Private or Public Generation for Renewable Energy?

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Nearly everyone has moved on from denying that climate change is happening.The challenge to reduce greenhouse gasses and we see a big push for renewable energy generation from individual, BUT with a considerable counter push from fossil fuel lobbyists for a continuation of subsidies for coal diesel and other fuels. The assumption that underlies current Government Policy is that the best way to look after the future is to convince individuals to take personal responsibility for using and generating energy. There has been a huge push for subsidies to individuals who install renewable energy systems in private residences and the Federal Government (Australia) has allocated $500 million for rebates to fund renewable energy and energy conservation measures as direct rebates/subsidies to individuals. This might be good but why not invest that money in public utilities? I looked around for the kind of analysis I have done here and could not find it… yet it seems to be vital information for those deciding how they might do better when choosing how they get their energy. I have done some “back of the envelope” analysis that makes you think…

Energy Needs and Supply

Domestic

Australian households use an average of around 6.5 MWhours of electricity a year if they use electricity for everything (water and space heating in particular). 3.5 MWh is needed for a house with other forms of space and water heating and energy efficient lighting. For the sake of simplicity, let’s settle on 5 MWh of electricity as a target for an “average” household in the emerging world. A car uses about 4 MWh of energy for fuel (a small car that travels about 20,000 km annually). If we want to account for electric/hybrid cars then we would need to add this energy into the calculations.

Why choose such strange units for energy?

These units are the commonly used measures of energy and power. Power is the rate of energy and is expressed in Watts. kilo (k) is 1000, mega (M) is 1 million, Giga (G) is one billion and tera (T) is a million million. The scientific unit for energy is a Joule. Power x Time = Energy. A Watt second is a Joule. A kW hour is 36 million joules. In the utility industry a Joule is not a very useful measure. The standard unit is a kW hour – 1000 Watts used for one hour (3600 seconds) and that is how the energy is charged. At the generating stage MW hours are the standard unit for discussion. GW hours are a typical measure of daily consumption for a region or city. These units make more readable measures of energy.

Total

The following is taken directly from the IEA and shows the Australian Electricity Generation/Consumption in 2006



Electricity

 



Heat

 

Unit: GWh
Unit: TJ
Production from:
– coal
198929
0
– oil
2385
0
– gas
30558
0
– biomass
2037
0
– waste
0
0
– nuclear
0
0
– hydro*
16028
– geothermal
0
0
– solar PV
31
– solar thermal
0
0
– wind
1691
0
– tide
0
0
– other sources
0
0
Total Production

251659

 



0

 

Imports
0
0
Exports
0
0
Domestic Supply

251659

 



0

 

Statistical Differences
0
0
Total Transformation**

0

 

Electricity Plants
0
0
Heat Plants
0
Energy Sector***

24924

 



0

 

Distribution Losses
17101
0
Total Final Consumption

209634

 



0

 

Industry
93912
0
Transport
2613
0
Residential
62186
0
Commercial and Public Services
49068
0
Agriculture / Forestry
1855
0
Fishing
0
0
Other Non-Specified
0
0

* Includes production from pumped storage plants. ** Transformation sector includes electricity used by heat pumps and electricity used by electric boilers. *** Energy Sector also includes own use by plant and electricity used for pumped storage. Unlike many other parts of the world, Australia does not use heat generated by power stations for domestic or other process heat. When this kind of “cogeneration” becomes more common the heat figures (right column) will have entries.


From this table I will take the total electricity need for Australia as 210 tera Watt hours

