A 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO)
summarised in The Guardian,
states that air pollution is the world's single biggest environmental health
The main sources of ambient air pollution are motor vehicles and coal burning. The main sources of air pollution in homes are coal smoke and wood smoke.
Coal (and gas) burning for power generation can be replaced with renewable energy. Motor vehicles can be electrified or powered by non-polluting hydrogen, coal and wood burning in homes can be replaced with electricity, and the electricity for it all can be generated using renewables. Even coke (made from coal) for smelting and refining metals can be replaced by hydrogen extracted from water using renewable energy.
|A part of one of Australia's wind farms|
In spite of both Labor and Liberal-National coalition governments (particularly the latter, from the Abbott Government starting in September 2013 to the Morrison Government, still in place at the time of writing, January 2019) supporting the coal industry, renewable energy has made great inroads into power generation in Australia.
Quoting Simon Holmes à Court in the Guardian article that published the graph:
"Highly polluting brown coal use is down 36.6% and black coal (still dirty!) has fallen 9.4%, mostly replaced by wind and solar."At the time of writing it was looking like the rate of renewable energy installation and coal power station retirement was only going to increase.
While these coalition governments have been nothing short of criminal in their opposition to action on climate change, fortunately they have been notably ineffectual in their efforts to stop the transition to renewable energy.
South Australia shows what is possibleThe graph below shows a record of South Australia's huge success in:
|South Australia's generation record (added to this page 2019/01/17)|
At the time of writing many solar PV farms were either under construction or proposed in Australia. Wikipedia stated that:
"As of March 2018, Australia had over 7,803 MW of installed photovoltaic (PV) solar power, of which 1,651 MW were installed in the preceding 12 months."
Of particular interest was the recent tendency to co-locate solar farms with wind farms; for example there was a 50 MW solar farm proposed for the Snowtown Wind Farm (it was expected that the generation from the solar farm during daylight would smooth the total generation because the wind farm tended to generate most power at night). It seems likely that new wind farms being built in Australia will include a significant solar PV component and possibly some form of energy storage, most likely battery.
In August 2018 Victorian Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio had proposed an initiative to install 2,600 MW of solar PV on 360,000 homes; whether it happens will depend on the outcome of an upcoming election among other things.
There is huge scope for further similar developments around Australia.
In 2020 it seemed that solar thermal methods of generating electricity had lost the battle against solar photovoltaic, due to the economies of scale of the latter.
My impression is that this will be a boost for the renewable energy industry in both states, but particularly for SA, and help to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.
It is proposed that the new interconnector will have a capacity of 800 MW, which is about a half of the typical electricity generation in South Australia.
At the time of writing there was increasingly often more renewable energy generation in SA than could be used in the state or exported via the existing interconnectors to Victoria. I have been informed that curtailment on a particular wind farm has been around 3%, but rose to 8% in the last quarter of 2018; if this is typical for all wind farms it is a substantial loss of earning power, and it will only increase as more renewable energy comes on line. The new interconnector will allow increased wind and solar development in SA because any excess, beyond local consumption, will be able to be sent to NSW, displacing coal power there.
There are times when there is wind in SA and not in NSW (and vice-versa), so the new connector will allow one state to help out the other at these times.
Solar power generation in SA peaks later (often an hour or more later), and continues later in the day, than in NSW. Often the peak demand on the NSW power grid comes when solar power in SA is still generating substantial amounts of electricity; the new interconnector will allow this to be sent to the east.
Energy stored in one state will more readily be able to be used in the other state, when needed.
It is expected that the interconnector will be completed about 2022.
One project that will come on-line in the near future is the 250 MW 2,000 MWh Kidston project using a worked-out mine pit as one of the water storages. Another 200-270 MW, 1,600 MWh one at Baroota, a disused reservoir in South Australia, has been proposed (photo in the Potential section); many more are needed. I've written in more detial on pumped hydro elsewhere on this page.
I've written more in the
What potential is there? section of this page.
Batteries as 'Virtual' power plantsAt the time of writing several pilot projects were underway in SA, and probably elsewhere too, testing the practicality of integrating household batteries and household solar into the state power grid. The expectation was that this could add flexibility in matching generation to consumption.
