Axing the Feed-In-Tariff

On Wednesday 28/10/10, the NSW State Government axed the renewable energy Feed-In-Tariff. This was in response to a steady rise in electricity prices.

The reasons for rising electricity prices are complex and multifactorial.

14 billion dollars will need to be spent on energy transmission infrastructure (poles and wires) over the next 5 years. This probably puts the biggest pressure on electricity prices.

Lack of market certainty is a big factor. People want to invest in energy, but they want to back a winner. In today?s political climate it is unclear whether that winner will be coal or renewables. That lack of certainty is delaying investment, which is driving the cost of electricity up.

Renewable energy is more expensive than coal fired electricity, particularly as we ignore the huge environmental cost of fossil fuels. A transition to a society powered by renewable energy is going to increase costs.

Our State Government should be concerned about the rising cost of electricity, and should be doing something about it. There are a lot of families trying to survive on a fixed single income, struggling to meet mortgage repayments. An increase in electricity prices is going to make times tough for a lot of people.

In response, the Feed-In-Tariff for renewable energy in NSW has been axed. It has been done in dramatic fashion, dropping from 60 cents to 20 cents per kilowatt hour. Without warning our state has dumped a generous FIT, and replaced it with the least generous of all states.

I wonder if the problem could have been approached a little more strategically.

To encourage a transition to renewable energy, it needs to be put on a level playing field. To do that, we need to recognize the environmental costs of fossil fuel, and to do that we will ultimately need a price on carbon, whether it be a carbon tax, an Emission Trading scheme, or a combination of the two. A price on carbon is some way off. In the meantime, a Feed-In-Tariff provides that level playing field.

What the state government should have done was to strategically phase out the FIT. They should have dropped it down to 40 cents. In 6 months the could have dropped it further, and phased it out when a price on carbon is set.

Lack of market certainty risks a boom/bust renewable energy industry in this country.
Matthew Nott

Don’t Cramp My Style

Telling every individual on the planet who wants or can afford a car that they cannot have one would be changing our lifestyle. But banning cars over a certain weight or engine size, or bringing the maximum speed limits down to 90 km/hr, or banning taxis that are not hybrid ? such efforts do not strike me as cramping anyone?s lifestyle.

Telling people that we are going to ration electricity would certainly involve changing our lifestyle. But making it illegal for office buildings in Sydney to leave their lights on after hours, as most companies mindlessly seem to do, does not strike me as fundamentally cramping anyone?s lifestyle.

Telling people they cannot have an iPod or laptop would certainly involve changing our lifestyle. But requiring all iPods to be made from easily recyclable material doesn?t strike me as cramping anyone?s lifestyle.

Telling people they cannot live in anything more than a 1000m square space would involve changing our lifestyle. But telling anyone who wants to live in a large house that they can only do so if the home is energy net zero ? only if it generates through solar, wind or geothermal power as much clean energy as it uses ? doesn?t strike me as fundamentally cramping anyone?s lifestyle.

Forcing everyone to ride a bike to work would involve a drastic change in our lifestyle. But requiring councils to set aside bike paths will make people healthier without cramping anyone?s lifestyle.

Implementing a congestion tax in cities, as London and Singapore has done, could involve some lifestyle changes, but if it were accompanied by big new investments in public transport, not only might we not be worse off, we might actually be better off.
Matthew Nott

A Bomb on a Bus

The action thriller Speed stars Keanu Reeves, a SWAT team specialist who is sent to defuse a bomb on a bus. Sandra Bullock is driving that bus through the streets of Las Angeles. The trick is that Bullock must keep the bus hurtling through the streets of LA at more than 50 miles per hour-or the bomb will detonate.

The Chinese economy is that bus. Chinese emergence depends on a rapidly growing economy. It is a bus that can?t slow down. The problem is that unrestrained economic growth in China and around the world is starting to have the sort of environmental consequences that threaten our long term prosperity.

What is China doing about it?

According to a recently published report by Pew Charitable Trusts, China?s spending in renewable energy technologies increased by 50 percent in 2009; designating the nation as the current leader in renewable energy investments. The report revealed that ? for the first time ? China?s investments in renewable energy throughout the year 2009 surpassed those made by the United States. China dedicated approximately $34.6 billion to wind power, solar energy and other forms of renewable energy; nearly doubling America?s $18.6 billion. ?China is emerging as the world?s clean energy powerhouse,? the report?s authors confirmed. ?Having built a strong manufacturing base and export markets, China is working now to meet domestic demand by installing substantial new clean energy-generating capacity to meet ambitious renewable energy targets.? Furthermore, over the last six months, China has signed agreements with American solar companies to build solar power plants which would produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity.

