Communities are taking renewable power into their own hands


Nicky Ison, University of Technology, Sydney and Ed Langham, University of Technology, Sydney

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.

Starting with solar

There are more than 60 groups across every state and territory in Australia developing community energy projects. The most popular are community solar projects.

While it’s clear that Australians love solar, there are more structural reasons why communities are starting with community solar projects.

Firstly, solar’s “scalability” means it can be easily tailored to a community’s energy needs. Groups can start with small projects and build their capacity and know-how.

Secondly, Australia has high retail electricity prices and low wholesale electricity prices. This means that business models such as community solar tend to stack up much better if they can reduce energy consumed at the meter, rather than competing with large coal-fired power generators in the wholesale market.

Indeed, the Coalition for Community Energy has recently released a guide to “behind the meter” models of community solar.

Going further

However, while many communities are starting with solar, many have more lofty ambitions, including the Zero Net Energy Town project in Uralla, NSW, the 100% Renewable Yackandandah initiative in Victoria, community bioenergy projects in Cowra and northern NSW, and many more.

This ambition and the potential of community energy in Australia led the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to fund the development of a National Community Energy Strategy, led by the Institute of Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney. This outlines a range of initiatives that are needed to grow the community energy sector in Australia and maximise the potential benefit of the energy transition to all communities.

Community energy projects are disruptive business models with financial and social value. The motivations for community energy are many and varied including wanting to act on climate change, wanting to reduce the amount of money that goes out of a community in power bills, and increasing social capital and community resilience.

We are starting to see the rise of community entrepreneurs innovating and developing new models, and in doing so reshaping the future of energy in their communities. With the support mechanisms outlined in the National Strategy, there is no reason that Australia can’t follow in the footsteps of other countries, to allow all communities across Australia to benefit socially and financially from the energy transition.

The Conversation

Nicky Ison is Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney.
Ed Langham is Research Principal at University of Technology, Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Given the value of emissions cuts, solar subsidies are worth it


Dylan McConnell, University of Melbourne

Earlier this week the Grattan Institute released the report Sundown, sunrise: how Australia can finally get solar power right. It looked at the cost of solar subsides and explored emerging challenges and opportunities for solar power to “find its place in the sun”, and generated widespread reports of its headline figure, that the cost of solar photovoltaic take-up has outweighed the benefits by almost A$10 billion dollars.

That figure (A$9.7 billion, to be precise) was generated by comparing the benefits of greenhouse emission reductions from solar, against the capital and maintenance costs. The first part of this calculation is therefore dependent on the assumed carbon price of A$30 a tonne, which gives a total benefit to society of A$2 billion by 2030.

The Grattan Institute’s analysis says that rooftop solar photovoltaic panels have come at a large cost to society. Figures (in 2015 dollars) refer to benefits and costs of solar PV systems installed from 2009.
Grattan Institute

But why A$30 per tonne? And what is the actual cost of carbon emissions?

The real cost of carbon

One metric commonly used is the “social cost of carbon”. This is an estimate of the economic damages from the emission of one extra unit of carbon dioxide (or equivalent). There is a huge range and debate about what the social cost of carbon really is.

Earlier this year, a paper in Nature Climate Change estimated the social cost of carbon to be US$220 per tonne. This significantly changes the cost benefit analysis.

Rooftop solar PV has come at a large cost to society Aggregate net present benefits and costs to society of solar PV systems installed from 2009, $2015, with a carbon price of $220 per tonne
Authors illustration

Last year, Nicholas Stern and Simon Dietz updated their internationally renowned model, finding that a carbon price between US$32 and US$103 was required today to avoid more than 2C of warming, (rising to between US$82-260 in 2035).

Other work suggests that should global greenhouse mitigation continue to be delayed, a carbon price of US$40 per tonne of CO2-equivalent would reduce the probability of limiting global warming to 2C by only 10–35%.

The Grattan report argued that “subsidies are expensive and inefficient”, but arbitrarily used a A$30 per tonne cost, significantly underestimating the most important subsidy: the fact that polluters are allowed to emit carbon dioxide for free.

While the choice of carbon price and costs significantly changes the calculus, looking only at the emissions and avoided generation really misses the point of the support mechanisms in the first place.

Why do we have renewable energy support mechanisms?

The Grattan report concludes that “Australia could have reduced its emissions for much less money”.

This is undeniably true. As the report points out, the federal government’s Emissions Reduction Fund has purchased emissions abatement at an average price of A$13.95 per tonne, and the Warburton review estimated the cost of the large-scale Renewable Energy Target to be A$32 per tonne up until 2030.

However, the objective of renewable energy policy is not solely for cheap and efficient emissions reductions. In fact, the objectives within the legislation of the renewable energy target are to:

  • encourage the additional generation of electricity;
  • reduce emissions of greenhouse gases;
  • ensure that renewable energy sources are sustainable.

It is not particularly fair to assess a support mechanism against objectives it was not designed to achieve. Only assessing the efficacy of the renewable energy target against emissions abatement efficiency misses an important component of renewable energy support policy: industry development.

Market mechanisms, such as carbon pricing, are widely acknowledged to be the most efficient method to reduce emissions. However, they are not sufficient by themselves and do not address other market failures.

