Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Battle of coal vs renewables in Northern Queensland

In the 2015 Australian budget $5 billion was put aside for a northern development fund. Prime Minister Tony Abbott called on Business leaders in Queensland's north to develop a plan for a power station that could be considered for funding under this new fund.

The Federal Government would like to see something like a proposal for a 800MW coal fired power station developed in the Galilee basin to provide a ready market and add impetus to the development of one of the proposed coal mines.

Detractors of the fund have labelled it a "Dirty Energy Finance Corporation".

“I’d be very surprised if we did not have, coming forward as a potential project under the Northern Australia fund, a power station,” Mr Abbott said.

“If there were to be a major new power station in North Queensland, if there were to be a more effective distribution network in North Queensland, that would be obviously a very important ­economic breakthrough, because power is one of the basic costs of doing business and basic costs of life. It’s very significant.” said Abbott in an exclusive interview with the Townsville Bulletin.

Of course this works in with Tony Abbott's 'Coal for Prosperity' which ignores the enormous health and climate costs of continued coal mine production.

The mine proposals for the Galilee Basin are in various stages of approval and include Hancock Coal and GVK's Alpha Coal Project, Hancock's Kevin's Corner mine, Clive Palmer's proposed China First mine which is owned by Waratah Coal, and Adani's Carmichael coal mine. The problem with all these mines is they require substantial infrastructure investment of a 300km railway lines to the coast and port infrastructure to export the coal.

At the moment electricity for Queensland's north comes from the coal fired 1,720 MW Callide Power station near Gladstone. But the substantial transmission distances to central inland Queensland means that there are high transmission losses of up to 30 per cent.

But a coal fired power station isn't the only option. Renewable development company Windlab have proposed a 1,300MW capacity hydrid solar and wind power station consisting of 100MW of solar and wind in phase one, then a 600MW windfarm and 600 MW solar PV farm in phase two. The Project is knownn as Kennedy Energy Park, located in the Flinders Shire, approximately 290km West of Townsville.

The site has great solar insolation for generating from solar during the day, and a fairly constant wind speed during nights to maintain power generation on a 24/7 basis. Phase 2 will require the construction of a dedicated transmission line connecting the project to Queensland’s east coast high voltage electricity grid.

The 1300MW project is estimated to have a 600MW capacity – the equivalent of 80 per cent of the region’s needs – at a capacity factor of 70 per cent.

The problem for Abbott is that the cost of a new coal power station is estimated by Bloomberg Energy Finance, as reported by RenewEconomy, at about $130/MWh and would require substantial Government subsidies to compete on price.

Roger Price, the CEO of Windlab, told RenewEconomy “We believe we can deliver nearly baseload power for a price of around $100/MWh. You are not going to build a new coal-fired generator for that sort of price."

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the Government has issued a new mandate to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation not to fund any more windfarms or solar farms on the pretext that these are established technologies.

As Roger Price told Renew Economy, the Kennedy Energy Park development would need CEFC finance loan as the project would be a first of it's kind. “That is one of fallacies of the current situation. Wind farms are not all vanilla projects, every one of them has distinctive characteristics and by ruling out an asset class, it means they are not prepared to back the cheapest technology and not prepared to back innovation for this sort of technology.”

The Kennedy Energy Park is far from the only renewable project proposed for the region. According to RenewEconomy FRV is also considering a 150MW solar plant near Townsville, and Genex has proposed a 330MW pumped hydro facility in the abandoned Kidston goldmine 270km north west of Townsville, that could store excess generation at times of high wind and solar output and despatch power when needed.

Nor should the contribution of rooftop solar be neglected in the Queensland energy equation. According to the Australian PhotoVoltaic Institute (APVI) Queensland already has 28.1 per cent of dwellings with rooftop solar PV systems, with a capacity of 1,377MW and an estimated annual PV generation of 1,905,840 MWh, far more than any other Australian state. Rooftop solar is already a substantial part of the state's energy generation technology.

Queensland sets 50 per cent renewable energy target

In May Queensland's Energy Minister Mark Bailey announced plans to generate 50 percent of the state's electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and to increase solar rooftop numbers from 400,000 to one million homes by 2020. “Renewable energy has long since stopped being a fringe issue, now is the time for Queensland to make this happen,” Bailey told the Australian Solar Conference in Melbourne in May 2015 according to RenewEconomy. This was part of Labor's state election policy taken to the 2015 state election that defeated the one-term government of Campbell Newman.

