Government targets emerging technologies with $1.9 billion, saying renewables can stand on own feet


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has unveiled a $1.9 billion package of investments in new and emerging energy and emission-reducing technologies, and reinforced its message that it is time to move on from assisting now commercially-viable renewables.

The package will be controversial, given its planned broadening of the remit of the government’s clean energy investment vehicles, currently focused on renewables, and the attention given to carbon capture and storage, which has many critics.

The latest announcement follows the “gas-fired recovery” energy plan earlier this week, which included the threat the government would build its own gas-fired power station if the electricity sector failed to fill the gap left by the scheduled closure of the coal-fired Liddell power plant in 2023.




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Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


Unveiling the latest policy, Scott Morrison said solar panels and wind farms were commercially viable “and have graduated from the need for government subsidies”.

The government was now looking to unlock new technologies “to help drive down costs, create jobs, improve reliability and reduce emissions. This will support our traditional industries – manufacturing, agriculture, transport – while positioning our economy for the future.”

An extra $1.62 billion will be provided for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to invest.

The government will expand the focus of ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to back new technologies that would reduce emissions in agriculture, manufacturing, industry and transport.

At present ARENA can only support renewable energy and the CEFC can only invest in clean energy technologies (although it can support some types of gas projects).

The changes to ARENA and the CEFC will need legislation.

The government says it will cut the time taken to develop new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) methods from two years or more to under a year, involving industry in a co-design process.

This follows a review of the fund, which is a centrepiece of the Coalition’s emissions reduction policy. The cost of the changes is put at $24.6 million. The fund has had trouble attracting proposals from some sectors because of its complex administrative requirements.

Other measures in the policy include a new $95.4 million Technology Co-Investment Fund to support businesses in the agriculture, manufacturing, industrial and transport sectors to take up technologies to boost productivity and reduce emissions.

A $50 million Carbon Capture Use and Storage Development Fund will pilot carbon capture projects. This technology buries carbon but has run into many problems over the years and its opponents point to it being expensive, risky and encouraging rather than discouraging the use of fossil fuels.

Businesses and regional communities will be encouraged to use hydrogen, electric, and bio-fuelled vehicles, supported by a new $74.5 million Future Fuels Fund.

A hydrogen export hub will be set up, with $70.2 million. Chief Scientist Alan Finkel has been a strong advocate for the potential of hydrogen, saying Australia has competitive advantages as a future hydrogen exporter.

Some $67 million will back new microgrids in regional and remote communities to deliver affordable and reliable power.

There will be $52.2 million to increase the energy productivity of homes and businesses. This will include grants for hotels’ upgrades.

The government says $1.8 billion of the package is new money.

Here are the details of the package:

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No, Prime Minister, gas doesn’t ‘work for all Australians’ and your scare tactics ignore modern energy problems


Samantha Hepburn, Deakin University

The federal government today announced it will build a new gas power plant in the Hunter Valley, NSW, if electricity generators don’t fill the energy gap left by the Liddell coal-fired station when it retires in 2023.

The government says it’s concerned that when the coal plant closes, there’ll be insufficient dispatchable power (that can be used on demand) because the energy sector is focused on accelerating renewable energy at the expense of reliability. So electricity generators are required to come up with a plan to inject 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable energy into the national grid.




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Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


This is tantamount to an ultimatum: if we must have renewables, then prove they generate the same amount of electricity as fossil fuel or we will go back to fossil fuel.

The government’s joint media release has this to say:

This is about making Australia’s gas work for all Australians. Gas is a critical enabler of Australia’s economy.

But under a rapidly changing climate, the issue is not just about keeping the lights on. We not only want energy, we also want to breathe clean air, have enough food, have clean and available water supplies, preserve our habitat and live in a sustainable community. So no, gas doesn’t “work for all Australians”.

Adapting to a new energy future is a complex process our national government must not only support, but progress. It should not be hijacked by fossil fuel politics.

Scare-tactics won’t resolve the climate emergency

The government’s scare tactic completely ignores the two fundamental imperatives of modern energy.




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The first is the critical importance of decarbonisation. Energy production from fossil fuels is the most carbon intensive activity on the planet. If we are to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and stay within 2℃ of global warming, we cannot burn fossil fuels to produce energy.

