What you will find on this page: hydrogen fuel reaches lift-off; Broken Hill goes solarfuture jobs & growth (report); our renewable future (book); complexity of energy systems (video); future integrated energy systems (video); community taking the lead (video); Germany an example (video); renewable energy transition; can renewables support status quo; global statistics (video); reality check; solar installation; wind generation; renewables info sites; bioenergy, biofuels, biomass, biogas; World Bioenergy Association fact sheets; controversy – native forests/biomass; bioenergy reports re Ballarat; bioenergy information & resource sites; also refer to pages “the mitigation battle” and “fossil fuel reduction” as the issues are closely related

What Will We Choose?

Hydrogen fuel reaches lift-off

1 July 2017, Climate News Network, Hydrogen fuel reaches lift-off. Using surplus electricity from renewables to make hydrogen fuel is starting a new era for all forms of heavy transport. LONDON, 1 July, 2017 – Trucks, trains and ships using hydrogen fuel cells for propulsion are no longer just theoretically possible: they have reached the trial stage. Decades of work on refining the technology have coincided with the need to store surplus energy from solar and wind farms when supply exceeds demand. And making and storing hydrogen from surplus renewable energy that can then be used as fuel for vehicles is good economic sense, according to the Norwegian research group SINTEFFuel cells are much lighter than batteries and with hydrogen fuel they provide a better method of propulsion for all sorts of freight and passenger transport. The only residue of burning hydrogen is water, so there is no pollution. Going mainstream Top-secret research and development has been going on since 1980 at SINTEF in an attempt to make fuel cells competitive with the internal combustion engine for transport. The technology is already used in some niche markets, but it is now expected to become mainstream, according to Steffen Møller-Holst, vice-president for marketing at SINTEF. He says: “In Japan, 150,000 fuel cells have been installed in households to generate power and heat, and in the United States more than 10,000 hydrogen-powered forklifts are operating in warehouses and distribution centres.” In Norway SINTEF has been working on advancing that technology. Engineers there also want to power forklifts, but they’re planning more: they want as well to power heavy duty trucks and passenger ferries with fuel cells. Read More here and also here for what is happening in Japan

Australia’s most famous mining town, Broken Hill, has gone solar. How did that happen?!

Post Carbon Institute – “Energy is at the heart of the human predicament in the twenty-first century, and we now face a transformational moment in our energy story. As we leave the age of seemingly cheap and plentiful fossil fuels and enter an era of extreme energy, the ever-rising financial, social, and environmental costs of fossil fuels can no longer be ignored. How we embrace this moment may well dictate the very future of our species — and millions of others.” 

“Renewable Energy: Future Jobs and Growth”

15 June 2016, Climate Council Report: The report finds that 50% renewable electricity by 2030 will create almost 50% more employment than our business as usual trajectory.

KEY FINDINGS

This report compares two scenarios for the national energy sector – business as usual renewable energy growth (34% renewable electricity in 2030) and 50% of electricity derived from renewable sources in Australia by 2030. Both scenarios show increased uptake of renewable electricity will create employment nation-wide.

  • 50% Renewable Electricity (50RE) scenario in 2030 will lead to over 28,000 new jobs, nearly 50% more employment than a business as usual (BAU) scenario.
  • Jobs are created in the construction, operation and maintenance of renewable energy installations, as well as in related industries.
  • Across the period 2014- 2030, over 80% of full-time employment created by 50RE is additional to the economy.
  • Job losses in coal fired electricity generation are more than compensated for by increased employment in the renewable energy sector. However, the transition for employees in the fossil fuel sector must be planned well.

 

The net effect on jobs of 50RE is positive across Australia and each individual state: every state will experience net job growth. Access full report here

 

“Our Renewable Future” 

Book (available online) by Richard Heinberg (Post Carbon Institute

INTRODUCTION: The next few decades will see a profound and all-encompassing energy transformation throughout the world. Whereas society now derives the great majority of its energy from fossil fuels, by the end of the century we will depend primarily on renewable sources like solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal power. Two irresistible forces will drive this historic transition. The first is the necessity of avoiding catastrophic climate change. In December 2015, 196 nations unanimously agreed to limit global warming to no more than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.[1] 

World-primary-energy-consumption-by-fuelFigure I.3. World primary energy consumption by fuel type, 1850–2014. Primary electricity converted by direct equivalent method. Source: Data compiled by J. David Hughes. Post-1965 data from BP, Statistical Review of World Energy (annual). Pre-1965 data from Arnulf Grubler, “Technology and Global Change: Data Appendix,” (1998).

While some of this reduction could technically be achieved by carbon capture and storage from coal power plants, carbon sequestration in soils and forests, and other “negative emissions” technologies and efforts, the great majority of it will require dramatic cuts in fossil fuel consumption. The second force driving a post-carbon energy shift is the ongoing depletion of the world’s oil, coal, and natural gas resources. Even if we do nothing to avoid climate change, our current energy regime remains unsustainable. Though Earth’s crust still holds enormous quantities of fossil fuels, economically useful portions of this resource base are much smaller, and the fossil fuel industry has typically targeted the highest-quality, easiest-to-access resources first. All fossil fuel producers face the problem of declining resource quality, but the problem is most apparent in the petroleum sector. During the decade from 2005 to 2015, the oil industry’s costs of production rose by over 10 percent per year because the world’s cheap, conventional oil reserves—the “low-hanging fruit”—are now dwindling (fig. I.1). While new extraction technologies make lower-quality resources accessible (like tar sands and tight oil from fracking), these technologies require higher levels of investment and usually entail heightened environmental risks. World coal and gas supplies have yet to reach the same higher-cost tipping point; however, several recent studies suggest that the end of affordable supplies of these fuels may be years—not decades—away.[2] We will be consuming fossil fuels for many years to come, no doubt; but their decline is inevitable. We are headed to a nonfossil future whether we’re ready or not. Access online book chapters here

14 January 2016, Climate News Network. Science opens routes to energy recycling. From turning carbon dioxide into a fuel to enabling cars to run on water, scientific researchers worldwide are unlocking the potential of new energy sources. Molecular biology has been used by scientists in the US to make a catalyst that can split water into hydrogen and oxygen. It means that a truly renewable biotechnological material could be used to help cars run on water. In China, chemists have announced a nanofabric – a catalyst put together atoms at a time – that could begin the process of turning the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide back into fuel. And with what seems like perfect timing, a new technological venture in Switzerland hopes to be the first commercial plant to harvest carbon dioxide from the air. The first two propositions are still in the laboratory stage, and the third has yet to prove its viability. But the laboratory advances keep alive the hopes of the ultimate in energy recycling. In the first process, water provides the energy for a chemical reaction that propels a vehicle, and then ends up again as water from the exhaust pipe of a car. And in the second, a gas released as emissions from fossil fuel could get turned back into fuel. Read more here

Want to understand the complexity of our energy usage? 

