By Giles Parkinson on 29 March 2012
Energy Minister Martin Ferguson revealed the tenuous nature of his understanding of solar technologies in an interview on ABC TV’s 7.30 Report on Tuesday, referring to Solar Flagships projects as “solar baseload power.”
The Solar Flagships may be many things – big is one of them and possibly what Minister Ferguson meant. Or they may not be anything at all, given their problems in financing. But without storage one thing they certainly will not be is baseload. And even with storage, would solar ever work as baseload energy?
It is a common misconception, given that the energy grids for decades have been based on the principal of providing baseload energy, supplemented by peak-load power when demand is high. The question is often put: How could solar – or any other intermittent renewable ever be considered to be a source of baseload energy? According to the latest study produced by experts at the UNSW, it may not need to.
The study by the UNSW team of Ben Elliston, Mark Diesendorf and Ian McGill into how Australia’s National Electricity Market could cope with 100 per cent renewables suggests that the very concept of a baseload power station becomes redundant when fossil fuels are replaced with renewables.
The needs of the grid are met with large penetrations of variable renewable sources such as wind and solar, and topped up with solar storage acting as a form of peaking plant, and gas-turbines running on biofuels that perform a similar function. And, critically, by reducing peak demand through improved energy efficiency and better demand management.
The study, a simulation of 100 per cent renewable scenarios for the year 2010, using actual NEM demand data, weather observations and technologies that are in either mass production (wind, solar PV, hydro and biofuelled gas turbines), or limited production (such as concentrated solar thermal with thermal storage), shows that 100 per cent renewable energy is technically feasible.
It does, however, require a “radical 21st century re-conception” of an electricity supply demand-system. Instead of base-load coal, reliability is maintained with large penetrations of variable renewable sources from as great a diversity as possible, supported by a large array of “dispatchable” generators – be they turbines or storage.
“Nowadays, renewable energy deniers are almost as active in spreading misinformation as the deniers of anthropogenic climate change,” Diesendorf wrote recently. “One of their principal false claims is that renewable energy sources are too unreliable to form the basis of an energy system for an industrial society. In particular, they assert that renewable energy cannot supply base-load (24-hour) power and is only suitable for niche markets.” He says the UNSW research helps to refute these claims.
The next stage of the UNSW study will be analysing how much this will cost. Broader estimates produced by the International Energy Agency and the European Commission suggest that the final outcome of moving to renewables will be cost-neutral over the long term, and may even save money, but will likely cause a rise in costs over the short term because of new technologies and infrastructure investment. More critically, it will also send shockwaves through the energy industry as economics of fossil fuel generators is undermined, as they are already discovering in Germany and other places where renewable penetration is reaching 20 per cent or more.
The Australian Energy Market Operator has also been commissioned to paint two scenarios of reaching 100 per cent renewables by 2030 and 2050. It is expected to release the scope of that inquiry in coming weeks.
|Hybrid solar: How to kiss the grid goodbye
By Jeff Bye on 30 March 2012
If ever there were a need to develop off-grid power systems it would have to be now, when transmission costs are now up to around 60 per cent of non-solar power bills.
Solar systems have historically been classified into two broad camps – “grid connected” or “off-grid” systems. This distinction has arisen due to historical segments of the market that needed solar to do different things. The vast majority of systems we see around Australia’s towns and cities are grid connected and have been driven by feed-in-tariffs and consumer desires to cut electricity costs and do something positive for the environment.
Off-grid systems have historically been the preserve of regional customers seeking to avoid expensive network augmentation costs to provide power to their remote locations. Off-grid systems are usually a lot more expensive as they require battery storage, more complicated control technology and often diesel backup generators to ensure the lights will always shine. Battery technology has also been a culprit as the memory effect of old-style lead-acid batteries has meant that battery arrays are oversized to ensure the depth of discharge is not high and hence battery life is extended.
An emerging trend though is for so-called hybrid systems which take a little from column A, and a little from column B. Such systems could either be described as an off-grid system which uses the grid as the standby generator or a grid-connected system with some added battery storage. Either way, these systems don’t require expensive diesel generators since the grid provides that service, and the size of the battery arrays can be downgraded as the cost of back-up power using off-peak grid electricity is much lower than that provided by diesel generators.