In September 2018 the SA (Liberal!) government was aiming at building
the world's largest virtual power plant that would eventually include a total of 50,000 houses, 250 MW of solar power and 250 MW/675 MWh of battery storage.
One of the great advantages of solar thermal power stations is that it is easy to integrate energy storage with them, usually in the form of molten salt.
Storage of energy is also being explored in molten silicon.
At the time of writing (August 2019), molten silicon was looking promising.
Wikipedia molten silicon can store a megawatt-hour of energy in each cubic metre; a very high energy density.
The technology had been trialed on a limited scale in conjunction with the use of captured methane
in a waste water treatment plant near Adelaide in South Australia in 2019.
This method seems to have a lot of undeveloped potential in Australia.
Wikipedia has an extensive article on compressed air energy storage.
Aluminium smelters consume a huge amount of electricity. Changing them to allow their electricity consumption and aluminium production to vary according to the electricity price and availability could be a win-win situation for the aluminium industry and the renewable energy industry.
Quoting from the Abstract:
"The EnPot technology can be used to help the aluminium smelting industry be part of the solution to accommodate increased intermittency in our future renewable energy generation, post COP 21. The EnPot system provides for the first time, dynamic control of the heat balance of aluminium smelting pots across the potline, so that energy consumption and aluminium production can be increased or decreased by as much as plus or minus 30% almost instantaneously."
Peaking powerAt least until various forms of energy storage (such as pumped hydro) can fill in the generation gaps from renewables we will need peaking power, which currently means gas-fired generation.
On the matter of base-load power generation the National Energy Emissions Audit from The Australia institute of August 2019, written by Hugh Saddler, stated:
"South Australian electricity supply system provides real world evidence of how a new base load generator, such as a nuclear power station, could not be incorporated into a system with a high proportion of variable renewable generation. The best complement for high renewables is storage and a diversity (in location and type) of renewables."While in 2019 SA was well ahead of the other mainland states in the adoption of renewable energy, wind power in particular, the eastern states were catching up. Tasmania too would not have any use for a base-load power station, because of its very high level of hydro power and increasing wind power.
I have discussed the
myth of base-load elsewhere.
ANU report, 2018/09/10Australia’s renewable energy industry is delivering rapid and deep emissions cuts; written by Ken Baldwin, Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks. Quoting from the Summary:
"During 2018 and 2019 Australia is likely to install about 10,400 Megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy, comprising 7,200 MW of large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and windfarms together with 3,200 MW of small-scale rooftop PV systems. Combined, this represents 30% of Australia’s peak electricity demand. The Australian renewable energy industry is convincingly demonstrating its capacity to install large amounts of wind and PV systems. If industry is able to continue to deploy wind and PV at the current rate into 2020 and beyond then Australia will:It is particularly interesting that all this progress was being made at the same time as the Liberal-National coalition federal government was dishonestly ridiculing South Australia's very successful adoption of renewable energy, trying to support the dying coal industry and slow the growth of renewables.
Walls and windows could also be made capable of generating electricity; photo-voltaic window materials are already commercially available or close to it. Even paths and roads can be made to generate power.
There will be a time, and it will not be a long while off, when it will be thought very inefficient to not generate power from any artificial surface that is exposed to bright light.
The typical EV battery has a much larger capacity than a household battery. In 2019 car battery capacities varied from 16-60kWh while home battery capacities were typically 2.2-10kWh, with a cost of about $1000/kWh. Since car batteries have about six to seven times the capacity of home batteries only about a sixth or a seventh of the capacity of a car battery would be sufficient to replace a home battery; we should be able to effectively power our homes by solar PV and EV batteries.
Of course the EV battery will not be able to supply the house when the car is away from the home. Perhaps the ideal would be an EV together with a small home battery (say 1-5kWh?); alternatively, just buy grid power as needed when the EV is away. Another possibility, if battery prices fall far enough, is having a home battery big enough to fast-charge your EV.
It will be to the advantage of everyone – householders, EV owners, and those who run the power grid – to charge EV batteries and household batteries when power on the grid is plentiful and cheap and to feed power into the grid when it is in short supply and expensive. This just requires changes in the way power is bought and sold to small consumers.