Post Carbon Institute has produced a primer that covers  basic energy concepts: net energy, energy density, embodied energy, energy slaves, and peak oil. It tours the energy terrain reviewing the major energy resources and their transportation methods, including conventional and unconventional oil, offshore oil, natural gas, shale gas, coal and nuclear, as well as renewables such as hydropower, geothermal, biofuels, biomass, wind and solar energy. An examination of globalized transport for moving fuel (pipelines and powerlines), and of emerging energy technologies (including hydrogen) and micropower (small-scale distributed energy generation). Read more here

Want to see what future integrated energy systems might look like?
Check-out Smart Grid Denmark: The intelligent power grid of the future. Denmark is a world leader when it comes to developing tomorrow’s green, flexible and intelligent power system – a power system where the generation, transport and consumption of power is linked intelligently. The energy system of the future is intelligent – we call it Smart Grid. This film tells you the story.

Community & local government taking the lead

The new model of energy distribution c/- ENOVA

Enova LogoType22 December 2015, ENOVA, Power to the People – Triumphant Finish for Enova Energy’s Capital Raising.  Enova Community Energy Ltd. announced today a highly successful near $3.8 million result for its capital raise (Offer closed 17 December), supporting a solid platform from which to launch Australia’s first community owned renewable energy retailer. “The people have spoken” said Enova Chair, Alison Crook.  “The Northern Rivers community has shown that it really wants to own its own power company and to influence the renewable debate in Australia.  And it has been supported in that by people from every state and territory in Australia who appreciate the significance of Enova’s goals,” said Ms Crook. “We have almost 1,100 investors, with 75% of voting shares held in the region, and an average holding of $3,000. This is a huge effort from the community and we certainly feel inspired by all the encouraging calls, emails and social media, the common theme being we must make this happen,” said Ms Crook. “We had an enormous rush of support in the last weeks following months of thinking we may just raise enough to establish, so we are thrilled with the result which is well above the minimum $3 million required, and just shy of the maximum $4 million target we set ourselves,” continued Ms Crook. “We are deeply committed to our investors and supporters to make Enova Energy the successful community enterprise that we have all planned,” said Ms Crook. Enova Energy has a renewable energy priority, a social and community focus with high ambitions as well as an innovative structure and approach. “The timing of the Paris Climate talks has raised the awareness that it is up to us on the ground to make change happen and to demonstrate the innovation that our politicians are at last starting to talk about,” said Ms Crook. Read More here

Community Benefits of ENOVA model

 5 June 2015, Renewal Economy, Looking for a thriving Australian renewables sector? Look to community projects: The past few years have been exhilarating in the world of renewable energy technology. The global price of solar PV has plummeted, while electric cars have gone from cramped novelties that might just get you to the supermarket and back, to work-horses that can take you right up the east coast of Australia. Effective, affordable home battery storage used to be something that a keen tinkerer might be able to stitch together at significant cost; now it’s a ‘coming soon’ consumer product that can be hung on the wall (thanks Tesla).

But while a global view of the sector might be exhilarating, here in Australia we’ve had a stark lesson in the effects of uncertainty on a market, as the RET review rolled on and on. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that uncertainty is a bit like pouring sand into an engine. Investment in utility-scale renewable energy projects has all but ground to a halt, some major global players have given up on the country altogether, and potentially thousands of jobs have been lost.

It is said, though, that creativity flourishes in times of scarcity. And one bright spot in the local sector must be the creativity, tenacity, and progress shown by the community renewables sector during the past 18 months. Community projects are driven by people who realise the urgency around Australia transitioning to a low-carbon economy, and know the critical importance of some ‘beacon’ community projects to show everyone what the future could look like. Check out the following community projects:

 Read More here

20 July 2015, One Step Off the Grid, Victorian community solar ‘bulk buy’ offer snapped up – 150 households in one month. The second round of a Central Victorian ‘bulk-buy’ community solar scheme has attracted 150 registrations for rooftop solar in just 29 days. Rooftop solar demand appears to be booming in rural Victoria, with 150 households from the shire of Mount Alexander registering to install a PV system in just 29 days, in the second round a community-based solar scheme. The solar bulk-buy initiative, called MASH2, launched a second-round offer less than a month ago, after a highly successful first round led to the installation of 225 solar systems in the Central Victorian shire. The scheme, coordinated by not-for-profit group the Hub Foundation, gives locals access to quality approved rooftop solar at a bulk-buy price. As in the first round, MASH2 offered the extra incentive to participants of promising to install two free solar systems on a community organisation after 100 systems had gone on rooftops. Read More here

18 June 2015, The Conversation, Communities are taking renewable power into their own hands: Australia, like much of the rest of the world, is in the midst of an energy transition. With falling electricity demand and the uptake of household solar panels in just under 1.4 million homes, the most important question is not whether this transition is happening, but how we manage it to maximise the benefit to all Australians.

Community energy is one of the answers. Community energy projects are those in which a community comes together to develop, deliver and benefit from sustainable energy. They can involve energy supply projects such as renewable energy installations and storage, and energy reduction projects such as energy efficiency and demand management. Community energy can even include community-based approaches to selling or distributing energy. Community energy projects allow individuals to be involved in clean energy beyond the bounds of their own homes or businesses and in so doing bring a range of benefits and opportunities for their household and for the wider community.

Global movement: Community energy has and continues to underpin the energy transition in countries like Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom and even the United States. The first modern wind turbine – Tvindkraft – was literally built by a community in Denmark in 1978. In Germany, 47% of the installed capacity is owned by citizens and communities while in Scotland there are now 249 community energy projects.

Here in Australia, while the community energy sector is still new, a recent baseline assessment found that there are now 19 operating community energy projects, which have as of the end of 2014 generated 50,000 megawatt-hours of clean energy – enough to power more than 9,000 homes. The community energy sector has already contributed more than A$23 million in funding for sustainable energy infrastructure. Some prominent examples of community energy in Australia include:

  • the international award-winning Hepburn Wind in Victoria – Australia’s first community wind farm;
  • Denmark Community Wind in Western Australia – Australia’s second community wind farm;
  • Repower Shoalhaven – a community-owned 100-kilowatt solar array on the Shoalhaven Heads bowling club on the New South Wales south coast;
  • Darebin Solar Savers in Melbourne – a project that saw the Moreland Energy Foundation put solar on the roofs of 300 pensioners, who use the savings to pay back the cost of the system through their council rates;
  • several donation-funded community solar projects on community buildings across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.
Read More here

An example of how countries are moving towards renewables.