Over the next ten years, China has committed three quarters of a Trillion dollars towards renewable energy, and is currently setting up an Emission Trading Scheme that will be starting in some provinces in 2012. China aims to cut “carbon intensity,” a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production, by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005.

Chinese leaders are trying to replace the motor In that Chinese bus from a gas guzzling polluter to a super efficient hybrid – but they?re trying to do it while the bus is still going at 50 miles per hour.

This could be the greatest show on earth.
Matthew Nott

Wave Power

There has been a lot of interest in wave power since the Carnegie Corporation proposed setting up a wave farm in Eden recently.

Ocean power uses the oceans? tides, currents or waves to produce electricity. Power comes from the water?s movement, i.e. either the changes in height of the tides or the ocean?s current.

Different technologies adopt different methods for harnessing the ocean?s energy. The most common oceanic power generation system uses a turbine to drive an electrical generator. It is also possible to use oceanic power generation to desalinate seawater and produce drinking water.

There are different ways of harnessing ocean power. Tidal power is an exciting proposition in the right location. Ocean thermal energy extracts energy from the temperature difference between the ocean?s warm surface waters and deeper colder layers of the ocean. The third way of extracting energy from the ocean is from wave power, and in SE NSW we have no shortage of that resource.

Surface waves and pressure variations below the ocean?s surface can generate intermittent power. Floating buoys, platforms, or submerged devices placed in deep water, generate electricity using the bobbing motion of the ocean?s waves.

With its vast coastline, Australia?s near shore wave energy resources could create around four times the nation?s current national power needs. The Southern Ocean, in particular, is one of the world?s largest and most consistent wave energy resources and could generate at least 35 per cent of our baseload power needs, according to the Carnegie Corporation.

The resource is so far almost completely undeveloped, but that is beginning to change. Carnegie Corporation estimates that its facilities along the southern coastline of Australia could ultimately generate 1500MW.

Australia is rated as having one of the best wave energy sites around the world. Given the majority of the Australian population live near the coastline, oceanic power provides a realistic solution to reducing the high costs of distribution and
grid connection that other power sources face.

The intensity of ocean currents, tides and waves is able to be accurately forecast, making it easy for the energy market to balance supply and demand and thus provide a reliable energy source.
The future success of ocean power in Australia is dependent upon government policies to support the development and deployment of these emerging technologies. The sector requires a comprehensive policy framework for emerging technologies to take them from research to full scale demonstration. Renewable energy funding initiatives as well as the national Renewable Energy Target (RET) which aims to
ensure that 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity supply comes from renewable energy sources by 2020 are important to drive research and development into ocean power technologies.
Matthew Nott

Solar Farms

On 30 September 2010 the NSW government announced plans for Country Energy to build a solar farm in the Bega-Monaro region. The proposal is for a 50kW solar farm, which will power up to 20 energy efficient houses.

By any measure the proposal is modest, but it is exciting for a number of reasons.

Big companies are staring to invest money in renewable energy in our region. Country Energy’s announcement about a solar farm follows news earlier this year that there is to be some major investment in wind and wave farms in Eden-Monaro. Things are starting to happen!

Country Energy’s solar farm opens up some good opportunities for community partnerships. Over the last three years Clean Energy For Eternity have been examining options for community owned solar farms. The CEFE aim was to come up with a replicable model for building community owned renewable power stations with capacities of up to 2MW. That is enough energy to power hundreds of houses. CEFE have learnt a lot about solar farms. We have talked to land holders about potential sites, we have talked to Councils, State, and Federal Government, and we are waiting for approval for a solar farm that will see about 300kW of solar panels installed onto council buildings in Eurobodalla and Mosman in Sydney.

Clean Energy For Eternity is not precious about its information. This is a great opportunity for Country Energy and CEFE to work together. If a 50kW solar farm is feasible, then let’s roll them out right across the region. CEFE have spent a lot of time talking to farmers about potential solar farm sites, and there are many options to look at.

The biggest stumbling block for the CEFE solar farm team is the NSW Feed-In-Tariff (FIT). The FIT is a generous one for household scale renewable generation, but there is a hole in the legislation. Systems greater than 10kW currently do not qualify for a FIT. That legislation needs to be changed if solar farms are going to take off.

Solar farms need to be an important part of the 50/50 by 2020 equation. Every town should have one!
Matthew Nott