All new Australian Power Plants to be Renewable through 2020

by Nicholas Brown.

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), all new electricity generation capacity in Australia will be from renewable energy. It will mostly be from wind energy, while 13% of that is expected to be from large-scale solar PV, and 3% from biomass.

After years of hearing very little about Australia’s transition from fossil fuels, there has been Sydney’s plan to go 100% renewable by 2030 and a lot of big news in 2013. But the next several years will be even bigger.

According to an IEEE article about the coming growth of renewables in Australia: ”There are nearly 15 800 megawatts of proposed wind generation projects, according to the AEMO. More than 780 MW of the wind power is expected to come online in 2014-2015.”

Australian cumulative electrical power generation chart
Australian cumulative electrical power generation chart

This massive progress is partially caused by a nationwide carbon tax, which was instated in 2012. According to the IEEE article: ”By 2020, there could be 3700 MW less coal-fired generation, about 13 percent of the country’s total coal power production.”

<br />A wind farm in rural Australia via Shutterstock.
A wind farm in rural Australia. Image by Shutterstock

The dominance of wind generation in this forecast (compared to solar) is largely due to the fact that wind power is cheaper than solar power. It is good to see a decent mix of biomass as a part of this. Power plants fueled by biomass can back up solar arrays and wind farms while preventing methane from entering the atmosphere.

Methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and biomass power plants usually burn methane, resulting in the emission of the more benign carbon dioxide. This replacement of methane with CO2 has a positive environmental effect.

Follow me on Twitter: @Kompulsa.

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This article, All New Australian Power Plants Will Be Renewable Through 2020, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nicholas BrownNicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.com.

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Australian Rooftop Solar Reaches 3 GW

by Giles Parkinson.

Australia goes Distributed Solar
Australia goes Distributed Solar in a Big Way. Image by sunwiz.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

Australia has passed through another significant solar milestone, reaching 3,000 MW (3 GW) of solar PV this month, as Queensland nudged the 1 GW mark and states such as South Australia reached household penetration rates of 25 per cent.

“Solar power is reshaping Australia’s electricity market,” says Warwick Johnston, the head of solar research group SunWiz, who compiled the data. “This is a milestone as note-worthy as the one millionth solar power system that was installed in April.”

The growth in solar PV in Australia is quite remarkable, given that Australia’s capacity was barely more than 180 MW in 2009. Much of this growth came as a result of generous feed in tariffs, but the growth continues as a new generation of households look to solar to hedge against the rising cost of grid-based electricity, to make a statement about green energy, or to do both.

Australia is almost unique in the world in having its solar installations almost exclusively in rooftop solar PV. That, according to Johnston, now totals 3 GW on its own, mostly residential but also on a growing number of commercial rooftops, such as wineries.

Australia has only one solar PV array above 1.2 MW, the 10 MW Greenough River solar farm in Western Australia, although three projects have begun or are about to begin construction in the ACT, and the 102 MW Nyngan project will also begin construction in January. Others are in the wings. To put this into comparison, the Japanese market is expected to install 9 GW of solar in 2013 alone, much of it at commercial or larger scale.

Sunwiz Australia solar

Some other striking figures in the latest data release from SunWiz include the penetration rates in individual states.

Johnston says that nationwide, 14 per cent of dwellings host solar power systems; and one in four dwellings in South Australia have rooftop solar. Queensland has a penetration rate of 22 per cent, and WA 18 per cent.

This is having an impact on Australian electricity markets. Here’s another interesting statistic: At midday on Sunday, September 29, solar power contributed to 9.4 per cent of electricity demand in the National Electricity Market, and 28 per cent in the state of South Australia.

Over the winter months, solar power contributed to 1.4% of total power consumption in the National Electricity Market, reaching a daily peak of 2.75% of energy NEM-wide production on September’s “Solar Sunday”, Johnston says. (See the graph below).

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 9.24.26 pm

The solar market is having an impact on incumbent fossil fuel generators, and network operators. That’s because solar reduces demand from the grid, and also takes away revenues on what has traditionally been the most profitable part of the day for generators.