26 August 2015, Renew Economy, Renewables cover almost 100% of German demand. On Sunday midday, close to 100% of the electricity demand in Germany was covered by renewable sources. A lot of sun and wind made this possible. Almost 100% of the electricity demand in Germany noon last Sunday was covered by PV and wind power. According to the evaluation by the forum “Together against interim storage, and for responsible energy politics” the PV plants at noon produced more than 24 GW of solar power. Wind power contributed more than 18 GW. The electricity consumption in Germany was at around 55 GW at this point of time as indicated by “Agorameter” which gather electricity data in the country. This demand is seen as pretty low, mostly a result of warm temperatures, the summer break and the weekend, when most commercial operations remained closed. But exactly at such points of time, it can be proven how renewables can come close to covering 100% of the demanded energy. Read more here

 Renewable Energy and the Energy Transition. With Germany as an example, this documentary video shows what renewable energies are and how they work as well as what the concept of energy transition means. The clip is part of the WissensWerte Project of the german non-profit organization /e-politik.de/ e.V.

 

Seven Surprising Realities Behind The Great Transition to Renewable Energy

The Great Transition details the growing renewable energy trend, focusing on falling prices and rising adoption for wind, solar, electric vehicles, geothermal energy, and energy efficiency; and the emerging turn from coal, nuclear power, oil, and traditional transportation that is happening faster than anticipated.

MAY 13, 2015 The global transition to clean, renewable energy and away from nuclear and fossils is well under way, with remarkable developments happening every day. The Great Transition by Lester Brown, Janet Larsen, Matt Roney, and Emily Adams lays out a tremendous range of these developments – here are seven that may surprise you.

1. Solar is now so cheap that global adoption appears unstoppable.

  • The price of solar photovoltaic panels has declined 99 percent over the last four decades, from $74 a watt in 1972 to less than 70 cents a watt in 2014.
  • Between 2009 and 2014, solar panel prices dropped by three fourths, helping global PV installations grow 50 percent per year.
  • Deutsche Bank notes that as of early 2014, solar PV was already competitive with average residential, commercial or industrial electricity rates in 14 countries, and in California – even without subsidies.
  • By late 2014 there were nearly 600,000 individual PV systems in the United States, almost twice as many as in 2012. This number may well pass 1 million in 2016.
  • In 2013, just 12 percent of U.S homebuilders offered solar panels as an option for new single-family homes. More than half of them anticipate doing so by 2016. Four of the top five U.S. home construction firms – DR Horton, Lennar Corp, PulteGroup and KB Home – now automatically include solar panels on every new house in certain markets.
  • In 2007 there were only 8,000 rooftop solar installations in coal-heavy Australia; now there are over a million. 
  • Saudi Arabia has 41,000 megawatts of solar PV operating, under construction and planned – enough to generate up to two thirds of the country’s electricity.
  • For the roughly 1.3 billion people without access to electricity, it is now often cheaper and more efficient simply to install solar panels rooftop-by-rooftop than to build a central power plant and transmission infrastructure.

2. Wind power adoption is rapidly altering energy portfolios around the world.

  • Over the past decade, world wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year, its increase driven by its many attractive features, by public policies supporting its expansion, and by falling costs.
  • By the end of 2014, global wind generating capacity totaled 369,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 90 million U.S. homes. Wind currently has a big lead on solar PV, which has enough worldwide capacity to power roughly 30 million U.S. homes.
  • China is now generating more electricity from wind farms than from nuclear plants, and should have little trouble meeting its official 2020 wind power goal of 200,000 megawatts. For perspective, that would be enough to satisfy the annual electricity needs of Brazil.
  • In nine U.S. states, wind provides at least 12 percent of electricity. Iowa and South Dakota are each generating more than one quarter of their electricity from wind.
  • In the midwestern United States, contracts for wind power are being signed at a price of 2.5¢ per kilowatt-hour (kWh), which compares with the nationwide average grid price of 10–12¢ per kWh.
  • Although a wind farm can cover many square miles, turbines occupy little land. Coupled with access roads and other permanent features, a wind farm’s footprint typically comes to just over 1 percent of the total land area covered by the project. 
  • Wind energy yield per acre is off the charts. For example, a farmer in northern Iowa could plant an acre in corn that would yield enough grain to produce roughly $1,000 worth of fuel-grade ethanol per year, or the farmer could put on that same acre a turbine that generates $300,000 worth of electricity per year. Farmers typically receive $3,000 to $10,000 per turbine each year in royalties. As wind farms spread across the U.S. Great Plains, wind royalties for many ranchers will exceed their earnings from cattle sales.

3. National and subnational energy policies are promoting renewables, and many geographies are considering a price on carbon.

  • Unfortunately, governments worldwide still subsidized the fossil fuel industry with over $600 billion, giving this aging industry five times the subsidy that went to renewables.
  • But by the start of 2014, some 70 countries, including many in Europe, were using feed-in tariffs to encourage investment in renewables.
  • Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) or quotas are in place at the national level in some two dozen countries. More than 50 states and provinces in various parts of the world have them as well, including 15 states in India and 29 states plus the District of Columbia in the United States.
  • Some 37 countries, including the US, have national production or investment tax credits for renewable energy.
  • Some 40 countries have either implemented or are planning national carbon pricing mechanisms. A May 2014 World Bank report counted a further 23 subnational jurisdictions pricing carbon. Seven regional cap-and-trade pilot programs are already under way in China, for example. When China rolls out its planned national cap-and-trade program in 2016, roughly a quarter of global carbon emissions will then be priced.

4. The financial sector is embracing renewables – and starting to turn against fossils and nuclear.  

  • The financial services firm Barclays downgraded the entire U.S. electricity sector in 2014, in part because in its view U.S. utilities are generally unprepared for the challenges posed by distributed solar power and battery storage.
  • In January 2013, Warren Buffett gave solar energy a huge financial boost when his MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company announced an investment of up to $2.5 billion in California in what is now known as the Solar Star project. At 580 megawatts, it will become the world’s largest PV project when complete in late 2015. MidAmerican had earlier bought the Topaz solar farm in California, now tied with Desert Sunlight, another California project, as the world’s largest at 550 megawatts. As of its completion in late 2014, Topaz can generate enough electricity to power 180,000 California homes.
  • Ted Turner has teamed up with Southern Power, a utility serving eight states from California to North Carolina, to acquire seven solar plants approaching a combined 300 megawatts. The largest is a 140-megawatt solar park in Imperial County, California that began operating in October 2013.
  • Large investment institutions, such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, are channeling tens of billions of dollars into renewable energy. Stuart Bernstein, who coordinates Goldman’s investment in this area, talks about “a transformational moment in time” as renewable energy takes off. Thinking long-term by investing in the transition to a cleaner energy future, he says, “will be important from a societal perspective, and it will be good business for us and our clients.”

 

5. Coal use is in decline in the United States and will likely fall at the global level far sooner than once thought possible.

  • U.S. coal use is dropping – it fell 21 percent between 2007 and 2014 – and more than one-third of the nation’s coal plants have already closed or announced plans for future closure in the last five years.
  • Major U.S. coal producers, such as Peabody Energy and Arch Coal, have seen their market values drop by 61 and 94 percent, respectively, as of September 2014.
  • The Stowe Global Coal Index – a composite index of companies from around the world whose principal business involves coal – dropped 70 percent between April 2011 and September 2014.
  • China still consumes more coal than the rest of the world combined, but usage fell in 2014, possibly signaling a peak in usage.
  • While India has not committed to cap or reduce its coal use, it recently doubled its tax on coal mined domestically or imported into the country – a revenue transfer that simultaneously discourages the use of coal and provides investment capital for solar generation.

