Sunday, 17 December 2017

Outback Couple Build Solar Farm To Prove Fringe-Of-Grid Power Generation Need

ABC NewsHarriet Tatham

Together Lyn and Doug Scouller were able to get the solar farm up and running. (ABC News: Harriet Tatham)
Building a $14 million solar farm is an expensive way to send a message about electricity prices, but Doug and Lyn Scouller said they were left with few options. In Normanton, 500 kilometres north of Mount Isa in north-west Queensland, the Scoullers built a solar farm big enough to power an area almost twice the size of Tasmania, in a move to prove to stakeholders the benefit of positioning power generation sites at the end of the grid.
"We suffer from an unusual amount of blackouts out here. Sometimes I've experienced it in Karumba up to 13 times a day ... and it's purely because of the losses," Mr Scouller said.
"The power actually comes from Rockhampton up the coast to Townsville and up to us, and it's the old story the longer the extension lead, the less power you get at the end."
The five-megawatt, 16,000-panel farm produces electricity that is fed back into the grid at Normanton.
By producing power locally, Mr Scouller said he believed he would save on the losses, and subsequently put a downward pressure on electricity prices.
"I just believe we've got a lot of losses in the network and if we start to produce power where the power is used, we will reduce those networks and it will ease the pressure on increasing power prices," he said.
Doug Scouller previously owned and operated a motel. (ABC News: Harriet Tatham)
Test case for Australia
In 2016, the Normanton Solar Farm received an $8.5 million grant from The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (AREA), and is now being used as a test case to generate data about fringe-of-grid energy investment.
Calculations made before the plants construction will be compared with new data to determine whether the Scouller's planned reduction in transmission loss will eventuate.
But not everybody is convinced.
The 16,000 panels on the farm can power an area almost twice the size of Tasmania. (Supplied: Normanton Solar Farm)
 Greg Elkins, the Ergon Energy engineer who led the commissioning, said his preliminary research showed that end-of-line power generation might increase the transmission loss.
"The requirement of very long transmission lines means that there are a lot of losses in just having the line turned on," Mr Elkins said.
"Putting energy at the remote end can actually cause that amount of [required] power flow to have the line online ... to increase.
"It's kind of like a freight train - the amount of energy required to take the freight train from Townsville to Normanton is travelling every minute, and whether the power is supplied in Normanton or Townsville, that freight train still needs to run every time."
While there are plans for expansion, the Normanton Solar Farm does not yet have a battery system. Another reason why Mr Elkins said he believed changes in transmission loss would be limited.
"Most of the generation from the solar farm is during the day where consumers typically use it during the night, so the excess solar generation has to flow back to Townsville — that's one of the reasons why the losses will be minimal," he said.
Mr Elkins said the only way to remove the losses entirely would be to turn off the Townsville to Normanton line, which he said might cause more problems.
"The only way to remove those losses would be to turn that line off which would then produce more unreliable power," he said.
Despite the Scouller's research, Mr Elkins says power generation at the end of the line "may not have an impact on losses". (ABC News: Harriet Tatham)
 Despite the difference in opinion, the Scoullers are adamant their business will work, even if it does take eight years to secure a return.
"[I'm] extremely confident — we did a lot of pre-planning, a lot of calculations, a lot of engineers — no doubt at all," Mrs Scouller said.
Mr Scouller agreed.
"It's just pure mathematics and physics — if you generate out of here, you reduce those losses almost to zero," Mr Scouller said.

An electric 'I do'
The project bought no shortage of challenges.
In February, a stand-off with Ergon Energy delayed the switch-on of the farm, and about the same time Mr Scouller was diagnosed with cancer.
But at the weekend the couple hosted the ultimate celebration, and were married on the same day the farm was fully commissioned.
"We had family travelling from all over, so we wanted to celebrate with a bang," Mr Scouller laughed.
And the newlyweds said Normanton would not be their last solar farm.
"I think it's a bit like a marathon runner — you forget how hard you were hurting halfway through the race. Once you're finished, you want to have another go," Mr Scouller said.
Lyn and Doug Scouller were married on the same day their solar farm was commissioned to 100 per cent. (Supplied: Lindy Hick Photography)


Australian Superannuation Investors Join $US26 Trillion Climate Change Initiative

