Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels

Solar & wind crush fossil fuels

Wind and solar have grown seemingly unstoppable.

While two years of crashing prices for oil, natural gas, and coal triggered dramatic downsizing in those industries, renewables have been thriving. Clean energy investment broke new records in 2015 and is now seeing twice as much global funding as fossil fuels.

One reason is that renewable energy is becoming ever cheaper to produce. Recent solar and wind auctions in Mexico and Morocco ended with winning bids from companies that promised to produce electricity at the cheapest rate, from any source, anywhere in the world, said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).

“We’re in a low-cost-of-oil environment for the foreseeable future,” Liebreich said during his keynote address at the BNEF Summit in New York recently. “Did that stop renewable energy investment? Not at all.”

Here’s what’s shaping power markets, in six charts from BNEF:

Chart of solar & wind

The reason solar-power generation will increasingly dominate: It’s a technology, not a fuel. As such, efficiency increases and prices fall as time goes on. What’s more, the price of batteries to store solar power when the sun isn’t shining is falling in a similarly stunning arc.

Just since 2000, the amount of global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over. Even wind power, which was already established, doubled four times over the same period. For the first time, the two forms of renewable energy are beginning to compete head-to-head on price and annual investment.

Meanwhile, fossil fuels have been getting killed by falling prices and, more recently, declining investment. It started with coal. It used to be that lower prices increased demand for fossil fuels, but coal prices apparently can’t fall fast enough. Richer OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries have been reducing demand for almost a decade. In China, coal power has also flattened. Only developing countries with rapidly expanding energy demands are still adding coal, though at a slowing rate.

The best minds in energy keep underestimating what solar and wind can do. Since 2000, the International Energy Agency has raised its long-term solar forecast 14 times and its wind forecast five times. Every time global wind power doubles, there’s a 19 percent drop in cost, according to BNEF, and every time solar power doubles, costs fall 24 percent.

And while BNEF says the shift to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough to avoid the catastrophic legacy of fossil-fuel dependence-climate change-it’s definitely happening.

Repost ~ Wind and solar are crushing fossil fuels | Sydney Morning Herald

Rammed earth wall keeping the top end cool

Long rammed earth wall

Composed of 230m of simple, natural materials, this earthen structure may look unassuming, yet it is actually the longest rammed earth wall in Australia. Built to accommodate cattle workers during mustering season in the scorching Western Australia outback, the eco-friendly formation represents a shift in the approach to architectural design of this sort. Built by Luigi Rosselli Architects and tucked into the edge of a sand dune, this “Great Wall of Australia” is a brilliant example of simple, eco-conscious design.

The wall is constructed primarily using iron-rich, sandy clay obtained from the building site and gravel from a nearby river, which are bound together using water from a local bore.

This ancient technique forms the exterior façade, that is then built into a sand dune which forms the rear and roof of the building. Simple in theory, this results in a structure that naturally stays cool, even in the intense heat of the outback.


The continuous building contains twelve earth-covered apartments, separated by angled verandas to maintain privacy. Designer Sarah Foletta creates an interior space with a minimalistic yet liveable style, and a central hub on top of the wall provides a place for residents to meet and socialize.

Roof lght

It may seem decidedly elementary, yet this natural, energy-efficient approach towards housing development will save time, money, and resources. The design has been acknowledged by Australian Institute of Architects, and hopefully represents a shift towards similarly eco-friendly architecture in the future.

Re-post ~ Eco friendly “Great Wall of Australia” Naturally Protects Residents from Sweltering Heat | My Modern Met

Floating solar solution for Lismore Community Solarfarm

In an exciting and unexpected turn of events, a floating solar solution is now going to be used for the East Lismore Community Solarfarm.

This change has been made at the sewage treatment plant to overcome the site limitations and maximise opportunities to expand the size of the solar array in the future ~ particularly given Lismore City Council’s plan for 100% renewable energy.

We think it’s wonderful that our prospective community investors can now consider what is an even more pioneering project, together of course with the high profile solarfarm planned for Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre.

Here is an example of what the floating solarfarm may look like:

The two community companies for the projects ~ Lismore Community Solarfarm (Goonellabah) Pty Ltd, and, Lismore Community Solarfarm (East) Pty Ltd ~ have now been incorporated. These are the legal entities which will raise the funds for the two solarfarms, by offering shares for investors. In turn, once the investment offers are fully subscribed, each company will loan the funds to Lismore City Council to build the each of the solarfarms (Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre and East Lismore Sewage Treatment Plant).