6. Transportation will move away from oil as electric vehicle fleets expand rapidly and bike- and car-sharing spreads.

  • Bike-sharing programs have sprung up worldwide in recent years. More than 800 cities in 56 countries now have fully operational bike-share programs, with over 1 million bikes. In the United States, by the end of 2012 some 21 cities had 8,500 bikes in bike-share racks. By the end of 2016, this is expected to climb to over 70 cities with close to 40,000 bikes.
  • The share of carless households increased in 84 out of 100 U.S. urban areas surveyed between 2006 and 2011. And as urbanization increases, this share will only rise.
  • Car fleets are plateauing or have begun to shrink in most major car markets, including the U.S., Europe and Japan.
  • Car-sharing programs are expanding rapidly. The Frost and Sullivan research group projects that the 3.5 million drivers enrolled in car-share programs worldwide in 2013 will soar to 26 million by 2020.
  • Bloomberg New Energy Finance projected worldwide electric car sales would hit 300,000 in 2014, and while this is less than 1 percent of total auto sales, the industry is “in the process of passing through the credibility barrier.”
  • Ultimately EVs and PHEVs will challenge the dominance of traditional gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles, and this may happen sooner than most people realize.
  • The global financial services firm UBS projects that by 2020 battery costs will be slashed in half, making electric vehicles cost-competitive with traditional cars. With annual savings of up to $2,400 expected on fuel costs, the electric car becomes the obvious choice.
  • About 80 percent of the remaining oil reserves are held by national oil companies – not by private oil majors like ExxonMobil and BP, meaning that remaining access to oil will have geopolitical implications perhaps even beyond what we’ve seen to date.

7. Nuclear is on the rocks thanks to rising costs and widespread safety concerns.

  • For the world as a whole, nuclear power generation peaked in 2006, and dropped by nearly 14 percent by 2014.
  • In the United States, the country with the most reactors, nuclear generation peaked in 2010 and is now also on the decline.
  • U.S. nuclear power is becoming too costly to use, as the cost of operating aging U.S. plants is rising five percent per year.
  • The world fleet of nuclear power plants averages 28 years in age, begging the question of whether to repair older plants or simply close them.
  • Four U.S. reactors were retired in 2013 because it did not make economic sense to continue operations.
  • As of late 2014, some 31 countries were still operating nuclear power plants, but scarcely half as many – mostly countries with centrally planned economies – were building new ones.

For more information go here: The Great Transition

But can renewables support the status quo growth based economy? Probably not…

5 June 2015, Post Carbon Institute Fellow, Richard Heinberg thinks not. Read on to why he believes this: The world needs to end its dependence on fossil fuels as quickly as possible. That’s the only sane response to climate change, and to the economic dilemma of declining oil, coal, and gas resource quality and increasing extraction costs. The nuclear industry is on life support in most countries, so the future appears to lie mostly with solar and wind power. But can we transition to these renewable energy sources and continue using energy the way we do today? And can we maintain our growth-based consumer economy? The answer to both questions is, probably not. Let’s survey four important sectors of the energy economy and tally up the opportunities and challenges.

The electricity sector: Solar and wind produce electricity, and the fuel is free. Moreover, the cost of electricity from these sources is declining. These are encouraging trends. However, intermittency (the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow) still poses barriers to high levels of solar-wind electricity market share. Grid managers can easily integrate small variable inputs; but eventually storage, capacity redundancy, and major grid overhauls will be necessary to balance inputs with loads as higher proportions of electricity come from uncontrollable sources. All of this will be expensive—increasingly so as solar-wind market penetration levels exceed roughly 60 percent. Some of the problems associated with integrating variable renewables into the grid are being worked out over time. But even if all these problems are eventually resolved, only about one-fifth of all final energy is consumed in the form of electricity; how about other forms and ways in which we use energy—will they be easier or harder to transition?

The transport sector: Electric cars are becoming more common. But electric trucks and other heavy vehicles will pose more of a challenge due to the low energy density of battery storage (gasoline stores vastly more energy per kilogram). Ships could use kite sails, but that would only somewhat improve their fuel efficiency; otherwise there is no good replacement for oil in this key transport mode. The situation is similar, though even bleaker, for airplanes. Biofuels have been an energy fiasco, as the European Parliament has now admitted. And the construction of all of our vehicles, and the infrastructure they rely upon (including roads and runways), also depends upon industrial processes that currently require fossil fuels. That brings us to . . .

The industrial sector: Making pig iron—the main ingredient in steel—requires blast furnaces. Making cement requires 100-meter-long kilns that operate at 1500 degrees C. In principle it is possible to produce high heat for these purposes with electricity or giant solar collectors, but nobody does it that way now because it would be much more expensive than burning coal or natural gas. Crucially, current manufacturing processes for building solar panels and wind turbines also depend upon high-temperature industrial processes fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas. Again, alternative ways of producing this heat are feasible in principle—but the result would probably be significantly higher-cost solar and wind power. And there are no demonstration projects to show us just how easy or hard this would be.

The food sector: Nitrogen fertilizer is currently produced cheaply from natural gas; it could be made using solar or wind-sourced electricity, but that would again entail higher costs. Food products—and the chemical inputs to farming—are currently transported long distances using oil, and farm machinery runs on refined petroleum. It would be possible to grow food without chemical inputs and to re-localize food systems, but this would probably require more farm labor and might result in higher-priced food. Consumers would need to eat more seasonally and reduce their consumption of exotic foods.

In short, there are far more challenges associated with the energy transition than opportunities. There are potential solutions to all of the problems we have identified. But most of those solutions involve higher costs or reduced system functionality. Moreover, the energy dynamics of the transition itself will pose a challenge: where will the energy come from to build all the solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electric blast furnaces, and solar cement kilns that we’ll need? Building the fossil-fueled energy producing-and-consuming infrastructure of the modern world has been by far the greatest construction project in human history. It took over a century, and it’s still a work in progress. Now we’ll have to replace most of this vast infrastructure with something different—different energy generators, different cars, trucks, roads, buildings, and industrial processes, using different materials (no petroleum-based plastics, no asphalt). All of this will take time, money . . . and energy.

And there’s the rub. Where will the energy come from? Realistically, most of it will have to come from fossil fuels—at least in the early-to-middle stages of the transition. And we’ll be using fossil fuels whose economic efficiency is declining due to the depletion of existing stocks of high-quality oil, gas, and coal. Again, this implies higher costs. Why not just use renewables to build renewables? Because it would be slower and even more expensive. Yet the faster we push the energy transition, the more energy will have to be diverted to that gargantuan project, and the less will be available to all the activities we’re already engaged in (running the transport, manufacturing, communications, and health care sectors, among others).

