News Article | February 18, 2017
The first few weeks of the Trump administration have been extraordinary, and quite frightening – not just because of the incompetence of a president who appears to be little more than a self-obsessed idiot, but by the actions of the dangerous ideologues at the helm of the world’s biggest economy and military power. There have been shocks across the policy spectrum, but probably none more so than in climate and clean energy, where Trump has promised to throw the baby out with the bathwater, quit the Paris deal, disband or dismember environmental regulations, “re-invent” coal, stop renewables and build more gas pipelines. It might sound stone-cold crazy to many people in Australia, but it should be familiar: There is little that Trump and his regime is doing on climate and clean energy that has not already achieved, or attempted, by the current Coalition government in Canberra. Remember that former prime minister Tony Abbott destroyed the carbon price, slashed the renewable energy target, disbanded the Climate Commission, absorbed the climate change department, and removed the words climate change and clean energy from the government lexicon. If he had had the executive power, or the numbers in the Senate, Abbott would also have demolished the Climate Change Authority, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and abolished the RET altogether. Far from reversing those acts, current prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has extended them – slashing ARENA funding and now calling on the CEFC to subsidise new coal-fired power stations. With energy minister Josh Frydenberg, Turnbull has sought to demonise renewable energy at every possible turn. And just like the Trump regime, if the Australian government does not rely on lies, they certainly depend on “alternative facts” – particularly about the costs of power, the impact of renewables, and the efforts to reduce emissions. Let’s look at each of them in turn: The basic premise of the Coalition line is that new coal power is cheaper than renewable energy, a point repeated by George Christensen on ABC Radio on Tuesday morning. This is a blatant nonsense. The Coalition has made much of the supposed $48 billion capital cost of a 50 per cent renewable energy target, but neither it nor its boosters in the media have reported the $62 billion cost of building new “ultra supercritical coal” instead, which doesn’t include the huge ongoing fuel cost, nor the environmental or climate impacts. The Melbourne Energy Institute puts the carbon emission savings from $62 billion invested in renewables at twice that if invested in “clean coal”. Put more simply, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance, if you are building new coal-fired power plants now, you will be paying nearly twice as much than if you were building new wind or solar. This graph from Bloomberg new Energy Finance illustrates the point. The industry itself does not dispute these figures. It is instructive that neither the major coal generation lobby, nor the major coal generation companies think new coal is either valid or a good idea. The Australian Industry Group has dismissed it, much to the horror of Murdoch commentators such as Judith Sloan. Energy experts point out that not only is new coal expensive and polluting, it is also relatively useless in a grid that will rely increasingly on flexible generation, particularly as more consumers turn to rooftop solar and storage to reduce their bills. Indeed, the only people pushing new coal, apart from the ideologues within the Coalition and the Murdoch and other media, are the coal miners, desperate for a market for their product. (It was interesting to see the front page “exclusive” in The Australian on Monday, quoting an “analysis” from the Minerals Council of Australia of the costs of the RET. Typically, it sought to add the costs without counting the benefits. Yet when they talk about coal, they prefer to add the benefits without counting the costs). Turnbull and Frydenberg continue to bang on about rising prices of electricity, fingering wind and solar as the culprit. A brief scan of the wholesale prices in individual states over summer proves the nonsense of that claim. The highest prices this year have come in the states with the least amount of large scale renewable energy, Queensland and NSW. We’ll have more on that in the next few days, with a particular focus on how the actions of certain retailers that own fossil fuel plants is pushing wholesale prices to stratospheric levels. But, as David Leitch pointed out in his column on Monday, the average pool price in Queensland last week was $319/MWh. Even more appallingly, the average pool price at 4.30pm in 2017 has been $886/MWh, and at 5pm it has been $1,332. As Leitch notes, “the Queensland State owned Generators are having a lend of consumers.” This is about competition, or the lack of it. Large scale renewables increase competition and reduce the pricing power of the big coal and gas generators. It was this lack competition, exploited by the gas operators in South Australia when the interconnector was being repaired last year, that caused prices to jump. Turnbull