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The Artful Dodger on Baseload Solar

QLD Premier Anna Bligh at the ZCA Stationary Energy Plan launch, Oct 2011

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh became the artful dodger when asked about baseload solar energy last month. During the recent Our Say initiative where members of the public could submit questions to Ms Bligh, the Premier ignored BZE QLD Coordinator Emma Carton’s question regarding the Queensland Government’s plans towards building solar thermal baseload electricity plants, instead responding to what she would have preferred the question to be.

Question: Last year, a state government report concluded that “the quality of Queensland's solar resource is comparable to the world's best solar resources.” Rather than build gas plants and expand the contentious coal seam gas industry, what concrete steps will your government take to build baseload concentrating solar thermal power plants with molten salt storage?

And see Premier Bligh’s response here.

At the end of her answer she does address baseload solar power, incorrectly saying, “internationally the world is still some way from finding how to use solar power in a way that will generate baseload electricity”. It will be obvious to readers of this blog that the world has already worked out how to use solar thermal to produce baseload electricity, examples of this include the Ivanpah and Tonopah concentrated solar thermal (CST) plants in the US (under construction) and the Gemasolar CST plant in Spain (now operating).

Frustratingly, Anna Bligh attended the Queensland launch of the Beyond Zero Emissions Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan in October 2010 (see photo), where it was clearly outlined how solar thermal baseload electricity can become a reality in Australia. It is remarkable that she has “forgotten” so quickly.

Renewable Energy Milestone - Renewable Investment Tops Fossil Fuels for First Time

The journey to a 100 percent renewable energy economy reached a major milestone as investment in renewables has overtaken investment in fossil fuel energy for the first time. A new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance  demonstrates that a massive $187 billion was invested in wind, solar, and biomass whilst $157 billion was invested in fossil fuel electricity generation last year.

This shift in investment is a tipping point for renewables and the latest signal that the trajectory of our energy economy is towards renewable sources.

Trophies and Titles - BZE awarded for climate change solutions.

The determination and enthusiasm of Beyond Zero Emissions and its members has been acknowledged with two prestigious awards over the last month. The honours build on BZE's momentum leading into 2012 with the anticipated launch of the visionary Zero Carbon Australia plans for the buildings and transport sectors. 

In late October, the NSW Nature Conservation Council recognised Beyond Zero for its community-based work with an award--including a $1000 donation from Australian Ethical Investment--for activating the  “most inspiring climate action initiative by a climate change community group.” 

 Beyond Zero Emissions is “a cutting-edge” organization whose “research is creating a paradigm shift amongst the public and political leaders at all levels," said the Conservation Council. “The group’s work is showing that a zero emissions vision is not only desirable, but possible!” 

Take Action - Support a Zero Carbon Australia

Take action now

2011 has been a big year for Beyond Zero Emissions.  Thousands have heard us speak in audiences across Australia where they are hearing about our 100 percent renewable plan, we are working on zero emissions plans for transport, land use and buildings. Our ground-breaking Zero Carbon Australia research has provided the backbone for our Repower Australia public talks program, which has reached 18,000 people this year and will grow more than four fold in the coming 12 months.

But the battle has not yet been won. Australia is still one of the world’s leading climate polluters. We are still digging up over 250 million tonnes of coal each year and the political debate is still dominated by 19th century fossil fuel interests. When emissions from fossil fuel exports are taken into account, Australia will soon be responsible for 7- 8 percent of global emissions. We have not yet begun the full transition to the 21st century renewable energy economy that our changing climate demands.

You can help get Australia on track by giving a tax deductible donation to Beyond Zero Emissions today.

Queensland Senator the latest in support of BZE‘s plan for 100% renewables in a decade

  

During her passionate first speech, Senator Larissa Waters called for a 100 per cent renewable economy by 2020.  

  “We have the technological capacity to power our nation with 100 per cent renewable energy within a decade. That is such an exciting prospect, environmentally and economically. We need to be making plans now for just transitions for coal based communities so no-one is left behind when the day comes that the world does not want our coal anymore”, she said.  