Queensland state-owned generator Stanwell Corp blamed solar for most of its woes, the decline of base-load generation and its inability to return a profit from generation last financial year. As Hugh Saddler remarks in another story today, some of its generators are operating at less than 50 per cent capacity. Many industry experts suggest solar is having such an impact on electricity markets that it is causing a near equal amount of fossil fuel generation to be mothballed or closed.

The SunWiz report says that the solar market has contracted from its giddy, FiT-inspired peaks in the middle of 2012, but it is now stable. However, profitability for industry players remains a challenge, although the customer is benefiting. The months of October and November both recorded around 75 MW of installations.

The average rooftop system has jumped to 4.3kW, the most popular size is now between 3kW and 5kW (depending on the state and its solar resources) up from 1.5kW, and 5 per cent of systems are more than 8kW (the average in the US).

South Australia boasted an average size of 4.8kW and that state overtook Queensland to be the largest market in Australia over the last two months. Localities such as Hilton, Lonsdale, Rosewater and Emu Flat set records for installations.

More information on the SunWiz data can be found here.

This article, Australian Rooftop Solar Reaches 3 GW, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

Solar: The ‘No-Brainer’ That Could Take Suburbs Off Grid

by Giles Parkinson

Australia solar
Australia solar

Originally published on RenewEconomy

The installation of rooftop-solar has become such a “no brainer” for Australian households that whole suburbs could generate and store enough electricity to go-off grid.

That is the remarkable vision painted by Australian Renewable Energy Agency CEO Ivor Frischknecht last week in a keynote speech at the All Energy conference in Melbourne. Frischknecht told the conference that one-in-eight houses across the country had solar, and one-in-five houses in South Australia and Queensland. A recent survey found that 88 per cent of Australians support the idea of rooftop solar.

“(Support for solar) is a no-brainer in most respects,” Frischknecht told the conference. “Rooftop PV makes energy costs more predictable and increasingly saves money, which is particularly pertinent for low income earners.”

But to what extent will they take it up? As Frischneckt noted, the huge uptake of solar is having an impact on incumbent utilities, who are now struggling to recoup the billions invested in network upgrades and expansions, and who are looking to pass on those costs to other users.

That in turn is leaving to a vicious circle which is pushing electricity costs up even higher, and making rooftop solar, and new technologies such as battery storage, even more attractive.

Frischknect said he knew many examples of city folk who had gone off grid – including in Sydney’s North Bondi. He recalled that ARENA chairman Greg Bourne had told an energy conference in Canberra the previous week that in the not-too-distant-future whole suburbs could embrace distributed generation and, by generating their own power, have no need to be connected to the grid at all.

That, needless to say, is a shock to the system for the incumbents, although it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even Ergon Energy, which delivers electricity to regional and remote users in Queensland, where distribution costs are higher, made the same prediction just over a week ago.

In Germany, thousands of towns and villages are looking to “buy back the grid” from the commercial operators, reasoning that the arrival of distributed energy solutions, including storage, means that they are probably better placed to look after their own needs. Cities such as Boulder in the US are looking to do the same thing.

Which would be the first suburb or township to do so in Australia? Most likely a regional centre where farmers make heavy use of energy, for irrigation for example. Robert Mierisch, the Australian co-founder of solar technology group Terrajoule bets it will be a regional town in regional NSW or Queensland that goes first.

“We’re at the stage now where a rural town in western NSW could decide to stop buying electricity from the grid, and do whatever is necessary to reduce consumption, install storage and local generation and buy the distribution network back from the operator,” he told RenewEconomy in a recent interview. (We’ll have more from that interview sometime soon).

The reaction of many of Australia’s incumbent utilities – be they network providers or generators – has been to vilify solar and seek tariff changes to protect their business models. Frischknecht himself noted that some distributors were preventing further solar connections, particularly in regional and rural locations.

But while some of the problems are technical, the major threat is economic, as Energex and studies such as those done by the APVA on Magnetic Island have suggested.

ARENA, however, is looking for means to help continue the proliferation of rooftop solar.

It commissioned a study from ACIL Allen Consulting that supported other findings that it is not the “hip and wealthy” inner-urban residents who have solar on their roofs, but people who live in the outer suburbs and in regional areas (see map above). “This is a pattern we see repeated across Australia,” says Frischknecht.