The government shouldn’t revert to outdated fossil fuel rhetoric about “reliable, dispatchable power” during an accelerating climate emergency.

The second is it’s in the public interest to support and invest in energy that’s not only environmentally sustainable for the future, but also economically sustainable. Demand for fossil fuels is in terminal decline across the world and investing in new fossil fuel infrastructure may lead to stranded assets.

We need to address the ‘energy trilemma’

The question the government should instead focus on is this: how can the government continue to supply its citizens with affordable, reliable electricity but also maintain a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and high air quality standards?

Answering this question involves addressing a three-part set of tensions, known as the “energy trilemma”:

  1. sustainable generation that is not emission intensive
  2. infrastructure reliability and
  3. affordability.

The energy trilemma is a well-known tool in the sector that powerfully communicates the relative positioning of each tension. No single axis is necessarily more important than the other two. The aim is to try to balance all three.

Constructing a new gas plant seeks to address the second pillar at the expense of the first. This isn’t good enough in the face of the climate emergency.

Gas fired electricity can emit methane. Over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, and 28 times more effective over 100 years.




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The affordability pillar is also important. Morrison says constructing the plant will prevent energy price spikes. But research clearly confirms renewable energy generation is cheapest.

What is it with the federal government and gas?

After first informing us gas will help bolster the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic, this new announcement makes it clear the federal government is firmly wedded to gas.

This may be because the federal government regards adherence to gas as a compromise between the renewable sector and the demands of the fossil fuel industry.

In any case, we cannot and must not revert to fossil fuel energy generation. We must abandon past behaviours if we’re to adapt to a changing climate, which is set to hit the economy much harder than this pandemic.

Most Australians have derived their assumptions about energy security from fossil fuel dependency, because this is what they have known. The good news is this is changing.

Increasingly, the global community understands it’s not sustainable to burn coal or gas to generate energy just because we want to be “sure” we can turn the lights on. Consumer preference is shifting.




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This is something BP recognises in its 2020 Energy Outlook report, which outlines three scenarios for the global energy system in next 30 years.

Each scenario shows a shift in social preferences and a decline in the share of hydrocarbons (coal, oil and natural gas) in the global energy system. This decline is matched by an increase in the role of renewable energy.

I’ll say it again: renewable energy is the future

The technology underpinning renewable energy production from clean, low-cost generation such as wind, solar, hydro-electricity, hydrogen and bio-mass is advancing.

Renewable energy generation is sustainable, better for the environment, low in emissions, and affordable. Reliability is improving at a rapid rate. A recent report indicates electricity generated by solar photovoltaic (PV) and onshore wind farms from 2026 will overtake the combined power production from coal and gas.

The combined solar and wind capacity will grow to an estimated 41.4 gigawatts in 2023 from 26.4 gigawatts this year. By contrast, coal and gas capacity will shrink to 35.3 gigawatts in 2023 from 39.1 gigawatts this year.

The report is based on the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) Step Change Scenario, which models a shift to renewables. It includes rapid adjustments in technology costs and a “well below 2℃” scenario as part of its 20-year planning blueprint.




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Yes, there are challenges in shifting from a centralised grid and developing new transmission capacity.

But these are the challenges we need to be investing in. Not a new gas plant that’s likely to be a stranded asset in the not-too-distant future.The Conversation

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Morrison signs up to the gas gospel, but the choir is not in tune


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

If Labor were threatening to build a power station, the Liberals would likely be screaming “socialists”.

As for a Coalition government contemplating such a thing — well, to say the obvious, it hardly fits with the Liberals’ stated free market, private enterprise philosophy. But hey, neither does the hyper-Keynesian support package to cushion the economy through the pandemic.

Only a few within its own ranks would dispute the government’s COVID mega spending, whatever the ideological contradiction. And they’re keeping their voices to private whispers.

The gas power plant is another matter, and it will be fascinating to see how the debate plays out if the threat turns into reality.




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Morrison government threatens to use Snowy Hydro to build gas generator, as it outlines ‘gas-fired recovery’ plan


The threat is part of the go-with-gas policy unveiled by Scott Morrison this week, spruiked as driving a “gas-fired” recovery, especially for manufacturing. This sounds suspiciously like a three word slogan that promises more than it is likely to deliver.