and Frydenberg have been banging on all summer about the high prices in Victoria and South Australia, attacking their decision to focus on renewables and the resulting coal closures. Which states have had the cheapest wholesale prices in 2017? Victoria and South Australia. The most expensive has been Queensland, with virtually no large scale renewables. Over the first five weeks, it has averaged $229/MWh – for so called “cheap” coal and gas. It is insane. And what have we heard from the Coalition about Queensland’s price jumps? Absolutely nothing. No wonder so many companies, including major zinc refiner Sun Metals, are focusing on large scale solar – it is less than half the price. Turnbull, Frydenberg and most others in the Coalition tell us that targets such as Labor’s 50 per cent renewable energy target are a recipe for disaster, not just on costs but on reliability of supply. Again, this is a nonsense. The Australian Energy Market Operator is making it clear that the South Australia blackout last year was a storm issue, not a technology one. Yes, there was problems with ride through mechanisms on wind farms that were unknown, but have now been addressed. Moreover, these right through mechanisms are not unique to wind farms, similar issues were found on thermal plants in Australia more than a decade ago. It is interesting to note that AEMO’s new CEO, Audrey Zibelman, is to be the head of New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision, a groundbreaking program that aims to take New York state to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. But we don’t have to rely on imports to tell us what is possible. Chief scientist Alan Finkel says the technologies to incorporate large amounts of wind and solar are at hand, and the CSIRO and the network owners have made it clear that high levels of wind and solar are not just doable, but desirable because it will cut emissions and be cheaper to consumers. There is really no evidence, apart from a few crack-pot commentators, to support the Coalition position. Then it comes down to how seriously the government takes climate science. In the case of Trump, it is clear that he does not. He has a Big Oil CEO in charge of diplomacy, and climate science deniers in charge of environment, energy and many other key portfolios. Turnbull claims he accepts the science and will honour the Paris climate deal. But that requires more than just paying lip-service to Australia’s down-payment of a 26-28 per cent cut in emissions by 2030. The Paris deal requires the world to keep average global warming “well below” 2C, and Australia’s fair share of that effort is at least a 45 per cent cut by 2030, and a long term plan to reach zero emissions by mid century, or in the 2040s according to the Climate Change Authority. Building new coal-fired power plants doesn’t allow that to happen, and it’s instructive to know that the loudest supporters of new coal fired power plants are among those who think we should shred our participation to the Paris goal. It would be tempting to think that the defection of Cory Bernardi, and potentially other far right-ers to form an Australian equivalent of the Tea Party would give Turnbull room to breathe, moderate his clearly unpopular stance on key issues and shift to the centre. Fat chance. Turnbull’s over-riding ambition is to last at least one day longer as prime minister than Abbott. That means that he will remain beholden to the right, who are ready to push the self-destruct button at any moment in the fervent belief that they can win power, if not immediately then after a single term of Labor. Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! 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News Article | October 5, 2016
The Coalition appears to have abandoned all pretence that it supports renewable energy, now contradicting assurances by the grid owner and market operator – and now the biggest generator in the country – that the source of energy was not at fault for the massive blackout in South Australia last week. After prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and energy minister Josh Frydenberg used the opportunity to use the blackout to try and force the Labor states to abandon their own renewable energy targets, they were joint by industry, science and innovation minister Greg Hunt on Monday. In an opinion piece written for the Australian Financial Review, and reported as the front page lead “SA blackout could have been avoided” – Hunt claimed that a coal fired generator could have kept the lights on in Olympic Dam and Whyalla and avoided much of the damage, and he also chastised the states for chasing unrealistic targets. First on the targets: “The South Australian and Victorian governments are seeking to drive out baseload power out of their systems for ideological reasons,” Hunt said, adding that their respective targets (50 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and 40 per cent by 2025) could only be achieved by driving out baseload generation. This is what Hunt said last December, while environment minister and speaking in Paris during the climate talks: “I have encouraged the states that if they want