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South Australia to set path towards 100% renewable energy

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South Australia is expected to pass its 50 per cent renewable energy target next year – nearly a decade ahead of schedule – and the Labor government will now aim to get the state as close to 100 per cent renewable energy as possible.

Premier Jay Weatherill said in Paris on Monday that the state was leading the world in the incorporation of variable renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and hoped the knowledge gained would create a massive economic opportunity for a state struggling with the decline of long-term industries such as car manufacturing.

“We are running a big international experiment right now,” Weatherill said at the launch in Paris of the Compact of States and Regions, an initiative that will see 44 states and regions reduce their emissions by 12.4 tonnes by 2030.

“We have got a long, skinny transmission system and we will soon have 50 per cent renewable energy, including a lot of wind and some solar.

“We need technology breakthroughs for large-scale storage, such as pumped hydro or batteries, but these are massive technological challenges that are exciting opportunities for the state.”

weatherill jerry brown

Jay Weatherill, Jerry Brown (to his right), and other regional leaders prepare to speak to journalists in the Paris Hotel de Ville.

South Australia does find itself at the cutting edge of the transition from a fossil-fuel based economy to an energy system dominated by technologies such as wind, solar and storage. Its last coal fired power generator is due to close in March next year.

The 50 per cent renewable energy target was formally announced last year, but was always going to be met well ahead of time – the addition of the Snowton 2 wind farm, the construction of the Hornsdale wind farm, and the growth in rooftop solar PV will take the state over that threshold in 2016.

Indeed, the Australian Energy Market Operator has forecast that all of the state’s daytime demand may on occasions be met by rooftop solar alone within the next decade.

It recently undertook scenario planning that suggested the state could reach close to 100 per cent renewable energy within two decades. In reality, the state is unlikely to go all the way to 100 per cent renewables, because it will likely find that  electrification of transport is a bigger priority. But it could go close.

In an interview, later, with RenewEconomy, Weatherill said the state would now aim to get as close to 100 per cent renewable energy as it could, as part of its plan to attain zero net emissions by 2050, and attract $10 billion of investment to the state in the next decade.

“We want to get as close to 100 per cent renewable power as possible,” Weatherill said in the interview. “There will probably still need to be some small proportion of baseload power in the system for a period of time.

“But if we find an effective solution to storing energy from wind and solar and dispatching it at peak periods, then that will remove the need for baseload power and a fossil fuel energy source.”

That transition is likely to be closely scrutinised by the huge number of detractors, both by fossil fuel interests, the nuclear lobby and many in mainstream media, with even a recent outage caused by equipment failures blamed on the state’s reliance on wind energy.

Weatherill conceded that the state was taking risks, but indicated it had no real choice given the demise of traditional industries such as car manufacturing, and also given the huge opportunities in clean technology.

“We know there are challenges here,” Weatherill told RenewEconomy. “But with big risks, go big opportunities.

“The imperative is so strong for the planet, and also our state. Our state is at a point of transformation, so we have got to take risks to show what the future of community looks like.”

And with that, he said, go first mover opportunities.

“If we can solve (these issues) in South Australia, we can then help others. We are trying to turn this into an exciting challenge, rather than a burden.”

The state is also focusing on transport, looking to electrify its bus and private car network, and is keen to attract the interest of electric vehicle manufacturing.

It is about to conduct a tender for its fleet of 7,500 government vehicles, which could conceivably go to an electric vehicle manufacturer (the contract currently lies with General Motors Holden, which ceases manufacturing in the state in 2017), and it is looking at driver-less car technologies.

It is also supporting its capital city, Adelaide, in its push to become the first large carbon neutral city in the world – a target it hopes to achieve within a decade. Both the state government and the city council have pushed new incentives to encourage battery storage in homes and businesses. Weatherill has also called for tenders to ensure that his government’s own electricity demand is met entirely by renewable energy.

South Australia is also hosting a royal commission into the nuclear fuel cycle, but since the release of a new report late last month predicting that nuclear technology will cost more than twice as much as wind and solar in the next decades, the chance of nuclear power being built in South Australia, or even Australia, appears negligible.

“(Nuclear) may be not viable for South Australia, or our nation. But it may be viable for other countries who are building a frightening amount of (coal fired power stations),” Weatherill said.