The issues surrounding the renewable energy transition are complicated and technical. And there are far too many of them to be fully addressed in a short article like this. But the preponderance of research literature supports the conclusion that the all-renewable industrial economy of the future will be less mobile and will produce fewer and more expensive goods. The 20th century industrial world was built on fossil fuels—and in some ways it was built for fossil fuels (as anyone who spends time in American suburban communities can attest). High mobility and the capacity for ever-expanding volumes of industrial production were hallmarks of that waning era. The latter decades of the current century will be shaped by entirely different energy sources, and society will be forced to change in profound ways.

That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The globalized consumer society was always unsustainable anyway, and we might be happier without it. But unless we plan for the post-growth renewable future, existing economic institutions may tend to shatter rather than adapt smoothly. The fossil fuel and nuclear industries have an understandable interest in disparaging renewable energy, but their days are numbered. We are headed toward a renewable future, whether we plan intelligently for it or not. Clearly, intelligent planning will offer the better path forward. One way to hasten the energy transition is simply to build more wind turbines and solar panels, as many climate scientists recommend.

But equally important to the transition will be our deliberate transformation of the ways we use energy. And that implies a nearly complete rethinking of the economy—both its means and its ends. Growth must no longer be the economy’s goal; rather, we must aim for the satisfaction of basic human needs within a shrinking budget of energy and materials. Meanwhile, to ensure the ongoing buy-in of the public in this vast collaborative project, our economic means must include the promotion of activities that increase human happiness and well being. Source: Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute

 

Global Statistics

16 June 2015 REN 21: The newly released Renewables 2015 Global Status Report is now available. Find out what made 2014 another record year for renewables. First released in 2005, REN21’s Renewables Global Status Report (GSR) provides a comprehensive and timely overview of renewable energy market, industry, investment and policy developments worldwide. It enables policymakers, industry, investors and civil society to make informed decisions. The Renewables Global Status Report relies on up-to-date renewable energy data, provided by an international network of more than 500 contributors, researchers, and authors. Check out REN21’s Renewables Interactive Map for country specific data underlying the various trends highlighted in the GSR – click on image.

Infographic: Solar Power Made Massive Strides in 2013 | Statista

Source and more statistics at Statista

Wind generation gains 

4_21-1_global-annual-installed-wind-capacity-1996-2013

Reality Check

global_energy_percent 2013

Solar Installation

26 January 2015, The Conversation, There’s a sunny future ahead for rooftop solar power: here’s why: Over the past five years the world has seen a dramatic fall in the cost of solar energy, particularly rooftop solar panels or solar photovoltaic power. It is now a real alternative and considerable player in the power markets.

In Australia more than 4 gigawatts (peak generation capacity) of solar panels are mounted on more than a million Australian roofs to date, adding up to about 7% of Australia’s electricity generation capacity. As solar panels do not always produce all the electricity they possibly can, rooftop solar today contributes around 2% of Australia’s total electricity generation. But in some states during the day, solar’s contribution already reaches double digits. You can watch solar generation live here. But what’s next for rooftop solar? It’s likely that costs will continue to fall, eventually making solar the dominant source of electricity in many parts of the world including Australia. Here’s the evidence.

Falling costs: The following 2014 graph from investment bank Bernstein Research shows just how fast the cost of solar has fallen compared to other energy sources.

Bernstein Research comparing the cost for a million British thermal unit (mmbtu) of various liquid fossil fuels and solar EIA, CIA, World Bank, Author provided

The graph plots the price for one million British thermal units of various fossil fuels and solar power. It shows that the price for solar energy came down dramatically in comparison to fossil fuels and has just started to undercut the price for some of these such as petroleum and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Currently, solar panels in Australia produce energy at a cost of A10c per kilowatt hour or less, and it is likely that by 2020 this will fall to A6-7c per kilowatt hour or less. This puts solar power into a very competitive spot within the next five years.

Solar panels a cheap commodity: We can also look at the representative German spot-market price of solar panels, as in the following graph sourced from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE.

The more solar panels are made, the cheaper they become. Fraunhofer ISE, Germany, Author provided

This shows that as the cumulative production of solar panels doubles, the price is reduced by about 20% – prices are now 40 times lower than they were 30 years ago. This is known as the “learning curve”, and can be used to predict the future cost of solar panels, although it can’t predict the exact year when a certain price will happen as the production volume is correlated to market and policy forces.

Fundamentally, falling manufacturing costs are driving this trend, in turn driven by improving manufacturing techniques. By 2019it’s likely that manufacturing costs for solar panels will reduce by 30-50% again. Already today solar panels only cost around A60c per kilowatt peak capacity in Australia, and the cost of the panels no longer dominates the cost of installing a solar system on a roof or the ground. Other installation costs – such as mounting and labour – are more difficult to reduce, such that further installation reductions may be more challenging and slower. To enable further cuts to the price of solar energy, we need to foremost look at improving the efficiency of solar panels, which will most directly lower the total cost for solar power.

Cut costs by increasing efficiency: Solar panels don’t convert all the sun’s energy into electricity. What proportion they convert is known as efficiency. Efficiency is the most important factor in reducing the costs of solar – because the greater the efficiency of your panels, the fewer materials you need per amount of generated energy (that is, per kilowatt hour).

Efficiency is increasing across all solar panel technologies. Author provided

This graph above (from the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory) shows that all solar panel technologies have been getting more efficient. Currently commercial solar panel efficiencies are from 16% to 21%, but recently a new record of 46% was set in Germany. University of New South Wales has achieved efficiencies of 40%. So there is a lot of room for improvements generally, but also for current commercial solar flat panels.

Solar panel technology may be the technology with the greatest potential to improve efficiency compared with other renewable technologies.

What does the future hold? We can sum all of this up by looking at how much energy goes into producing solar panels versus how much they produce. A recent study has shown that in five years a solar panel will produce enough energy in six months to pay back all the energy used in manufacturing it. That means after six months the panels will be a net source of energy. This is known as energy return on energy invested – and we can compare it across a variety of energy sources. The energy return of oil and gas is declining, and solar is catching up. By 2030 solar will likely surpass oil and gas.

So from whatever angle you look at it, it seems clear that current and future developments will leave solar power from rooftops and grount-mounted plants as likely the most cost competitive primary source of energy in Australia. This competitiveness shall allow economically for a variety of solutions (e.g. storage, demand management, solar fuels) to address the variability of supply and thus extend the use of solar power from offsetting daytime peaks today to supplying 40, 50 or even 60% of the total energy needs. Source: The Conversation

 

Wind Generation

Nothing is ever as simple as one might think! 22 October 2015, Andrew Lang, some notes….