Energy Supply

Is there enough energy around to generate our energy needs in Australia? Australia consumes about 5500 Peta Joules of energy from all energy sources. That is about 1.5 Peta Wh. To generate this amount of energy in inland Australia where there is a high proportion of cloudless days you need between 2,500 and 20,000 sq Km of surface area (dependent on the efficiency of generation method) to generate the total amount of energy needed to replace all other sources. Of course, there is no need to replace everything with renewables and renewables already provide nearly 5% of energy needs. Geothermal energy is eventually capable of producing at least 1,000 Peta Joules (277 TWh) of high reliability supply. Wind energy is capable of generating 2-5,000 Peta Joules (550-1300 TWh) with decreasing efficiency above the minimum. 1 Total energy available from the sun in Australia and practically available (ie uses land that is not otherwise more valuable) vastly exceeds the demand and even foreseeable demand at exponential growth. 2,500 sq km is a lot of land for the solar energy, but it is less than the total roofspace of houses in Australia and close to the amount taken up by coal mining and power stations. Given that the electricity demand is 210 TWh lets concentrate on how this might be provided as a starting point.
The energy is there and not in a totally inaccessible location. It is now well proven technology and is is reasonably economical compared to coal and other fossil fuels. The question is how to best use the energy, is it economic and what infrastructure is needed to make it all work?

Technologies

Next we should review the available technologies in the context we need them for this discussion. Thingws we need to know are:

  • Is there enough renewable energy to provide a replacement for fossil fuels?
  • Is that energy able to be generated with current technology?
  • Is it economic?
  • Are there other problems to solve before the energy can be used in significant quantities?
  • What impact is the energy source likely to have?

Solar Hot Water

Solar hot water is where it really makes sense to use renewable sources at an individual level. Hot water is needed in the home and it is efficient and effective to do it on rooves. This applies even for units where the hot water is shared. A lot is said about needing a booster for the water in case of prolonged overcast but that is only needed for extreme high users of hot water and in units that might share a solar unit that is too small for the usage pattern. Australia has far more reliable sunlight than Europe and not that big a difference between Summer and Winter sunshine hours. In fact, the biggest issue is that vendors often try to sell people collectors with lower capacity than is needed to reduce the cost price of the solar system2. There is about 6 Kw Hours of solar energy radiating on average per day for each one metre square of solar collector at an efficiency of over 50% (ie >3 kWh). Typically, a household uses under 2 kW hours of energy (300 litres of hot water) a day for water heating and larger families may use around 5 kWh. The energy source is effectively inexhaustible but the size of collector and the need for boosting varies according to where you live. Until recently, there were issues with cost of the collectors and the reliability in climates where the overnight temperature could go below freezing but economies of scale and improved technology have made it far more effective to install larger capacity collectors. Even cold and cloudy climates can use solar water heating effectively. A cloudy Winter day still lets 10-15% of solar heat through to a collector and that is enough to keep stored water at the right temperature and support moderate levels of use. It is probably this straight-forward usage of solar energy that started people thinking along the lines of installing their own electricity generation systems. If you can get all this hot water “for free” then how much more is possible? Each 1000 households that use solar hot water reduce the need for fossil and other fuels by 730 MWh. The 2006 Census tells us that there are over 5.5 million detached houses in Australia. If 20% of these were to install solar hot water then the energy saving would be just over 4 TWh. That is 1.4% of carbon emissions (it takes energy to make the solar collectors) reduced and 2% of generating capacity saved. Lets assume that a higher cost option is installed. Put a 22 tube system with a storage tank in front of an existing demand hot water system. This costs $A 5,500 to install. The collector can provide water for 5 people. Switching the demand gas heater off normally and only on if there is a need to heat water more is an efficient way to do things. The energy costs per year saved are about $200 if you actually use the amount of water a 2 person household needs. It seems that the time to recover the cost of the system is close to 25 years! However, the story is quite different if you are using an electric storage heater. The costs reduce to about $4000 installed and the savings are closer to $380 each year. That means 10 years to pay it back. On top of that there are subsidies and Renewable Energy Credits (REC). the system described has 30 RECs which are worth $A1200-1500. Government rebates can amount to $A1800. Lets say it is worth $2500 in rebates and selling RECs – then the cost is $3100 (10 years payback) and $1500 (4 years payback). The subsidies mainly affect the uptake rate. This is why I suggest 20% uptake for replacement of existing systems. The story is much better for installation of new hot water systems. The cost of installing a new electric boosted system with capacity for 5 people is $4,800. You can take the price of an instantaneous gas heater off that and the price becomes $2,400. RECs reduce that to $1,200 and a payback of 2-6 years depending on how much you use and pattern of usage. There is high potential for reductions in price for both retrofitted and new installations as builders become more familiar with the technology and installation becomes routine. Costs of the collector units have been steadily decreasing while efficiency and reliability have increased. Why are there so many subsidies for solar hot water? The reason is that it is a major contributor to reducing the amount of energy provided in grids and gas networks. Heating water is not the best use for gas (cooking and space heating are better) and probably ranks with heating via bar radiators as the all time worst use of high grade energy. The final thing to mention here is that, despite solar hot water contributing far more to reducing energy usage and reduction of GHG emissions, it attracts less than 20% of the subsidy given to those who install a PV generation system. There is a large amount of scope for a more rational Government approach. As we saw in the above calculations, 4TWh of electricity consumption can be achieved with an investment of $1.1 billion in subsidies and householders contributing about $3 billion. That scenario requires over 10 years to play out. Increasing the Government subsidy to 50% of the capital cost is likely to take the uptake to 35% over only 5-6 years, reduce the price of solar hot water systems by 25% and drive the price of installation down to 67% of the current. 3 The Government cost would be $3.1 billion and private investment under $3.5 billion (including installation). That delivers at least 6.5 TWh of energy savings and better than 60% of that in reduced electricity requirements. The cost (marginal costs only) of a new coal generation plant to generate 6.5 TWh of electricity is between $1.8-2.4 billion 4. Fuel costs are close to $100 million per annum or $500 million over 5 years – leading to a carbon tax of $50 million (at 10%). This analysis leaves a lot of financial and other minor factors out … but it does illustrate the point that the investment required in generating capacity. If you replace the coal generation with gas, then you get almost the same capital costs but with a lower peak generation requirement than for coal fired and highly variable fuel costs right now (due to a number of long and short term factors). We have comparable capital investments for Government (the electricity generation industry is heavily subsidised or owned outright by Government) and significant reductions in fuel consumption/GHG emissions amounting to 3% of current emissions and going a long way towards meeting emissions targets.