Weatherill admitted there was resistance in some quarters, but the number of climate sceptics was reducing. (It should be noted that South Australia has its fair share of prominent sceptics in the likes of Senator Corey Bernardi, former Senator Nick Minchin and others).

brown weatherill

On that point, it was interesting to note the comments by California Governor Jerry Brown at the joint press conference. Brown wants California to reach around 70 per cent renewable energy by 2030, and he says such plans are fiercely resisted by many in business and the powerful fossil fuel lobby.

“Decarbonising the global economy, or any economy, requires an heroic undertaking,” Brown said. “It has a lot of opposition.”

He pointed to the fossil fuel industry, sceptical and resistant people in the business community, and “elected officials who are in opposition or silent, and not willing to vote on regulatory policies needed to do the job.”

But Weatherill said many in business are now seeing decarbonisation as an opportunity.

“We want to attract those companies that have a low-carbon plan as part of their business objectives. And frankly they are being driven by their employees, who want that ethical offering.

“We see this as a way of attracting good people and great companies who want to be part of the high-tech innovative future for our state.

“We always believed there were massive advantages for first movers. Economies that make these adjustments earliest will reap the most benefits and avoid the worst costs.”

As for Australia’s federal government, which has still to announce any long-term renewables target, Weatherill said he was hoping for a co-operative environment rather than the “destuctive and negative” attitude towards climate change of the last few years.


He also wanted Canberra to remove the uncertainty over the renewable energy target – projects are still struggling to gain finance despite the agreement to cut the RET earlier this year – and to re-introduce a carbon price.

“We know the present prime minister is supportive of such a scheme. He has just got to get his party to come along with him.”

 

 

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  • John Saint-Smith

    South Australia, another state or another universe?

  • Rurover

    Worth noting that SA has a lot to lose if global warming really gets a grip.
    Already we are seeing significant changes in climate in the Southern parts of the state and of course the state is very reliant on the Murray river for drinking water & irrigation This system is now and will in future be hit very hard by the drying trend across the SE corner of Australia.

    So lots to lose from global warming and lots to gain by being proactive in adopting new technology to reduce our carbon footprint.

    • Miles Harding

      Another SA innovator is Sundrop farms in Port Augusta:
      http://www.sundropfarms.com/

      from their web:
      Sundrop Farms is a leader in sustainable horticulture for the arid world; growing high-value crops using seawater and sunlight.
      We are the only company in the world with the technology and know-how to develop and operate greenhouses in locations that have little or no access to arable land, fresh water sources, or grid energy . We have created a proprietary food production system which grows high-quality produce year-round in greenhouses that use the abundant and renewable resources of sunlight and seawater.

      • john

        Yes Sundropfarms have used the available solar to their advantage
        Mind you solar power pumping has been used for quiet a while especially in northern Africa where some large pumping stations were built. Outstations bores lend them selves to both windmill and solar powered pumping and using new communication systems can be remotely monitored.

        • Miles Harding

          Nothing is really new any more.
          Sundrop is interesting because they have actually done it.

  • D. John Hunwick

    Weatherill is showing excellent leadership. For the future of SA we must not let Marshall ever get the reins of power. The State Liberals have said nothing about what they will do for climate change, while Weatherill is slowly (perhaps too slowly) showing the way.

  • Ray Miller

    Adding significant energy efficiency and productivity targets is complementary and will make this a happen even sooner. COAG has signed off on a significant agenda but why is it keep too quiet? http://www.scer.gov.au/workstreams/energy-market-reform/national-energy-productivity-plan/

    • john

      I note the goals in the document over view

      The NEPP aims to improve energy productivity by driving:

      more productive consumer choices, through measures which make consumer energy choices easier, help business compete and provide more efficient incentives; and

      more productive energy services, through measures which support innovation, competitive modern markets and consumer protections

  • Miles Harding

    Go South Australia, the nation’s true innovator!

    Pity that I live in Wesstern Australia. (sigh)

    • Alistair Spong

      So do I – but there’s always hope

      • Miles Harding

        You may be right about that. Mike Nahan is a showing some understanding of the issues.

        • Alistair Spong

          And governments change and perspectives of the voters.

