks like industry is getting behind this.

That would be instead of an emissions intensity scheme (EIS), which had been supported by much of industry as well as regulators and analysts, but the government rejected this.

Both types of scheme are second-best approaches to a carbon price. They can have similar effects depending on their design and implementation, although an EIS would probably be more robust overall.

How a LET might work

A LET would give certificates to generators of each unit of electricity below a threshold carbon intensity. Electricity retailers and industry would be obliged to buy the certificates, creating a market price and extra revenue for low-emission power generators.

How many certificates get allocated to what type of power generator is an important design choice. Government would also determine the demand for the certificates, and this defines the overall ambition of the scheme.

At its core, the scheme would work rather like the existing Renewable Energy Target, which it would replace. But the new scheme would also include some rewards for gas-fired generators, and perhaps even for coal-fired generators that are not quite as polluting as others. The question is how to do this.

A simple but crude way of implementing a LET would be to give the same number of certificates for every megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity generated using technologies below a benchmark level of emissions intensity. In practice, that would be renewables and gas. In principle, the scheme could include nuclear power as well as coal plants with carbon capture and storage, but neither exists in Australia, nor are they likely to be built.

Such a simple implementation would have two drawbacks. One, it would create a strong threshold effect: if your plant is slightly above the benchmark, you’re out, slightly below and you’re in. Two, it would give the same reward to gas-fired generators as to renewables, which is inefficient from the point of view of emissions reduction.

A better way is to scale the amount of certificates issued to the emissions intensity of each plant.

If the benchmark was 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide per MWh of electricity (as some media reports have predicted), then a gas plant producing 0.5 tonnes of CO₂ per MWh would get 0.2 certificates per MWh generated. A wind or solar farm, with zero emissions, would receive 0.7 certificates per MWh generated.

The benchmark could also be set at a higher level, potentially so high that all power stations get certificates in proportion to how far below the benchmark they are. For example, a benchmark of 1.4 tonnes CO₂ per MWh would give 1.4 certificates to renewables, 0.9 certificates to the gas plant, 0.5 certificates to an average black coal plant and 0.2 certificates to a typical brown coal plant.

Including existing coal plants in the LET in this way would create an incentive for the sector to move towards less polluting generators. It would thus help to reduce emissions from the coal fleet, and perhaps pave the way for the most polluting plants to be retired earlier. But the optics would not be good, as the “low emissions” mechanism would be giving credits to coal.

Whichever way certificates are distributed, the government also has to specify how many certificates electricity retailers need to buy. Together with the benchmark and with how electricity demand turns out, this will determine the emissions intensity of overall power supply. The benchmark would need to decline over time; alternatively, the amount of certificates to be bought could be increased.

The price of LET certificates would depend on all of these parameters, together with the cost of energy technologies, and industry expectations about the future levels of all of these variables. As the experience of the RET has shown, these can be difficult to predict.

Low emissions target vs emissions intensity scheme

An emissions intensity scheme (EIS) is the proposal that in recent times had the broadest support in the policy debate. Finkel’s preliminary report referenced it and the Climate Change Authority earlier put significant emphasis on it. But it got caught in the internal politics of the Liberal-National Coalition and was ruled out.

Under an EIS, the government would set a benchmark emissions intensity, declining over time. Generators below the benchmark would be issued credits, whereas those running above the benchmark would need to buy credits to cover their excess emissions. Supply and demand set the price in this market.

Depending on how the parameters are set, the effects of a LET and an EIS on the power mix and on power prices would differ, but not necessarily in fundamental ways.

There are some key differences though. Under a LET, electricity retailers will need to buy certificates and not all power plants may be covered by a low-carbon incentive. Under an EIS, the higher-polluting plants buy credits from the cleaner ones, and all types of plants are automatically covered. The EIS market would be closely related to the wholesale electricity market, with the same participants, whereas a LET market would be separate and distinct, like the RET market now.

Further, the benchmark in an EIS directly defines the emissions intensity of the grid and its change over time. Not so for the benchmark in a LET. A LET will also require assumptions about future electricity demand in setting the total amount of credits that should be purchased – and bear in mind that the estimates used to calibrate the RET were wildly off the mark.

What’s more, an EIS might present a chance to circumvent the various special rules and exemptions that exist in the RET, and which might be carried over to the LET.

Politics vs economics

Neither a LET nor an EIS provides revenue to government. Since the demise of Australia’s previous carbon price this has often been considered desirable politically, as it avoids the connotations of “carbon tax”. But economically and fiscally it is a missed opportunity.

Globally, most emissions trading schemes generate revenue that can be used to cut other taxes, help low-income households, or pay for clean energy research and infrastructure.

An economically efficient system should make carbon-based electricity more expensive, which encourages energy consumers to invest in energy-saving technology. Both a LET and an EIS purposefully minimise this effect, and thus miss out on a key factor: energy efficiency.

Ambition and confidence

More important than the choice of mechanism is the level of ambition and the political durability of the policy.

Bringing emissions into line with the Paris climate goals will require fundamental restructuring of Australia’s power supply. Coal would need to be replaced well before the end of the lifetime of the current plants, probably mostly with renewables.

