Archive for June, 2011

Renewable energy initiatives budgeted by the Gillard government

With an informative reply from the director of the co-ordination and renewable energy branch of the Department of Climate Change and Renewable Energy Efficiency we learn that over $5 billion dollars have been set aside for research and business development for the development of renewable energy initiatives in Australia through the Gillard governments within the Clean Energy Initiative to be administered by the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy.

The flagship of this enterprising funding is the Solar flagship program which will fund one solar voltaic renewable energy project and one solar thermal energy generation project. The funds allocated to this is $1.5 billion.

In addition the government’s  Clean Energy Initiative is drawing together $560 million under the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy (ACRE) to encourage development of project research efforts that can be implemented into viable product to produce electrical renewable power for Australia’s future energy needs.

ACRE is promoting not only renewable energy generators by innovative storage systems similar to the Ammonia Energy Storage system of Wizard Power.

Another $100 million dollars as part of the ACRE initiatives is allocated under the Renewable Energy Venture Capital Fund to help support private investment in critical early stage investments for the development of emerging renewable technologies.

The last program mentioned in the reply letter, but probably at least the most important is the building of supporting infrastructure for the emerging renewable energy industry in Australia. Without extensive government investment in this crucial area of infrastructure, few projects remain viable away from the existing electricity grid. Private investment is unlikely to provide capital for this type of visionary but risky type of venture. With $1 billion invested by the federal government under the Connecting Renewables program and a commitment to see the project finished, operational and utilised by the renewable energy industry, the government is committed to build new electricity connections over the next ten years to remote areas where higher levels of solar, wind and other renewable energy supplies are available.

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Australia’s Renewable Energy Report Card 2010

The following paper is a designed as a discussion paper on the progress of the uptake of renewable energy in Australia.  The purpose of the paper is to highlight the progress Australia has made under government policy settings up to and including 2010.

Under the Renewable Energy Credit scheme (REC) important changes have been made in the variety of renewable energy sources now being used to produce electric power. These are detailed in the paper and include, wind powered generation plants, solar hydro energy plant to produce steam fed directly into existing power station turbines, solar photovoltaic cells to produce domestic power, wave energy utilization to produce power for desalination plant applications, tidal power to produce grid power in various locations around the continent, thermal or hot rock installations to harness heat energy to produce base load grid electrical power and a cutting edge form of power generation known as convection energy systems.

Convection energy is sourced simply by harnessing the power of rising hot air. Some of these convection power plants are designed to be enormous. The paper outlines how at least one United States of America (USA) state has embraced this technology that was first developed in Australia.

The paper also introduces a little thought of area of power generation known as micro renewable energy power systems. These are systems that might be called scavenger power system. The paper explores a range of applications that could be implemented to use power that is a byproduct of other applications and processes to generate power; systems similar to water or sewage flowing down conduits or the process of decomposition within a waste dump. These micro generating systems use available resources to generate electricity.

The paper touches on a new technology in its infancy where the applications are not fully realized or evaluated. This technology utilized vibration to produce small amounts of electrical energy. At present this technology has only produced one commercially viable product, but even this application of the technology has enormous potential.

The paper explains the introduction of RECs, and how the federal government introduced a correction to the scheme to avoid a collapse of the REC trading market. It introduces the New South Wales Feed in Tariff (FIT) scheme. This scheme allows domestic generating power systems to be connected to the main grid enabling this power to be bought by the grid power supplier. This renewable power is then sold on to other power uses. This seems to be a good idea, but when it comes to larger non-domestic producers like local councils the power companies disallow these systems to be connected into the grid through the FIT scheme.

The paper finally shows some inequity in this type of policy, highlighting that with a more flexible approach to organizations like local councils, opportunities of collaboration between the power companies and councils could better utilize unused power available in scavenger power systems when power demands are higher than the supply from renewable sources. This means that at these times of high demand, power companies will need to source electrical energy from conventional sources such as coal fired power stations, diesel generators or gas turbine plants connected to the grid.