Solar Electricity

Solar electricity can be produced in two ways. Photovoltaic (PV) cells and Thermal Solar generation. PV is able to be used in small scale “self sufficient” installations and grid connected from individual properties. Either way, the costs to install are high and highest of all for self-sufficient installations that need battery storage, inverters and a complete electrical infrastructure along with backup power generation. Grid connection simply uses a roof to collect the energy and puts it back into the grid to be used by the grid overall. A PV installation that is grid connected costs about $A33,000 for a 3 kW system (installed with a meter to the grid for recovering a feed-in tariff) and will generate about 18Kwh of energy per day (and the average annual electricity usage of 6.5MWh) on average in Canberra (a sunny inland place at 32 degrees latitude and 600m above sea level so it has higher than average efficiency). You can add another $10-15k for a battery system and inverter for a self-sufficent system and $5k for a backup generator. The install cost of the solar PV panels is going to be about the same and the PV panels are nearly identical whether grid or battery connected. What is the potential generation capacity for this kind of source? It is heavily dependent on subsidies but it can be safely assumed that the take-up rate for these systems will be in line with predicted subsidies. We can take an average installation as 2kW (4MWh annually) . The number of installed systems are likely to plateau around 125000 for various reasons (the number is not very critical as we will see). This equates to 500GWh per annum. The government investment for this installed base would be in the order of $A800 million, including subsidies and feed-in tariffs. Thermal Solar (see here for some designs) is suited to mainstream utility style generation because of the better economies of scale. Still, there are issues compared with traditional base-load supply and these will be discussed later.

Wind Electricity

Wind has been a source of energy for over a thousand years. Windmills once drove the economy of Holland by pumping water out of low lying land that could be used for agriculture. It allows water to be pumped and for the past 40-50 years it has been used for electricity generation. Small scale generation started as a way to power remote settlements with enough to run radios and other small equipment but developed during the 1970’s to a scale that allowed a wind electricity generation industry to develop.

