The Australian Renewable Energy Agency says it will soon unveil its strategy for a widespread “hybridisation” of Australia’s fleet of fossil fuel power plants.
ARENA chair Greg Bourne says a report conducted by Parsons Brinkerhoff will be released later this month which will look at how quickly and widely renewable fuels such as geothermal, solar thermal and biomass can be added to existing plants, or used to exploit the infrastructure of plants which have closed.
Bourne sees hybridisation as a key strategy for the deployment of renewables in Australia, even if some argue that it may extend the life of dirty and inefficient coal plants. It is part of what he sees as a cautious and gradual approach to the greening of Australia’s electricity grid.
“We expect this study will inform the design of a new program in 2013/14 to encourage the broader deployment of utility scale, grid connected renewable energy in existing power stations,” he said in a speech to the Australian National Conference on Resources and Energy in Canberra.
Bourne cited two examples of this – the 44MW solar thermal “booster” that is being added to the Kogan Creek coal fired generator in Queensland (pictured), and the proposed solar thermal/gas fired hybrid that is being considered to replace the close Collinsville coal-fired generator in north Queensland. There was no mention of the solar thermal project being proposed for Port Augusta, although presumably this woud fit the category.
“We see hybrid projects as one of the pathways to not only introduce renewables into the energy mix but also to simultaneously improve the emission intensity of the plant; boost output and through “learning by doing” increase .
“We know existing fossil fuel sites offer many benefits for renewable energy projects. Existing communities can provide energy workers. Existing grid connections and transmission infrastructure can reduce costs. In most cases, environmental permits are already taken care of. And, importantly, there are opportunities to re-use steam turbines.”
(There was no mention of the solar thermal project being proposed for Port Augusta, although presumably this would fit one of the two categories he cited).
ARENA is also focused on off-grid applications, which Bourne says also offer opportunities for hybrid systems.
He warned that because Australia had more than 100 years of “embedded technology and infrastructure to contend with, and billions of dollars of existing gas and coal-fired power plants, transforming this would be an “incremental process” and “cannot happen overnight. “
But he said that Australia was “poorly portfolioed” and a “gradual” shift away from a reliance on fossil fuels for power generation was imperative.
“Expanding renewable energy is in the interests of all Australians. Fossil fuels of course are finite and their use is coming under intense pressure in many countries from a global and local emissions perspective.
“The threat of climate change, together with the pressures to reduce emissions through mitigation efforts, will have a significant effect on how Australia sees its coal reserves in particular.
“Will it remain a reserve – monetisable at today’s economic, financial and market settings – or will it revert to just being a physical resource – there, but like some other minerals – losing value. The jury is out. What is certain is that Australia will be a market taker of the many global decisions that lie ahead. “
Bourne said Australia also faces significant environmental and economic impacts from climate change and “only by generating power from renewable sources, driving for energy efficiency and thereby reducing our emissions intensity can we hope to reduce our carbon footprint and do our part towards solving this global challenge.
“Perversely the more we do to play our part in reducing Australia’s burden on the global carbon budget, the more we put our fossil fuel reserves under pressure.
“Studies have also shown that renewables put downward pressure on our rapidly rising electricity prices – so there is a more immediate and tangible rationale for rebalancing the portfolio. Competitive renewable energy generation will be a lasting legacy and will ensure our energy security into the distant future.”