A constitution for each of the companies has been fully executed and will be available on the Farming the Sun website in due course.

For this establishment stage of the community companies, Starfish Initiatives is the sole shareholder and has appointed Executive Director, Adam Blakester, as the sole director. Starfish will surrender their share, and Adam will resign as Director, as the community investors become shareholders and in turn nominate to be directors at the each company’s first General Meeting after the investment offers are completed.

The offer documents, formally known as an Offer Information Statement, are being submitted to Norton Rose Fulbright, our legal partners, for final review and is expected for Launch by late May all going to plan.

As these community energy investments are a private offer, it will be only be made available to those parties who have signed onto the Investor Pledge. As at today, 136 people have signed the Investor Pledge. We would greatly welcome your interest as well! You can add your name to the list here.

The funds raised by private investment will be lent to Lismore City Council to build the solarfarms. In the event that there are any excess funds remaining, the terms of the loan provide that the Council may utilise these funds for other projects identified within their 100% Renewable Energy Master Plan.

The tenders to build the solarfarms are being conducted by Lismore City Council. These are now live!  These tenders will run in parallel with us releasing the investment offers to raise the funds for the two projects.

The tenders can be accessed via Lismore City Council’s Tenderlink. For more information, contact Lismore City Council.

In addition to all of the above good news and progress, Starfish is incredibly pleased and grateful for confirmation of a major donation from Diversicon Environmental Foundation. Diversicon’s donation will enable us to cover the full establishment costs for the two Lismore Community Solarfarm projects ~ Australia’s first community-funded and Council-operated projects of this kind. iversicon join with our other financial partners ~ NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, Lismore City Council and The Earth Welfare Foundation.

While this cash funding is essential, it is important to also recognise the substantial pro-bono investments being made by our other partners ~ particularly Embark Australia and Norton Rose Fulbright ~ which in total value are greater than our modest cash budget.

Starfish expresses its sincere gratitude to these Project Partners for their trust and investment in our collective vision and work.

The Farming the Sun collaboration is now working on the following priorities:
1. Finalising the private share offer after legal advice is received
2. Signing the loan agreements (between the two community companies and Lismore City Council)
3. Establishing administrative and financial systems for the community companies
4. Launching the Private Investment Offers

Useful links ~

Find out more about Lismore Community Solar ~

Read more about the floating solarfarm announcement ~

Tasmania’s crazy lurch back into the (expensive) fossil fuel era

Tasmania's crazy lurch

Only just recently, Tasmania ~ courtesy of its rich hydro resources, excellent wind conditions, and even a little bit of sunshine ~ could boast of having 100% renewable electricity, with all the economic possibilities that could afford in a world rapidly transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

The state had closed down its last fossil fuel generator, and the combination of a large hydro fleet (2,200MW), a growing portfolio of wind farms (310MW) and a small amount of rooftop solar (80MW) accounted for its electricity needs.

Tasmania supplemented and profited from these resources through the BassLink cable to the mainland, more for exporting clean power rather than importing from the heavily coal-reliant Victoria. Only a short time ago Tasmania, with its giant hydro battery, was perfectly positioned to become a fully green state, becoming the first to use renewables to supply all electricity, road transport and many industrial processes.

All it would require was a bit of vision and forward planning ~ encourage rooftop solar, build more wind farms, use the green electricity as a prompt to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles; maybe even build a new link to the mainland to become an export of green electricity.

Not any more. Due to a combination of bad luck and rotten planning, old school thinking and ~ guess what ~ climate change, Tasmania has found itself with little water in its dams to generate hydro electricity, no power link to the mainland, bushfires shutting down generators, and not enough renewables to fill the gap.

The Tasmanian government finds itself in the midst of an energy crisis ~ facing soaring costs and electricity rationing because it resisted a push to build new wind farms, and sought to put a lid on rooftop solar. It blithely believed that its dams would never fall to such critically low levels.

Last year, Tasmania began to import more electricity from Victoria, and then the link to the mainland was suddenly damaged and cut in late December 2015. No one knows when it will be repaired.

So what does it do in a crisis? Tasmania has no choice but to lurch back to the fossil fuel era. It switched back on its gas-fired power station early this year and has now begun to switch on containerised diesel gen-sets. The use of diesel generators, which sets the marginal cost of power (which is then paid to all other operating generators under the rules of the National Electricity Market) means that Tasmanians are paying the same price for generation as a remote mine in the Australian outback.