Increasing the Queensland target to 50 percent joins the South Australia 50 per cent target by 2025, with Victoria also considering a substantial renewable energy target.

Queensland energy debated on QandA

During Monday's QandA program Queensland National Party ex-Senator Ron Boswell showed his obfuscation by making the ridiculous claim that electricity prices would jump 50 per cent because of the 50 per cent renewable energy target. Giles Parkinson highlights and corrects this clunker in his article on RenewEconomy: Coalition makes it up in campaign against renewables, climate action. According to Parkinson, Warburton's RET review revealed that the higher the renewables target, the cheaper it gets for electricity consumers.

Innovation is important and panelist Monica Bradley highlighted the importance of battery storage technology as a major game changer for energy systems. Read my article on Tesla battery launch a revolutionary energy solution for climate.

Labor's Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk spoke strongly in endorsing the employment opportunities in the developing Queensland renewables sector on the ABC Program Q and A on 27 July, 2015.

Renewables firmly favoured by Australian Public says poll

It should come as no surprise that the Australian public enormously favours development of renewables. This is seen not only in public opinion polling on the issue, but also the rapid take up of roof top solar presently on 1.4 million Australian homes.

Recent opinion polling (21 July, 2015) by Essential Research on renewables finds that 50 per cent of Australians think that the Federal Government should prioritise support for the renewable energy industry over the coal industry. Ony 6 per cent favoured priotising coal industry, and 28 per cent thought both industries should be treated equally.

Even amoung coalition voters 39 per cent favoured renewables to 14 per cent for coal, and 28 per cent equally.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Evidence mounts for litigation of major Carbon polluters with climate change

The world is moving rapidly on withdrawing the social licence of carbon polluters. As the impacts of climate change become clearer and the urgency for rapid action impresses itself on the public psyche in the lead up to the Paris climate talks in December 2015, the major carbon polluters will increasingly find it more difficult to operate with social support.

The longer these fossil fuel companies delay making amends for the damages their businesses have already caused and will cause in the future, the more culpable they will become.

Up until relatively recently, responsibility for addressing climate change has largely been seen as the role of the Governments of nation states and the necessary multi-lateral action through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to regulate carbon pollution. But action through the UNFCCC has been extremely slow, often hindered by corporate lobbying and voting block interests.

But recent research by Heede (2014) has shown that individual investor or state owned corporations are responsible for a substantial majority of greenhouse gas pollution causing climate change. Heede's landmark paper was on Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854-2010.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Harnessing ocean temperature differentials using Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology

One of the more interesting items in the Marshall Islands INDC announcement of climate targets in the leadup to the Paris 2015 COP21 climate conference, is the nation's interest in developing and hosting Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) technology as part of it's strategy for reducing fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.

You might ask, what the hell is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)?

It is a technology for extracting renewable energy from the ocean temperature differential between the sea surface and ocean depths of 1,000 metres or more. It works best where there is a large temperature differential of 20 degrees Celsius or more between the sea surface and ocean depths, so the technology is limited to equatorial latitudes from about 20 degrees North to 20 degrees South.

Power plants can either be land-based or floating platforms. The technology is pollution free providing baseload 24/7 power using a heat exchanger and turbine to extract power from the temperature differential between the sea surface and the deep ocean.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Marshall Islands sets ambitious climate targets, urges Australia to lead

The small island nation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands submitted it's climate target on 21st July 2015. It is the first small island state to set an emissions reduction target for 2025, and the first developing country to adopt the simpler and more robust absolute economy-wide target that is usually expected of industrialized countries.

The nation's Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) was submitted to the United Nations as part of it's commitment to the climate summit in Paris in December 2015. It reflects a commitment to reduce emissions by 32% below 2010 levels by 2025, and a further indicative target to reduce emissions to 45% below 2010 levels by 2030. The Marshall Islands longer-term vision is to move towards net zero emissions by 2050, or earlier if possible.

Speaking to The Age newspaper, Foreign Minister Tony De Brum urged Australia to also take a leadership and set ambitious climate targets.