Of course it will also be to the advantage of a householder to save on capital costs by integrating the EV battery into the household supply so that a smaller and cheaper battery will be sufficient in the house.
It was announced on 2018/08/26 that
Angus Taylor was Australia's new Energy Minister in the Morrison Coalition Government.
At the time I hoped for the sake of the nation and the world that Mr Taylor was far better informed on energy in 2018 than he was back in 2012, but that hope proved to be unjustified.
I had an argument with Angus about wind power on his Facebook page in 2012, when it became clear he was losing the argument he deleted it.
Fortunately I kept a copy.
At least to January 2020 the Morrison Government had continued the anti-renewable energy stance of the previous Turnbull and Abbott governments.
Like the Turnbull Government, the Morrison Government has laboured the point of reliability of the electricity supply. AEMO's Electricity Statement of Opportunities, September 2017 forecast "From 2018–19 to 2021–22, progressively decreasing levels of potential USE [Unserved Energy - power failures due to insufficient generation] conditions are observed over the next four summers, due to increasing renewable generation." The AEMO report foresaw the highest chance of a USE event happening in financial year 2017/18. There were none in SA so far as I know.
Future federal governmentsAs of early 2020 the Liberal/National coalition showed no sign of significant action toward reducing fossil fuel emissions. The federal Labor Opposition under Anthony Albanese has stated that it will continue to support expansion of coal mining in Australia.
South Australia's state governmentA long-standing Labor government was replaced by a Liberal government in March 2018. Surprisingly, the new Liberal government has recognised the value of SA's renewable energy. While they have been careful to not criticise the federal Coalition government they seem to pose no danger to renewable energy developments in South Australia.
What potential is there?
At the time of writing wind power development in Australia has been confined to areas that were close to existing high capacity power lines; not a single transmission line has been built anywhere in Australia to connect an area of high wind potential to the NEM (National Electricity Market) or the SWIS (SW Interconnected Network) in WA.
South Australia has gone much further in developing wind power than any other state, with close to 50% of total generation being by wind at the time of writing. Even in SA there is room for far more; for example the map shows that Yorke and Eyre Peninsulas, in South Australia west of Adelaide, have excellent wind power resources. Wind power developments on both peninsulas have reached the (small) maximum imposed by the existing low-capacity transmission lines. South Australia's current wind power, 1.8 GW at the end of 2017, could be doubled or more if there was a power transmission system capable of taking the energy.
Other states have huge untapped wind power potential
Offshore wind power has been much more expensive than onshore, but with substantial and greatly accelerating offshore development overseas costs have come down substantially; see Unearthed and Wind Power Monthly.
There are advantages to offshore wind power compared to onshore:
Just in my state, South Australia, the potential for solar power development in the huge area north of Port Augusta – about 2/3 of the state – is mind-boggling. All that is lacking for its development is transmission lines and federal government getting out of the way.
The potential for the whole nation boggles the mind!
The greatest question with Snowy Hydro 2.0 is whether it can compete with a number of smaller installations elsewhere.
In early 2018 a 100 kW floating solar farm had been completed on effluent ponds in Lismore, NSW, with a proposal of installing another 500 kW later. The photo on the right is of an early (2015) pilot installation at Jamestown, South Australia.
Solar panels have been installed on a bigger scale, a megawatt, over irrigation channels in Gujarat, India in a project expected to reduce evaporation by 34 ML per year. Forty megawatts of floating solar panels have also been installed in an area flooded due to coal mining subsidence in China.
When the sun is not shining (more accurately, when the light is not bright, solar power is also generated under cloudy conditions) the wind may be blowing and wind power abundant; as in the right-hand side of the image on the right.
When the wind isn't blowing there may be abundant solar energy, as in the left-hand side of the image.
In South Australia at least it has been noted that winds tend to be stronger at night than in the day.
In this particular 24-hour period 30% of the state's power was generated by solar PV and 39% by wind power; 69% total renewables. Batteries provided 0.6% of the state's demand; expect to see far more energy storage in the future.
seven countries in Europe that had announced measures to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles in favour of electric models: France, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Netherlands, Scotland, the UK.