But Morrison has signed up to the church of gas, whose pastors include Nev Power, chairman of the prime minister’s COVID-19 commission and Andrew Liveris, the head of its (now defunct) manufacturing taskforce, which delivered a pro-gas report. Morrison this week referenced his discussions with Liveris at Kirribilli House.

Much of the gas plan is broad and aspirational at this stage. But the threat is specific enough, and Morrison adopted a grim, school teacher tone when he delivered it in his speech at Newcastle unveiling the policy.

He said the electricity sector must lock in by April investments to deliver 1,000 megawatts of new dispatchable energy to replace the Liddell coal-fired power station before it closes in 2023. Or else. The government-owned Snowy Hydro was working on options, Morrison said.

Going back to Malcolm Turnbull’s time, the government conducted — and lost — a bitter battle with AGL over the planned Liddell closure. It exerted maximum pressure on the company to extend the life of the station, or alternatively, sell it, but to no avail.

The gas policy, especially the threat, hasn’t gone down well — with the energy sector or environmentalists. And it’s come under criticism from experts and even within Coalition ranks.

The Australian Energy Council, representing investors and generators, warned the spectre of a government gas generator could put off private investors.

Environmentalists are against gas anyway, whoever produces it, because it is a fossil fuel and therefore has emissions, albeit not as bad as coal.

The Nationals Matt Canavan, who not so long ago was resources minister, says if a new power station is to be built in the Hunter region it should be coal-fired.

And the director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, Tony Wood, says the government’s claim that 1000 megawatts of new dispatchable capacity is needed isn’t supported by the advice from its own Liddell taskforce.




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More generally, Wood argues the idea of a gas–led recovery “is a mirage”.

He says east coast gas prices are unlikely to fall to very low levels and anyway, even very low prices would not stimulate major economic activity. “Investing in more gas infrastructure in the face of climate change looks more like a herd of stampeding white elephants,” is Wood’s blunt assessment.

“Gas is very likely to have a role for some time to balance solar and wind. This role will be important but diminishing in volume and the pace of change will be determined by the relative economics of gas versus storage technologies and hydrogen.”

Some see the government’s big takeup of gas as a way of walking away from coal, without fanfare. The government denies this, but it would fit with Morrison’s middle-course pragmatism.

That pragmatism is reflected in the week’s other major energy announcement, for $1.9 billion investment in new and emerging technologies to lower emissions.

Morrison explicitly spelled out the government’s view that renewables, notably solar and wind, have boomed commercially and can take care of themselves.

The policy looks both backwards and forwards.

Backwards, with its support for carbon capture and storage (CCS) which — leaving aside its problems as a technology — is an encouragement to fossil fuels.

Forwards, by extending support to a wide range of technologies of the future.

Critics don’t like the proposed expansion of the remit of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) beyond supporting renewables.

If the government can get the legislation through the Senate, these bodies would be able to back a wide range of projects, including CCS.

The government is also clinging to its Emissions Reduction Fund, which has had trouble attracting proposals. It plans to reform the fund’s processes.

Taken as a whole and leaving aside the arguments about their efficacy, this week’s decisions have a clear political element. They are relatively risk averse within the Coalition, the threatened power plant notwithstanding.

Energy has been such a fraught area for the government that Morrison is very aware of juggling the conflicting forces within his ranks.




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Government targets emerging technologies with $1.9 billion, saying renewables can stand on own feet


The internal coal lobby, spearheaded by Canavan but wider than him, will continue to mutter. The crunch will come when the government’s feasibility study for a Queensland coal-fired power station is finished. But putting gas at the centre of the picture will reassure some in the Coalition who remain deeply suspicious of renewables.

The Liberals in seats where climate change is a big preoccupation may or may not find enough to sell in this week’s packages. They can emphasise the “transition” nature of gas — Morrison described it as “a stable transition fuel” — and talk up the support for emerging technologies.

But they will confront the counter argument that the government is not doing enough or proceeding fast enough on climate change.

Meanwhile, Labor struggles with its own energy and climate policies, which caused it such problems last election, when it had dual or confusing messaging in the country’s south and north and lacked costings.

Post election, the spectrum of Labor thinking on these issues has been exposed, and resources spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon, who takes many of his cues from his NSW coal seat of Hunter, frequently speaks out.

