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The hot tips for 2013 – energy storage and big solar

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RenewEconomy passed around the hat this past week for a few ideas on what would be big in 2013 in clean energy in Australia. What emerged was a couple of key themes – the continued proliferation of solar PV and the growing interest in energy storage. And it might just be the year that big solar (solar thermal) makes its mark.

“Watch solar thermal for a vision of what is likely to become the more dominant technology five to 10 years from now,” said one executive. There is certainly much interest – internationally, many countries are throwing billions at the technology, and it is thought that ARENA and/or the CEFC may finally find a way to make it work here too.

Battery storage was another popular choice. Many hinted at their own plans to introduce storage technologies at the commercial, industrial, and residential level. As one said: Everyone seems to think you need a lot of storage to make a difference, but this is not necessarily the case. Many households now use less than 5 kWh per day, so even 1-2 kWh of storage could allow them to manage a large proportion of their peak demand.”

This could be done with ultra-capacitors, lithium-ion, or the CSIRO developed ultrabattery, which recently won the contract for the King Island renewables integration project, and has signed a deal with the largest lead acid battery manufacturer in the world.

The most depressing tip for 2013 was the prediction that regulators and governments will again fail to keep up with the pace of change, “leading to a complex, backward looking and confusing market picture dominated by the status quo and the powerful voices of incumbent players”, as one executive put it.

Here’s what the executives said in their own words:

Miles George, CEO, Infigen Energy

2013 will bring a sharp increase in global awareness of the need for action on climate change. Governments will respond with carbon pricing and renewable energy incentives. Australia will accept its share of the task, and some form of carbon pricing will remain in place, but the RET will remain the primary driver for renewable energy investment. The prospect of $8+/GJ domestic gas will deter new gas-fired electricity generation investment, and renewable energy will dominate new build activity. Electricity users will increasingly seek to avoid the costs of an aged and stranded centralised transmission network, and an increasingly concentrated electricity retailing market.

Alan Pears, adjunct professor, RMIT

“AEMO (the Australian Energy Market Operator) will again reduce its 2020 forecasts, further undermining the business models of the existing electricity industry. Pressure will increase on government and AEMC to drive faster reform, so, for example, network operators can profit from installing energy storage, and buying power cheap while selling it at premium times, as well as using the storage to manage PV and wind electricity. Government will tweak carbon pricing so that energy related voluntary abatement by state governments and big businesses (and hopefully local government and households) will be matched by retirement of carbon permits when trading starts.”

Mark Twidell, CEO, Australian Solar Institute

In solar PV, we can expect a year of industry consolidation. Efficiency will also play an important role, not just Australian technology squeezing more power from lower-cost silicon but also construction efficiency. The lowest cost reliable PV power plants will attract the finance critical for  growth. Consumers will start to benefit from falling storage and control costs making it more attractive to use your own roof top power without uncertainty of  export tariffs fluctuation.

More CSP (concentrated solar power) plants will come on line, allowing cost and performance data to become commercially discoverable – critical to attracting the investment to drive down costs through learning. Using the sun’s energy to add solar content to existing fuel supply chains to Asia could move towards mainstream consideration with Australian technology playing a growing role in a potential major market in the decades ahead.

Lane Crockett, general manager, Pacific Hydro

2013 will be a turnaround year for the industry, local manufacturing and the community. Outcomes of the RET review should include a fixed GWh target and a recommendation to remove or restrict future reviews. The RET review over, 2013 will be a critical year for rebuilding momentum with PPAs being negotiated, investors regaining confidence and the industry rebuilding after the recent uncertainty.

Opportunities for local manufacturing should be significant. The industry needs to work with suppliers, manufacturers, unions and governments to ensure maximum local content. I predict an increasing focus on community wind/community ownership and local communities increasingly rebuking the vested interests of anti-wind.  There will be more interest in investment in clean energy as investors seek to reduce their exposure to carbon intensive industries. Pacific Hydro is looking forward to some exciting announcements; wind and solar projects as well as growing in our B2B Retail business.

Geoff Ward, CEO, Geodynamics

“2013 will see clean energy continue to innovate and adapt, thriving as the appetite for alternate energy at the direct consumer level flourishes. Solar PV, energy efficiency, behind-the-meter, small grid and off-grid innovation will continue to challenge how we look at power systems and further demonstrate the viability of non-fossil fuel based power system. In the fossil fuel arena the stand-off between gas sellers and power developers will continue, magnified by demand uncertainty in the Australian power market (a major driver of which is the accelerating adoption of distributed and renewable technologies and rapidly changing price relativities as technologies mature).

In the arena of large-scale renewable energy key development and demonstration programs such as Geodynamics’ Habanero EGS project and the Carnegie Wave Energy trial at Garden Island will provide further evidence of long-term alternatives to coal and gas-fired generation as backbones of a more diversified and flexible future energy system.”

Locally, demand for electricity will continue to collapse, defying most pundits and causing AEMO to once again revise its forecasts down.

Mike Sandiford, Melbourne Energy Institute
My tip for 2013: Average electricity demand in NSW will fall a further 300MW from 2012 levels to less than 8GW. That will mean demand has fallen by 12 per cent in real terms from  2008 to levels that have not been seen for since 2001. It would mean demand is down almost 20 per cent on the forward projections of 2008.

Peak demand will be up slightly from 2012, but will not set new records. My tip for 2103 is that Victorian peak demand will top out at less than 10GW; well less than the record of 10.4 gigawatts set on January 29, 2009. Globally, coal will assert itself as the king of the energy resources by overtaking oil, and the rate of growth of CO2 emissions will rise.
David Green, CEO, Clean Energy Council

2013 will be a year of change and challenge. It’s a federal election year and so an opportunity for the industry to speak about the benefits it can bring to hard-working Australians and to the wider economy. Internationally, Australia will be able to build on its pivotal position in the climate change negotiations, as further steady progress is made towards the international policy settings that will help to drive further action at home.