Indeed, the most likely homeowner with solar on the roof lives in a rural town, is aged over 54 and earns around $77,000 a year. But as this next graph below illustrates, there is surprisingly little difference in penetration across the income groups.

arena-solar-income

Still, many people are missing out. Solar is put almost exclusively on the rooftops of owner occupier. That’s because they gain the benefits of lower energy bills.

ARENA is now looking to help support financing models that will help deliver rooftop solar to lower income families who cannot afford the up-front payments, and to provide the right incentives for those living in rental accommodation or in apartment blocks.

The first of these is to support the “leasing” model that allows households to install rooftop solar with no money down. This accounts for ¾ of installations in California, and while some firms have introduced this into Australia, Frischknecht says the take-up has been slow.

Part of the reason has been the cost of finance: bankers are applying “first of a kind” premiums, because they haven’t seen the business model before and don’t know for sure the key metrics – such as the default and loss rates. That premium creates extra cost and makes the leasing option less attractive.

ARENA is looking at a model and a mechanism that could provide that “first of a kind” financing, to prove the model, and allow financing costs to fall.

The second financial model is focused not on leasing modules, but on leasing roof-space. This could be applied to rental properties and apartment blocks, where developers pay “rent” for the use of a rooftop and sell the output to the residents or other local customers.  Frischknecht says it may be that ARENA will create a separate fund that could help finance such investment.

All of this will be of interest to the new federal Government, which as part of its “million solar roofs” program wants to focus on the lower income sector for any incentives. That program nominally has a $500 cash back subsidy, but it could be that the government will find the ARENA approach a lot more attractive.

The studies are part of a broader “integrating renewables’ project that ARENA is undertaking. This will include adding storage to solar, and looking to see where such installations would be a benefit to a network, and where they would not.

“There is much more to the PV story than just putting panels on a residential room” Frischknecht says. “It involves giving control to consumers, reducing user costs, development of a viable Australian industry bristling with technological know- how, and the creation of new jobs, skills and investment that will strengthen the Australian economy.

“And that’s just rooftop PV, from within the much larger suite of solar energy solutions.”

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This article, Solar: The ‘No-Brainer’ That Could Take Suburbs Off Grid, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

Delft University Triumphs In 2013 World Solar Challenge!

by Ronald Brake

Nuna 7 (400)

The 2013 World Solar Challenge has a winner! After travelling 3,000 kilometers across the dry heart of Australia using only the power of the sun, the Nuna 7, designed and built by the Nulon Solar Team from the Delft Universty of Technology in the Netherlands, was the first to cross the finish line here in Adelaide today. While the Dutch team maintained the lead for most of the race, the 2011 winners from Japan’s Tokai University dogged their heels and managed to take second place.

Check out the panels on that. (Image Credit: Me again)

In order to document the winner’s arrival I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6:00 am this morning, removed the squirrel costume I was still wearing from last night’s festivities, checked the sky and went back to bed. After days of glorious sunshine the weather had decided that leaden skies and rain would be a suitable accompaniment to the last leg of the Solar Challenge. The event’s website said we could come to the finish line in central Adelaide at 9:00 am, but I figured that solar powered cars wouldn’t be making good time today and I could sleep in. I arrived at 11:00 am and found that the area wasn’t open to the public, so I was glad I didn’t come earlier. I appreciate that there is a large element of randomness in just when the winners will arrive, but if you are going to tell people they can come at 9:00 am you should let them in at that time and maybe keep them amused with solar powered puppets or something. Or they could have asked me to do renewable stand up comedy. (You can believe me when I tell you that an awful lot of my gags are recycled.)

red white and blue

With time to kill I went for a walk and investigated a pawn shop I came across. That turned out to be quite an eye opening experience and made me realise that I should perhaps take more care in noting the exact spelling on store signs before I enter. I recovered from my discombobulation in time to make my way back and see Adelaide’s solar powered electric bus arrive carrying the winning team, along with the arrival of the winning solar car. The vehicle stopped in front of the finish line and Dutch people poured out of the bus and started partying. If I had positioned myself more carefully and opened my mouth I could have gotten some free champagne as that stuff was spurting everywhere.