Like Morrison, on energy and climate policy Anthony Albanese will be seeking to position himself somewhere in the middle ground for the election. He’ll look to being to the left of the PM — but not way out on a limb.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Aussie invention could save old coal stations by running them on zero-emissions ‘Lego’ blocks



Authors provided

Erich Kisi, University of Newcastle and Alexander Post, University of Newcastle

As climate change worsens, the future of fossil fuel jobs and infrastructure is uncertain. But a new energy storage technology invented in Australia could enable coal-fired power stations to run entirely emissions-free.

The novel material, called miscibility gap alloy (MGA), stores energy in the form of heat. MGA is housed in small blocks of blended metals, which receive energy generated by renewables such as solar and wind.

The energy can then be used as an alternative to coal to run steam turbines at coal-fired power stations, without producing emissions. Stackable like Lego, MGA blocks can be added or removed, scaling electricity generation up or down to meet demand.

MGA blocks are a fraction of the cost of a rival energy storage technology, lithium-ion batteries. Our invention has been proven in the lab – now we are moving to the next phase of proving it in the real world.

Steam billows from a coal-fired power station
MGA blocks promise to give new life to old coal stations.
Themba Hadebe/AP

Why energy storage is important

Major renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power are “intermittent”. In other words, they only produce energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. Sometimes they produce more energy than is needed, and other times, less.

So moving to 100% renewable electricity requires the energy to be “dispatchable” – stored and delivered on demand. Some forms of storage, such as lithium-ion batteries, are relatively expensive and can only store energy for short periods. Others, such as hydro-electric power, can store energy for longer periods, but are site-dependent and can’t just be built anywhere.




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If our electricity grid is to become emissions-free, we need an energy storage option that’s both affordable and versatile enough to be rolled out at massive scale – providing six to eight hours of dispatchable power every night.

MGAs store energy for a day to a week. This fills a “middle” time frame between batteries and hydro-power, and allows intermittent renewable energy to be dispatched when needed.

Researchers Alex Post and Erich Kisi, look at a MGA block.
Researchers Alex Post and Erich Kisi. The company is looking to built a pilot manufacturing plant in NSW.
Authors provided

How our invention works

In the next two decades, many coal-fired power stations around the world will retire or be decommissioned, including in Australia. Our proposed storage may mean power stations could be repurposed, retaining infrastructure and preventing job losses.

For coal stations to use our technology, the furnace and boiler must be removed and replaced by a storage unit containing MGA blocks.

MGA blocks are 20cm x 20cm x 16cm. They essentially comprise a blend of metals – some that melt when heated, and others that don’t. Think of a block as like a choc-chip muffin heated in a microwave. The muffin consists of a cake component, which holds everything in shape when heated, and the choc chips, which melt.




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The blocks don’t just store energy – they heat water to create steam. In an old coal plant, this steam can be used to run turbines and generators to produce electricity, rather than burning coal to produce the same effect.

Courtesy University of Newcastle.

To create the steam, the blocks can be designed with internal tubing, through which water is pumped and boiled. Alternatively, the blocks can interact with a heat exchanger – a specially designed system to heat the water.

Old coal plants could run on renewable energy that would otherwise be switched off during periods of oversupply in the middle of the day (in the case of solar) or times of high wind (wind energy).

Our research has shown the blocks are a fraction the cost of a lithium battery of the same size, yet produce the same amount of energy.

Coal worker
The technology may help prevent job losses in the coal industry.
KYDPL KYODO/AP

Proving MGA blocks in the real world

Our team perfected the novel material through research at the University of Newcastle between 2010 and 2018. Last year we formed a company, MGA Thermal, and are focused on commercialising the technology and conducting real-world projects.

In July this year, MGA Thermal received a A$495,000 grant from the federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, to establish a pilot manufacturing plant in Newcastle, New South Wales. This project is due to start operating in the second half of next year. The goal is to begin manufacturing a commercial quantity of MGA blocks economically, at scale, for large demonstration projects.




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MGA Thermal have partnered with a Swiss company, E2S Power AG, to test the technology in the rapidly changing coal-fired power industry in Europe. Beginning next year, the testing will include retrofitting a functioning coal power plant with MGA storage. This will also verify the economic case for the technology.