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Commentary on Australia’s Future for Renewable Energy

This is a discussion paper about renewable energy and how Australia is placed to act on reforms to improve the uptake of renewable energy. The paper also comments on a series of letters sent to Federal Government Members and Ministers from 2006 to 2010.

The commentaries on the letters add additional information not given in these letters to the federal government. This additional information has been added with a contemporary nature relating to the year 2010.

This discussion paper has within its appendix list the actual letters sent to the federal government. In addition it has the two replies from two federal departments received from the final letter written in 2009. These letters are from the Minister for Resources and Energy and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport.

These replies outline some interesting plans for the direction of the then Rudd government and actions containing exciting programs underway. The commentary on the letter from the Minister for Resources and Energy analyses information presented in the letter that explain the government’s promoting of the ‘hydrogen economy’, and the continuation of research into carbon abatement programs. Some interesting results are emerging from this program that may be environmentally friendlier than the simple carbon capture and storage concept.

The commentary on the reply from the office of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, makes two important points. Firstly the government is continuing the planning for coal extraction by providing additional rail infrastructure for the coal mining industry. Secondly, though the introduction of Infrastructure Australia a range of much-needed infrastructure within Australia can be planned, This will ensure proper investment in future infrastructure provided consideration is given to issues surrounding the impacts of climate change and peak oil. These should include best practice planning for the use of renewable fuels and renewable energy.

The commentaries on the letters are detailed, adding to the information contained in the letters. When reading these commentaries the original letters should be referenced to get a better picture of how the subject has evolved over the 2 to 3 year period between the letters and the commentary.

Some of the subjects canvassed by the letters include; ‘the future of fuel cell technologies’, ‘the hydrogen economy’, ‘using hydrogen as an energy carrier’, ‘the efficiencies of heavy freight rail’ and that a move towards higher levels of public transport use will help reduce carbon emissions and reduce government spending on high cost infrastructure such as roads.

The letters cover, as does the commentary, the issue of a carbon trading system or carbon tax. It outlines in brief the need for some market based system to line up with world’s carbon trading systems or programs that provide ways to give disincentives for producing greenhouse gases by manufacturing enterprises. These enterprises utilize the ‘public good’ resources such as a balanced gaseous air mix in our atmosphere and clean seas that still have a capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. However many industrial and transport processes are impacting on the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere which is tending to cause changes to other economic systems reliant on stable weather patterns. These economic systems such as food production and other systems including natural systems rely on stable climate and weather patterns. When these systems are impacted the world’s population and general economy can be drastically affected. High levels of CO2 impact the very wellbeing of human life on earth and any compensation by manufacturing and industry is meaningless. However, these externalities explained above are considerable and morally they should somehow be accounted for in the manufacturing process. With these externalities accounted for by an artificial but morally sound price signal, it then may be that a cheaper and more economically sound (assuming the pure economics of a level playing field) process may be found that is better for the manufacturer. This is where a price on carbon helps to artificially price the damage these externalities are causing and attempts to give industry some impetus to find more carbon neutral forms of energy production.

One of the most important areas the commentary covers is that of a future change in energy sources from a fossil fuel driven economy to a renewable energy economy.

This move must be accompanied by a government planned response to supporting infrastructure. It is one thing to drive a renewable energy industry and connect it to an existing grid, but another to plan for and encourage infrastructure development by private industry to build plant in areas away from the grid.

Similarly, an organized plan is need for the infrastructure needed to support a move away from fossil fuels in the automotive industry. Without government initiatives and proper planning to a standardized type of automotive support infrastructure, private investment will continue to identify a move towards renewable automotive fuels too risky.

With no standards for a supply route for a renewable energy fuel, private industry will find it a mammoth task to provide both a vehicle to run on a particular renewable energy source as well as provide the infrastructure, this with the high possibility that the whole new type of renewable energy system, including the vehicle and infrastructure, will not be embraced by the public due to its initial costs or lack of convenience etc.

The paper makes no apologies for being prescriptive. Although many of the concepts in the paper have been thought through by government experts, there is always the danger that assumptions can be made about the detail of what is being explained in a paper. So the avoid this some level of detail in some of the concepts and processes are present in the document.