Friday, December 9, 2011

Renewable energy in Australia approaching 10 per cent

The Clean Energy Council of Australia announced at the climate negotiations in Durban that 9.6% of Australia's power now came from renewable sources: solar photovoltaic, wind, and large scale hydro-electric. More than half a million household solar power systems were now installed on Australian rooftops – around 35 times the amount just three years ago at the end of 2008.

Clean Energy Council Director Kane Thornton said Australia was on target for sourcing 20 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2020.

Time to choose Solar

"The last year has been a drought breaker in more ways than one. As well as giving Australia’s farmers a boost, extra rainfall in key hydro power catchments made a huge difference, providing just over two-thirds of our renewable energy over the last year." said Kane Thornton.

"We are already starting to see a boost from the energy produced by wind farms, with wind energy supplying enough clean electricity to power the equivalent of around 900,000 homes. Wind power is the lowest-cost form of renewable energy that can be rolled out on a large scale and we expect it to play a major part in meeting Australia’s 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020." he said.

"Overall, renewable energy produced enough power for more than four million homes and came at a very low cost to consumers."

Of the 9.6% renewable energy contributed to the electricty grid, 67.2% was hydro electricity, 21.9% wind energy, 8.5% bioenergy, 2.3% solar PV. Installed capacity of renewable technologies under prototype or research and development include Solar thermal (0.015%), geothermal (0.002%) and marine energy (0.003%).

2010 and 2011 have seen substantial rollout of small scale (household) Solar Photovoltaic systems with more than 230,000 of these systems installed in the eight months from January to August 2011 with a capacity of 1031MW. The take up of solar photovoltaic has been encouraged by generous feed-in tariffs in the states of Victoria and NSW, which have now been substantially reduced in both states by conservative state governments.

Australia still trails other developed and developing nations with large scale solar facilities. The largest solar plant currently in operation is a 3MW adjunct facility to the Liddell coal power station. The largest photovoltaic plant is the 1.2MW facility at the University of Queensland St Lucia campus. The Federal Government solar flagships program is funding two major projects:

  • Solar Dawn Project, Chinchilla, Qld - 250MW - which uses Solar thermal compact linear fresnel technology as a hybrid with gas turbine for 24/7 power generation. The project has just received development approval from the Western Downs Regional Council. Construction is set to start in 2012 with commercial operation expected in 2015.
  • Moree Solar Farm, NSW - 150MW - using Single axis tracking solar PV technology is scheduled to start construction mid 2012 and be operating by 2015. (website)

There are several pilot and pre-commercial marine energy projects underway, currently testing technology at the prototype to pre-commercial phases. Over the next few years we should see some of these projects generating power into the grid, and also export the technologies around the world. The Victorian Government just gave funding to a wave power pilot project at Port Fairy.

With geothermal there is currently only one operating plant, the Ergon Energy owned Birdsville 1 in Queensland producing 0.12MW. There are three current projects, all in South Australia: the Geodynamics Innamincka proposed 1MW pilot plant by 2012, expanding to 25MW by 2013; the Panax Penola proposed 59MW plant (currently drilling); the Petratherm Paralana 3.75MW plant by 2012 expanding to 30MW (Currently drilling). Australia has good geothermal potential with the potential for this energy to account for between 13 per cent and 23 percent of our total electricity needs in 2050. Hotrock has assessed geothermal in the Otway basin and is looking at development of a small pilot power plant at Koroit by mid 2013.

Wind farm capacity continued to be added during 2011. Australia currently has 1188 wind turbines and 57 operating wind farms, including one small wind farm located in the Australian Antarctic Territory. The amount of wind power in Australia has grown by an average of 35 per cent per year over the past five years, and the efficiency and power output of turbines are evolving quickly. More than half the wind energy is generated in South Australia.

The draconian changes to planning regulations for wind farms in Victoria will see a reduction in new windfarms in the state. The changes have meant one commercial wind farm development has been abandoned and four potential community owned projects are threatened. The Clean Energy Council estimates that the regulations will eventually drive $3.6 billion of investment away from Victoria, making the Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 20% by 2020 harder to meet.

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