We are aiming for a cost of storage of A$50 per kilowatt hour, including all surrounding infrastructure. Currently, lithium-ion batteries cost around A$200 per kilowatt hour, with added costs if energy is to be exported to the electricity grid.

So what are the downfalls? Well, MGA does have a much slower response time than batteries. Batteries respond in milliseconds and are excellent at filling short spikes or dips in supply (such as from wind turbines). Meanwhile MGA storage has a response time above 15 minutes, but does have much longer storage capacity.

A combination of all three options – batteries, MGA/thermal storage and hydro – would provide large-scale energy storage that can still respond quickly to fluctuating renewable supply.

Courtesy University of Newcastle.

Safe and recyclable

MGA blocks are safe and non-toxic – there is no risk of explosion or leakage, unlike some other fuels.

The blocks can also be recycled. They are expected to last 25-30 years, then can be easily separated into their individual materials – to be made into new blocks, or recycled as raw materials for other uses.

Like any new technology, MGA blocks must be financially proven before they’re accepted by industry and used widely in commercial projects. The first full-scale demonstrations of the technology are on the horizon. If successful, they could allow coal-fired power plants to be used cleanly, and provide hope for the future of coal workers.The Conversation

Erich Kisi, Professor of Engineering , University of Newcastle and Alexander Post, Conjoint Lecturer, University of Newcastle

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Renewable energy can save the natural world – but if we’re not careful, it will also hurt it



Shutterstock

Laura Sonter, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland, and Richard K Valenta, The University of Queensland

A vast transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is crucial to slowing climate change. But building solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy infrastructure requires mining for materials. If not done responsibly, this may damage species and ecosystems.

In our research, published today, we mapped the world’s potential mining areas and assessed how they overlap with biodiversity conservation sites.

We found renewable energy production will exacerbate the threat mining poses to biodiversity – the world’s variety of animals and plants. It’s fair to assume that in some places, the extraction of renewables minerals may cause more damage to nature than the climate change it averts.

Australia is well placed to become a leader in mining of renewable energy materials and drive the push to a low-carbon world. But we must act now to protect our biodiversity from being harmed in the process.

A wind farm
Renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms are good for the planet – but it requires minerals extraction.
Shutterstock

Mining to prevent climate change

Currently, about 17% of current global energy consumption is achieved through renewable energy. To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this proportion must rapidly increase.

Building new renewable energy infrastructure will involve mining minerals and metals. Some of these include:

  • lithium, graphite and cobalt (mostly used in battery storage)
  • zinc and titanium (used mostly for wind and geothermal energy)
  • copper, nickle and aluminium (used in a range of renewable energy technologies).

The World Bank estimates the production of such materials could increase by 500% by 2050. It says more than 3 billion tonnes of minerals and metals will be needed to build the wind, solar and geothermal power, and energy storage, needed to keep global warming below 2℃ this century.

However, mining can seriously damage species and places. It destroys natural habitat, and surrounding environments can be harmed by the construction of transport infrastructure such as roads and railways.

An evaporation pond used to measure lithium and in the Uyuni salt desert in Bolivia.
An evaporation pond used to measure lithium and in the Uyuni salt desert in Bolivia. Mining can damage the environment if not done sustainably.
Dado Galdieri/AP

What we found

We mapped areas around the world potentially affected by mining. Our analysis involved 62,381 pre-operational, operational, and closed mines targeting 40 different materials.

We found mining may influence about 50 million km² of Earth’s land surface (or 37%, excluding Antarctica). Some 82% of these areas contain materials needed for renewable energy production. Of this, 12% overlaps with protected areas, 7% with “key biodiversity areas”, and 14% with remaining wilderness.

Our results suggest mining of renewable energy materials may increase in currently untouched and “biodiverse” places. These areas are considered critical to helping species overcome the challenges of climate change.

Areas around the world potentially influenced by mining
Areas potentially influenced by mining, including for the minerals needed in renewable energy production (shown in blue). See paper for detailed methodology and limitations.
Authors provided

Threats here and abroad

Australia is well positioned to become a leading supplier of materials for renewable energy. We are also one of only 17 nations considered ecologically “megadiverse”.

Yet, many of the minerals needed for renewable energy exist in important conservation areas.

