Renewable energy – all the good news

Most of us know by now that we need to decarbonise the global economy – fast – if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Fortunately, the technology to do just that is booming, charging ahead so quickly that merely keeping up with the news is difficult.

Solar and wind power are demonstrating astonishing growth rates, with or without government incentives, now that their costs have dropped below the costs of new coal and (in many cases) gas; some time last year we even began hearing of cases in which it was cheaper to build and run new wind and solar power plants than just to run old coal plants.

Last year, for most of us, was the Year of the Battery. Tesla’s big South Australian battery did something its many little Powerwalls couldn’t, i.e., make battery storage seem like a serious option for the real world rather than just a cool idea. Bloomberg’s 2018 outlook report sees this continuing and allowing electric vehicles to undercut conventional, internal combustion engine cars on both lifetime and upfront cost by the mid-to-late 2020s.

The Green Path facebook page does its best to keep up with all this news but anyone wanting it all, and unfiltered, should bookmark or follow these sites:

RenewEconomy

Launched in 2012, RenewEconomy.com.au is an Australian website focusing on clean energy news Continue reading “Renewable energy – all the good news”

Ergon invests in wind power

Paying electricity bills is never a favourite occupation but the newsletter which came with my most recent account alerted me to good news I had missed: “Our new agreement with the Mount Emerald Wind Farm will increase the amount of renewable energy we’re purchasing by around 170 MW.”

I found an earlier but longer version of the same announcement on RenewEconomy, dated May this year:

Queensland is likely to get its first large scale wind farm after the regional electricity utility, Ergon Energy, offered a 12.5 year power purchase agreement for the 170MW Mt Emerald wind farm.

The wind farm, to be located about 50kms south of Cairns, is owned by Port Bajool and Ratch Australia Corporation, and was one of seven wind, solar and biomass projects short-listed by Ergon Energy in a tender for new renewable energy last December.

The other projects were two solar farms proposed by Spanish group FRV,  another solar farm from Lyon Infrastructure, Infigen Energy’s 75MW Forsayth wind farm, and a biomass project proposing to generate power from chicken pooh.

… The spokesman would not reveal the PPA price, other than to say that Ergon was “very happy” with the deal.

The Cairns Post was upbeat about it then, too …

DEVELOPERS behind Queensland’s largest wind farm expect to break ground on the Tablelands project early next year.

Ergon Energy has announced it will enter into an agreement to purchase all of the electricity generated by Mt Emerald Wind Farm, to be built at Walkamin, through to the end of 2030.

The $360 million project is a joint venture between Ratch Australia and Port Bajool. … Mount Emerald includes up to 53 turbines to potentially generate enough electricity to power 75,000 homes each year.

… apart from a cautionary note that the Queensland power industry (including Ergon) was starting from a very low base:

Of the 3500 megawatts (MW) of wind generation capacity currently in the country, Queensland only supplies around 12MW from wind farms at Ravenshoe and Thursday Island.

The wind farm’s own website has more information including a map.Walkamin is halfway between Atherton and Mareeba, and the wind farm will be just West of it.

The latest report in the Cairns Post was published only ten days ago:

CONSTRUCTION on the Tablelands’ Mt Emerald wind farm is expected to start in Dec­ember, following the selection of preferred contractors for the $360 million project.

Developer Ratch Australia has awarded its wind farm contract to Dutch manufacturers Vestas and the Sydney-based Downer Group. Vestas and Downer will share responsibility for the ent­ire 180MW project, including supply and construction of more than 50 turbines, a substation, cabling to the grid, civil and electrical works, and wind monitoring equipment.

The announcement follows Ergon Energy’s decision to purchase all of the electricity generated by the wind farm through to the end of 2030.

Congratulations to all concerned! It’s great to see our local supplier moving in the right direction. Let’s hope they follow up this project with many more.

Renewable energy in Europe

My holiday in Europe is beginning to fade from memory but there are still one or two subjects relevant to the concerns of Green Path that I would like to discuss. One of them is the visibility of renewable energy production. Rather than follow our itinerary I will work from North to South, so I begin in Scotland.

Wind power in Scotland: a view of Ardrossan from the Arran ferry
Wind power in Scotland: a view of Ardrossan from the Arran ferry

The most visible of the renewable energy sources was wind power. As we drove from Ayr to Edinburgh (clear across the width of Scotland but only a couple of hours in the car), a row of windmills was often in view on a hilltop or ridge; sometimes half a dozen of them, sometimes bigger groups as in the photo above. I noticed one rural enterprise (a piggery or chicken farm, perhaps – one huge shed, anyway) had gone it alone, with a two-bladed windmill rather smaller than the commercial units.

house with solar panels
Solar power at Doonfoot, just South of Glasgow

Solar power was obviously not so popular – and for really obvious reasons when you think about variability of day length this far from the equator and then factor in the reputation of Scottish weather. The example above is one of only two or three I saw in a town of several thousand houses.

Generator house
Older renewables – hydro power at Loch Lomond

Hydro-electric power is still in use and we saw two installations – this one feeding into Loch Lomond (1940s) and another at Loch Doon (1930s).

We didn’t spend any time in Holland but wind power was part of the scenery as we flew into and out of Schiphol on our way from Frankfurt to Glasgow.

Wind power in Holland: a neat row of windmills along the canal as far as possible from the neat rows of farmhouses
Wind power in Holland: a neat row of windmills along the canal, as far as possible from the neat rows of farmhouses

A constant complaint about wind power here in Australia is that the windmills “intrude on the landscape” or words to that effect, but after a week or so in Scotland I’m ready to say that’s nonsense: once the first strangeness wore off, they were no more intrusive than buildings or a row of pylons, and they are actually rather graceful.

Germany has invested more in renewable energy than most countries but it wasn’t at all obvious to us in Frankfurt or Heidelberg or on a side trip to a wine-growing region on the Rhine. Local conditions again need to be taken into account, and in Frankfurt we need to consider the nature of the housing stock.

blocks of apartments
Typical residential streetscape in Frankfurt

Most people live in apartment blocks like these, and one consequence is that the amount of roof space per household is one quarter of what it would be in a Australian suburb with its single storey houses. And most people rent their apartments, so they have no reason to invest in a roof-top system, even if they could get permission. Furthermore, Frankfurt is not the best part of Germany for solar power (see map).

Wikipedia’s article on renewable energy in Germany reveals that several technologies are contributing significant amounts of power – as of 2010, wind (about 50 000 GWh) was followed quite closely by biomass, hydro, photovoltaics and bio-waste (about 7 000 GWh). That, to me, is healthy, since (1) we need to take advantage of whatever is most readily available, and (2) a spread of sources will maximise energy security.

Finally, Turkey seems to be in catch-up mode. Again, local solutions will reflect local conditions. Hydro-electric and geothermal power is relatively well developed already, and solar power will be far more attractive than in Scotland but is presently limited; passive solar hot water systems are fairly common but photovoltaic systems are not (see wikipedia again).