Modern wind energy plant in rural scenery.
Image via Wikipedia

For this discussion, I am ignoring the impact of local wind generation via Savonius or Darrieus devices. These are genuine options for some people but cannot be considered as a mass-market option like solar panels on roof tops. Wind farms and huge towers with three blade rotors are the iconic images of wind power. This is how Germany manages to generate close to 30% of its energy needs. Germany and many other countries in Europe moved to clean (rather than renewable) energy production because of air pollution (particularly acid rain) which was destroying architecture and rural land. Immediate productivity problems were more urgent than energy sustainability reasons, but the side benefit of sustainability was there too. When the alternative was seen as Nuclear then the safest bet was to choose renewable energy that has almost no downside. In places with enough reliable wind the competing energy sources are coal, gas and oil are only cheaper when not accounting for the polluting effects of these sources … to say nothing of other subsidies that those energy sources get from Governments and industry. Wind energy is good at an industrial scale. Climate change scenarios suggest an increase in wind speeds with warming and that there will be more energy available to wind farms. Total available wind energy in Australia exceeds the current demand. Wind is able to generate electricity when other forms of renewables are less able to do so and there are many sites in Australia that have highly reliable winds suitable for base load generation. Right now, the major impediments to introducing wind energy are capital and Government Policy. Government policy has a recent history of preventing wind generation and the capital cost is high. Some high profile investors in renewables have been badly effected by the Financial Crisis and this will have an impact on investment. Global supply of wind generation equipment is becoming an issue as the move to secure energy generation capacity becomes a priority for Governments.Wind generation has a fairly unique capacity to co-exist with agriculture and residential development, as can been seen in Europe. Wind turbines in grazing fields are a common site, even close to populated areas. Twelve months ago, the costs of fossil fuels made wind energy highly competitive as a replacement for oil, gas and some coal generation plants. The drop in fossil fuel prices as a result of the Financial Crisis, has reduced this competitive advantage but Governments have a strong incentive to act after seeing how seriously the oil cost rises affected National economies and there is no doubt that they realise that GHG targets are going to become tougher and the need for them no longer denied as it was under US leadership. The majorty of the cost for wind generation is paid before any energy is generated whereas fossil fuel plants pay most of their costs over time. This makes capital availability the biggest issue for renewables and wind in particular.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is a niche energy source that has some interesting implications. Where it exists, the energy is abundant, cheap and nearly inexhaustible. The problem is that it is not necessarily in the places where energy is in most demand. Iceland is the classic example of how an economy can be built on geothermal energy. To a smaller extent it is possible to establish an industry (say aluminum smelting or a heat intensive process) near the site of a hot spot and there is significant scope for providing domestic heating from this source. Problems exist because of the corrosive nature of water from geothermal sources but these problems have been encountered in oil drilling and solved. Geothermal power is probably the most reliable source when operating and ill probably make up less than 5% of energy in a low carbon energy world (currently less than 1%) but with GHG emissions less than 0.5% of fossil fuel plants. Probably the most promising prospect is use of geothermal heat for domestic use in cold countries. The resulting reduction of demand for fossil fuels and electricity resulting from heating buildings this way helps make it more likely that other energy sources can replace coal, in particular.

Waves and tides

The technology exists and is reliable but variable. Obviously it is confined to coastal areas.

Private systems

Private systems are necessarily small scale and seem to be the major focus of Government action to tackle climate change. That is hardly surprising given the extensive lobbying from the fossil fuel industry that has quite effectively guided corporate and Government opinion. The push to bring about changes to the way we deal with energy has come from the general population … therefore it is easiest to “demonstrate” action by providing subsidies for the loudest voices to take action themselves. But, what is the cost of this. Lets look at the economics of two scenarios. First we look at a Thermal solar plant generating 50 MW and compare it with two types of solar panel implementation on rooftops. To keep the comparison simple let’s take the cost of electricity from the Solar Thermal plant to be $100 a MWh as is quoted for existing plants of this scale. For home installations lets look at the costs including current subsidies in the ACT (converted to $US):

  • PV Panel – $4,000 per 1kW panel
  • Installation – $2,500 per installation and
  • $600 per extra panel installed
  • Maintenance of about $50 a month over 5 years. Increasing after that.