New DailyRod Myer

Companies will be pressured to reduce carbon in their supply chains. Photo: Getty
A raft of multi-billion Australasian investment groups have joined a $US22.6 trillion ($34.36 trillion) global initiative to drive climate change action among the world’s top 100 carbon emitters, responsible for 15 per cent of global emissions.
Australian giants to be targeted by the measure include BHP, Rio Tinto and Wesfarmers, which mines coal and owns retail groups Coles and Bunnings. They will be pressured by investors to take action against carbon emissions in their businesses.
More than 200 of the world’s biggest investors have signed up to the initiative, known as Climate Action 100+, which is being launched in Paris on Tuesday evening Australian time. It marks the second anniversary of the singing of the Paris Climate Change agreement in 2015.
Membership includes Australian investment giants Australian Super, AMP Capital, VicSuper, First State Super, Hesta and Cbus.
International members include US pension giant CalPERS, HSBC Global Asset Management and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.
The full list of companies under scrutiny is here and the full list of investor members is here.
Commenting on the launch, Emma Herd, Chief Executive Officer of the Investor Group on Climate Change said: “This project puts companies on notice that investors expect real action on climate change. Through Climate Action 100+, investors hope to move companies to go further, faster, when it comes to managing climate change risk and developing low carbon opportunities.”
A spokesperson for Wesfarmers told Fairfax Media: “Wesfarmers regularly engages with investors on this issue and will continue to do so. As a group, we strive to reduce the emissions intensity of our businesses and improve their resilience to climate change.”
Andrew Gray, Senior Manager, Investments Governance at AustralianSuper and member of the Climate Action 100+ Global Steering Committee said: “In a few short months, a substantial community of institutional investors have coalesced around this initiative to signal to companies that they will be holding them accountable to align their business plans to the Paris Agreement, increase disclosure and improve governance to address a significant investment risk.”
Matt Whineray, Chief Investment Officer of the NZ Super Fund said: “The Climate Action 100+ initiative is a significant step forward in active ownership by investors concerned about climate change investment risk. Engagement is a core part of the NZ Super Fund’s climate change investment strategy and our involvement in this project provides a clear signal to the companies we invest in that we expect them to understand and manage climate change risk.”
David Atkins, Chief Executive Officer Cbus said: “Companies and investors have a shared responsibility to facilitate an orderly and just transition to a climate resilient economy. Through this initiative, investors will set clear expectations and we expect companies will step up and respond accordingly.”
Investors will ask companies to take the following action:
  1. Implement a strong governance framework which clearly articulates the board’s accountability and oversight of climate change risk.
  2. Take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across their value chain, consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  3. Provide enhanced corporate disclosure to enable investors to companies’ business plans against a range of climate scenarios, including holding emissions well below 2-degrees Celsius and improve investment decision-making.

Four Decades And Counting: New NASA Instrument Continues Measuring Solar Energy Input To Earth

NASA - Kasha Patel

The Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE), launched in 2003, currently measuring total solar irradiance from space, observed a dip in the irradiance during intense solar flare activity in September 2017. TSIS-1 will continue these observations with one-third the uncertainty of its predecessor. Credit: NASA. 
We live on a solar-powered planet. As we wake up in the morning, the Sun peeks over the horizon to shed light on us, blanket us with warmth and provide cues to start our day. At the same time, our Sun’s energy drives our planet’s ocean currents, seasons, weather and climate. Without the Sun, life on Earth would not exist.
For nearly 40 years, NASA has been measuring how much sunshine powers our home planet. This December, NASA is launching an instrument to the International Space Station to continue monitoring the Sun’s energy input to the Earth system. The Total and Spectral solar Irradiance Sensor (TSIS-1) will precisely measure what scientists call “total solar irradiance.” These data will give us a better understanding of Earth’s primary energy supply and help improve models simulating Earth’s climate.
This composite shows the Sun's total solar irradiance since 1978 as observed from nine previous satellites. These observations are important to help scientists know precisely how much the Sun's energy changes and how that affects Earth. Credit: NASA. 
“You can look at the Earth and Sun connection as a simple energy balance. If you have more energy absorbed by the Earth than leaving it, its temperature increases and vice versa,” said Peter Pilewskie, TSIS-1 lead scientist at the Laboratory for Atmospheric Physics (LASP) in Boulder, Colorado. Under NASA’s direction, LASP is providing and distributing the instrument’s measurements to the scientific community. “We’re measuring all the radiant energy that is coming to Earth.”
But it’s not so simple: the Sun’s output energy is not constant. Over the course of about 11 years, our Sun cycles from a relatively quiet state to a peak in intense solar activity — like explosions of light and solar material — called a solar maximum. In subsequent years the Sun returns to a quiet state and the cycle starts over again. The Sun has fewer sunspots — dark areas that are often the source of increased solar activity — and stops producing so many explosions, going through a period called the solar minimum. Over the course of one solar cycle (one 11-year period), the Sun’s emitted energy varies on average at about 0.1 percent. That may not sound like a lot, but the Sun emits a large amount of energy – 1,361 watts per square meter. Even fluctuations at just a tenth of a percent can affect Earth.
In addition to those 11-year changes, entire solar cycles can vary from decade to decade. Scientists have observed unusually quiet magnetic activity from the Sun for the past two decades with previous satellites. During the last prolonged solar minimum in 2008-2009, our Sun was as quiet it has been observed since 1978. Scientists expect the Sun to enter a solar minimum within the next three years, and TSIS-1 will be primed to take measurements of the next minimum.

