Mixed Greens: Wild weather helps renewables output soar

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Strong winds and flooded coal mines push renewables generation up 50%. Plus Agua Caliente’s 250MW milestone; UK’s wind record; and Germany’s PV pause.

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Wild winds and heavy rains have helped drive a dramatic rise in Australia’s renewable power generation over recent months, according to new research from carbon analytics firm RepuTex. The data shows that the country’s renewable energy output has jumped more than 50 per cent above 2011 monthly averages on the back of strong winds across Australia’s eastern seaboard, and reduced output from brown coal generators like Victoria’s Yallourn Power Station, which was flooded in early June when the nearby Morwell River burst its banks during heavy rains.

“Wind generation has picked up markedly over 2012, running 57 per cent higher this month than August 2011 due largely to stronger winds and increased capacity in southern states,” said RepuTex senior analyst Cory Jemison. “Earlier this month we saw South Australia buffeted by gale force winds, with 85 per cent of the state’s power generation coming directly from wind sources, so the capacity is now there to take advantage of the weather conditions, particularly in SA and Victoria.”

Reputex says the boost to renewables generation lead to a 7 per cent reduction in emissions intensity across the National Electricity Market. And there’s even been some upside for the owners of Yallourn – which continues to generate at half its normal levels – with Reputex forecasting the generator’s carbon liabilities to fall by $33.5 million.

“If we consider the reduced coal output and the increased renewable generation, then add into the mix the announced closure of coal assets owned by Rio Tinto (whose Blair Athol mine in Queensland will shut down by December) and BMA (the BHP Mitsubishi Alliance’s Gregory open-cut coal mine in Queensland will close in October due to low coal prices, high costs, and the high Australian dollar) we forecast the removal of around 4.6 million tonnes of emissions from the Australian carbon market for FY 2013 – or about 1.5 per cent of total market emissions, so this activity is leading to a fairly dynamic market.”

In other news…

First Solar revealed this week that its Agua Caliente solar project – the world’s largest operational PV power plant – had achieved a peak generating capacity of 250MW connected to the electrical grid. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that the project, which is under construction in Arizona, will have a generating capacity of 290MW when completed. The project, which began construction in the second half of 2010, is expected to be completed on schedule in 2014.

The UK National Grid says the nation’s wind power generation record could be broken several times over the course of this week, predicting that strong winds coupled with increased capacity could send a record 4.14GW to the grid. BusinessGreen reports that on Tuesday, wind farms generated 3.36GW of electricity – 9 per cent of the total energy mix – falling just short of the current record of 3.8GW, set three months ago.

Germany’s solar PV installations appear to have hit a wall, slowing considerably for a second month in a row to 320MW in August, according to environment minister Peter Altmaier on Wednesday. Platts reports that this is down from 543MW in July and 1,790MW in June, according to the federal grid regulator Bundesnetzagentur, which has not yet published its August data. The country’s total installed PV capacity now stands above 30,000MW.

Victoria’s controversial Wonthaggi desalination plant – set to be Australia’s biggest – has produced its first drinking water during an initial performance test. Bloomberg reports that production at the plant – developed by a consortium called AquaSure – will be increased during commissioning over the next few months with the plant capable of full production by the end of the year.

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