To prompt large-scale investment in low-carbon electricity, we need a reliable policy framework with a genuine and lasting objective to reduce emissions. And investors need confidence that the NEM will be governed by rules that facilitate this transition.

Of any policy mechanism, investors will ask the hard questions: what will be its actual ambition and effects? Would the scheme survive a change in prime minister or government? Would it stand up to industry lobbying? Investor confidence requires a level of predictability of policy.

If a LET were supported by the government and acceptable to the Coalition backbench, and if the Labor opposition could see it as a building block of its climate policy platform, then the LET might be a workable second best, even if there are better options. Over the longer term, it could be rolled into a more comprehensive and efficient climate policy framework.

This article was written by:
Image of Frank Jotzo Frank Jotzo – [Director, Centre for Climate Economics and Policy, Australian National University]

 

 

 

 

This article is part of a syndicated news program via the Conversation

 

Explainer: why we should be turning waste into fuel

Why we should be turning waste into fuel Converting waste into fuel or energy 
should be part of Australia’s recycling and rubbish reduction plan.

The federal government recently announced that it is giving recycling company ResourceCo a loan of A$30 million to build two waste-to-fuel plants producing “solid waste fuel”.

Waste-to-energy is an important part of the waste industry in Europe. Significant demand for heat means efficient and tightly controlled waste incinerators are common. However, Australia lacks an established market, with low levels of community acceptance and no clear government policy encouraging its uptake.

But the federal announcement, coupled with an uptake in state funding, a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry and several new projects in the pipeline, signals a growing interest in waste-to-energy and waste-to-fuels.

But what is solid waste fuel, and where does it fit in a sustainable future for Australian waste management?

What are solid waste fuels?

Australians are becoming more wasteful. The amount of rubbish we produce is growing more rapidly than both our population and our economy.

Recycling has been the main approach for recovering resources and reducing landfill over the past 20 years, but a lot more needs to be done.

One part of the solution is “waste-to-energy”: using a range of thermal or biological processes, the energy embedded in waste is captured, making it available for the direct generation of heat and electricity, or for solid fuel production (also known as “processed engineered fuel”).

Briquettes or fuel pellets can be made out of paper, plastic, wood waste or textiles
Briquettes or fuel pellets can be made out of paper,plastic, 
wood waste or textiles

Waste-to-fuel plants produce fuels from the combustible (energy-rich) materials found in waste from households and industry. Suitable materials include non-recyclable papers, plastics, wood waste and textiles. All of these typically end up in landfill.

These materials are preferably sourced from existing recycling facilities, which currently have to throw out contaminated matter that can’t be recycled.

Solid waste fuels are produced to specified qualities by different treatment methods. These include drying, shredding, and compressing into briquettes or fuel pellets. Fuels can be specifically tailored for ease of transportation and for different uses where industrial heat is required. This make them suitable alternatives to fossil fuels.

What are solid waste fuels used for?

As a replacement for coal and gas, solid waste fuel can be burned to generate electricity with a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

In addition to the power sector, other industries requiring high-temperature heat use solid waste fuels – for example, in cement works in Australia and around the world. There may also be scope to expand their use to other energy-intensive industries, such as metals recycling and manufacturing industrial chemical products.

Fuel pellets made from waste can be burned for energy
Fuel pellets made from waste can be burned for energy. tchara/shutterstock

What are the key benefits?

The primary environmental benefit of solid waste fuel comes from the reductions in landfill emissions and fossil fuel use.

Biodegradable carbon sources decompose in landfill, creating methane. This is a greenhouse gas with a warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide. Technology already exist for capturing and converting landfill gases to energy, but waste-to-fuel is a complementary measure that limits landfill in the first instance.

Waste-derived fuel can also have a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels. This depends on the carbon content of the fuel, and whether it is derived from biological sources (such as paper, wood or natural fibres). Even though carbon dioxide is emitted when the fuel is burned, this is partly offset by the carbon dioxide captured by the plants that produced the materials in the first place.

In these cases, solid waste fuels are eligible for renewable energy certificates. More advanced closed-loop concepts achieve even better carbon balances by capturing the carbon dioxide released when the fuel is used. This can used for other processes that require carbon dioxide as an input, such as growing fruit and vegetables.

Further environmental benefits can come from the management of problem wastes such as treated timbers, car tyres, and e-plastics. Converting them into fuel prevents the leaching of harmful substances into the environment, and other potential problems.

 Arma banchang/shutterstock

What are the challenges?

Communities are legitimately concerned about energy recovery from waste owing to public health risks. Without appropriate emission control, burning solid fuel can release nitrous oxides, sulphur dioxides, particulate matter and other harmful pollutants. But, with solid regulation and the best available pollution-control technology, these emissions can be managed.

The recycling industry is also worried that energy recovery has the potential to undermine existing recycling by diverting waste flows. Famously, solid waste fuel is so important to Sweden it actually imports garbage from other European countries.

These challenges point to the importance of investing in the appropriate infrastructure at the right size, and creating regulations that balance the needs of existing recycling processes. With careful planning, waste-to-fuel can be an important part of a broad strategy for transitioning towards a zero-landfill future.

This article was co-authored by:
Nick Florin 
Nick Florin – [Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney]
and
Ben Madden