to do something extra, (they should) apply reverse auctions to the renewable energy target in the way the Australian Capital Territory has done.” So there’s a change of tune. On one hand urging the states to do more. Then, chastising them for doing exactly that. As for the statements about the ability of coal power to withstand the catastrophic event that brought down 23 transmission towers in 5 different locations and took out three of the four major lines linking South Australia’s north to the south east, Hunt appears to be taking his cue from the fossil fuel lobby. He wrote in the AFR: “As the Australian Industry Group has observed, if SA policy had not deliberately forced the Northern base load power station offline, supply to Whyalla’s Arrium Steel plant and to BHP’s Olympic Dam smelting operations would almost certainly have been continuous. This would not only have saved millions of dollars of lost income, but provided a basis for future investment security. This, of course, is contradicted by Electranet, the Australian Energy Market Operator, and today also by AGL Energy, which has the biggest portfolio of coal fired generators in the country, and has the dominant market position in South Australia. “It doesn’t make any difference what is hanging off the end of those wires,” AGL chief executive Andrew Vesey told the All Energy conference in Melbourne on Tuesday. “When you lose significant transmission and have significant change in real time between load and supply, bad things happen.” RenewEconomy asked Hunt’s office why it thought that a coal fired power station could have kept the power on, and resisted the massive loss of infrastructure that caused the sudden loss of supply and caused the entire network to trip, including the interconnector linking the state with Victoria. “The transmission lines from Port Augusta to Whyalla were not damaged by the storm. Power is only being impacted because of the damage on the other side of the gulf and the need to maintain stability in the network. “Therefore if Port Augusta had retained base load generation this could have been available to assist in maintaining both the lines North and South West of Port Augusta.” Energy experts say this is nonsense, saying it reveals a fundamental failure to understand how the system works. The catastrophic failure of the transmission system would have left the coal fired generators without much of their load, causing exactly the same sudden change in frequency and voltage that would cause any generator to trip. “The minister’s comments show a fundamental lack of understanding around how the system works and responds to such a dramatic fault, and what it takes to perform a “black start”/restart the system,” said Melbourne Energy Institute’s Dylan McConnell. As Vesey said on Tuesday: “They (supply and demand) have to be in balance in real time.” When they are not, he repeated, “bad things happen.” He went on to say that if Australia wanted the best system security, they would be better off with local generation and microgrids, and they could only do that with more renewable energy. We asked Hunt’s office again what they thought would happen when a big generator suddenly lost most of its load, but we didn’t get a response. Just to repeat: this is the office of the Australian federal minister of science, industry and innovation. Electranet and the Australian Energy Market Operator have made it clear that the source of the energy – coal, wind or gas – made no difference to the outcome, such was the stunning nature of the event. But since it happened, the Coalition has been able to orchestrate a campaign that deliberately sows doubt about these claims. The Murdoch media fell into line and David Salter chronicles how virtually every commentator sought to blame renewables even though some of the news stories “admitted” that renewables were not at fault. It’s depressing reading from the “dependable twice weekly doomsday Judith Sloan … “Successive Labor administrations have embarked on the folly of thinking that the state’s economic future could be based on willful over-promotion of intermittent, expensive and unreliable renewable energy. South Australia has paid a high price for this deluded approach.” To political reporter Sid Maher, who elevated this nonsense to the level of wishful surmise: “Wednesday night’s total failure of power in South Australia … is a disaster for renewable energy zealots and should be a wake-up call for political leaders. Energy experts told The Australian yesterday the cascading shutdown … could have been caused by wind farms closing in sequence as the storm hit.” We chronicled last week, here and here, how the ABC also blamed renewables, with political correspondent Chris Uhlmann and filtering down to its news reports. The Conversation followed this up with its own criticism of Uhlmann. We also pointed out how Fairfax energy reporter Brian Robins did the same, and the AFR took up the cudgels on Monday, with its page two columnist Jennifer Hewett writing: “It seems likely that a full blackout of the state could have been avoided” if it had coal fired caseload generation. She didn’t say how or why. The Coalition, with media