Tag Archives: green energy

renewable energy

Renewable energy is getting cheaper

The stars are aligning for Australia to transition to 100% renewable energy. Our fossil fuel infrastructure is ageing, which means we will soon need to invest in new power generators. New technologies such as battery storage could revolutionise long-standing business models. With care, the transitions away from fossil fuels could offer greater job opportunities.

Our latest research, which corroborates previous work, shows the technology already exists to solve many of the remaining questions around technological capability. For instance, the fact that wind and solar don’t generate electricity when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining can be dealt with by installing a network of diverse generators across a wide area, or by increasing our use of energy storage.

One of the biggest remaining barriers to transition is cost. But this is also rapidly changing. Much work is going into reducing the cost of renewable energy, including the latest funding announcement from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) of A$92 million for 12 solar projects.

The cost of building renewable energy

The cost of renewable energy is highly variable across the world and even within Australia. The picture is not simple, but it does help to start by looking at the big picture.

Average capital costs of constructing new wind, solar PV and ocean/tidal generators are already lower than equivalent coal generation infrastructure.

Research suggests that, overall, the cost of moving to 100% renewable energy is not significantly higher than the cost of hitting a lower target.

The capital cost of investment in renewable energy generation technologies is also falling rapidly. In its 2014 report on global renewable power generation costs, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) showed that the total cost of installation and operation over a lifetime of small-scale residential PV systems in Australia has fallen from US$0.35 to US$0.17 per kilowatt-hour between 2010 and 2014.

In part this has been because of reduced installation costs, together with our exceptional abundance of sunshine.

As a result, Australian new residential solar installation has soared to the fifth highest in the world. Installed capacity accounts for 9% of national electricity generation capacity and 2.8% of electrical energy generation.

The historical reductions in installation costs for wind energy are similar globally and in Australia. Recent 2016 reverse auctions in the Australian Capital Territory have received Australia’s lowest known contract price for renewables with bids at A$77 per megawatt-hour.

Beyond building

But the capital cost of building generation infrastructure is not the whole story. Once the generator is built, operations and maintenance costs also become important. For most renewables (biomass excluded) the fuel costs are zero because nature itself provides the fuel for free.

Other costs that we must consider are variable and fixed costs. Fixed costs, such as annual preventative maintenance or insurance, don’t change with the amount of electricity produced. Variable costs, such as casual labour or generator repairs, may increase when more electricity is produced.

The variable costs for some renewables (biomass, hydropower and large-scale solar PV) are lower than coal. For other renewable technologies they are only slightly higher. Fixed costs for almost all renewable technologies are lower than for coal.

We also need to think about costs beyond individual generators. The vastness of our Australian continent is a bonus and a challenge for building 100% renewable energy.

It can be used strategically to give a 100% renewables supply reliability by using an interconnected network of generators. For instance, it may be very sunny or windy in one region. Excess electricity produced in this region can fill a gap in electricity demand in less sunny or windy places elsewhere.

But this also poses challenges. To take advantage of the reliability that a highly distributed renewable electricity system can provide, we must also consider the costs associated with expanding the transmission network.

For example, in our research we investigated one possible 100% renewables electricity scenario. This was conservatively based on current technology and demand (conservative because technology is likely to change, and electricity demand has been unexpectedly falling). The scenario required a transmission grid two-and-a-half times larger than our current grid, including new cross-continental linkages between Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which currently stand alone from the well-integrated eastern Australian networks.

The challenges of transitioning to a renewable electricity sector are no doubt great, but our ageing generator infrastructure means that an overhaul will soon be due. Even though the price of electricity from old coal power plants is currently cheaper than that from many new renewable plants (because the former are already paid off), cost reductions mean a strong business case now exists for renewable technologies investment.

In a recent article on The Conversation, John Hewson wrote that “renewable energy is one of our most ‘shovel ready’ business opportunities”.

Now is the time to pre-empt the looming deadline for infrastructure overhaul to ensure future economic resilience for Australia.

– Bonnie McBain

This article was first published by The Conversation on September 8 2016. Read the original article here.

low carbon

First low carbon finder app

In an Australian first, the tourism business community in the Blue Mountains has proved that a low carbon future for businesses and users is possible, with the launch today of one of the most extensively researched low carbon regional programs.

The Blue Mountains Low Carbon Living program released its website and web app designed to support and promote businesses that have reduced their carbon footprint and at the same time provide residents and visitors an opportunity to reduce theirs by choosing low carbon services.

Of 200 Blue Mountains visitors and 100 residents surveyed in April 2016 regarding their own carbon footprint,  94% said they were concerned and 85% said they were prepared to choose business services with a low carbon footprint.  Nearly 70% also said they would use a website or app that identified local businesses that had achieved reduction ratings to make their choice.

Funded by the CRC for Low Carbon Living (CRCLCL), the new web and app program can be easily transferred to other communities and is set to be taken up by other regions in NSW and nationally.

CRCLCL project leader and Executive Director of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute (BMWHI) Dr John Merson says the audit techniques developed for the 30 local businesses in the pilot program, along with the rating scheme and website were designed to be easily transferrable to other communities.

“Overall our audits reviewed the business’ energy, water and waste usage, advised on how to be more efficient in using carbon based resources,  then assessed what they had done and calculated the carbon reduction.  From this we provided a gold, silver or bronze rating for the website,” says Merson.

“Some businesses have achieved up to 15% carbon reductions in one year with many having further plans to increase this figure by adding more solar or introducing water recycling, for example.

“Businesses involved in the project include hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants, cafes plus transport and activity providers.  Their incentive to be involved is that by lowering their carbon footprint they will attract more customers who in turn seek to lower their own footprint by using low carbon services. 

“The website is ultimately a way of promoting the businesses’ carbon reduction achievements and at the same time providing residents and visitors with the opportunity to support them.”

One local business given a gold rating – Silvermere Guest House – have  not only reduced their energy use through solar systems, but also their potable water use by around 40% through a variety of recommended water saving initiatives. They are planning further energy savings over the next 12 months including the introduction of a solar powered robotic lawn mower. 

“Our plans include increasing the number of solar panels and purchasing a rechargeable robot lawn mower to replace the current petrol burning mowers,” says owner Cathy.

According to CRCLCL CEO Professor Deo Prasad, worldwide tourism accounts for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions and makes up 5.6% of Australia’s emissions so the new website and app package was a significant achievement.

“Now we have a proven low carbon audit system, website and app package available through this project, more business communities and carbon emission conscious individuals in Australia and around the world can benefit as it is rolled out and further developed,” says Prasad.

“We are very pleased with what this project has achieved and what it has to offer for a low carbon future.” 

Today’s launch was held in Katoomba and included a variety of presentations from local business leaders and researchers.

This information was first shared by the Low Carbon Living CRC on 26 May 2016.