In fact this is something that the Grattan Institute itself previously reported on in a previous report, Building the bridge: a practical plan for a low-cost, low-emissions energy future, which said:

Governments must address these market failures, beyond putting
a price on carbon

and

…in order to develop, demonstrate and deploy the technologies that are likely to be lowest cost in the longer time frame of meeting the climate change targets, further government action is essential.

As indicated, deployment policies are an essential policy to tool to develop the renewable energy industry, and ensure the lowest cost in the long term. Typically, in the context of renewable energy deployment policies sit between R&D on one hand, and pure market mechanism (such as carbon pricing) for mature technologies on the other.

Such deployment policies are essential to enable learning-by-doing and realising economies of scale. The cost reductions enabled by this simply cannot be developed in the lab, or be captured in the market by individual companies (due to knowledge and technology spillovers and other similar positive externalities).

The cost of reducing emissions

The report concludes that solar schemes have reduced emissions at a cost of A$175 per tonne to 2030. This figure has been derived by using the net present costs and for the emissions abated to 2030, which includes the capital cost of older and significantly more expensive systems.

If carbon costs were price at A$220 per tonne, the cost of abatement becomes negative, that is, a saving.

An alternative measure looks at the subsidy paid today. Households are currently purchasing solar systems subsidised by the RET at rate of approximately A$0.80 per watt installed, while receiving cost-reflective (unsubsidised) feed-in tariffs. Over an expected 25 year life, and an average grid carbon intensity of 0.85 tonnes per megawatt hour, the cost of abatement would be approximately A$28 per tonne.

Comparing this with the cost of abatement only a few years ago (in the order of several hundred dollars per tonne), the support mechanisms look very successful in delivering on objectives of industry development, and delivering cost reductions.

Most would agree that some renewable policies have previously been poorly implemented, and the Grattan report is right in highlighting these. However measuring their costs against objectives they were not intended to achieve is unfair.

The simple cost benefit analysis fails to incorporate all benefits of renewable energy support policy, and underestimates the avoided costs of carbon emissions.

The Conversation

Dylan McConnell is Research Fellow, Melbourne Energy Institute at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

India’s huge solar water pump plan highlights how solar could leapfrog the grid


Gigaom

The Indian government is looking to deliver one of the most ambitious projects involving solar-powered water pumps in the world. According to Bloomberg, the Indian government is looking to exchange 26 million ground water pumps, which now mostly run on grid electricity or diesel, with more efficient and solar-powered water pumps.

The country will spend $1.6 billion over five years on getting just the first 200,000 deployed, according to the article. Farmers will get the subsidies, and in exchange will also get water-saving systems so that try to help them not use more water than they did with the grid and diesel-connected pumps. Take these project numbers with a grain of salt, as the Indian government has a long history of make these types of goals more aspirational than concrete and viable.

India water pump

India’s power grid infrastructure has long been neglected, and as the population grows — and the…

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Seashore solar comes to Japan


Grist

Japan has been thinking creatively about electricity since the Fukushima meltdown nearly three years ago.

Dozens of nuclear power plants remain in the “off” mode while leaders and citizens tussle over whether nuclear power can ever be safe. That has left the gas-and-oil-poor country heavily dependent on expensive fossil fuel imports. So it has been turning to cleaner alternatives, using subsidies to help get tens of thousands of renewable energy projects off the ground. We told you recently that offshore wind turbines are being built near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, part of an effort to turn the contaminated region into a hub for clean energy.

And now, for another Japanese endeavor into safe, low-carbon energy, look again to the sea. Smithsonian Magazine reports:

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Nice: Google makes its 15th clean power investment . . .15th!!


Gigaom

Google has now made over a dozen commitments to back wind and solar farms. On Tuesday Google announced its 15th investment in clean power, with a plan to put $75 million into a wind farm in North Texas, just outside of the city of Amarillo, near the border with New Mexico.

The wind farm, called the Panhandle 2, is 182 MW — or enough wind capacity to power 56,000 U.S. homes — and is being developed by the Pattern Energy Group. It’s supposed to be up and running by the end of the year.

The deal is Google’s second investment in a wind farm in Texas. The first was a 240 MW project also just outside of Amarillo called Happy Hereford, which will be live in late 2014.

Wind power is one of the only forms of clean power that is competitive with natural gas and coal when built…

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The grinch that stole the coal industry’s Christmas


Grist

Coal industry executives can only wish Santa will leave them a lump of the black stuff in their stockings this Christmas. But as 2013 draws to a close, those stockings are likely to be empty as the pace of coal-fired power plant closures accelerates.

Market research firm SNL Energy estimates that coal-fired plants generating as much as 64,002 megawatts of electricity will be shuttered by 2021. That’s 5,000 megawatts more than SNL predicted in May. Just since that earlier projection, however, several energy companies and utilities announced they would close some big coal plants, including the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision in November to take out of service coal-fired power stations generating 3,100 megawatts. That would leave the government-owned utility in the heart of coal country reliant on nuclear and natural gas to generate the bulk of the region’s electricity.

That’s certainly good for the planet, given that coal is…

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Mangrove Forest Under Threat in Bangladesh


The world’s largest mangrove forest in Bangladesh is under threat from a proposal to build a coal-fired power plant.

For more visit:
http://e360.yale.edu/feature/a_key_mangrove_forest_faces_major_threat_from_a_coal_plant/2704/