Australia as Asia’s Clean Energy Service Provider

Australia really does have the capacity to generate far more solar power than we need, so why not make use of that awesome oversupply to this sunburned country?

Powering the world…

Having established the viability and usefulness of HVDC cable links to transmit power of very long distances, there is another opportunity for Australia. Connecting firstly to Indonesia and then to other South East Asian countries to provide clean energy generated in the north of Western Australia and Queensland.

We could move from supplying finite raw materials to sustainable raw energy.

Pan Asia Renewable power analysis [1]

If that sounds like a wild fantasy, then consider that the idea has already been discussed between Australian and Indonesian universities and politicians[2] and papers have been produced analyzing the viability of such a project.[3] These papers explore the problems of ocean depth between the countries[4], the expected power loss and the use of hydro stored energy to provide consistent power 24 hours a day. One goes into more depth on establishing a pan-Asia power network that would connect Australia to Northern China and Mongolia, with spurs to other countries.[5]

Pan Asia Network Connections [6]

 

Australia’s International Energy Future

Australia as the World’s Battery Charger

The world currently ships energy around the world on massive supertankers carrying all kinds of fossil fuels. As electricity storage technology increases,[1] could Australia have a role in storing and shipping energy around the world to places that are out of reach of HVDC cables?

A boat the size of a supertanker could already store a phenomenal amount of energy, we already have them arriving in ports around the word on a regular schedule. Could that schedule be used to provide clean energy to any country that needed it? Either by unloading and loading battery packs, or by using the packs on board to charge facilities on shore?

This is probably not currently an economic solution, but as fossil fuels disappear from the earth through scarcity and replacement, are there places that will not be able to generate enough energy locally without resorting to nuclear power or other dangerous and costly methods?

Many island nations already lack the space to build large scale renewable energy plants. These nations are often volcanically active and that poses a huge risk for using nuclear power.

So there must be a business case and a market demand to

What is Concentrated Solar Thermal with Storage Electricity Generation?

So what is this thing they call solar thermal electricity?

How does it come about and what is so good about the new generator plants being deployed?

At it’s simplest level, Concentrated Solar Thermal (CST) generators work by focusing the energy from the sun to make something absorb all the heat. This heat is generally used to turn water into steam and drive a turbine. There are a variety of ways this can be achieved using different combinations of reflectors and absorbers at different scales.

 

 

Solar thermal with Salt Storage. The heat is used to melt the salt, then the salt is stored and used to heat water into steam to power the turbine. This is how this kind of generation plant can maintain dispatchable, baseload power.

 

There are other websites with more detailed explanations for the engineering minded:

 

Explanation of various technologies Beyond Zero Emissions: Description in Australian context of how a large number of plants would supply 60% of the national demand.

Australia is still getting started in joining this industry, but projects are running as of 2014.[1]

[1] https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/technologies/concentrated-solar-thermal.html

Energy Storage Analysis

Cost of Energy Storage Options with Discharge Times – from AEMO report on generation of 100% renewable energy for Australia

The fundamental issue with solar, wind and tidal power is that it does not generate continuously or at predictable levels. Turning intermittent power into constant, baseload, power generation is the ultimate aim of storage solutions. The development of better storage solutions for electricity generated through renewable means remains the single largest area of research. All the other components of the solution are either at parity cost with fossil fuels or will be within the next fifteen years (as demonstrated in the studies). Thankfully this research is well underway with advances being made in the realm of electricity storage at a solid pace. One solution that advanced in 2013 that isn’t shown above is flow batteries that use a different technology to all the above solutions and could provide a cheap way to provide megawatt hours of storage.[1]

[1] http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424140603.htm

The Cost of Renewable Energy

In 2013 many forms of renewable generation were at or below the cost of many fossil fuel systems. This was in terms of the costs of building new generation plants,[1] as well as ongoing operations.[2] Many countries reached and passed grid parity for onshore wind and photovoltaic solar power generation in 2012/13. The argument that it’s too expensive simply doesn’t hold anymore. The arguments from both climate change and the energy trap suggest we should be actively speeding up our migration.

The AEMO study puts the capital cost of migration to 100% renewable energy in Australia to be around $300 billion spread over thirty years. Adding costs of finance, land acquisition, any stranded costs and R&D required, this would likely rise to $500 billion.[3]

This means an expenditure of around $17 billion a year is required to complete the transition in thirty years. The Carbon Pricing scheme alone could account for a large percentage of this total. Combined with the removal of fuel subsidies and private investment from generation companies wishing to participate in the move to sustainable energy makes this an entirely achievable goal without requiring new taxes on individuals.

The carbon tax would, however drive many prices up

The Failure of the Nuclear Business Case

Risk Liability

The fundamental problem with the nuclear energy argument is not one of engineering or technology. A properly functioning nuclear plant emits no carbon and provides continuous baseload power. These are the two selling points of nuclear as opposed to fossil fuels. The problem is with the business case. Every nuclear power plant that has been constructed in the world today is grossly under insured. Insurance companies only cover minor accidents or issues that have a payout value between around US$300 million and $10 billion.[1] The two major accidents in Chernobyl and Fukushima have and will costs over $200 billion each over thirty years.[2] Chernobyl still accounts for around 5% of total government spending for both Belarus and Ukraine.[3] The reason the governments have been left with the bill is that the government is the ‘insurer of last resort’. This means that if something goes catastrophically wrong with a nuclear power plant, the investors and operator let the government clean up the mess. The profits from operational years are left untouched. To put this another way, ‘Privatise the profits, socialize the losses’.

If this business case were given to private industry, they would laugh it at and choose

Energy Transmission in Australia

How to connect the Australian electricity grid with renewable power generators:

Renewables Grid Connection – from AEMO report on generation of 100% renewable energy for Australia

Australia’s size and vast, largely unused, spaces provides both an incredible opportunity as well as a challenge for power transmission. The AEMO study explores this at detail and already recommends the use of High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cables for long distance transmission.[1] This technology is already used to transmit power from Tasmania’s hydroelectric power plants to Victoria across the Bass Strait.[2] At 290km, the Basslink cable was the longest submarine HVDC cable in the world when it was built and in 2013 is the second longest; The NorNed cable connecting Norway to the Netherlands is 580km long.[3] The Basslink cable also includes a fibre optic link, which shows that a project to transmit power from remote locations could also be used as a communications hub to connect Australia with high speed data links.

Australia has two other long distance HVDC connectors in operation in 2013. The Terranora link that joins the Queensland and New South Wales grids across a 59 kilometre gap[4] and Murraylink that joins the South Australian