In terms of climate change research, scientists need to understand the balance between energy coming in from the Sun and energy radiating out from Earth, as modulated by Earth's surface and atmosphere. Measurements from TSIS, the Total and Spectral Solar Irradiance Sensor, will help our understanding of the Earth-Sun connection and improve climate models. Credit: NASA/Michael Starobin.Download this video from the Scientific Visualization Studio.

“We don’t know what the next solar cycle is going to bring, but we’ve had a couple of solar cycles that have been weaker than we’ve had in quite a while so who knows. It’s a pretty exciting time to be studying the Sun,” said Dong Wu, the TSIS-1 project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Goddard is responsible for the overall development and operation of TSIS-1 on the International Space Station.
TSIS-1 data are particularly important for helping scientists understand the causes of total solar irradiance fluctuations and how they are connected with the Sun’s behavior over decades or centuries. Today, scientists have neither enough data nor the forecasting skill to predict whether total solar irradiance has any long-term trend, said Doug Rabin, deputy project scientist at Goddard. TSIS-1 will continue a data sequence that is vital to answering that question.
These data are also important for understanding Earth's climate through models. Scientists use computer models to interpret changes in the Sun’s energy input. If less solar energy is available, scientists can gauge how that will affect Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, weather and seasons by using computer simulations. The input from the Sun is just one of many factors scientists used to model Earth’s climate. Earth’s climate is also affected by other factors such as greenhouse gases, clouds scattering light and small particles in the atmosphere called aerosols — all of which are taken into account in comprehensive climate models.
TSIS-1 will study the total amount of solar radiation emitted by the Sun using the Total Irradiance Monitor, one of two sensors on the instrument. The second sensor, called the Spectral Irradiance Monitor, will measure how the Sun’s energy is distributed over the ultraviolet, visible and infrared regions of light. TSIS-1 spectral irradiance measurements of the Sun's ultraviolet radiation are critical to understanding the ozone layer — Earth's natural sunscreen that protects life from harmful radiation.
“Knowing the Sun’s behavior and knowing how Earth’s atmosphere responds to the Sun is even more important now because of all the different factors that affect climate change. We need to understand how all of these interact on Earth’s system,” said Pilewskie.


Saturday, 16 December 2017

Australia's Greenhouse Gas Emissions Highest On Record

The Guardian

Renewable energy and proper climate policy are key to dropping emissions, carbon consultancy chief says
Emissions from transport are at record levels. Photograph: Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Australia’s emissions over the past year were the highest on record, when relatively unreliable emissions from land use are excluded, according to estimates by the carbon consultancy NDEVR Environmental.
Greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise in recent quarters, with the most recent the second highest for any quarter since 2011, despite electricity emissions being driven down by wind generation.
The government’s official public release of data on emissions is now six months behind and NDEVR Environmental’s estimations attempt to mirror that methodology. Released in partnership with Guardian Australia, the results have proven very accurate when compared with data eventually released by the federal government.
The ever-increasing emissions are taking Australia further from both its carbon-reduction commitments made in Paris and the much bigger reductions demanded by the science-based targets, recommended by the government’s Climate Change Authority. 
NDEVR found emissions in the most recent quarter soared to levels only seen once in the past six years.
That came despite massive jumps in wind-generated electricity in Victoria and New South Wales, which more than doubled, pushing down emissions from the National Electricity Market.
But emissions from transport were at record levels, with jumps in the use of diesel and aviation fuel.
Emissions in all other sectors either remained stable or increased slightly.  
Matt Drum, founder of NDEVR, said their results show carbon emissions are not going to drop until proper climate policy is in place.
He said the drop in emissions from electricity was driven by market forces, not policy. “If you don’t foster renewable energy, it’s only going to get worse,” Drum said.
In both 2015 and 2016, the government quietly released data showing rising emissions on the days before Christmas, with this year’s data still not released just two weeks out from Christmas.
And, for the past two years, documents released under freedom of information laws have shown the government has had the data for months before releasing it.
“They might drop it just before Christmas again but it’s not much of a Christmas present for Australia’s emission profile and it goes to show that Australia’s climate policy needs a lot of work,” Drum said.
Last week, the Climate Council called on the government to end what it called “climate censorship”.
“At a time when Australia’s federal climate and energy policy remains in limbo, it has never been more important for transparent pollution information,” the Climate Council chief executive, Amanda McKenzie, said. “Continuing to keep the information hidden just raises questions about what there is to hide.
“For several years, there’s been a consistent delay from the Department of the Environment and Energy’s national greenhouse gas inventory on releasing vital emissions data. This raises serious questions over the federal government’s transparency on Australia’s pollution levels.”