Note this graph below:
Tas Hydro Fossil Fuel

For the last seven years, Tasmania has had the lowest electricity prices of any state. But last month, the average price has remained at more than $250/MWh, barely any different from the peak power price. With the addition of network and retail costs, the cost of electricity is about $500/MWh. As a comparison, rooftop solar probably costs around $150/MWh in Tasmania.

The crisis has sparked some interesting initiatives. Apart from having to fly in replacement parts for the gas-fired generators and diesel gen-sets from Abu Dhabi, the government is also accelerating its “cloud-seeding” program to try to bring forward some autumn rains.

It has struck agreements with three major industrial facilities and employers to shave more than 110MW of capacity from demand.

No effort has been made to encourage household and smaller business consumers to increase the efficiency with which they use electricity.

The output of rooftop solar is still being valued at just $60/MWh, one-fifth of the price of diesel. The state’s pricing regulator recently said it could see no benefits from rooftop solar, and delayed an assessment on battery storage because it was “too hard”. Perhaps in its next review it might change its tune.

A year ago, the government said Tasmania could provide the equivalent of 1,00MW of “base-load” power to Victoria, substituting one of the big brown coal generators in the Latrobe Valley with clean power. Now it can’t even meet its own needs.

Re-post ~ Tasmania’s crazy lurch back into the (expensive) fossil fuel era | Renew Enconomy

See also ~ Cross post: Marcus: Tasmania’s energy scandal | Catallaxy Files

Without fossil fuels, a new population puzzle


How many people can the Earth support? It’s a question that’s been asked for centuries, generating wildly divergent answers ~ from less than a billion to more than a trillion. Today, the question arises with new urgency as we contemplate life after oil.

Perhaps the best answer comes from Joel Cohen of Rockefeller University, in his aptly titled How Many People Can the Earth Support? It’s an exhaustively researched 532-page book, but his conclusion can be summarized in two words: it depends.

That is, the planet’s capacity to sustain human life depends on how resources are used and distributed and on the values and social structures that shape the way we live.

If all of the world’s people ate like carnivorous Americans ~ 1,763 pounds of grain each per year, some eaten directly, but most fed to livestock ~ then the 2-billion-ton world grain harvest would support only 2.5 billion people.

That’s a problem, since there are now 7.4 billion of us. But if we all ate like people in India ~ a mostly vegetarian diet of just 440 pounds of grain per person each year ~ then the same harvest would support a population of 10 billion.

Certainly, there is some elasticity in the planet’s carrying capacity, and better, fairer resource use could help expand it. But, in a world where fossil fuels were in short supply, that capacity would likely contract.

In recent decades, food production has more than kept pace with skyrocketing population growth, partly thanks to mechanization and cheap oil. Indeed, modern agriculture is so dependent on fossil fuels that the food we eat is practically “marinated in crude oil”, says environmental activist Bill McKibben. The vast quantity of oil required to maintain Western consumption is at least partially to blame for its leading per capita carbon footprint. Reductions in the oil supply would curtail food production ~ at least in the short term.

Shortages of natural gas would also make it harder to synthesize nitrogen fertilizer, which has helped triple crop yields since 1950.

Climate change could dramatically reduce crop yields in many parts of the world at a time when global food production must increase by 70% to keep pace with current trajectories of growth and consumption.

So, how many people can the Earth support? The fact is, we just don’t know. But, given the uncertain supply of fossil fuels and the grim realities of climate change, it makes sense to aim for the low end of the United Nations’ population projections ~ about 9 billion people, rather than 13 billion ~ by the end of this century. The good news is that we actually know how to do this:

    • all people can make real choices about childbearing
    • ensuring access to voluntary family planning services
    • educating girls, and
    • providing opportunities for women.

We may not know how many people the Earth can support, or what will happen in a world of dwindling fossil fuels and a changing climate. But we do know this: The best means to slow population growth are also important ends in themselves. And together, they can help build a sustainable, equitable future.

Re-post ~ Without fossil fuels, a new population puzzle | Yes

Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes

Solar tower in desert for tomatoes

Construction of a world-leading, concentrated solar power (CSP) tower plant that will supply electricity heat and desalinated seawater to grow tomatoes in the Australian desert has reached a major milestone, with the erection of the 127m high tower.