For example, Australia is rich in lithium and already accounts for half of world production. Hard-rock lithium mines operate in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

This area has also been identified as a national biodiversity hotspot and is home to many native species. These include small marsupials such as the little red antechinus and the pebble-mound mouse, and reptiles including gecko and goanna species.




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Australia is also ranked sixth in the world for deposits of rare earth elements, many of which are needed to produce magnets for wind turbines. We also have large resources of other renewables materials such as cobalt, manganese, tantalum, tungsten and zirconium.

It’s critical that mining doesn’t damage Australia’s already vulnerable biodiversity, and harm the natural places valued by Indigenous people and other communities.

In many cases, renewables minerals are found in countries where the resource sector is not strongly regulated, posing an even greater environmental threat. For example, the world’s second-largest untouched lithium reserve exists in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt pan. This naturally diverse area is mostly untouched by mining.

The renewables expansion will also require iron and steel. To date, mining for iron in Brazil has almost wiped out an entire plant community, and recent dam failures devastated the environment and communities.

A little red antechinus
The Pilbara has large lithium deposits and is also home to the little red antechinus.
Needpix

We need proactive planning

Strong planning and conservation action is needed to avoid, manage and prevent the harm mining causes to the environment. However global conservation efforts are often naive to the threats posed by significant growth in renewable energies.

Some protected areas around the world prevent mining, but more than 14% contain metal mines in or near their boundaries. Consequences for biodiversity may extend many kilometres from mining sites.

Meanwhile, other areas increasingly important for conservation are focused on the needs of biodiversity, and don’t consider the distribution of mineral resources and pressures to extract them. Conservation plans for these sites must involve strategies to manage the mining threat.

There is some good news. Our analyses suggest many required materials occur outside protected areas and other conservation priorities. The challenge now is to identify which species are most at risk from current and future mining development, and develop strong policies to avoid their loss.

The map in this article has been updated, because due to a technical issue the previous version omitted some information.The Conversation

Laura Sonter, Lecturer in Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, and Richard K Valenta, Director – WH Bryan Mining and Geology Research Centre – The Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Forest Wind and Australia’s renewables revolution: how big clean energy projects risk leaving local communities behind



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Tom Morton, University of Technology Sydney; James Goodman, University of Technology Sydney; Katja Müller, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and Riikka Heikkinen, University of Technology Sydney

On top of announcing three Renewable Energy Zones this week the Queensland Parliament paved the way for an exclusive deal to build one of the biggest onshore wind farms in the Southern Hemisphere.

With up to 226 wind turbines in state-owned pine plantations, the 1,200 megawatt Forest Wind project could power one in four Queensland homes and help the state meet its target of 50% renewable-generated electricity by 2030.

The turbines will be a minimum of three kilometres from the nearest town. Because they’re sited in an exotic pine plantation, impacts on native flora, fauna, and habitats will be minimised. At first sight, Forest Wind looks like a model project. But look a little closer, and Forest Wind embodies many of the contradictions at the heart of Australia’s renewable energy revolution.

The current pace of Australia’s energy transition is breathtaking. But big projects like Forest Wind need to take local communities with them, and build a social licence for the energy transition from the ground up.

A community ‘kept in the dark’

As our research in the German state of Brandenburg shows, building towers 160 metres high – that’s higher than the Sydney Harbour Bridge – anywhere near settlements tends to lead to community opposition and lengthy delays.

Affected communities are much more likely to accept a massive wind farm on their doorstep if they feel they’ve been listened to by project developers, and can see clear benefits.

The three-kilometre “exclusion zone” for Forest Wind is twice the 1,500 metre minimum distance from settlements required under Queensland law. And project developers argue its location amid dense pine trees will provide “a natural buffer between Forest Wind and local residences”.

Wind turbines with red tips
Wind turbines near Rosenthal Brandenburg. Our research in Germany found building wind farms near towns causes opposition and delays.
Lothar Michael Peter, Author provided

But local residents told a parliamentary committee in June they’d been kept in the dark about the project, claiming “it was kept secret from 2016 until the public announcement in December 2019”. They also expressed concern about its visual impact and proximity to bird migration corridors.

The developers and the state government seem to have followed the well-known and widely criticised “DAD” approach: Decide, Announce, Defend.

“DAD” may be common in current planning processes, but the people of the nearby Wide Bay community may feel that, so far, there’s not enough in it for them.