If we take a 3 kW grid connected installation then we have a cost over an estimated 12 year life of $16000+2500+1800+7200=$27500 Expected electricity generated from this system is: 4kw for an average 5.6 hours a day for 12×365 days = 98MWh That gives us $280 per MWh or near enough to 3 times the cost to generate. If you add more than $12000 subsidy to the cost then it goes to nearly 4 times the cost. The advantage of these private installations are significant for Government. They include:

  • Individuals invest the majority of capital
  • It used existing roof space and not new generation sites
  • There is a political payoff for doing it
  • It feeds into the grid at the time of peak power needs
  • Minimal extra grid “wiring” needed

What if the person paying out $27k for the PV generation paid for Green Energy instead? A temperate climate home consumes about 20MWh per annum of energy. Lets assume half this is from electricity and the rest from other sources. 120MWh of electricity (over 12 years) . The current premium for Green Choice electricity is $43 per MWh so the total cost to completely offset 120MWh of electricity would be $5200. Add that to your standard tariff for the electricity of $56 per MWh ($6700) and you get a total of $11900 or 43% of the cost of generating it yourself. The message is clear even in current commercial reality. It costs you 3 times as much to generate electricity on your own compared to doing it in medium sized public utilities. When you get to major grid systems the cost is even lower to buy completely renewable generated electricity by a factor of 43%. The premium on renewables will most likely reduce as the cost of fossil fuels increases and the scale of renewables increases, giving economies of scale. It is not hard to see that the future will bring higher prices for fossil fuelled electricity, reversing the current situation.

What else?

Grids

The current electricity grid has been built to support coal fired baseload generation supplemented by hydro-electric and some gas for peak “response” demand. That grid is sensible because the generation of electricity has been done that way for decades. Renewable energy needs a different grid. It needs a grid that supports generation when the energy is available for solar, wind and wave/tidal. It needs to support storage of electricity as well as transmission. Technologies exist to achieve effective storage and the grid needs to be designed to support that. This is an expensive exercise because the switching mechanisms that balance load have assumptions built into them around how the electricity is generated and how it will be used. Greater flexibility is needed and therefore the ground rules for grid management need to change. It might take 20 years to upgrade the grid to include storage like molten salt. This means that Government intervention is needed and the Infrastructure Australia Fund is an ideal way to address this kind of change.

Politics

Political intervention has effectively prevented renewable energy development in Australia and Clive Hamilton in his book Scorcher highlights the role of the Coal Lobby in shaping political opinion in favour of coal and against renewables. State Governments in Australia are major coal producers and the Victorian, NSW and Queensland Governments own and use vast reserves of coal for electricity generation. See Australian Energy Policy for facts and figures. Up to the early 1990’s the State Governments owned the coal, power generation and sold the power through the SEC (Victoria), Electricity Commission of New South Wales, the SEC (Queensland) and similar organisations in other states. These commissions ran as semi-autonomous companies that made their money from selling electricity and generating it from coal – the political heritage of coal fired power generation is still guiding much of the political thinking at peak Government (COAG). The article about Australian Energy Policy shows the large subsidies to fossil fuel producers. Other analyses show the amount of subsidy given to large electricity consumers such as Aluminium smelters being in the order of $210 million annually. It will take time to recover from the myth making of lobbyists for the fossil fuel industries. “Clean Coal” promotion was a recent attempt to make coal seem to be non-polluting. Ads were placed in prominent business magazines and newspapers

Inertia/biases

Commercialisation is where renewable energy has its main problem. Fossil fuel has whole industry sectors devoted to it (Petrochemicals, electricity generation, coal mining, gas utilities etc) and trillions of dollars in capital invested. Renewable energy has a tiny fraction of the capital and its advocates are more community based than business. While people believe that there are cost/availability/social/technical problems with renewables and there is no clear and unequivocal support from Government, people stick with what they are familiar with. Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD as it is called) are the drivers of conservatism. Fearful people stick with what they already know. Uncertain people do not make”brave” choices. When doubt is cast on something then peopel are reluctant to change what they already do. The default action for 90%+ of people is to avoid change in th eface of FUD. When the full costs (including downstream costs of maintenance, waste disposal and GHG offset) are taken into account then the difference in cost between renewables and fossil fuel generation are either small or in favour of renewables. However, the information is not presented like that because most of the statistics are presented from the perspective of sectional intersts. It makes the comparison of apples with apples difficult and that leads to a conservative bias as well.