Senator Larissa Waters was congratulated at the end of her first speech to the Federal Senate, with a standing ovation. It was an historic day; the first time a Queensland Greens senator has been in the position, after some 20 years of campaigning.  But not everyone was impressed with the contents of the Senator's maiden speech.  

In her address, Waters reminded the Senate of the fragility of our natural environment and openly condemned the stress minerals extraction puts on Queensland’s $6 billion tourism industry.  

She also references the adverse impacts of climate change are becoming frighteningly real, following the devastating summer floods earlier in the year which took the lives of 34 people and cost the nation $30 billion to repair, as estimated by the Herald Sun. 

However, the crux of Senator Waters' speech was expressing strong support for Australia to move to 100 percent renewable energy--the vision championed by Beyond Zero Emissions and campaign organisation 100% Renewables. Unfortunately, Waters' positive vision that a 100 percent renewable energy future is within the nation's reach drew fire from fossil fuel industry apologists.

Beyond Zero Emissions Recognised in the Australian Senate

Beyond Zero Emissions’ contribution to addressing climate change has been recognised in the Australian senate. 

During his speech on the Clean Energy Future bills, Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam had this to say about Matthew Wright and the Beyond Zero Emissions researchers who contributed to the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy plan:

Dispatch from the WOMAD Earth Station

Beyond Zero Emissions volunteer Sally Wilmott attended the WOMAD Earth Station festival held at the weekend. The following is her account of the event:

At the weekend, the first WOMAD Earth Station was held in South Australia's Belair National Park. Beyond Zero Emissions' Matthew Wright was a key presenter at the event, speaking on a bill that included the likes of Roy Neel, Al Gore's chief of staff; Cate Blanchett, the award-winning actress outspoken supporter of action on climate change; and Paddy Manning, Sydney Morning Herald columnist.

Earth Station was the first of its kind: an environmental conference meets world music festival. The focus of the former was climate change science and solutions.

Government failure to plan for solar growth is the real problem facing the grid

Recently, The Australian has claimed the national grid was struggling to cope with  the rooftop solar boom.The newspaper, well known for its climate skepticism, painted a bleak picture of the future of solar PV in Australia. 

With a glance at the success stories that champion solar PV in other countries, it’s immediately evident that the problem does not lie with solar technology, but with inadequate planning and investment in the grid. 

Despite the fact that the boom has been spurred on by their own incentives, successive governments failed to plan for the grid infrastructure needed to keep up with Australia’s rooftop solar boom. They have neglected to take any real, rapid transition away from fossil-fuelled energy – or the support for this move latent in the wider community – seriously.  

Solar PV is clearly popular with Australians. In the approaching age of energy insecurity and climate change, an independent source of renewable power not only makes sense, but its increasing popularity represents the changing mindset amongst the Australian population to a pro-renewables position

South Australia's Wind Energy Leadership: Plenty To "Crow About"

As a kid on a farm, I remember we had about six windmills which plumbed 60 metres down into the aquifers. One by one, they were quietly decommissioned and replaced by,  you guessed it, electric motor pumps. Why wouldn’t you? Grid electricity was cheap, and because of the baseload supply, confirmed a level of confidence that the weather couldn’t quite match.

Let’s jump forward 30 years.

The Power of Wind - Tour Converts Turbine 'Sceptic'

Last month David Robinson, the convenor of community environment group LIVE, joined Beyond Zero Emissions for a tour of two Victorian windfarms. The following is his account of the trip: 

Up until recently, my personal experience of wind turbines hasn’t been positive. Years ago, my family had a holiday at "Marshmead", a sustainable village, set in a national park on the banks of the Mallacoota Inlet. "Marshmead" was remote and not connected to the electricity grid. Power came from an early generation wind turbine. I remember how annoying the constant "thwaap thwaap" of this vintage technology had been and while I approved of the use of wind turbines, I decided that living close to one could be a problem.

So when I received an invitation to attend Beyond Zero Emissions’ tour of two wind farms in Central Victoria, this grumpy old wind turbine sceptic and somewhat reluctant bus tourist, was hesitant at first. But egged on by a friend, I decided to go anyway.