The company behind the custom-built Port Augusta plant, Aalborg CSP, with construction group John Holland, put the final tower sections in place this week, topping it with the 234-tonne central boiler, which will soon receive the reflected sun rays from more than 23,000 mirrors.

As you can see in the video below, this final task – understood to be involve the largest lifts to this height ever undertaken in Australia – required some “careful calculations”.

Aalborg’s Integrated Energy System will be the first large-scale CSP-based technology in the world to provide multiple energy streams ~ heating, fresh water and electricity ~ for horticultural activities; an innovative and sustainable approach dreamed up by Adelaide-based outfit Sundrop Farms.

The company originally used finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop a prototype of its proprietary closed-loop farming system, in which it successfully grew tomatoes year-round, using only sunlight and seawater.

In December 2014, Sundrop secured $100 million of funding from leading global private equity investor KKR, allowing it to proceed with plans to expand the prototype into a 20-hectare facility, including the CSP tower plant.

Sundrop has also secured a 10-year exclusive contract with Coles for the supply of tomatoes, creating jobs for up to 175 people.

Aalborg’s custom-build CSP plant will heat the greenhouses in wintertime and on cold summer nights, provide fresh water by desalinating seawater drawn from the nearby Spencer Gulf (5km from the site) and run a steam turbine to produce electricity.

“This groundbreaking project proves a new platform to address major global energy challenges. The construction progresses well and we are looking forward to harvest the first sunrays in the second half of 2016,” said Svante Bundgaard, CEO of Aalborg CSP.

Re-post ~ Solar power tower goes up in Australian desert, ready to grow tomatoes | ReNew Economy

Jandakot Bioenergy Plant | Richgro


Richgro garden products is a family owned and operated business, established in WA back in 1916, and today is a nation wide supplier of compost and fertilisers.

Richgro’s team started researching viable renewable energy options in 2011 to reduce their $600,000pa electricity costs, touring Europe and America looking for the right solution.

They decided on anaerobic digestion.

As a licensed receiver of organic waste streams, predominately green waste from council collections, Richgro have formed a closed loop system, which produces electricity, a bio-fertiliser by-product which can be blended with existing products, heat and CO2 which can be used on-site.

With an input of some 35-50,000 tonnes of food waste available per annum, the anaerobic digestion plant can produce around:

  • 2MWe capacity electricity
  • 2.2MWth heat for utilization
  • CO2 for use within their blueberry hot houses
  • 100m3 of liquid bio-fertiliser

Read more ~

Renewables for All ~ A Priority Energy Policy Agenda for Australia


Late last year we shared  the launch of the The Renewables for All advocacy project. This innovative project is supporting the creation of a suite of policy settings and a regulatory and market context that allows all Australians to be able to directly benefit from clean energy solutions such as solar PV, storage and energy efficiency ~ no matter what their income or living arrangements.

This project is calling on governments to develop programs and support innovation in new social enterprise business models that increase access to clean energy for low-income households, renters, apartment dwellers and homeowners without solar access.

There are  now six policy briefing papers that set out what governments can do to support renewables for all.

An overarching policy briefing paper outlines the context of our changing energy system, the ‘social equality challenge’, and how a range of innovative new policy mechanisms and business models can address issues of clean energy affordability and accessibility and ensure all Australians benefit from a renewable energy future.

Solar Gardens are central solar facilities, where households and businesses own shares or a number of panels and the energy generated is credited on those customers’ energy bills. These facilities are especially useful for customers who are unable to put solar on their own roof. This may be because they rent, live in apartments, have shaded roofs etc.

The Rates-based financing and Rent-based financing briefing papers outline the role that council rates-based and rent-based financing can play in increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability in Australia and what state and local governments need to do to enable them. One of the key barriers to uptake of new energy technologies by low-income customers is the high up-front cost. To overcome this issue, a range of organisations are developing finance products and mechanisms that enable the customer to pay back the cost of clean energy over a period of time. One of these finance mechanisms is rates-based financing, whereby a council enables finance for clean energy measures on a property and then levies a special rate on said property to payback the cost of finance over time. Just as rates-based financing eases the burden of up-front cost for new clean energy technologies, rent-based financing provides an additional mechanism for both housing providers and their tenants to address the ‘social equality challenge’ and increase access to the benefits of clean energy technology. This policy mechanism is designed specifically for the most disadvantaged energy users; namely those in community or social housing.