Public Infrastructure

For Public utilities, Solar Thermal generation is an ideal replacement for coal, gas and oil fired power stations5 from a technology and economic standpoint 6 . Scalability is good for utilities and the supply of energy is relatively easy to risk-manage (ie cloud and day-night variation). An area of less than 1000 square km can provide enough energy input for more than the current energy needs of Australia and there are other sources of renewable energy that can be harnessed which make the story better still. This space need not be anything more than degraded or arid land and physical location is not such a big issue with this kind of generation. The total area needed to provide 100% of current energy needs from solar thermal is comparable or less than the area taken up now by coal mines, power plants and cooling ponds for the “waste” hot water. Water demands are low (1% or lower than coal fired or nuclear) and maintenance is low. A frequently cited problem is that solar generation cannot produce energy at night. Just like coal fired generation, power is still generated for quite a while after the energy input is stopped. The retained heat of the system keeps generating steam to drive the turbines for several hours. Solar thermal generation plants can use a number of heat storage mechanisms to keep generating for hours or days without sunlight, depending on the design.Molten salt and phase change chemical storage are relatively immature but effective storage mechanisms. Given technology trends, it is likely that the economics of theses systems will improve rather than become more expensive as the scale and adoption of solar thermal generation increases. Cost is often raised as a problem. One system in Australia, can operate at 10 cents per kW hour for plants between 100 and 200 megawatts of output. When the plants scale from 100 up to 500 megawatts, the cost goes down to 8 cents per kilowatt hour. That means they can compete with existing natural gas plants, which operate at 12 cents per kilowatt hour. Cost is mostly a scale issue with electricity generation and coal/gas/oil fired power has had half a century of development to gain its current level of efficiency. Now that there is strong motivation to look at alternatives to obviously depleting fossil fuels and a recognition that GHG emissions are not at sustainable levels, real work will start on solving scale, availability and supply issues around renewables. Coal is currently cheaper as an energy source because of three interconnected factors. Scale of operations makes it cheap to mine, transport and burn coal. Subsidies for coal production and supply to State Electricity Commissions make coal cheaper than market prices. Coal producers do not currently pay for the pollution factor … or Carbon Tax. Electricity generated with coal in Australia has at least 4% of its price subsidised with the price of coal. Advantageous depreciation arrangements provide an additional 4-6% subsidy. Then there is subsidy in the form of Government grants for research and development, 95% of which go to fossil fuels and 5% to renewables. When you see the actual projects funded it is even clearer that the subsidies are in favour of the coal industry. It is worth noting that there are direct subsidies as well as indirect ones for other fossil fuels too – road funding is directly linked to use of fossil fuels and the diesel subsidies are one example of direct subsidy. Current subsidised costs of coal fired electricity generation are in the order of $50 per MWh this compares with $80-100 per MWh for thermal solar. If you remove the direct subsidies and add a Carbon Tax then you bring the price of coal generated electricity to around $56 without subsidy and close to $70 with a Carbon Tax. The substantive issues are threefold:

  1. Capital Investment. The electricity utilities are comfortable with coal, gas and oil fired power generation. This is what they have done for decades. They are not comfortable with solar power and this is a disincentive for them to change without a significant financial incentive. The situation is changing rapidly but the utilities plan their capacity over long timeframes. Government intervention will change the priorities the quickest.
  2. Grid Issues. The power grids were designed over 50 years ago and assume a combination of baseload and demand generation. Baseload by its nature (coal, nuclear) was designed to be always on and needed to provide about 50-70% of peak needs). Peak needs would use hydro-power, gas and oil to quickly makeup what was needed. During off-peak times baseload electricity could be stored as hydro or sold off to other uses. Off peak tariff was designed to make it more attractive to use a lot of electricity when the demand was not otherwise there. Solar, wind and tidal/wave energy are variable with a greater need for storage.
  3. Entrenched interests. Entrenched interests and conservatism are asignificant impediment to development of alternative energy sources.