“I have just spent some time at a hearing for one local wind farm. A major part of the basis put forward for this was that its electricity generation and consequent GHG emission avoided is adequate reason for siting it where it is affecting up to 10% of the nesting and feeding sites for the remaining declining population of southern Brolga. The developer suggests that despite ignoring the regulatory set backs of turbines from nesting and feeding sites that there will be no significant impact on brolgas. The developers of Macarthur wind farm said pretty much the same and my understanding is that (in addition to killing 145 or so hawks and eagles in the short period since starting up) no successful nesting has taken place within the very large area of Macarthur wind farm site since start up, and it had a similar history as a significant region for brolga till then.
 
But my research indicates that wind farms do not avoid nearly the amount of emissions that are proposed in their environmental impacts submissions, and some papers from authoritative parties suggest that overall they might contribute only about 4% of their rated capacity as utilised electricity (as opposed to the claimed 30-40%). And that their avoided emissions are not 770 kg/MWh produced but closer to 10 kg, when all other factors get added in like the need for balancing power sources from gas. I am delving deeper (and trying to avoid the clearly-obsessed commentators both pro and anti-wind).
 
I am wondering just what the governments standing is on this. I found one oldish SV website debunking a number of ‘myths’ about wind that was clearly put together by the wind industry. I attach a paper (Wind power avoided emissions P Lang – written by a distant cousin with a long history in the energy industry) I found that it provides a coherent enough argument to show that there should be more of a look at this issue by government.
 

16 June 2015, Earth Policy Institute: In the global transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar energy, wind has taken the early lead. Wind is abundant, carbon-free, and inexhaustible. It uses no water, no fuel, and little land. It also scales up easily and can be brought online quickly. Little wonder that wind power is expanding so fast.

Over the past decade, world wind power capacity grew more than 20 percent a year, its increase driven by its many attractive features, by public policies supporting its expansion, and by falling costs. By early 2014, global wind generating capacity totaled 318,000 megawatts, enough to power more than 80 million U.S. homes. Wind currently has a big lead on solar PV, which has enough worldwide capacity to power more than 20 million U.S. homes.

The leaders in wind generating capacity are China and the United States. At the start of 2014, China had 91,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, followed by the United States with 61,000 megawatts. Germany ranked third, with 34,000 megawatts, followed by Spain and India with around 20,000 megawatts each. The United Kingdom, Italy, France, and Canada were clustered together in the 8,000–10,000 megawatt range.

With some impressive wind power achievements in several countries, it is becoming easier to visualize the new energy economy. In 2013, wind farms generated 34 percent of Denmark’s electricity. Portugal’s wind share was 25 percent. Spain and Ireland came in at around one fifth each. In fact, Spain’s wind farms overtook coal plants as that country’s number two electricity source in 2013 and narrowly missed overtaking nuclear power for the lead. Read More here

The real science on wind farms, noise, infrasound and health: In a radio interview this morning, Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised what he described as the “potential health impacts” of wind farms. Yesterday’s article in The Australian by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonjhelm highlighted some very good points about wind turbine noise and its effect on people living near them. People are complaining of a range of health related problems and are attributing them to wind turbines. The question is: what is the cause of these health problems?

Many blame the production of infrasound from wind turbines, yet this has not been proven to date. What is needed is new, comprehensive research to determine the true cause. These concerns are currently being aired through a Senate Committee on wind farms and regulations, chaired by independent senator John Madigan. Earlier this year the National Health and Medical Research Council found that there was no evidence that wind turbines directly affect health, but called for further research, particularly on the effects within 1.5 km of turbines.

I have been interested in how wind turbines produce noise, through a variety of research projects spanning several years. The most recent was an ARC Discovery project focusing on the fundamental noise-producing physics of wind turbine blades and the development of techniques to link personal annoyance with noise levels inside homes. My group and I have also investigated ways to reduce wind turbine noise by changing the shape of the blades and to steal ideas from owls, who have the ability to fly and hunt silently. So are Leyonjhelm’s claims correct? Let’s run through them. Read More here

 Renewables Information and Resource Sites

Bioenergy – biofuels; biomass; biogas

11 November 2016 – What is Agroforestry?  A French perspective of growing and using trees on farms in Australia

 

Waste to Energy: an interactive site to explain the process – access here (Confederation of European Waste to Energy Plants)

Gruppo P.A.N.A.C.E.A. In February 2012, the European Commission announced its “Strategy for a sustainable bio-economy to ensure a green smart growth in Europe.” The strategy and action plan were called “Innovation for Sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe”. The goal is to build an innovative economy, with low emissions, able to integrate the needs of a sustainable agriculture and fisheries, food security and the sustainable use of renewable biological resources for industrial purposes, while ensuring biodiversity and environmental protection. The plan focuses on three key areas: development of new technologies and processes for the bioeconomy; establishment of markets and competitiveness in the fields of bio-economy; promoting a more strictly link between policy makers and stakeholders.

June 2016, World Bioenergy Association: Global Bioenergy Statistics 2016: Data is crucial for sustainable development. In a post COP21 climate along with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), updated and reliable data should be the first priority. Data is the lifeline for decision making – without which designing, implementation and monitoring of policies is unachievable. Secondly, the lack of awareness on renewables is concerning. Such ignorance often leads to impartial observations on the role of renewables in the global energy mix. This is especially true for bioenergy. Bioenergy is the largest renewable energy source. This is not well communicated! The WBA Global Bioenergy Statistics report is one way of plugging the gaps in data and knowledge. The report aims to provide updated data on renewables and bioenergy in the global, continental and regional energy mix covering all sectors of bioenergy. Access full report here (While this is arguably the best resource in the world on the current status of the world’s largest source of renewable energy  – energy from biomass – it is also very good as a review of world energy production generally, and on production from the whole suite of renewable energy sources –  Andrew Lang)

The following comes from the 2011 report auspiced by CHAF, “Recommendations for Bioenergy Technology Projects for the Ballarat Municipality“. Within 80 km radius of Ballarat there are large amounts of four general types of biomass (including municipal wastes): agricultural dry residues, woody residues, municipal solid wastes and wet organic wastes. They are economically available in significant volumes, so they could potentially be used as sources of renewable energy using one or more mature bioenergy technologies. The energy forms would be as electricity, transport fuels, heat energy, and cooling.

Currently Ballarat sends hundreds of millions of dollars annually out of the regional economy to pay for importing gas, electricity and liquid transport fuels. About a third of energy ‘spend’ is from the domestic sector, about half from industry (including primary industries), and the balance from the commercial, institutional and retail sectors

At the same time, with the proposed growth plans for the coming four decades resulting in a population increase of over 50,000 residents, Ballarat needs many new permanent jobs (of the order of 10,000) and some distinctive development objectives and philosophies for the municipality that will begin to attract significant new industry and businesses.