The Indian government has said that every vehicle sold in the country should be powered by electricity by 2030.
"Austria, China, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Portugal, Korea and Spain have set official targets for electric car sales. The United States doesn't have a federal policy, but at least eight states have set out goals."
In 2019 it was obvious that electrically powered vehicles were the future of land transport, but Australia, due to its government being corrupted by fossil fuel interests, was a long way behind most of the rest of the world. Before the May 2019 federal election Australia's Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, was rubbishing EVs.
In an article written 2019/04/08 by Ben Potter in the Financial Review Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes was quoted as saying that PM Morrison and Minister Taylor were 'tied up in knots' on EV; they were contradicting their own past statements.
As discussed above, South Australia sometimes generates more renewable energy than it can consume or export via electricity transmission lines to the eastern states. This excess at present poses problems; but it should be seen as a potential great asset; as renewable energy could be to the whole nation.
There are some technical challenges involved in achieving the full future potential of Australia's (and the world's) renewable energy resources.
ARENA Wire, 2018/08/18, described the trial of a system on Tasmania's Bruny Island...
It is an "innovative project using solar and batteries to meet energy needs during holiday periods, when the island’s population soars.
We will see more and more of this sort of thing, with energy storage being combined with solar and wind power in distributed, rather than centralised systems.
The use of hydrogen to support steel manufacturing is being investigated in South Australia, and there has to be huge potential for this technology in places like Western Australia's Pilbara, where there are both enormous iron ore and renewable energy resources (wind and solar).
Renewably produced iron and steel would have a far greater value to Australia than raw iron ore.
Hydrogen to replace natural gasIn addition to using the renewably generated hydrogen in a new export industry it can simply be used as a supplement or replacement for natural gas (which cannot last for ever and produces carbon dioxide when burned).
overseas. If Australia had plentiful renewably generated hydrogen they could become a very attractive economic and environmental proposition in Australia.
Hydrogen from coalHydrogen can also be made using coal as an energy source, and this has been proposed as a way of providing a future for coal.
Of course producing a clean energy source such as hydrogen from coal would be pointless unless the carbon dioxide from the burning of the coal was sequested.
The necessary carbon capture and sequestration will make the process too expensive to compete with renewably generated hydrogen.
Cars are by no means the only mode of transport going electric, commuter busses will be early adopters of electric motivation; electric training aircraft are already popular, electric trucks and ships are coming.
"The proposal includes up to twelve hundred 300m-high wind turbines to generate up to 5000 MW [5 GW], with a further 2400 MW [2.4 GW] from solar panels.Energy storage was not mentioned in the article but it would have to be valuable in filling some of the gaps in the variable production of power from the wind and solar generators.
article in The West Australian, this time on 2018/09/12, talked about 1262 wind turbines and mentioned that 11,756ha (about 118 km2) of native vegetation would need to be cleared.
Why not just ship the hydrogen overseas? Hydrogen cannot be liquified by pressure alone, it must also be made very cold, even then it has a very low density and that means it takes up a lot of space and a lot of energy is used in refrigeration. It can be done, but it is expensive. On the other hand ammonia is easily liquified and there is already a major international trade in ammonia and it has many industrial uses. If required, ammonia can easily be broken back down into nitrogen and hydrogen.
By exporting ammonia Australia could further develop its huge
potential wind and solar resources; we have hardly scratched the surface yet.
Australia's renewable energy resources are among the best in the world and, as of the time of writing, early 2020, are cheaper than no-renewable alternatives, so energy in the future will be more plentiful and cheap in Australia than in most other countries.
Iron, aluminium and other metalsSo instead of exporting metal ores in the future it will make far more sense to use our cheap energy to convert those ores into metals and make more export income out of them. Converting them to metals also means much lower weight in the exported products so lower costs in the exporting.
SiliconThere is a huge and growing market for high purity silicon for computers, solar panels and other uses. At present Australia produces only a very small part of the world's high-purity silicon (about 1%, if I remember correctly). The main requirements for the production of high-purity silicon is high-purity quartz or quartz sand (quartz is silicon dioxide) and abundant cheap energy. Australia has both.
