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The ACT is a model on how to deliver action on climate change

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 16 February 2017 23

Climate change

As Australia sweltered through record breaking temperatures last weekend, the issues of climate change and energy security continue to be the subject of some of our most contentious national political debates. While an unusual alliance involving business, unions, the conservation movement and community sector plead with politicians to agree on how to respond to these issues, a number of State based Liberal parties are vowing to wind back jurisdictional  based energy targets if they win government.

As is often the case, things are a little different here in the ACT. Here we find ourselves in the unique position of having a political consensus that has enabled us to get on with the job of transforming our electricity generation to cleaner renewable energy sources. This sees us steadily moving towards the target of 100% renewable energy generation by 2020, with 20% of our energy already generated by renewables with this rate is climbing all the time. The contracts are locked in, and due to a reverse auction process, the ACT is likely to experience more affordable energy compared the rest of the country when we reach this target.

This hasn’t happened by accident or been an easy process. When the ACT Greens raised the prospect of ambitious renewable energy targets a decade ago, both the Labor and Liberal parties were sceptical. Thanks to our political system, which has delivered the balance of power to the ACT Greens, and mechanisms such as the successive Parliamentary agreements that have followed the last three elections, the parties forming government have been able to work cooperatively to develop sensible energy policy that has been good for the economy, the community and the planet. We have even seen some support from the Opposition – while somewhat reluctant, it was a welcome move when the ACT Liberal Party resisted the temptation to play politics around energy policy in the lead up to last year’s election and endorsed the ACT’s renewable targets.

It is true that the ACT is a small player in the national energy market. Some may argue that its action is not significant in the context of the larger states who produce and consume the vast majority of power in this country. However, it’s clear that our actions have made a real difference. A report released last year found that the ACT’s commitment was significant factor in supporting Australian investment in the renewal energy sector at a time where there was little other demonstration of a commitment to this industry. At last year’s climate conference in Marrakesh, the ACT was identified as one of a handful of jurisdictions who are world leaders in the response to climate change. With a political deadlock removing any hope for national action, the ability of states and territories to take action on climate change is more important than ever – and the ACT provides a blueprint for other jurisdictions to learn from.

This week the Minister for Climate Change, Shane Rattenbury, has introduced a motion into the ACT Legislative Assembly that asks our local representatives to reaffirm their commitment to climate change and the ACT’s commitment to ambitious but achievable renewable energy targets. I for one will be listening closely in the hope that they work together to continue the great work to date.

What do you think? Do you think the ACT’s renewable energy targets make a difference and do you want to see politicians working together across party lines to respond to climate change?

Rebecca is an active member of the ACT Greens and ran as an ACT Greens Candidate for Kurrajong in the last ACT Territory Election.

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23 Responses to
The ACT is a model on how to deliver action on climate change
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Garfield 8:48 am 26 Feb 17

watto23 said :

Garfield said :

mcs said :

HiddenDragon said :

The target of 100% renewable energy generation by 2020 is going to require a lot of storage at the system level – not just storage by those households and businesses etc. which have the means, opportunity and know-how to run and maintain their own storage arrangements.

Is there any specific information available on plans (including implementation dates) by the ACT Government for system-wide power storage? With the imminent closure of the Hazelwood power station, the ACT’s 100% renewables target is looking increasingly heroic.

You are overcomplicating what the ‘100% renewables target’ means in practice.

It is not a commitment that every electron that ends up in the ACT is from a renewable source – in an interconnected grid like the National Electricity Market that is not possible (unless of course the whole grid is fuelled by renewable energy).

It is simply the Government offsetting the total energy use of the ACT by purchasing an equivalent amount of renewable energy in the market. Hence to ‘achieve’ the target, there is no need for storage etc. Whether that represents good policy or not is another story open for debate…

My understanding is the ACT can only reach 100% renewable electricity while the big states continue to rely on coal for base load power. For any self sustaining grid to be 100% renewable, there must be significant storage capacity so as to allow for the peaks and troughs of renewables generation. For example solar generation peaks in the middle of the day, but energy use is highest in the evening when people get home from work, and usually starts picking up in the morning before the sun is up. On clear days extra power needs to be stored to meet deficits on overcast days. Wind is even less predictable than solar generation and so logically must require greater storage assets than solar. The ACT’s goal of 100% renewables is for feel good purposes, as is any other high target for renewables until the problem of effective bulk storage is resolved. Given its emissions advantage over coal, Australia should have constructed a couple of nuclear plants to provide power in lieu of coal while renewables are still sorting out how to consistently provide base load. We have plenty of uranium, are the most geologically stable continent and have no shortage of space to set some aside for long term storage.