The Community owned renewable energy briefing paper outlines the wide-ranging benefits that community owned renewable energy (CORE) projects typically deliver and the exciting role they could play in the Australian energy system, particularly with respect to increasing clean energy accessibility and affordability.

And lastly, this paper defines and gives an overview of the different approaches to mini-grids. It lines out some of the benefits for its adoption in Australia and specifies what policy changes and measures are to be taken to support this innovative approach to community energy. Mini Grids and embedded networks :mini-grids (also known as ‘micro-grids’) are one way to meet the electricity demand locally. As a combination of energy generation and distribution that typically operate as isolated systems in a range of 10 kW to 10 MW, they can serve tens to several hundred customers. Although mini-grids mostly exist in remote areas, there is also a growing interest in grid-connected or embedded mini-grids because it allows for greater control of the electricity generation e.g. from renewables and reduce network costs.

Discussion Papers
A series of state specific Discussion Papers  have been produced : NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia  and the ACT , which inform policy, and National Energy Market advocacy work to help state governments proactively support and better facilitate the uptake of new business models that enable energy consumers greater access to the benefits of new technologies.

Renewables for All is a strategic initiative of the Coalition for Community Energy, led by the Community Power Agency and auspiced by Starfish Initiatives. This project was funded by Energy Consumers Australia as part of its grants process for consumer advocacy projects and research projects for the benefit of consumers of electricity and natural gas.

To learn more about the project click here.

Re-post ~ Renewables for all- resources | Community Power Agency

Bottled water… what the?!

Bottled water

Perth heatwave putting city’s water supplies under pressure

Canning Dam, Perth

Perth recently sweated through a severe heatwave, and pressure is now mounting on the city’s dwindling water supplies.

Dried tree stumps litter the baked earth at the edge of the Canning Dam, 33 kilometres out of Perth. It was not long ago they were submerged by billions of litres of water but low rainfall and high temperatures in recent years have now made the dams virtually redundant.

Western Australia’s water utility said Perth had felt the effects of climate change more than anywhere else in the world, and it has had to bring forward its planning to ensure there is enough water to go around.

“Last year the run-off into our dams was the lowest since records began [in 1911], we got 11 billion litres in the dams and we lose about 14 billion litres a year in evaporation,” Water Corporation chief executive Sue Murphy said.

annual-temperature-records-for-south-west-australia-data“So that means that our dams contributed nothing. In fact, took away from our water supply. We have a problem which is probably more extreme than other cities around the world. Every year we seem to have the worst case scenario worse.”

It is a dire outlook, but the Water Corporation insists it is one that has been planned for. More than 40 per cent of the water supply for Perth and surrounding areas already comes from desalination but it is a costly process.

In a state currently grappling with unprecedented levels of net debt, Water Minister Mia Davies said any expenditure would have to be carefully considered.

The focus has now turned to recycling water, and a wastewater treatment plant is expected to open in Perth later this year.

In an Australian first, water from toilets, showers and laundries will be treated and injected into the city’s groundwater supplies but it will take about a decade for that water to be drawn out for household use.

It is estimated Perth’s water will eventually be split 50-50 between desalination and wastewater mixed with groundwater.

The Water Corporation’s Sue Murphy said lessons learnt in WA were being closely watched around the world. “WA certainly has felt climate change more than anywhere else in the world,” she said.”We’re seen as the canary in the coalmine for climate change by most of our water utility brethren around the world and I think it’s incumbent on us to work with the community in how to deal with it.”

The weather bureau said the city’s climate had been drying faster than expected.

“I don’t think that we were able to say with any degree of certainty that there would be an acceleration of that drying trend as we’ve observed over the last five years,” the Bureau’s spokesman Neil Bennett said. The bureau is not expecting any reprieve. It is forecasting temperatures will continue to rise, and rainfall will continue to fall.

Minister Davies is not worried. She believes Perth has been drought-proofed through good planning.

The Water Corporation has flagged further water restrictions or higher prices in the meantime, but said that would depend on how consumers respond to the shortage.

“We live in the driest corner of the driest part of the whole world, we need to be respectful of that as a community and use water wisely,” Ms Murphy said.

“If people continue to use water at a very high rate, we’re going to have to make some hard decisions.”

Re-post ~ Perth heatwave putting city’s water supplies under pressure | ABC News