Of course the same argument stands for any energy intensive value adding manufacturing process; it will make more sense to do it in Australia than elsewhere.
Some technical points on hydrogen-ammonia-hydrogen conversionHydrogen can be produced from water using renewable energy and electrolysis, but hydrogen is not easy to store or transport. It is easy to combine hydrogen with nitrogen to produce ammonia which can readily be stored and transported, and then it is easy to recover the hydrogen from the ammonia. Ammonia could be readily stored in a car's fuel tank and then broken down to hydrogen which could power the car in fuel cells, but there has been one catch. Any trace of ammonia in the hydrogen used in the car's fuel cells will quickly damage them.
Possible breakthrough solution to the ammonia contamination problemThe problem may have been overcome by CSIRO researchers using a breakthrough membrane that, we are told, separates very high purity hydrogen from the ammonia. On 2018/08/08 Brisbane ABC posted a piece by Lexy Hamilton-Smith on online news about the testing of two hydrogen powered cars based in the CSIRO technology.
This has the potential to provide a market for the excess renewable energy that could be generated in Australia in the future.
Australia's power prices have been high by world standards and this fact has had a lot of publicity.
High electricity prices have encouraged householders to install solar power. They have encouraged many businesses to install solar too; in addition a number of big businesses have contracted power purchase agreements with the owners of wind farms or solar farms.
The consequence of high power prices, it seems to me, has been, and will continue to be, for more and more individuals and businesses to switch to renewable energy and therefore increasing amounts of renewable energy being built.
Why have electricity prices been high in Australia?Two of the main reasons are:
Cost of renewable energyThe graphic on the right is from the CSIRO report "Electricity generation technology projections 2017-2050" by Jenny A Hayward and Paul W Graham, December 2017.
For a full understanding of the table the reader should refer to the CSIRO report. The CSIRO table does not include the cost of gas fired electricity generation, that is included in a costings report from the World Energy Council on another page on this site.
The graph and the CSIRO report show clearly that renewables are cheaper than new-build coal-fired (and nuclear) power stations.
For years there has been a lot of uncertainty in the future of power generation in Australia.
One of the responses to this is for businesses to make their own arrangements for power supply by either installing their own solar power or contracting the owners of wind or solar farms for power supplies.
So the consequence of uncertainty to the power generation industry, it seems to me, has been, and will continue to be, for more and more consumers, individuals or businesses, to switch to renewable energy and therefore increasing amounts of renewable energy being built.
Who should make the decisions that need to be made about Australia's energy future?
The decisions should be made by an unbiased body that is fully informed and has the required knowledge, or access to that knowledge.
It follows that they should not be made by politicians.
On this siteWho wants renewable energy?
End of coal: why the coal industry has a very limited future.
Ethics: a subject that Energy Minister Taylor would do well to learn about.
Greenhouse/climate change: the greatest threat currently facing mankind.
Killer coal: how the burning of coal kills millions of people world-wide each year.
Power to Gas (P2G, renewable energy used to produced hydrogen gas) in Australia.
Pumped hydro energy storage.
Selfishness or altruism?: self or all?
Angus Taylor, Australia's gobsmackingly biased Energy Minister
What matters? in climate change and government
Wind power opposition: almost universally dishonest.
Hydrogen: a potential game-changer
Adelaide: a demonstration plant"Australian-first, $11.4 million hydrogen demonstration plant to be built in Adelaide"; Media Release, Australian Gas Networks, 2018/02/21.
ARENA article on the same project.
Port Lincoln: a demonstration plant"Renewable ammonia demonstration plant announced in South Australia"; Ammonia Industry, written by Trevor Brown, 2018/02/16.
"The plant will comprise a 15 MW electrolyzer system, to produce the hydrogen, and two technologies for converting the hydrogen back into electricity: a 10 MW gas turbine and 5MW fuel cell. The plant will also include a small but significant ammonia plant, making it “among the first ever commercial facilities to produce distributed ammonia from intermittent renewable resources.”
AustraliaThe Guardian, by Katharine Murphy, 2019/06/22, "Australia's energy future: the real power is not where you’d think".
CSIRO's National Hydrogen Roadmap sketches the opportunities in using hydrogen as a medium for the storing, transporting and consumption of energy.