The technology that is making this possible is a new generation of products capable of directing energy flows as the consumer best desires. One such product is the PowerRouter which enables the home owner to optimise, control and manage any self-generated electricity. A homeowner in NSW appalled by their retailer’s offer for solar buyback, for instance, could arrange for excess solar yield to be diverted to their batteries for use at another time when electricity prices are higher. The batteries could also be re-charged on off-peak tariffs and re-used during peak periods as a straight arbitrage opportunity.
Another technological development is occurring in the battery sector with heavy investment by the auto-makers looking to reduce battery size and extend life using lithium-ion based solutions. Importantly, Li-ion batteries have no memory effect, so battery arrays can be better sized to suit demand. Intersolar fairs these days are increasingly showing attractive, compact and affordable Li-ion battery solutions capable of helping consumers make the jump to these hybrid systems. The introduction of electric vehicles with batteries will add another exciting dimension as the household battery storage effectively gains wheels and becomes mobile.
So where is this opportunity apparent in the Australian context today? There are probably three broad consumers to whom this hybrid model would appeal:
My grid keeps dropping out! Many solar consumers ask the question about what happens when the grid goes down? Unfortunately the answer they get is “so does your solar system in order to prevent injury to electrical line workers”. Having a hybrid model appeals to consumers who are looking for higher levels of reliability than their existing supply. A hybrid model would allow the home to effortlessly switch from solar to grid to battery as the need arises on a least-cost basis.
I hate my retailer, how can I get them back? Spite is a strong motivator and many consumers have just had enough of traditional electricity retailers. While the cost of completely switching off from the electricity grid (i.e. an off-grid system) is probably cost-prohibitive for most householders, installing a hybrid system would be a lower cost since there are no back-up generators and less battery storage. The original intent would largely be delivered.
The network won’t let me expand! Many consumers, especially businesses in regional locations, are constrained in their growth due to limitations imposed by the electrical networks. One recent customer owned a coffee shop in a small suburban Sydney shopping centre. The grid operator would not provide them with the 130A supply it needed without an expensive upgrade to a substation. The landlord and the shop owner went halves in a 10kW system which reduced their peak demand to the allowable 80A through a system of batteries and recharging off the grid when power is available. The system cost half as much as the substation option and will pay for itself in around 7 years – compare this to the sunk cost of the substation which would only make a return for the grid operator.
The larger policy implications of this shift are interesting. In 1999, the term Web 2.0 was offered forward as a description of the cumulative changes taking place in web development which facilitated greater collaboration, interoperability and information sharing. These days, more and more content on the web is user-generated and the nature of how we use the internet is vastly different from the embryonic, static website version of the 1990s.
Increasingly the electricity grid is moving towards Grid 2.0. Eventually, the networks will cease to become simply a delivery mechanism for electrons to your home and will morph into a shared network designed to help each energy user effectively manage their surplus or deficit of electrons to meet their needs. With this will come enormous changes to the business models of the network operators as customers gradually become more and more self-sufficient and use less and less from the grid.
The immediate response from network operators will most likely be higher peak demand charges to reflect the (in)tangible economic benefit offered to customers through the grid acting as the standby generator. As these charges start mounting, however, this will only encourage consumers to go the whole-hog and take their homes completely off-grid, thus completely avoiding network charges. Inevitably this will leave the grid a stranded asset – similar to the telegraph poles dotting the country side.
The response from networks operators should be more collaborative and understanding of the market dynamics and accepting of the new role they will likely have to play. This will involve changes to the asset’s valuation and pricing regimes – no small thing – but in the end will deliver better outcomes for society, the environment and energy users.
Jeff Bye is head of CBD Energy’s solar division
Bellarine residents are being encouraged to use the Committee for Bellarine’s new website to get involved in the region’s future.
The committee, a group of subscribing locals concerned with how the peninsula is developed and managed, would like its website to become a sounding board for everyone on the Bellarine.
Site developer Greg Campbell has added a forum to the site so all locals can share ideas and have their say about what they love about the Bellarine and what features should be protected.