"It is important that Australian people understand we are not just playing footsie politics with the leaders of our big neighbour to the south," Mr de Brum said. "We are really serious about its need to contribute to our safety and future security." Brum told the Age.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bumblebee populations in steep decline due to climate change in North America and Europe

Bumblebee populations in North America and in Europe are in steep decline and shrinking their ranges due to human caused climate change says new research. The study was conducted across two continents based on over 110 years of data and observations.

This has enormous implications for pollination and eco-system health, as well as for human agricultural productivity. Many trees and plants are dependant to varying extents for reproduction and fruit on pollination by insects including bumble bees.

What was thought to be just one of several factors affecting wild and domesticated bee populations, is now seen to be far more important. Factors affecting the decline of bee populations include Colony Collpase disorder, use of pesticides including neonicotinoids, habitat loss, low genetic diversity and high infection rates with the parasite pathogens, and climate-driven mismatch between the times when flowers open and when bees emerge. (See my 2011 article: A dangerous sting for agriculture: climate change implicated in bee decline)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Global carbon pricing with cross-border tariffs needed to fight climate change says Stiglitz

Nobel award winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has raised the prospect of a global carbon tax lead by a 'coalition of the willing', with cross border taxes on goods from non-participating countries, as one strong measure to transition the planet to low emissions and fight climate change.

Speaking at the plenary of the Our Common Future Conference on climate science in Paris on Friday he outlined that carbon trading and the national voluntary target approach through the UNFCCC process, like we are seeing in current COP21 negotiations, have essentially failed. According to projections by Climate Action Tracker, we are still on track for 3 to 4 degrees Celsius of warming this century, overshooting the 2 degree level that was decided upon at Cancun in 2010.

Instead he argues for a global carbon price with the facility to tax or place tariffs on carbon intensive production or products at national borders as essential to discourage countries that do not have national carbon taxes or capped carbon trading or emissions reduction schemes. He thinks that such tariffs would not breach current World Trade Organisation rules on restriction of trade.

"In fact it changes the incentives, because it provides [countries] incentives to join the agreement. If they don't, effectively carbon taxes are being collected by trading partners. Their trading partners get to collect the revenue from the carbon tax and that provides them with an incentive to go on. I actually think that stronger measures should be undertaken, but this is something that can be done within the current framework." he said.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

New Zealand rebuked for unambituous and conditional climate change targets

Green fields north of Rotorua and the cooling tower of Ohaaki Geothermal power station in the middle distance. Photo: John Englart

New Zealand has released it's post 2020 climate targets, but already they are being heavily criticised by civil society and scientists as far too low, even given the specific national circumstances of the high proportion of agricultural sector emissions in the nation's greenhouse gas inventory.

The New Zealand INDC (PDF) was submitted to the United Nations on Tuesday 7 July 2015. The primary post 2020 target is set at 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 (which equates to 11 percent below 1990 levels).

New Zealand also has a longer term target of reducing emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. While 80 percent of it's electricity is already produced from renewables, it has pledged to increase this to 90 percent by 2025.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Europe's extreme heatwave frequency increased by climate change say researchers

Preliminary climate attribution analysis done by a team of international scientists makes it clear that it is virtually certain that climate change increased the likelihood of the July 2015 European heatwave subjecting much of central Europe to elevated temperatures.

Climate scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the University of Oxford, CNRS, and MeteoSwiss examined the likely influence of global warming. The team was convened by Climate Central.

"A statistical analysis of the observations shows that the probability of observing such a heat wave has more than doubled over the past 37 years in most of the affected region. In the selected cities the increase is even stronger." says the Climate Central report.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Warm Temperature anomalies in Pacific Northwest, Europe, Central Asia, Chukchi Peninsula

This map shows the global temperature anomalies for July 2, 2015. You can clearly see the hotspots over the Pacific Northwest of Canada and USA, Greenland, Europe, the Central Asian republics and the Chukchi Peninsula and parts of far eastern Siberia.

There are cold spots too: parts of Alaska, the US midwest from the Great Lakes east, Russia and northern Siberia, and north eastern China and the Korean peninsula.

Averaged out, the whole globe had a +0.60C temperature anomaly.