Hydrogen for Australia’s future: A briefng paper for the COAG Energy Council – Prepared by the Hydrogen Strategy Group, (headed by Dr Alan Finkel, Australia's Chief Scientist), dated August 2018.
Enough ambition (and hydrogen) could get Australia to 200% renewable energy; The Conversation, 2019/11/21; Scott Hamilton, Changlong Wang, Falko Ueckerdt, Roger Dargaville
HiTeMP OUTLOOK 2018: Transforming High Temperature Minerals Processing: A multi-stakeholder perspective on pathways to high value, net-zero CO2 products for the new economy. University of Adelaide. The paper discusses potential used of renewably produced hydrogen among other things.
Opportunities for Australia from hydrogen exports: ACIL Allen consulting for ARENA, dated August 2018. This report's medium growth scenario estimated world-wide annual energy demand for the production of hydrogen to be: 9 TWh by 2025, 32 TWh by 2030, 85 TWh by 2040. To put this in perspective Australia's total current electricity generation in the NEM in 2018 was less than 200 TWh.
$180 million investment in renewable hydrogen energy storage in ACT: ACT Open Government, 2016/08/30.
"How Australia can use hydrogen to export its solar power around the world"; Bianca Nogrady writing in The Guardian 2017/05/19.
16 renewable hydrogen projects backed by ARENA grants, written by Sophie Vorrath in Renew Economy, 2018/09/06. "... ARENA said the R&D projects targeted by the funding covered a diverse range of solutions, with at least one from each point in the supply chain: production, hydrogen carrier, and end use."
"Japan’s hydrogen future may be fuelled by Australian renewables"; ARENA Wire, 2018/07/27.
Energy storage"Want energy storage? Here are 22,000 sites for pumped hydro across Australia"; Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu, Matthew Stocks, 2017/09/21, The Conversation. "PHES [pumped hydro energy storage] can readily be developed to balance the grid with any amount of solar and wind power, all the way up to 100%, as ageing coal-fired power stations close."
These Australian National University researchers were awarded the prestigious
Eureka Science Prize for this work in August 2018.
GeneralANU report, 2018/09/10, "Australia’s renewable energy industry is delivering rapid and deep emissions cuts"; written by Ken Baldwin, Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks.
"Coal is no longer cheaper – and we'll prove it": Sanjeev Gupta, the British billionaire who saved the Whyalla steel industry knows that the future lies with renewables.
Heroes building Australia's low-carbon economy, by 350 Australia, September 2018. "Despite a lack of federal government leadership, the low-carbon economy is thriving. The stories featured in this report have been chosen by a selection committee incorporating feedback from stakeholders in the low-carbon economy – businesses, community groups, NGOs, researchers, academics, investors and individual experts."
Deloitte Insights: Global renewable energy trends; Solar and wind move from mainstream to preferred. "Technological innovation, cost efficiencies, and increasing consumer demand are driving renewables–particularly wind and solar–to be preferred energy sources. We examine seven trends that are driving this transformation."
Another nail in coal’s coffin? German steel furnace runs on renewable hydrogen in world first - traditionally coke, made out of high-grade coal, has been used for steel-making. 'It aint necessarily so' any more.
All new roofs will generate power
Aluminium smelters could become virtual batteries
Battery/electric vehicle/grid integration
Cost: renewables are now cheapest
Decisions; how should they be made?
Energy storage as heat
Energy storage in compressed air
Evaporation on pumped hydro storages
Exporting hydrogen products made using sustainable electricity
Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia: the great opportunity
Exporting sustainable electricity
High prices; the effects
Hydrogen generated from renewable energy
Hydrogen powered vehicles
Integrating generation, storage and consumption
Battery/electric vehicle/grid integration
More solar PV
More wind farms
NEG (National Electricity Grid)
Opportunity, the great. Exporting renewable energy beyond Australia
Opportunity in 'unusable' solar power?
Pumped hydro energy storage
Solar power potential
Solar thermal with storage
Uncertainty; the effects
Value adding to our exports: Making the most of our cheap energy
What area of solar panels would be needed?
Wind power potential
Working together; wind and solar complementing each other