 

Funding

Public infrastructure can be funded by Government projects (like the original electricity generation was in Australia), Industry investment or “organic growth” within existing utilities. Green Choice. is a common method for existing energy marketers to offer energy generated through sustainable methods. Without debating the quality of the offerings and patchy ethics surrounding what those companies do with the money, let’s look at the concept. National Infrastructure

Conclusions

The rough economic analysis of private, small scale co-generation vs renewable energy from public utilities is expensive. It follows that it is better that Government and individuals should put their money into buying renewable generated electricity and investing in the infrastructure to do so more efficiently. If this is done on a broad scale, then the economics will rapidly favour renewable generation over fossil fuels, leading to a virtuous cycle of investment and flow-through benefits for GHG and climate change. The analysis is NOT ambiguous. It is blatantly obvious when you get past the marketing hype of fossil fuel and vendors of personal generation systems. The clearest message that can be drawn from our excursion into the technology and politics of power generation is that there is no silver bullet that solves all problems. What we (the People) need is an integrated approach that does some of all the things that are available to us to address the problems faced. However, it is clear that the investment of public money for renewable electricity production is not very efficient when directed at generating electricity on individual household rooftops. Far better to build a public infrastructure that costs 30-50% of the build and install costs of individual installations. However, there is no reason to neglect the role that individuals might have in the overall scenario. Individual solar hot water heating and even space heating/cooling makes good sense. The economics there are more compelling because of the fact that hot water is used and stored locally while the energy to do it is easily captured with inexpensive (and bound to be cheaper with mass implementation) rooftop collector/storage devices.
The problem is complex: provide energy to maintain economic activity, work with the known limits of fossil energy and address climate change due to the over use of fossil fuels. The solution is also complex. It involves doing things differently with a lot of the things we have taken for granted over many decades. The agenda probably looks like this:

  1. Use Solar energy to replace fossil fuels as quickly as possible. The economics make sense and the technology is sound.
  2. Expand utilisation of Wind, Geothermal, wave and tidal energy sources as niche contributors to energy supply. These sources help balance the supply/demand equation and in some cases will allow localised industry close to the energy source. All can be brought online quicker than Nuclear power.
  3. Reduce waste and improve efficiencies. This is where the economic, social and climate change benefits are most readily seen. The simple statement is that 10% less energy used is 10% cost saved, 10% less dependence on fossil fuels and 10% less input to CO2 pollution has no real downside.It is short-sighted design and poor implementation of buildings, vehicles, industry, agriculture and especially the power industry that makes it so easy to achieve 10% efficiencies!
  4. Redesign and redefine our energy economy. Grids, tariffs and usage prioritisation need to be rethought.
  5. Gradually move transport to renewable sources … not necessarily ethanol
  6. Understand that transition is the thing which matters. Mobilising to achieve something as big as winning WWII is needed. That is the scale of thinking required.
  1. Dr Keith Lovegrove at the ANU has presented several lectures on this. ANU is a key research in the field of Solar Energy
  2. Issues with reported poor performance of solar hot water in winter are largely due to incorrect sizing of collectors and/or storage tanks. Vendors typically quoted me undersized systems and when I challenged their recommendations, they asked me if I was prepared to pay more for greater capacity that would not be used in Summer – quoting double the capacity needed to cover my actual usage patterns in one case. Correct sizing is essential.
  3. Based on results from a proprietary Demand-Forecast modelling package
  4. Based on figures provided by Intelligent Energy Systems in cost models for NSW coal and gas generation
  5. http://solar1.mech.unsw.edu.au/glm/clfr/stanwell_clfr.pdf
  6. “Although it is often said that “solar cannot produce base load electricity”, STE is probably the only currently available technology which can be considered for a globally dominant role in the electricity sector over the next 40 years.” Source: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/files/MillsMorganUSGridSupplyCorrected.pdf

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