Dutch people in a rubber fountain in the rain. (Image Credit: Me)

The announcer of the event then asked the winning team to move forward and actually cross the finish line. Yeah, as if that was going to work. The only way to get those people to move in the direction you wanted them to would be to start a conga line. Fortunately, after about 15 minutes, they remembered that it was traditional to jump into a fountain at the end of the a World Solar Challenge and they all ran across the finish line to leap into the temporary fountain that had been set up just for this occasion. Admittedly this was a tradition that started on stinking hot sunny days after 3,000 kilometers of desert travel rather than cold rainy days, but they weren’t about to let the weather get in their way. And who knows, maybe Dutch people think 15 degrees Celsius is hot?

I'd have to lose a lot of muscle to fit in this car. (Image Credit: Me)

The Dutch horde attacking the rubber fountain gave me a chance to take some photos of the winning vehicle and later I was able to get some shots of the interior. I was going to ask them if I could have the car if they didn’t need it any more, but after seeing the size of the cockpit I changed my mind. I’m afraid I’m just too muscular to fit comfortably inside it.

All the vehicles in the Challenge will be paraded through the center of Adelaide on Sunday starting at Hindmarsh Square at 2:00 pm and you’re all invited. If you need somewhere to stay my place has an air mattress, a reasonably low spider to human ratio, and plenty of vegemite.

I’d like to thank Bridgestone for for sponsoring the 2013 World Solar Challenge and I recommend checking out their low rolling resistance, ecologically minded tires. (Full disclosure: Yes, I am hoping that Bridgestone will send me free tires. Or failing that, some dried squid. It is a Japanese company, you know.)

About the Author

Ronald Brakels lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, “The vast power of earth’s yellow sun.”

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

About the Author

Ronald Brakels lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, “The vast power of earth’s yellow sun.”

 

Read more at http://cleantechnica.com/2013/10/10/2013-world-solar-challenge-winner/#TKICFAYIw8m78jcv.99

Ergon Says Renewables And Batteries May Be Cheaper Than Grid

by Giles Parkinson

.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

Ergon Energy, which operates the sprawling, regional electricity network that covers 97 per cent of Queensland, has suggested that within the next decade renewables and battery storage will be cheaper for domestic consumers than grid power.

The operator of 160,000kms of power lines, and a million power poles, says it is moving away from the traditional “poles and wires” approach to investment, but it warns that current subsidies to the cost of centralised generation are delaying innovation and investment in new technologies and systems.

“Will we see a time in the next decade where renewables and battery storage will be cheaper than grid power for the domestic consumer?”  Ergon Energy chairman Malcolm Hall-Brown wrote in the company’s annual report. “Queensland’s current uniform tariff may delay some alternatives but innovation is definitely accelerating in the renewable market.”

The Queensland government spent $600 million in 2012/13 under its bridging the gap between the cost of delivering coal and gas fired generation to regional centres and what it charges consumers. That taxpayer-funded subsidy equates to $850 per customer.

Even with this cap on consumer bills, and the removal of the 44c/kWh feed in tariff,  Ergon Energy CEO Ian McLeod says increasing numbers of householders were looking to solar for certainty and control over costs.

“The network’s role is transitioning from a transporter of electricity to a market enabler, Our customers are increasingly becoming producers selling energy into the grid while changing their consumption behaviours to maximise their return on investment – 14% of households in regional Queensland now have solar,” he says in the report.

The Ergon Energy annual report came out on the same day as that of state-owned generator Stanwell Corp, which blamed the proliferation of rooftop solar for declining wholesale prices and causing it to run at a loss. It also came days after Energex, which looks after the network operations in south-east Queensland, blamed solar for making its economic model unsustainable.

The difference in tone in the reports of Ergon Energy and Energex could not have been more marked. Where Energex – and most other network operators in Australia for that matter, see only doom, Ergon Energy sees opportunity, in the same way as Vector in New Zealand.

“Like Bob Dylan’s immortal classic ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ so is the purpose of the electricity distribution network,” McLeod writes in the annual report.

McLeod noted that capital investment and technology is now flowing downstream into the customer installations – away from traditional regulated infrastructure to unregulated solutions funded by customers or third parties.

“Alternative energy solutions will set a market-based benchmark in pricing as they become increasingly technically and commercially viable.

.ergon-household-use

“In this environment the network is no longer a monopoly as it delivers a single commodity that can and is already being supplied via other means. This change means our value proposition needs to shift to enable a strong market for energy, storage and demand management solutions, while still providing a safe, secure and reliable supply.”