The Conversation contacted Forest Wind Holdings for a response to this article. A spokesperson said the project will provide the local community a long and ongoing opportunity to continually provide input.

Forest Wind is pleased to have received feedback from hundreds of people so far including at information days, online forums, letters and over the phone. […] Since the project’s announcement, COVID-19 has certainly impacted community consultation activities, as local halls have been closed and a planned wind farm tour has had to be cancelled.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are easing, Forest Wind is establishing a Community Reference Group […] Forest Wind intends to work closely through the Community Reference Group to continue to understand the needs and interests of the local community and work in a collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach to address community concerns and develop initiatives that leverage the Project and deliver community benefits.

Few community benefits

The Forest Wind website lists no concrete community benefits, no benefit sharing programs, concrete training or education initiatives, and hardly any community engagement besides standard consultation meetings and newsletters.

Elsewhere it’s becoming common for government-led renewable energy auctions to stipulate socio-economic objectives other than just capacity or price. In Victoria, one preference was to use labour and components from the state. In the ACT, one outcome was wider benefit sharing in the form of community co-investment.




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The Queensland government has fast-tracked Forest Wind through its Exclusive Transactions Framework, which gives preferential treatment to large-scale infrastructure projects. In other words, it’s picked a winner.

Forest Wind Holdings did not have to go through a competitive tender or auction process. Given the sheer size of the project, the state government had plenty of scope to negotiate better-than-average benefits for Wide Bay and the state.

Then there’s a further issue: jobs. According to the project website, 50% of the jobs in the construction phase (around 200) and 90% during operations (about 50) can be filled by people in the Wide Bay region.

A Forest Wind spokesperson said there are “vast benefits” for the local people in Wide Bay, including job opportunities in the concrete and construction sector.

These are all real jobs, for which on-the-job training and on-the-job management and mentoring can benefit workers to skill-up in working on Forest Wind, on future wind farms, and increase the opportunity to apply skills and qualifications in other areas of the economy.

Forest Wind was originated by local Queenslanders and the development team are based in this local area of Queensland. Already there are real local jobs, with more local jobs to come as the project develops – this is a positive.

But local communities need to see more lasting job creation from big renewable projects, not just “the circus coming to town”.

Consulting with native title holders

One clearly innovative aspect of Forest Wind is the requirement for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, which provides negotiation rights for titleholders and compensation. Under legislation passed this week, the developer must negotiate a land use agreement where native title exists, and “the project cannot proceed without the free and informed consent of these individuals and communities”.

Part of Forest Wind is located on native title lands held by the Butchulla People, whose native title is well-established. Another part is on the land of the Kabi Kabi people, whose native title claim is pending. Forest Wind states it is consulting with native title holders and looks forward to partnerships with them.




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In contrast, last year the Queensland government extinguished native title over land in the Galilee Basin to make way for the Adani coal mine.

And the Adani mine is now only expected to offer only 100 to 800 ongoing jobs.

So let’s be clear: we should applaud Queensland’s decision to throw its weight behind the energy transition.

A recent report estimates that, with the right stimulus measures now, by 2030 there could be 13,000 Queenslanders working long-term in the renewable sector, and tens of thousands more short term jobs in construction.

Some 75% of those jobs would be in regional Queensland. The challenge is to ensure enough of them go to regions like Wide Bay.

And at a national level, Australia should look to Germany as a model.

Community energy projects

Renewables now employ 304,000 people in Germany. That compares with about 60,000 in the coal industry.

Germany built its energy transition over 30 years. The German experience shows how fostering citizen involvement and ownership will strengthen long-term social acceptance for renewable energy.

This means encouraging community energy, energy cooperatives, community owned retailers or community-based Virtual Power Plants. Community energy projects are estimated to have higher employment impacts and can better prioritise local contractors than corporate-led projects.

A greater focus on energy democracy would build a stronger foundation for the energy transition Australia has to have.




Read more:
Really Australia, it’s not that hard: 10 reasons why renewable energy is the future


The Conversation


Tom Morton, Associate Professor, Journalism, Stream Leader, Climate Justice Research Centre, University of Technology Sydney; James Goodman, Professor in Political Sociology, University of Technology Sydney; Katja Müller, Postdoctoral Researcher in Anthropology, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and Riikka Heikkinen, PhD Candidate, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: why does geothermal electricity count as renewable?



geothermal.

