The rise of emissions

The strong uptake of rooftop PV may be helping curb pollution however Australia’s annual emissions continued their four year rise and were up 0.7 per cent in the year to June 2017 to 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. This places a large question mark on the nations’s ability to meet its internationally agreed targets, and follows news that 2017 was Australia’s third warmest year.

The Climate Council says cutting pollution is critical to protecting Australians from worsening extreme weather events and notes the federal government is continuing to ignore its responsibility to provide a real solution to tackling climate change, with “no new credible policies to reduce Australia’s pollution levels”.  All signs point to the rise of carbon pollution levels between now and 2030.

“There’s also no long-term renewable energy target set, which leaves us without a credible energy solution, whilst the energy sector continues producing the lion’s share of emissions,” the Climate Council stated. “Information on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) remains unclear, with the report confirming details will be scarce until mid 2018.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg conceded that Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution has soared yet managed to sugar-coat the news by pointing to lower rates toward year’s end. And in just three short months he will be asking the states to endorse the national energy guarantee which appears destined to maintain old coal power stations while failing to back renewable energy.

Since the start of summer several coal plants have stalled: in mid December and on Boxing Day Loy Yang A power station in Victoria broke down; during a heatwave the Eraring plant on Lake Macquarie in NSW lost 275 MW; on new year’s day Tarong in Queensland failed, followed by Millmerran in Queensland; the Gladstone plant and Tallawarra in NSW.

Hardly an endorsement for the reliability of coal plants. However the Tesla mega-battery in South Australia came into its own in mid-December when Loy Yang failed, instantly springing into action to provide back-up power and smooth a series of major subsequent energy outages.

“Age, heat and the steady encroachment of renewables are destroying the only advantages coal-fired power stations ever had,” observed Fairfax economic editor Peter Martin. “Battery storage, pumped hydro, molten salt solar plants that can fire up overnight, and gas peaking plants are far more dispatchable … and reliable. The more we move away from coal the more secure our power system becomes.”

Both Victoria and the Northern Territory are now planning to install big batteries.

Victoria’s 20 MW battery which has the strong backing of the Andrews government will be built alongside a wind farm near Stawell in the state’s north west.

The NT is poised to install “the world’s second most powerful battery” – at around 25 to 45 MW – which is in line with the territory government’s plans for a 50 per cent renewable energy target for 2030. The cost of the battery is believed to be around $7 million and is clearly an investment in the future.

In related news, a timely new IRENA report has found that all renewable technologies will be competitive by 2020

with the “new age of renewable energy driven by technology improvements, competitive procurement, and a growing cadre of highly experienced, global project developers.”

The cost of generating power from solar PV has fallen by 73 per cent since 2010, and solar PV costs are expected to halve by 2020 with the “best” solar PV projects delivering electricity for an equivalent of USD 3 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), or less within the next two years, significantly below the current cost of power from fossil fuels.

Globally the cost of solar PV is down to US$0.10 per kWh. In comparison, the cost of electricity generation based on fossil fuels typically falls in a range of $0.05 to $0.17 per kWh. Concentrating solar power should cost in a range of $0.06-$0.10 per kWh by 2020-22.