Debate: A Tax Won’t Fix Climate Change

BZE Media Team volunteer Virginia Streit attended the Intelligence Squared Australia debate on the 15th of September. The following is her report of the evening:

Beyond Zero Emissions Executive Director Matthew Wright took part in last week’s Intelligence Squared debate on carbon pricing schemes.

The wording of the debate topic, “A tax won’t fix climate change”, was not only confusing but also open to interpretation. Wright, who agrees with the proposition yet advocates action on climate change, was pitted against Adam Bandt MP and Chief Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery. As the audience discussed being “for” or “against”, I wondered whether they meant for or against the proposition, or for or against the government’s current carbon price offering.

Wright got straight to the point when arguing that a price on carbon would not solve climate change. Illustrating the immense scale of the climate crisis and its solutions, Wright referred to Beyond Zero Emissions and the Melbourne Energy Institute’s joint report, the Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan: “There is already too much carbon in the air – we need to decarbonise now.”

The Merit of Wind Energy

When it comes to wind energy for every setback there has been some good news.

Last month, the Victorian government amended state planning rules for wind energy. The changes applied onerous conditions on wind energy projects and arbitrarily set up exclusion zones for vast tracts of the state. Whether it’s a community-owned project like Hepburn Wind or a utility-scale development, wind energy projects will be a lot harder to build in Victoria.

As Beyond Zero Emissions Executive Director Matthew Wright noted, “Ted Baillieu has put the brakes on Victoria’s transition to 100 per cent renewable energy.” The wind industry will now focus investment in states with reasonable planning policies and without the ideological opposition to renewable energy. 

One such state is South Australia, where just a day after Baillieu’s backward step Labor Premier Mike Rann endorsed the construction of one of Australia’s largest wind farms—a massive 180 turbine, 600 MW farm that will generate enough electricity to power 200,000 homes every year.

This isn’t the only good news story about South Australia’s wind energy sector, which currently provides around 20 per cent of the state’s electricity. The increased penetration of wind energy is reducing the cost for consumers. This experience flies in the face of the  ‘Can’t Do’ campaign’s claims that renewable energy will increase electricity bills and should not be built.

Open For Inspection

                      

CommSec’s recently released report on Australian homes showed that we are still building the biggest new homes on the planet. According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

‘The latest figures show the average new home built in Australia is still 10 per cent bigger than its counterpart in the United States and 9 per cent bigger than in New Zealand.

The average floor area of a new free-standing house in Australia is 243 square metres.’

But is bigger necessarily better when it comes to the quality of a home, its energy efficiency and climate change impacts?

The trend of ever-bigger new homes prompted Beyond Zero Emissions volunteer John Ashton to fast-forward to the auction of the future what the ideal home might look like in a zero-carbon Australia…

Help Take Beyond Zero Global

With your support, our 100 percent renewable message is making its way into community halls, MPs offices and the national media. Now, we are poised to make a global impact as Zero Carbon Australia researcher Patrick Hearps joins me to present at the International Energy Agency’s 2011 solar themal energy conference in Spain.

We need your help to raise $4300 to get Patrick and I to the four-day conference and secure international coverage of our research. You can make a contribution here. Any money above the target will be used to fund the ongoing Zero Carbon Australia research initiative.

Politicians Question the Role of Gas in Australia's Energy Future

Politicians have raised fresh questions about the role of coal seam gas in Australia's energy future.

Greens Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne, along with MP Adam Bandt have all expressed concern about the emissions intensity of coal seam gas in the first week of the autumn session of parliament.

On Wednesday Senator Brown warned that the veracity of the claims made by proponents of coal seam gas is in doubt: “The presumption that the damage done by gas is half that done by coal is under very serious questioning.”

The leader of the Greens also highlighted that the aim of the clean energy package is ultimately to replace the burning of fossil fuels with renewable energy. His comments echoed those made on Tuesday by his deputy, Senator Christine Milne.

“Once you start looking at the greenhouse gas emissions and intensity of all that, you will find that all these people who claim that coal seam gas is cleaner than coal are in fact wildly exaggerating any benefits,” she said, adding that the nation needed to “move straight to renewables.”