support, appears to be taken the line successfully adopted by Donald Trump, where if you simply repeat a whole bunch of mis-truths, something will stick. And how. The idea appears to be to throw as much confusion and doubt about renewable energy, and then exploit a publish backlash to force a slowdown in policy. So far, though, the states are resisting. But the more worrying factor is this: that the government and the fossil fuel lobby is succeeding – with the help of Fairfax, the Murdoch media, the ABC, and of course talk-back radio – in filling the newspaper, the airwaves and the internet with ill-informed and misleading rubbish. As Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said: “No form of electricity generation can provide power to consumers when the electricity grid is lying on the ground.” The reality is that the challenges will only be addressed by new market rules, making the grid fit for the 21st Century, as the Victoria energy minister Lily d’Ambrosio and AGL’s Vesey pointed out today, and by encouraging new technologies and practices. As energy expert Alan Pears has pointed out, the South Australia government has tried several times to get the CoAG Energy Council to implement demand side bidding, which would have reduced the impacts of the recent interruption, and the gas price blip. This though, under lobbying from the fossil fuel industry, which has opposed other initiatives, was rejected by CoAG. “If the feds want to criticise the South Australia government, there is a case to blame the members of CoAG energy council at least as much, for their focus on the welfare of (in some cases state owned) energy companies at the expense of the Australian community,” Pears said by email. “Such short memories.” Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store! 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News Article | February 21, 2017
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena) has approved a $450,000 grant to EnergyAustralia to investigate a pumped hydro energy storage project off South Australia as the state’s energy mix continues to cause a political storm. The grant will cover a feasibility study into a Spencer Gulf project that the company says has a capacity to produce about 100 megawatts (MW) of electricity with six-to-eight hours of storage. EnergyAustralia says the storage is the equivalent of installing 60,000 home battery storage systems at one third of the cost. In a statement, Turnbull described pumped hydro energy storage as a “mature and cost-effective storage technology” that could address the need for security and stability in the electricity grid. As federal cabinet met in Sydney on Tuesday, EnergyAustralia’s managing director, Catherine Tanna, briefed the cabinet’s energy committee on the project and other options to stabilise the system. The decision comes after Turnbull wrote to Arena and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to direct the two agencies to prioritise pumped hydro and storage before his first major speech this year. It follows a $54m grant from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation last week for a solar development at Genex Power’s Kidston renewable energy hub, 270km north-west of Townsville. Energy policy continues to provide the flashpoint for federal politics, as South Australia suffers from blackouts. The Coalition has used the blackouts to blame the state Labor governments renewable energy targets and the intermittent nature of wind power. On Monday, a Senate committee heard that SA Power Networks knew a software glitch caused an additional 60,000 houses in South Australia to be out of power during load shedding this month. However, the state’s network operator stayed quiet for a week and a half while the Turnbull government continued to criticise the South Australian government’s use of renewables. Labor’s shadow energy and environment spokesman, Mark Butler, said the good work being done by Arena was a result of Labor’s legacy, given the Coalition had tried and failed to abolish it and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. “Only a few months ago the government again tried to abolish Arena,” Butler said. “They have no plan. The good work being done is thanks to Labor’s legacy and is happening in spite of, not because of, the government. The industry will continue to take advantage of the latest technologies, like storage, pumped hydro and community renewables.” Pumped hydro storage works by pumping from a lower reservoir into a higher reservoir when energy is cheap and then dropping the water downhill through a turbine to create electricity when energy is expensive and in high demand. EnergyAustralia confirmed that, if the Spencer Gulf project goes ahead, a two-year construction would see the power provided to the grid by 2020/21. The project has developed from an assessment by the Melbourne Energy Institute and engineering and design firm Arup into the adoption of pumped hydro technology using seawater for Australia’s dry conditions. If it goes ahead, it would be the largest seawater pumped hydro project in the world. There is currently only one other plant using seawater for pumped hydro storage.