With electricity market reform on the agenda this will create new scope to drive changes that can empower consumers and communities to take control of their energy future – and their electricity bills through the smarter, better and more efficient technologies that are now available to achieve this. Now that’s something to really power ahead on!

Peter Cowling, general manager, renewable sales, GE Australia

“2013 will kick off with a definitive review of the RET, for all to see. Apart from some sensible tweaks, it should endorse Australia’s RET as legislated. That should, in turn, be supported by both sides of politics to provide the certainty to enable investment to flow, independent of the political cycle. What will happen then? Australia can embark, in earnest, on building its 21st century “Snowy Mountains Scheme” to future-proof Australia. Now we need to focus on the projects that will deliver the policy, and continue to build on the strong community support for renewables.”

Andrew Thomson, CEO, Acciona Australia

In 2013 it’s critical that we start to see some stability within the policy environment for renewable energy. Australia’s credibility as an investment destination for renewable energy is at stake. It’s likely that the Federal government will endorse the recommendations of the Climate Change Authority and that those recommendations on the RET are unlikely to be substantially changed in any major way from the original discussion paper. We anticipate some movement amongst retailers in 2013 as a result of this. If we’re going to achieve the large-scale target, the industry (including retailers) needs to move now.

Anthony Coles, Solco

Distributed generation gets more mileage in the mainstream media in 2013 as parallels become more visible between the current structural challenges to “old media” fiefdoms, with the rise of the easy-to-use digital publishing tools of “new media” and the impact self-generation will have on the power value-chain. Rooftop residential PV is not a concern to established players. But affordable (via finance) behind-the-meter self-generation and storage will put an end to the rivers of cash.

What is needed? Software-as-a-service (cloud-based services) could only get traction with the advent of always-online-realtime-access (AORTA), more processing capacity for the hardware, and advances in user experience brought on by software (eg: data-integrating xml). Remember the sacred sound of dial-up modems? Well we’re still there in the energy market. Who wins? Plenty will come and go as business models are yet to be proven. Hopefully ARENA’s regional focus and off-grid’s immediate commercial appeal will allow some of them the freedom to flourish.

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  • Peter

    “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.
    Such perspicacity applies to all technologies and knowledge: new, more total energy efficient technologies will modify human behaviour, and leave behind the old fossil fuel industrial State Government regulatory prescribed, supported and maintained systems, which prevent adaptation. Energy efficiency from the end users prospective is the driving ubiquitous force, in our and other economies. The law of diminishing returns ensure the old top down diktat system fails; but only after sucking out numerous subsidies.

  • Robert Johnston

    No predictions from the 3 big gorillas – sorry I mean retailers – that determine the fate of the renewable industry in Australia?

    • Giles Parkinson

      Two were asked, but declined to even respond. Perhaps they have bigger fish to fry, or coal to burn.

  • Ken Fabian

    Giles, The ‘gorillas’ do have powerful mainstream political backing for their recalcitrance. The NSW government lays blame for rising energy costs on Carbon pricing and ‘green’ schemes on every retail electricity bill in NSW. It’s an insidious bit of partisan political messaging, in red, on NSW electricity bills highlighting Federal Carbon Tax and green energy schemes as reason for $316 a year of costs and it is actually mandated by law. No mention of the other reasons for recent rising costs or of the long term costs and consequences of failure to remake the energy sector.

    I’m interested in your thoughts – noting that I personally think it’s an appalling bit of anti-renewables messaging via a medium that precludes any semblance of ‘fair and balanced’.

    It does seem to me that the current NSW government at least, is going to help impede rather than enable the shift away from fossil fuels.

  • Benj

    “NSW electricity bills highlighting Federal Carbon Tax and green energy schemes as reason for $316 a year”

    Interesting. That is more than our total yearly electricity bill.

    Talking about fair and balanced information, I’m appalled that even this website doesn’t mention the concept of a global, and hence individual, CO2 budget.

    Instead of sitting back and waiting for governments and big corporations to act, why not empower individuals and households to manage their own CO2 budgets?

    • Ken Fabian

      BenJ, in full the message on our most recent power bill was “NSW Govt estimates that Federal carbon tax and green energy schemes add about $316 a year to a typical 7MWh household bill – see ipart.nsw.gov.au”. It’s not clear to me if ‘green energy schemes’ are specifically Federal but, by the phrasing it seems implicit – whilst the wording does leave open the possibility that they are not. It was a decision of the O’Farrell government to levy the costs of Solar Feed in Tariffs onto household power bills rather than paying for it via budget allocation and it’s not clear to me if that is part of that $316. If so it’s clearly intended to be deceptive – beyond the deliberate deceptiveness that comes with singling out particular drivers of electricity price rises whilst failing to mention others. To my thinking these decisions appear to be aligned as a deliberate strategy to inculcate dislike and opposition to renewable energy and emissions reductions policies and do so via a medium – our energy bills – that should not be used for partisan political messaging.

      There’s not much doubt that the O’Farrell government opposes most policies to reduce emissions apart from energy efficiency and, at senior levels, the Liberals and Nationals embrace climate science denial/doubt/delay as a politically expedient excuse to do so. To my thinking that is a profound betrayal of the trust and responsibility that comes with being our elected representatives; they have extensive resources for up to date information and expert advice.

      I would note that our power bills do show the estimated GHG emissions – probably mandated also – but no real context is included, such as how that compares to global averages or to responsible reduction goals.