Susan Krumdieck, University of Canterbury


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


Geothermal electricity produces emissions but is categorised with wind and solar power as a renewable source of power. Why? Can we reduce the emissions geothermal plants produce?

Geothermal resources occur where magma has come up through the Earth’s crust at some point in the distant past and created large reservoirs of hot rock and water.

In New Zealand, the Taupo Volacanic Zone has 23 known geothermal reservoirs. Seven of these are currently used to generate more than 15% of New Zealand’s electricity supply.

New Zealand’s geothermal areas also include mineral pools and geysers.
Shutterstock/Dmitry Pichugin

Continuous but finite energy source

The geothermal reservoirs are vast in both size and stored energy. For example, the Ngatamariki reservoir extends over seven square kilometres and is more than a kilometre thick.

The geothermal resource is more consistent than hydro, solar and wind, as it doesn’t depend on the weather, but the geothermal heat in a reservoir is finite. Environment Waikato estimates that if the thermal energy in New Zealand were extracted to generate 420MW of electricity, the resource would likely last for 300 years. The current generation is more than twice this rate, so the reservoirs will last about half as long.

Geothermal energy is extracted by drilling up to 3km down into these hot zones of mineral-laden brine at 180-350℃. The engineering involves drilling a number of wells for extraction and re-injection of the brine, and the big pipes that connect the wells to the power plant.

A geothermal power plant converts heat into electricity.
Shutterstock/Joe Gough

The power plant converts the thermal energy into electricity using steam turbines. These plants generate nearly continuously and can last for more than 50 years.




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Greenhouse gas emissions

The brine contains dissolved gases and minerals, depending on the minerals in the rocks the water was exposed to. Some of these are harmless, like silica which is basically sand. But some are toxic like stibnite, which is antimony and sulphur.

Some gases like carbon dioxide and methane are not poisonous, but are greenhouse gases. But some are toxic. For example, hydrogen sulfide gives geothermal features their distinctive smell. The carbon dioxide dissolved in geothermal brine normally comes from limestone, which is fossilised shells of sea creatures that lived millions of years ago.

The amount of greenhouse gas produced per kWh of electricity generated varies, depending on the reservoir characteristics. It is not well known until the wells are in production.

The New Zealand Geothermal Association reports the greenhouse gas emissions for power generation range from 21 grams CO₂ equivalent per kWh to 341gCO₂(equiv)/kWh. The average is 76gCO₂(equiv)/kWh. For comparison, fossil fuel generation emissions range from 970 to 390gCO₂(equiv)/kWh for coal and gas combined cycle plants.

The gases have to be removed from the brine to use it in the plant, so they are released to the atmosphere. The toxic gases are either diluted and released into the atmosphere, or scrubbed with other substances for disposal. The Mokai power plant supplies carbon dioxide to commercial growers who use it in glasshouses to increase the growth rate of vegetables.




Read more:
Climate explained: could the world stop using fossil fuels today?


Finding ways to use less energy

All energy-conversion systems can be made better by employing engineering expertise, investing in research and enforcing regulations, and through due diligence in the management of the waste products. All energy-conversion technology has costs and consequences. No energy resource should be thought of as unlimited or free unless we use very small quantities.

New Zealand is in a period of energy transition, with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The production and use of coal is already in decline globally and oil and gas are expected follow.

We tend to think about energy transition in terms of technologies to substitute “bad” energy with “green” energy. But the transition of how energy is produced and consumed will require a massively complex re-engineering of nearly everything.

The installed capacity for wind and solar has been growing over the past decade. In 2018, however, New Zealand consumption of electricity generated by wind and solar was 7.72PJ, while oil, diesel and LPG consumption was 283PJ and geothermal electricity was 27PJ. Another consideration is lifetime; wind turbines and solar panels need to be replaced at least three times during the lifetime of a geothermal power plant.

A successful energy transition will require much more R&D and due diligence on products, buildings and lifestyles that need only about 10% of the energy we use today. An energy transition to build sustainable future systems is not only possible, it is the only option.The Conversation

Susan Krumdieck, Professor and Director, Advanced Energy and Material Systems Lab, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.