News Article | September 2, 2016
One of the prices we have to pay for our ideological divide on renewable energy is that we have to read headlines like this, particularly in the Murdoch media: “Solar and wind power simply don’t work, not here, not anywhere”. It was written by the former chairman of a coal mining company, in case you were wondering. Solar doesn’t work? New analysis of Australia’s first large-scale solar farms shows that solar actually does work, and rather better than expected. And the findings should make it a lot easier for future projects to get the backing of equity investors and bankers, if not the owners of coal fired generators desperately protecting their turf. The research has been produced by US-based solar module manufacturer First Solar, whose panels have been used for around three quarters of the large-scale solar projects built in Australia to date, by capacity. Its study shows that at all the solar farms built by First Solar – in western NSW, north Queensland and Western Australia – the output has been higher than forecast. Collectively, the Australian solar plants using First Solar thin-film PV modules are performing above expectations by an average of 3.2 per cent. The solar farm with the longest record to date, the 10.2MW Greenough River solar facility near Geraldton, in WA, shows that over four years it has produced an average 1.2 per cent above forecast. The best result has been produced by Broken Hill, the 53MW plant built near the iconic mining town in western NSW, which is so far delivering 4.2 per cent above expectations. (Spectral advantage, btw, is a measure that First Solar uses to show how much better their panels work in humid conditions than silicon-based rivals). Now, this might not sound like ground-breaking news – forecast production broken by a few percentage points. But people in suits are very conservative types, and investment in renewable energy in Australia, both in wind and solar, has been hampered by the fact that bankers won’t finance investments unless they can actually touch, feel and watch the technology, and have proof that it actually works. This data, Curtis says, is proof that the projects are, indeed, bankable. And that’s more important than it might sound. Curtis says that even though large-scale solar has been proved in many international locations, local investors still wanted proof that it would work in Australia, even though it does have some of the best solar conditions in the world. Such, perhaps, is the insular nature and/or inherent conservatism of Australia’s banking system. But Curtis is reassured, not just by the release of the production statistics, but also by the attitude of equity investors and financiers in the local market. “What’s been most encouraging is that the international banks are bringing their lending frame of reference to the local market, rather than adopting the local ones,” Curtis says. “That will make it hard for local banks to ignore.” This new level of competition should make it easier for project developers to obtain finance. As RenewEconomy reported on Monday, Curtis believes that the results of the large-scale solar tender by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency in the next few weeks will be a “watershed” moment for the utility-scale sector in Australia. That’s not just because the projects selected to share the $100 million in ARENA grant funding will get the go-ahead, but because it will also be a trigger for other projects to move forward. And Curtis expects that many of the solar projects to be built will incorporate single axis tilting, allowing the panels to track the movement of the sun from east to west, and adding to their output in the early morning and late afternoon. Curtis says the costs of adding single axis tracking mechanisms will be more than compensated by the increase in output. Based on research at the Gatton solar farm, Curtis estimates that tracking-enabled solar farms will have capacity factors in the high 20 per cent and low 30 per cent, compared to the 25-26 per cent of those without. “Given the evolution in tracking technologies, any project north of Sydney is doing itself a disservice if it doesn’t have tracking technology,” he says. Australia’s biggest solar farm with tracking technology is the 57MW Moree solar farm in NSW. First Solar is proposing tracking for the Manildra solar farm in NSW it is planning to build for Infigen Energy, and which has applied for the ARENA grant. The 100MW solar farm proposed by Sun Brilliance in the West Australian wheat belt will also use single axis tracking technology, making it the biggest solar farm b output if and when it is completed. Of course, Curtis says the results from the four solar farms his company has built in Australia underscores the advantage of his company’s “thin film” technology over the silicon based panels favoured by its rivals. “This shows that our panels perform better when it gets hotter, and when it gets humid,” he said. “That’s why Australia is one of the core markets for First Solar.” Coincidentally, about 2 minutes after I had put down the phone from my chat with Curtis, Dylan McConnell, from the Melbourne Energy Institute, emailed through a production chart from the 102MW Nyngan solar farm, which also used First Solar technology. McConnell pointed out that, indeed, Nyngan was producing at a capacity factor of 25 to 26 per cent. This, he said, was far higher than official forecasts relied upon for the Australian Power generation Technologies Report, which estimated the average capacity factor of large-scale solar PV at 19-22 per cent. That, says McConnell, suggests that the forecasts relied upon by the federal government underestimate the output of solar farms by between 15 and 35 per cent. Little wonder that the government can’t make any sensible decisions about large-scale solar, and why it insists on defunding the agency that has brought about most of the cost reductions in the past year, ARENA. Drive an electric car? Complete one of our short surveys for our next electric car report. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | November 3, 2016