Mr Campbell, who owns Bellarinewebsites.com, donated his services to the committee so its new dynamic website could have new features and perform well on mobile devices such as smartphones. The site now sports a Twitter feed – which captures all tweets mentioning the Bellarine – and for ship spotters a feed showing the movement of vessels in Port Philip Bay.
It also now has the open forum, which the committee hopes will encourage everyone to get involved with the committee’s work.
Because the committee – one of a number of its kind around the country – is not a council or government funded entity nor a traditional community association, it has been criticised in some circles for not representing the general public.
Spokesman Tom O’Connor is hoping the new site will change that perception, by increasing the public’s understanding of what the committee is trying to achieve, and actively inviting discussion from all Bellarine residents.
Mr O’Connor said the website’s community forum would help the committee achieve its aim of bridging the gap between the community and government.
“Part of bridging the gap is engaging the community. Opportunities (for getting involved) are difficult for people with full-time jobs and families.
“They’re the ones we want to concentrate on by offering not only face-to-face engagement but an online capability.”
Check the website out at www.committeeforbellarine.com.au.
Bellariners encouraged to net off
By JOANNA CARSON – Bellarine Times
March 25 2012
Greg Campbell has redesigned the Committee for the Bellarine’s website.
BELLARINE 2050 Our Place Our Future
The Bellarine Key features – March 2012
Natural assets pivot around the open green rural space in harmony with proximity to the Bay and the ocean.
Major industries / present and proposed
Building and construction
Equine / thoroughbred, equestrian, recreation
Current population – 110,000 during holiday season.
Activities – cycling , walking, swimming.
Rail associated activities
Community services – hospital, education, retail, commercial and light industrial.
Renewable Energy –
Tidal turbine adjacent to Bay entrance
Wind turbines affshore
Onshore and offshore facilities
Abalone plant between St Leonards and Indented Head.
Queenscliff – Ferry terminal and recreational / commercial moorings.
Portarlington – proposed Safe Harbour for both commercial and recreational fishing.
Portarlington – not approved but proposed
Leopold – not approved
Tourist ships / piers
On shore tourist service facilities
Bellarine 2050 Our Place Our Future
Symposium Workshop Notes OCT. 2011.
Vision, Direction & Values
Semi-urban garden city
Separate from Geelong
Clear identity for the Bellarine
Vision – anchored by community values
Driven by principles & ideas- not rigid plans
Separate Council for Bellarine
Planning – specific Dept for Bellarine
CfB invite representatives from each Town
Links to CoGG Councillors
Links/influence into Local, State, Federal bureaucracies
Establishment of an iconic arts precinct
More cultural capital for the Bellarine
Define Bellarine culture
Expanded education hub – off Grubb Rd
Applied sciences & engineering
Great sense of community
Community planning – long term
Individual communities – need to glue together
Places/venues for people to congregate
Ecologically sensitive and knowledgeable society
Encourage & maintain volunteerism
Preserve heritage aspects of Bellarine
Maintain village ethos
Land Use Planning
Planning – proactive statutory & strategic
Preserve boundaries of coastal settlements
Retention of scenic quality
Encourage “in-fill” development
Urban development that respect carrying capacity
Lifestyle & Wellbeing
Community wellbeing – social infrastructure
Housing choice/affordability – ownership & rental
Youth involvement & interaction
Services for ageing population
More local employment
Emphasis on local employment
Tourism – active throughout the whole year in all Bellarine towns
Festivals spread out – not on same weekends
Grow tourism industry
Protect & promote tourism
Tourism – central location – higher profile
Tourism – consistent with lifestyle
Boating precinct- marina development
Support recreational fishing
Farm based tourism
Cottage industries in tourism
Protect fishing industry
Only two genuine Bellarine farmers – excluding wineries
Food security CoE – hydroponics
More local business services – i.e. accounting, banking
Transport infrastructure solutions
Drysdale Ring Road
Water ferry – to/from Bellarine
Extension of rall across the Bellarine
Safe cycling routes
Promote bikes & pedestrian facilities and network
Walkable suburbs, communities
Better connected Bellarine communities
Aged friendly transport
Protect natural landscape
Plant-out & protect areas
Green regeneration – planning & envisioning
Paddocks to forest
Don’t mess with the ecology
Harness tidal power
Self energy communities – get off the grid
Understanding of water, food, energy needs