As the reader will see (from Report Four and the appendices and base reports) it is possible using mature proven bioenergy technologies to produce a significant amount of our energy requirement regionally using regional biomass resources that are presently unutilised. Read More Ballarat Bioenergy Technology Final Report 2011 (note this pdf will open in same page)

World Bioenergy Association Fact Sheets

WBA Global Bioenergy Statistics 2015 Report: …. Among the renewables, biomass is still by far the most important renewable energy source. Solar and wind technologies have seen a tremendous growth in the past decade. But, in absolute terms, biomass supply during 2011 – 12 was equal to the supply of all other renewable energy sources combined. 86% of all the biomass supply is used in end-use sectors for heating and cooking applications. Biomass supply is categorized into three sectors: agriculture, forestry and wastes. The global agricultural area has reduced by 14 million ha during 2000 – 2012. An overview of major crops for agriculture shows that, for example, in the world scenario, a 27% increase in yield (during 2000 – 2012) and a 35% increase in area have led to almost doubling the production of maize. Productivity gains in agriculture based on the use of better varieties, improved soil management, weed control and better education of farmers etc. had the same impact as 23% additional land availability. Also, there is a lot of potential to use agricultural residues for energy generation – an estimated 3.6 to 17.2 billion tonnes of residues are available globally. Forestry sector is the largest contributor to biomass supply with a share of 87% – in the form of woodfuel, charcoal, residues etc. The forestry area globally has decreased by 1.6% during 2000 – 2013. Woodfuel is a major biomass supply source, which is used for cooking, heating or power production. In 2013, 1.9 billion m3 of fuelwood was produced globally out of which almost 75% was produced in Africa and Asia. The final biomass supply sector is waste to energy. Europe produced 0.4 EJ of energy from renewable municipal waste in 2012…..Access full report here

WBA Fact sheets 

WBA fact sheets present an unbiased overview of bioenergy technologies and are a guiding tool for policy makers, researchers and companies. The objective of drafting and publishing fact sheets is to bring rational arguments in the public discussion and to support the development of bioenergy. 

FACT SHEET: Biofuels are a green alternative to fossil fuels in the transportation sector.

Along with satisfying basic energy needs, they reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide energy security and support regional development. Conventional biofuels (also referred to as 1st generation biofuels) are being produced globally with a current production volume of more than 100 billion litres annually. Access to PDF for more information.

FACT SHEET: Pellets are a solid biomass fuel, mainly produced from wood residues but also from agricultural by-products such as straw.

They have a cylindrical form with a diameter of 6 – 12 mm. Specific advantages of pellets as compared to unprocessed biomass include: standardized properties, high energy content, high density and therefore reduced costs for transport, storage and handling. Pellets are used for residential heating in pellet stoves and pellet boilers, for the generation of heat, steam and electricity in the service industry, manufacturing and power generation. Access to PDF for more information.

 

Controversy & Confusion – you decide

15 May 2015 - Biomass and Native Forests: Part of their long time campaign ACF recently provided a list of ten reasons why burning native forests for electricity should not be included in the RET. The list follows:

1.      Including native forest burning in the RET will restrict the uptake of real renewables: Renewable energy targets can be more than met by wind, solar and other genuinely renewable energy sources.  If burning the lungs of our land is allowed to be classified as renewable, it would take credits and assistance from the real renewable energy industry, especially from new, large-scale solar thermal and solar PV plants.

2.      Logging and burning native forests releases a lot of CO2 pollution: The purpose of the Renewable Energy Target is to encourage the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs in clean energy.  Burning native forest biomass for electricity generation is contrary to this purpose as it depletes forest carbon stocks.  Most estimates consider it to have a similar carbon intensity to burning coal.  Protecting Australia’s native forests would reduce emissions by tens of millions of tonnes of carbon per year.

3.      Native forests are more valuable left intact, sequestering huge stores of carbon: Australia’s native forests contain around 13,067 million tonnes of carbon, close to 24 times our annual national emissions profile (535.9 Mt).  Leaving these forests standing contributes much more to the effort to tackle climate change than chopping them down and burning them.  The carbon they hold, if burned, will simply add to greenhouse emissions and undermine other renewable energy sources.  The Climate Commission’s 2011 report ‘The Critical Decade’ recognises the protection of native forests as a key climate change mitigation strategy.

4.      Including biomass in the RET would drive deforestation: Eastern Australia was recently highlighted as a global deforestation hotspot.  Using native forest wood as fuel for biomass power is extremely inefficient.  A lot of wood is needed to make a small amount of electricity.  Biomass power plants need an ongoing source of wood for fuel.  This would increase pressure on Australia’s remaining native forests and become a major new driver for deforestation.

5.      If biomass electricity is allowed in the RET, whole trees will be used to fuel the furnaces: The definition of ‘waste’ already used by the woodchip industry is any tree not suitable for saw-logging.  This ranges from 30–75 per cent of the total volume, and in some instances up to 90 per cent, of the wood removed from a logged forest.

6.      Burning forests for energy will mean increased subsidies for an industry that is already heavily subsidised by taxpayers: The logging industry in every state is unsustainably propped up by millions of taxpayer dollars every year.  There is no indication a native forest biomass industry would be able to stand on its own without government subsidies.

7.      It would be dangerous to human health: Burning native forest wood releases toxins harmful to the health of nearby communities. Wood dust is a known carcinogen and exposure is associated with skin disease, increased asthma, chronic bronchitis and nasal problems.  The available data, now established and documented, may leave federal and state governments open to legal challenges by individuals affected by sustained wood burning.

8.      The conservation values of Australia’s native forests are already under threat: Australian forests have been over-exploited for decades to meet unrealistic supply contracts.  We face a wildlife extinction crisis in many regions of Australia.  Loss of habitat from logging is a major cause.  Throughout the country logging degrades vast tracts for native forest, reducing water quality and quantity in catchments and lessening rain-making capacity.  The Australian Forest Products Association wants Australia to burn forest biomass, like Europe does, but most European forests are plantations, not natural forests.  There are different climates, water supplies and industry economics.

9.      It would have poor employment outcomes: The native forest biomass power industry would be a very small employer.  Australia has the capacity to power the whole energy sector with renewables like solar and wind.  The Renewable Energy Target has already generated more than 24,000 jobs in clean renewable energy industries and is forecast to generate tens of thousands more.

10.  Australians don’t want it: A May 2015 Reachtell poll in the federal seats of Eden Monaro and Corangamite found most voters would be less likely to buy electricity from a company that produced it from burning forests.

I asked Andrew Lang, Vice President of the World Bioenergy Association and the board member representing Australasia-Oceania, to respond to each of the points raised by ACF. His response follows:

1. Including native forest burning in the RET will restrict the uptake of real renewables – Response: There are a number of issues being mixed up here. One assumes ‘native forests’ will be burned (when this is restricted by current legislation in most if not all states), one suggests that biomass to energy is not a ‘real renewable’ (when it happens to be the main renewable worldwide), and one proposes that this use of native forest residue is going to be economic to produce electricity (when in absence of a very high carbon tax it is not economic, and even with a high carbon tax extraction and chipping of native forest harvest residues is very marginal).