Can we be clear on this? The closure of Australia’s most polluting power station, Hazelwood, was inevitable and in terms of doing our modest bit to militate against climate change, desirable. That doesn’t for a moment minimise the impact on the 750 workers who will lose their jobs, nor on the thousands of people in the Latrobe valley, one of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. This ageing, groaning, hulk of a power station is serviced by a giant open-cut coal mine just a few hundred metres from the town of Morwell, east of Melbourne. That a mine with a perimeter of about 18km was dug so close to residential houses was itself a shocking decision symbolic of the sacrifice coal towns have made to keep industry and consumers’ energy needs satisfied. Over the years, Hazelwood has become a symbol of many things. It symbolised governments’ wavering commitment to seriously reducing our carbon emissions, and our own psychological dependence on cheap, reliable coal. Now, it’s a symbol of something else. This is a “red letter day”, as the Melbourne Energy Institute’s Roger Dargaville puts it, a tangible sign that a massive structural transformation is under way as the world shifts away from fossil fuels to deal with the dangers of climate change. Hazelwood’s French owners, Engie, are well aware that the future for coal is bleak, and have already shut or sold off power stations in countries such as India and Indonesia. The footage of the Hazelwood coalmine fire in 2014 that spewed ash over Morwell residents for 45 days didn’t help its image as a company committed to phasing out coal assets in favour of cleaner technologies. Shutting Hazelwood was a commercial decision, one influenced by the cost of maintaining the 50-year-old behemoth. It has also decided to sell its other brown coal power station in the Valley, Loy Yang B. All this has a global context – last year’s Paris agreement to commit to keeping the global temperature rise below 2c compared with preindustrial levels. To get anywhere near that goal, greenhouse gas emissions need to be net zero by the second half of this century, and that means urgent action, including leaving coal in the ground. The immediate impact of Hazelwood’s closure is likely to be modest – it is what it represents that is most crucial. It alone produces a quarter of Victoria’s base load electricity needs, and provides about 5% of the nation’s demands. But its closure won’t mean power shortages. Electricity demand has decreased in recent years, and there is a surplus of electricity generating capacity among our remaining power stations. But if another station closes soon, and another soon after that, we are likely to have a problem with reliability if we haven’t planned for it. For now, Victoria’s demands are likely to be supplied by ramping up supply from the New South Wales cleaner black coal-fired power stations – which will mean a welcome if modest reduction in our overall greenhouse emissions. Electricity prices are likely to rise a little because black coal generation is more expensive than brown coal. Victorian government modelling estimates that average residential power bills could rise by $44 a year, or 85 cents a week as a result of Hazelwood’s demise. As the Grattan Institute’s Tony Wood says, power bills will inevitably rise in this era, and it is “a great pity that political leaders have been loath to acknowledge this reality”. More importantly, the closure of Hazelwood means that we need a plan. As Dargaville argues, we can wait for old power stations to fall over one by one, as they will, but that will have a big impact on power reliability if companies decide to shut down several at once. “Just letting the market determines who exits is a bit of a random approach. We have no policy to assist with the orderly departure of coal-fired power stations.” It’s tricky – we want them to close but not until there is a reliable replacement for the energy they supply, and that requires planning. Wood argues that what is urgently needed is a credible national climate change policy consistent with the government’s 2030 emissions reduction targets. Those targets are too low to achieve the Paris goals but they can be scaled up to meet tougher targets in the future. Wood says that if we had such a policy the owners of coal and gas power stations could factor it into their planning with confidence. For now, there’s uncertainly all round. There is uncertainty in the Latrobe valley, too. The state and federal governments on Thursday announced big transition packages to help workers retrain and to encourage new investment in the valley. The workers themselves are in their mid-50s on average and their union, the CFMEU, has negotiated generous conditions and redundancy packages over the years. They are likely to receive more than $300,000 on average in redundancy. But unemployment is high in the valley, and skilled jobs rare. Wendy Farmer’s husband, Brett, has worked at Hazelwood for more than 20 years. Farmer is the spokeswoman for community group Voices of the Valley and asks simple pointed questions. Why, when state and federal governments knew that Hazelwood would close sooner rather than later, is there no transition plan already in place? Why is it just starting now when Hazelwood’s closure is a mere five months away? It’s a question the country could be asking, too. Hazelwood won’t be the last power station to shut, after all, and the people of the valley won’t be the last community to need help.