Actually peak power usage is during work days, typically on very hot days and peak late in the day as the ramp up of home Aircon overlaps with business aircon still on. So Solar is a very good technology to have to provide for peaks. Yes people are right that wind and solar are not great at providing base load, but we also don’t have an infinite source of coal and the price of coal is likely to only go up anyway making coal less affordable in the long term as it becomes rarer and more expensive to mine. so coal is not the answer either. Uranium also has similar issues, but because of the scare tactics around building nuclear power plants, its still quite abundant. Globally though many people die from coal related incidents. Hydro is off course able to provide base load, but that relies on rainfall also. Any future solution is going to be a mix of technologies and also storage technologies.

Solar generation is actually reduced on very hot days as they lose efficiency with too much heat. The angle of the sun also effects generation, meaning when its getting low in the sky output drops. When I said evenings had highest power use I was talking about 4-7pm, around the times we were warned about possible black outs due to load shedding. Australia’s black coal reserves still have more than a century to go, with brown coal 500 years, which is more than enough time for renewables storage to be worked out properly. Action on climate change is likely to cease production of thermal coal well before we run out, which poses economic challenges for Australia as coal is our second biggest export earner.

watto23 10:33 pm 25 Feb 17

Garfield said :

mcs said :

HiddenDragon said :

The target of 100% renewable energy generation by 2020 is going to require a lot of storage at the system level – not just storage by those households and businesses etc. which have the means, opportunity and know-how to run and maintain their own storage arrangements.

Is there any specific information available on plans (including implementation dates) by the ACT Government for system-wide power storage? With the imminent closure of the Hazelwood power station, the ACT’s 100% renewables target is looking increasingly heroic.

You are overcomplicating what the ‘100% renewables target’ means in practice.

It is not a commitment that every electron that ends up in the ACT is from a renewable source – in an interconnected grid like the National Electricity Market that is not possible (unless of course the whole grid is fuelled by renewable energy).

It is simply the Government offsetting the total energy use of the ACT by purchasing an equivalent amount of renewable energy in the market. Hence to ‘achieve’ the target, there is no need for storage etc. Whether that represents good policy or not is another story open for debate…

My understanding is the ACT can only reach 100% renewable electricity while the big states continue to rely on coal for base load power. For any self sustaining grid to be 100% renewable, there must be significant storage capacity so as to allow for the peaks and troughs of renewables generation. For example solar generation peaks in the middle of the day, but energy use is highest in the evening when people get home from work, and usually starts picking up in the morning before the sun is up. On clear days extra power needs to be stored to meet deficits on overcast days. Wind is even less predictable than solar generation and so logically must require greater storage assets than solar. The ACT’s goal of 100% renewables is for feel good purposes, as is any other high target for renewables until the problem of effective bulk storage is resolved. Given its emissions advantage over coal, Australia should have constructed a couple of nuclear plants to provide power in lieu of coal while renewables are still sorting out how to consistently provide base load. We have plenty of uranium, are the most geologically stable continent and have no shortage of space to set some aside for long term storage.

Actually peak power usage is during work days, typically on very hot days and peak late in the day as the ramp up of home Aircon overlaps with business aircon still on. So Solar is a very good technology to have to provide for peaks. Yes people are right that wind and solar are not great at providing base load, but we also don’t have an infinite source of coal and the price of coal is likely to only go up anyway making coal less affordable in the long term as it becomes rarer and more expensive to mine. so coal is not the answer either. Uranium also has similar issues, but because of the scare tactics around building nuclear power plants, its still quite abundant. Globally though many people die from coal related incidents. Hydro is off course able to provide base load, but that relies on rainfall also. Any future solution is going to be a mix of technologies and also storage technologies.

ivansky 1:56 pm 25 Feb 17

Crikey, I feel compelled to counter some of the amazing negativity expressed by posters on this thread. Apparently the major solar farms being built in the ACT are just “smoke and mirrors”?? Seriously? That seems like a very uninformed comment.

If you actually want to read about the large investment in renewable energy that the government is making, try:
http://www.environment.act.gov.au/energy/cleaner-energy/large-scale-solar

And if you are interested in their first steps into energy storage in homes, you can read:
http://www.environment.act.gov.au/energy/cleaner-energy/next-generation-renewables

Yes, the renewable energy they are buying to offset our overall electrivity usage is not going to deliver electricity into your house when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing. No, the ACT government (as far as I know) hasn’t really solved the quite important baseload problem. We are still reliant on the grid for that. But guess what?
A lot of the time during the day, we won’t be buying dirty coal-fired energy anymore. That means we won’t need to build new dirty power stations. Several of the worst are being shut down soon, maybe the ACT’s move will help that to be less of a problem. And it’s definitely going to result in less pollution.

I see lots of positives here, but certainly plenty of interesting problems still to solve. Too many armchair critics and not enough people wanting to move in the right direction methinks. Get out of your armchairs and do something positive for the planet we all share!

(No I don’t work for the ACT government or any of the solar companies, just a reasonably happy citizen).
(This post was created from recycled electrons).

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