2. Logging and burning native forests releases a lot of CO2 pollution – Response: CO2 is a gas that is in high concentration in the air we breathe and is not ‘pollution’. Thinning or harvesting of trees is not a source of significant greenhouse gas emissions. Only if a forest is cleared totally to make way for farmland is there a higher GHG release. Presently this only happens in other countries with far worse governance (who currently supply a lot of our appearance and furniture hardwoods). Here clearance of native vegetation is very tightly controlled, and there are high penalties including jail terms.

3. Native forests are more valuable left intact, sequestering huge amounts of carbon – Response: Intact native forests in Australia do a lot of things, including burn in the fierce wildfires that release vast amounts of carbon, totally devastate wildlife, cause major erosion, destroy property and kill people. In practice a mature ‘climax’ forest does not continue to sequester additional atmospheric carbon. The only way to sequester additional carbon is to remove some wood, so that the carbon is stored in wood product (i.e., part of most of the buildings in Australia), possibly use some to displace use of fossil fuels for energy including heat and electricity, and grow a new generation of trees on that logged area that will sequester extra atmospheric carbon.

4. Including biomass in the RET would help drive deforestation – Response: Biomass is a major source of renewable energy in almost every other OECD country, and in those countries the land area under forestry overall is increasing and guidelines for sustainability are extremely tight. In practice, with Australia including biomass in the RET would bring us in line with other OECD countries, allowing the opening-up of development of bioenergy in a far more intelligent way, to use all types of biomass that at present are not utilised. This would result in more farm forestry establishment (up to 10 million ha) and bring about the greatest fall in real GHG emissions due to any renewable – all with minimal or zero use of native forestry logging residues.

5. If biomass electricity is allowed in the RET whole trees will be used to fuel furnaces – Response: The production of electricity in Australia is based on the very low cost fuels of brown and black coal. This means the wholesale price being paid for our electricity is way too low to allow the use of native forest logging wastes as a fuel to compete even with a REC payment. The economics of chipping trees and transporting this material a considerable distance would mean that woodchip delivered to a plant would be double the price per unit of energy of natural gas, and over four times the price of black coal.

6. Burning forests for energy will mean increased subsides for an industry that is already heavily subsidised by taxpayers – Response: This point presupposes that that any native forest residue would be handled by state forestry organisations and that this would be at a loss. While the financial reports of an entity such as VicForests show that it is not heavily subsidised, if at all, it is far more likely that any removal of native forest logging residue would be a job done by independent contractors. However, as previously stated, the costs of doing this would usually be far too high.

7. It would be dangerous to human health – Response: If a modern high efficiency furnace boiler was to be used to burn any wood it would have levels of particulate or other emissions that are almost undetectable by the monitoring systems invariably fitted. Emissions of nitrous oxides and sulphur containing compounds are extremely low compared to even a modern coal fired plant. The mention of ‘wood dust’ suggests that the writer of this point is totally uninformed.

8. The conservation values of Australia’s native forests are already under threat – Response: Of course they are. And the threat comes from feral animals and pest plants, unrestricted 4WD access into fragile areas, and more ‘treechangers’ living within forested areas. Part of the threat, paradoxically, comes now from bodies like the ACF in irrationally blocking development of bioenergy. But most critically, the forests are at risk due to warming of the atmosphere, with the risk of loss of whole tree species from eco-systems. The higher temperatures and higher evapo-transpiration rates, drying of forest litter and extremes of weather including lightning storms – all mean far greater risks of fire and more frequency of catastrophic forest fires. An organisation like ACF, if it is serious about its concern for forests and eco-systems, would be supporting all practical means of reducing GHG emissions and improving the sustainability of native forest operations, including of fuel reduction thinning around forest communities and maintenance of the economically healthy forestry communities, with their knowledge of forest tracks and water points, and management of a mosaic of logged and unlogged areas.

9. It would have poor employment outcomes – Response: The fact is that, of all the renewable energy sources, bioenergy is the one that results in the highest creation of permanent jobs per unit of energy actually produced, while at the same time being one of the most cost-competitive energy sources (on a capital cost per unit of energy capacity or on a levelised cost of production basis), the only one that can provide all the energy forms: heat, electricity and transport biofuels, and the one most associated with increases in carbon sequestration. It also provides many other economic, social, and environmental benefits, principally in rural and regional areas.

10. Australians don’t want it – Response: The reality is that due to campaigns like this one and the many that precede it, most Australians are deeply confused about renewable energy. The statistic quoted is meaningless without providing the initial questions (so we can see if they are framed to elicit the desired answer), telling us the way the information was gathered (was it at a meeting of ACF members), and providing the number of the sample (were there only 20 in the room at each site). What Australians don’t want is to have an annual repetition of the Black Saturday fire or the Black Friday fire, or the regular massive fires in the Blue Mountains or in the Australian high country, or of the fires that burned into the outer suburbs of Canberra, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney or Hobart. What Australians don’t want are the massive death toll of native animals and devastation by wildfire of whole eco-systems.

The Clean Energy Council has a “Myths and Facts” sheet covering much the same points. Bioenergy-Myths-and-Facts (CEC 2012)

More information – not sure if the confusion is dissipating…

5 June 2015, Renew Economy, Burning ambition: Why the forestry industry needs the RET: On Wednesday, shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler moved an amendment to the RET legislation on behalf of the Labor opposition, that would disqualify native forest biomass as an eligible fuel source for renewable energy credits in the legislation itself. The fate of the amendment will be decided on the cross bench in the Senate on or after June 15, when parliament resumes sitting….For an industry that could only ever be ‘marginal’ and ‘localised’, the forestry industry lobby has fought hard for this change. It has a dedicated ally in the Coalition government, which has now made good on its pre-election promise to make native forest biomass an eligible fuel source under the RET. Read More here

Outcome of RET decision

25 June 2015, The Conversation, Burning wood: an opportunity for renewable power and heat: Burning some wood waste from native forests will be counted as renewable energy under revisions to the Renewable Energy Target (RET) passed this week. Environmental groups and the Greens have criticised the move as possibly encouraging the logging of native forests. Burning wood waste was included in the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act (2000). Under the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Regulations 2001, harvesting native forest just for energy generation was explicitly not eligible. Until 2011 some wood waste from native forest harvesting was eligible. The latest revisions reinstate some native wood waste under the legislation with the restrictions that existed until 2011.

The RET legislates that, by 2020, 33,000 gigawatt hours of electricity must be generated by renewable energy. This includes wind, solar, hydro, tidal and various bio-energy sources. The scheme works through the creation of certificates for energy generation, and the requirement for liable entities to purchase these certificates. The latest revisions cut the RET from 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh and make burning wood waste from some native forest harvesting eligible for certificates under tight restrictions. However, as recognised in the relevant legislation and as shown by developments in Europe, burning wood waste from a variety of sustainable sources offers great potential as another source of renewable heat and electricity. Read More here

Reports & Submissions Relevant to Ballarat

Bioenergy Information & Resource Sites