It takes a model to tell a thousand stories…

For those of you familiar with the work of Beyond Zero Emissions, Concentrating Solar Thermal (CST) power towers are nothing new. When speaking with family, friends, and work colleagues about solar energy, however, it is often the well-recognised rooftop photovoltaic panel that first springs to mind. CST is a different beast altogether, yet attempts to explain the difference can be met with confusion. Sometimes it takes a picture, or in the case of BZE volunteer Martin Powell, a 3-D model to tell a thousand stories…

BZE Media: Martin, how did you become interested in Concentrating Solar Thermal power?

MP: What struck me when I first saw the images of the CST, was the beautiful layout of the mirrors – it reminded me of flower and seed arrangements in nature and after an inspiring presentation by Patrick Hearps  at an Alternative Technology Association meeting in mid 2010, I thought that a model of a CST plant would be very helpful in communicating the technology.

Solar Thermal a Key Driver of Renewable Energy Boom

New data released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that, over the last financial quarter, a staggering $US41.7billion of new capital was invested globally in the renewable energy sector. Investments in the innovative concentrating solar thermal (CST) industry were identified as a key driver of the sector’s massive growth.

Carbon Price Scheme – No Longer a Mystery Package

Upon the release of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon price package (to take effect July 1, 2012), there has been talk aplenty of her plummeting popularity. The PM has dismissed the commentary in favour of the scheme’s necessity, saying, “Polls will come and go… I’m absolutely convinced what I’m doing’s right.” The scores of people supporting action on climate change undoubtedly applaud this stance.

For its part, Beyond Zero Emissions welcomes PM Gillard’s carbon price package as a positive step toward weaning Australia off fossil fuels. However, BZE holds some reservations regarding how the scheme will play out once it is implemented. These reservations predominantly concern the role the carbon price package will assign fossil gas-fired power, and the amount of faith Labor places in the market to bring about the mass deployment of large-scale renewable power. Let us recognise the distinctions here.

Spain Now Producing 24-Hour Solar Power

Last week, Spain’s Gemasolar solar power plant became the first of its kind to successfully feed an uninterrupted supply of energy into the grid over a 24-hour period. The utility-scale plant has only been in commercial operation for a few weeks but it is already demonstrating that concentrated solar power systems (in conjunction with storage technologies) are able to generate an electricity supply that is continuous, reliable and clean.

How did they do it? The plant utilizes concentrated solar thermal (CST) technologies in conjunction with a storage system (a thermal-transfer technique developed by SENER) to store solar energy in molten salt; this allows the plant to generate electricity even when there is no sun. If solar plants are to deliver energy in a way that is comparable to that of conventional fossil-fuel power plants then they need to be able to generate power at night or during periods of cloud cover - plants like Gemsolar are proving that existing technologies are able to cope with fluctuations in energy supply. Currently, Gemasolar operates on a 19.9 MW steam turbine and is able to supply electricity to a population of 25,000 households. Eventually, the plant will be able to supply 24 hours of uninterrupted production per day on most summer days, providing a higher annual capacity factor than most baseload plants such as nuclear power plants.

Time Ripening Fast For Australia To Down Renewable Energy Roots

At the recent UN Climate Talks held in Bonn, a spokesperson for Germany's Federal Environment Agency (Eric Fee) gave a presentation outlining how Germany's energy sector could transition to a 100 per cent renewable electricity supply by 2050. The presentation was based on a 2010 study undertaken by the agency and posed the following question: Can a 100 per cent renewable electricity system satisfy Germany's total electricity consumption and specific load demands at any point during the year? The findings of the report indicated that a renewable electricity system using commercially available technologies is achievable and able to meet the industrial giant's peak demands.

So, good news for Germany, but what does this mean for Australia? In short: if a transition to a renewable electricity system is possible there, then it is certainly achievable here. Australia is a developed economy that currently relies heavily on energy generated from coal and gas; however, it is even better placed to make the switch to renewables. Australia has the best solar resources of any developed country, yet it is a resource which is under-utilised. Solar thermal systems with storage capacity, like those currently operating in Spain and the United States, would be capable of generating baseload power 24 hours a day. Australia also has considerable wind energy resources (much larger than Germany's) and the capacity to generate power from biomass and hydroelectricity.

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