McLeod recognised that half the cost of electricity in Queensland came from the investment in poles and wires, and the combined impact of higher prices, economic conditions, greater awareness of energy efficiency and the availability of technologies like solar had caused underlying and peak demand to fall significantly over the last three years.

Average household demand from the $12 billion grid that Ergon Energy operates fell 5 per cent in the past year alone, and by 15 per cent over four years, to 6,811kWh per household. Overall demand fell slightly, to 15,097GWh, but again was well below forecasts.

Ergon Energy says it has responded by cutting its spending program by $1.5 billion, has streamlined its workforce and had achieved significant peak demand reductions – and avoided infrastructure investment, through demand management and demand response mechanisms.

.ergon-solar-install

McLeod says Ergon Energy connected another 32,000 solar PV systems to the network, taking its total to 78,000 and the proportion of homes to 14 per cent. It now has 255MW on its network. Added to Energex total of 675MW, the 44MW of solar thermal to be added soon at Kogan Creek and additions in last two and coming months, that will take the state’s total to over 1GW.

McLeod says the rate of take-up of solar remains a challenge for the network operator, because “thin grids” are generally more vulnerable to voltage issues. “Historically, the network was not designed for electricity to flow intermittently in both directions,” he said.

Ergon was looking at technical solutions, but he noted the success of Magnetic Island, where the Solar City project had cut demand on the island by 16 per cent and deferred the need for a costly third submarine cable to the island by at least eight years. “The project demonstrated that a comprehensive community engagement program can drive real change to the benefit of customers, electricity utilities and the environment,” he said.

Ergon is also looking at electric Vehicles, which could create similar challenges to solar if sales of EVs suddenly escalated. It noted that a trial of using five Mitsubishi i-MiEVs in Townsville had shown that fuel costs were dramatically lower $4.81 per 100km vs. $11.54 for a petrol car), and had given valuable insight on appropriate tariffs to encourage charging at off-peak periods.

McLeod signalled that there was likely to be a change in tariffs, along the lines discussed in these pages,here, here, and here. “We see great opportunity in moving from charging largely based on the amount of electricity used to mechanisms that look at the capacity a customer requires from the network at any given time.”

The options include include mechanisms such as time-of-use tariffs, kVA denominated demand charges and critical peak pricing. Our aim is to spread the electricity load more evenly, manage growth in peak demand and avoid spending millions of dollars in asset augmentation or reinforcement; which would ultimately have been paid for by our customers.”

Despite Ergon Energy’s embrace of solar, new technologies, and new thinking, the annual report also revealed that it had invested little in renewables to meet the national renewable energy target.

It sourced only 7 per cent of its renewable energy obligations (Ergon also operates a retailer) through its own production, and bought renewable energy certificates to meet the remaining obligations. Most of these would have been bought from projects in other states. RenewEconomy has been told that Ergon Energy had been instructed not to invest in large-scale renewables (Queensland does not have any apart from the 20-turbine Windy Hill installation and some bagasse project, but has not been able to confirm that.

There was also surprisingly little renewable energy generation in remote areas not connected to the grid. Ergon used 712,658 gigajoules of diesel generation during the year, and only 671GJ – less than 0.1 per cent – from renewables.

.ergon-solar-domadgee

It says it is looking to increase its renewable capacity to defray the volatile diesel fuel prices and the environmental impacts. Interestingly, it is easier to defray fossil fuel costs in remote locations than on the main grid. A new 264kW solar PV system at Doomadgee (pictured) has been introduced without affecting stability and can be expanded to 2MW.

It is looking at increasing its wind generation on Thursday island, where two turbines supplement diesel, and it is still looking at options to replace its ageing geothermal power station at Birdsville.

While Ergon Energy’s attitude to the grid and new technology opportunities is welcome, and like a beacon in the smog in Australia, it is not entirely clear that it will be able to continue with this vision. The Queensland government has announced it wants to merge Ergon Energy and Energex and bring them under one management. Whether that single management structure reflects backward thinking or forward is not yet clear.

(Note: This story was corrected from first edition to say Windy Hill had 20 turbines, not four).

 

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This article, Ergon Says Renewables And Batteries May Be Cheaper Than Grid, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

 

About the Author

Giles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

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