News Article | November 17, 2016
Australia has signed an international agreement committing to reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, and calling for other countries to do the same, sparking claims it is being hypocritical and could “seriously damage our reputation in climate talks”. The Marrakech communique, signed this week at the first meeting of parties to the Paris agreement in Morocco, commits a coalition of countries including Australia to take measures to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. Methane is a short-lived but highly potent greenhouse gas, exerting a warming influence 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. The communique, signed by 38 countries, acknowledges that: “The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial source of methane globally and the next big opportunity for climate reductions as cost-effective measures can be taken to significantly reduce these emissions.” The signatories said they will reduce leaks from the gas industry, known as “fugitive emissions”, by “developing and implementing national methane reduction strategies, regulations, policies, or enhanced actions including those which encourage energy efficiency and fuel shifts”. But, in recent years, Australia has massively expanded its coal seam gas industry and is set to become the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In addition, Australia has not been rigorously measuring fugitive emissions from the gas industry in Australia and reporting to the UNFCCC a figure that is much smaller than that found in similar operations in other countries. A recent report by the Melbourne Energy Institute, commissioned by the Australia Institute, showed Australia claimed that only 0.5% of gas produced in Australia is released into the atmosphere in fugitive emissions. But studies in the US have found those emissions are always higher than that – often 150 times as high and sometimes 300 times as high. While there have been no proper studies measuring fugitive emissions in Australia, the studies that have been done found evidence of significant emissions from sources that Australia claims to have zero emissions from. Mark Ogge, principal adviser at the the Australia Institute, said he welcomed the fact the country that was set to become the world’s biggest methane exporter was concerned about methane emissions. But Ogge said: “This commitment, if it is to be taken seriously, must come with a recognition that international standards for measuring fugitive emission, which are funded independently, should be supported. “If Australia wants to sign an international agreement to do something we don’t do ourselves … it will seriously damage our reputation in climate talks.” He said the situation was particularly serious in Australia’s coal seam gas industry. “Australia uses an outdated and very low assumption supplied by the US gas industry that was developed for conventional oil extraction in the US in the 1990s,” Ogge said. “The assumption only covers well pads, which make up a tiny fraction of CSG infrastructure. It doesn’t count intentional and unintentional methane release from multiple known major sources of emissions including huge water treatment plants, water and gas pipelines (with vents directly to the atmosphere) and migratory emissions caused by depressurising vast areas of coal seams.” A spokesman for Australia’s federal minister for the environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, said that all emissions from the CSG industry are included in an accounting inventory and insisted that, while those are made up of estimations, those estimations are in compliance with IPCC guidelines. When asked what measures Australia would take to reduce fugitive emissions, the spokesman referred to Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund, which pays polluters to reduce emissions. “For example, the Emissions Reduction Fund enables businesses to earn carbon credits by undertaking projects to reduce emissions such as reducing fugitive emissions in the oil and gas sector,” he said.