  • Colin Ball

    SA is transforming alright, right before our eyes and as Rurover
    comments has been so for some time. It’s called desertification.
    Yes SA has a lot to lose, just note the post-firestorm whirles and windstorm
    that just removed tons of soil from the burnt fireground of the recent
    Pinery fire last week. There were desert-like sand drifts covering the
    Balaklava to Mallala road adjacent the ground-zeroed dune paddocks for
    miles. Hollowed out burnt and crashed trees on the ground in continuous
    rows along roads and waterless courses. It is the crisis roosting around
    there.

    Complementary to post european settlement has been the
    immense deforestation of SA woodlands, grazing and the commencement of
    chemical based industrial agro culture. This of course is fossil fuel
    based meaning huge interests are at stake in conventional farming – oil,
    petrochemical, equipment and transport, marketeers and stock exchanges.

    Weatherill is cagey. He doesn’t take this issue on or confront any of those interests.

    On another taboo nor is any conversation or debate undertaken in
    mainstream media, politics or academia about the role and contribution
    of the military to global warming, especially the US military the
    largest contributor in the world. 1998 negotiations taken to entice the
    US to agree to Kyoto outcomes allowed an exemption to not include the
    military’s numbers due to ‘internal security’ reasons. The negotiators
    agreed to this, the US did not ratify Kyoto and all COPs since do not
    include US military carbon gas contribution.

    Why is this put up with by our so-called leaders? If the world’s populations understood this they would not tolerate it. Who wants war? We know the answers. The climate terrorists want to keep power. Transnational energy monopolists will not purposedly strand their commercial assets and the military will make sure it is protected and expanded.

    The discussion is much broader than shutting down coal. It is about
    understanding global geopollitics and international banking as well, the real
    causes of war and how to stop this.

  • Ian

    Are technological breakthroughs in pumped hydro really needed? This industry is as mature as a South Australian Red. Resolve is needed not new technology. Build a frig—ng pumped hydro plant, don’t talk about it. To combat evaporation cover the top and bottom reservoirs with solar panels. Two birds one stone.

    • Miles Harding

      Of course not!
      We’ve been building efficient pumped hydro for years.
      There are plenty of coastal places with sufficient head height. Oddly, these locations also make good wind farm sites.

      By co-locating the pumped hydro, the wires are already there for the wind.

      I wouldn’t be worrying about evaporation, as the surface level will likely go up and down quite a few metres per day. The reservoir would still make a good flat place to put a few square km of panels.

      • Ian

        Here’s a thought that might be useful to cities like Adelaide that want to become 100% renewable. Join the ideas of water storage like pumped hydro with water reticulation. In the past large header tanks placed on hills would provide the pressure required to pipe water to various needs across a city. Over time oversized pumps would provide the necessary pressure obviating the need for elevated storage tanks. To take advantage of cheap renewables power, a water utility can again use header tanks to arbitrage energy. Ie pump water when there is lots of cheap renewable power and release water to the town supply when renewables are absent. This technique could be used for farm irrigation schemes and industrial water supply.

        • Miles Harding

          There could be something in that!

          Along this line, if water has to be desalinated, it can also be stored, allowing the desal plant to consume energy when it’s plentiful. Last time I checked, desalination of seawater requires something like 4kwh of energy per cubic metre to separate the salt, giving desalinated water the same energy as water in a 1400m high reservoir.

  • onesecond

    “South Australia is expected to pass its 50 per cent renewable energy target next year”

    Really? Isn’t that rather renewable electricity without transport and other sectors?

  • Robert Comerford

    Go S.A.! Let us hope the govt doesn’t change before they achieve their goals.
    However, we don’t need more innovation to do these things, the technology is already here.
    Support for a domestically owned electric/ hybrid vehicle manufacturer would be a big plus to replace GMH. A race car isn’t needed, just a modern version of a model T… comes in black and a variety of body styles on the one chassis. Battery only or renewable liquid fuel battery charger/ range extender options.

  • Rob

    Think I might have to move to South Australia!

  • prumm

    Intermittency isn’t a solution to providing on demand power.

    The structures you want to abate CO2 with require some of the most energy intensive production methods ever conceived, not to mention require inefficient gas backup.

    But let’s not let facts gloss over a theoretical output.

    Especially when the 1000’s of litres of gearbox oil need changing every year or so.