News Article | October 25, 2016
The coal-seam-gas industry could be vastly underestimating its emissions, jeopardising Australia’s commitments made at Paris and swamping any benefits gas has over coal, according to a landmark report by the Melbourne Energy Institute, commissioned by the Australia Institute. The report found the industry’s true emissions could easily amount to twice the emissions Australia has promised to cut by 2030. While no studies in Australia have examined emissions from methane escaping directly into the atmosphere, in the US those measurements show it is often 170 times higher than that claimed by the Australian industry and 34 times higher than that what the Australian government reported to the UN. “We’re potentially not measuring the equivalent of the emissions from our entire transport sector,” said Mark Ogge, principal advisor at the Australia Institute. “If the emissions are a lot more than what is being estimated now, it could jeopardise our commitments made at Paris,” said report author Tim Forcey from the Melbourne Energy Institute. Gas has been spruiked as the lower-emissions fossil fuel since, when burned, it emits 60% less carbon dioxide than coal for each unit of energy produced. But unburned gas – mostly made up of methane – is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, exerting a warming influence 84 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame. As a result, gas accidentally released directly to the air during extraction or transportation, in what are called “fugitive emissions”, could swamp the benefits of gas over coal. According to research compiled by experts at the Melbourne Energy Institute, when fugitive emissions reach 3.2% of the overall gas produced, gas loses its edge over coal. While there have been no reliable studies of the actual fugitive emissions in the Australian coal-seam-gas industry, the industry itself claims they amount to only 0.1% of the gas produced. That figure was used in the environmental impact statements used to get approval for the huge gas liquefaction plants recently built in Gladstone. But when the government reported to the UNFCCC on Australia’s total emissions in 2014, it assumed fugitive emissions were five times higher than that suggested by the industry, at 0.5% of gas produced. However, studies of unconventional gas – shale and coal seam gas – in the US have found fugitive emissions are often as much as 17% of the gas produced. Since Australian coal seam gas is closer to the surface, the researchers said it was likely that Australian fugitive emissions are even higher. In one US region, fugitive emissions from coal seam gas were 30% – 300 times that assumed by the industry in Australia. If fugitive emissions in Australia were just 10% of the total gas produced, then in 2014, Australia’s fugitive emissions would have amounted to twice the amount of greenhouse gases Australia has committed to cut from its emissions by 2030, or the equivalent of the whole transport sector. Moreover, that figure is set to grow significantly. Between 2013 and 2017, Australia is projected to triple its gas production in the eastern states, mostly in order to service the liquefied natural gas export industry. There are currently 6,000 wells in eastern Australia servicing that industry, a figure expected to grow to at least 20-fold in the next 20 years. “Methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, which means that controlling methane emissions is crucial to meeting climate targets and avoiding tipping points,” said Forcey. For some aspects of gas production, emissions reported to the UNFCCC were said to be zero, despite there being a likelihood of very large leaks from those sources. The report said the government relied on one study to claim several processes had no fugitive emissions, despite that report explicitly acknowledging large leaks that it wasn’t able to properly measure, because the measuring equipment was being overwhelmed by gas leaking from other sources – including sources assumed to have no emissions when Australia reports to the UNFCCC. “It would have been like being in a hurricane and being asked to measure the water coming from a leaking tap,” said Forcey. This year, the UNFCCC urged Australia to improve its measuring of fugitive emissions. In light of the growing industry, the new report called for fugitive emissions to be independently verified by a regulatory body funded by a levy on the industry. And since one of the difficulties in measuring methane emissions was a lack of baseline studies, the report called for compulsory baseline methane measurements in any area being considered for oil and gas development. Within about five years, Australia is expected to overtake Qatar as the biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, much of which will be produced from CSG wells in the eastern states. In 2021, both Qatar and Australia will export roughly the same amount of gas. But because of generous tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, Fairfax Media reported this month that Qatar will receive $26.6bn in tax revenue, while Australia will receive less than $1bn.
Sandiford M.,University of Melbourne |
Forcey T.,Melbourne Energy Institute |
Pears A.,RMIT University |
McConnell D.,Melbourne Energy Institute
Electricity Journal | Year: 2015
For decades, consumption of grid-supplied electricity increased in line with a growing economy. In the five years since 2009, however, annual consumption in eastern Australia declined by 7 percent, even while the Australian economy grew by 13 percent. Declining consumption was not forecast by the planning authority nor by market participants. The authors review reasons for declining consumption, the failure of planning authorities to forecast this structural change, and ongoing consequences. Fuel switching from oil and gas offers one means of partly arresting the rapidly declining use of electricity grid infrastructure. © 2015 Elsevier Inc.