Golden Eagle Migration Out Of Sync With Climate Change

BBC - Victoria Gill

Golden eagles in North America may have the timing of their migration shifted out of step with a seasonal boom in food they need to raise their young, according to scientists.
A project to track the impact of climate change on migrating animals has revealed that adult golden eagles are unable to shift the timing of their migration.
Lead researcher Scott LaPoint from Columbia University presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
He explained that day length, or photoperiod, appeared to give the great birds the cue to go "as far and as fast as possible".
When analysing tracking data, composed of 20 years' worth of tagging birds with satellite tags and following their seasonal migrations, Dr LaPoint noticed an unusual pattern. Younger raptors would shift the timing of their journey, seemingly adapting to weather conditions and climate.
"But the adults get this photoperiod trigger and it's 'Time to go!'," he told BBC News.
"I would have expected an older, wiser bird to better time their migration," he added.
"But, with this [daylight] trigger, they don't have the luxury of deciding. They need to get [to their nesting site] as soon as possible to initiate a clutch.
"They want to get their chicks as independent as possible by October, November."
Birds younger than five years are sub-adult. They do not reproduce, so they are able to wait for good thermals to take them on a less energy-intensive journey north.
Northern-breeding golden eagles can travel thousands of miles to their wintering grounds.
And they have adapted to have their departure coincide with the first lasting snowfall or freeze and decreasing prey abundance.
If they're coming up at the same time every year, and if there's a change in that ecosystem due to climate change - whether that's a shifting of when spring arrives, or more extreme weather events - that time of arrival could be less optimal, said Dr LaPoint.
"We're potentially disrupting this synchrony. And if the birds aren't able to adapt, I'm not sure what to expect."


Overfishing And Climate Change Push Seabirds To Extinction

The Guardian

Kittiwakes and gannets are among seabirds that have joined endangered species on IUCN red list as food stocks dwindle, says study
‘Disastrous chick survival rates’: a black-legged kittiwake rests on a rock ledge in Scotland, UK. Photograph: Alamy
Overfishing and climate change are pushing some of the world’s most iconic seabirds to the brink of extinction, according to a new report.
The study reveals that kittiwakes and gannets are among a number of seabirds that have now joined the red list of under-threat birds drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Dr Ian Burfield, global science coordinator at Birdlife International which carried out the study for IUCN, said the threat to these birds pointed to a wider environmental challenge.
“Birds are well studied and great indicators of the health of the wider environment. A species at higher risk of extinction is a worrying alarm call that action needs to be taken now.”
The study found that overfishing and changes in the Pacific and north Atlantic caused by climate change have affected the availability of sand eels which black-legged kittiwakes feed on during the breeding season.
This has caused “disastrous chick survival rates”, it says, with nesting kittiwake numbers plummeting by 87% since 2000 on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and by 96% on the Hebridean island of St Kilda.
‘Alarming decline’: Atlantic puffins on Eastern Egg Rock, a small island off the coast of Maine, US. Photograph: Robert F Bukaty/AP
Globally, the species is thought to have declined by about 40% since the 1970s, justifying its move from the “least concern” category to “vulnerable” on the Red List.
“The alarming decline of the black-legged kittiwake and other North Atlantic and Arctic seabirds, such as the Atlantic puffin, provides a painful lesson in what happens when nations take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to conservation,” said Marguerite Tarzia, European marine conservation officer for BirdLife International.
The study also found that the number of Cape gannets – which breed around Namibia and South Africa – has dropped 50% since the 1950s as food stocks dwindle from overfishing and climate change.
The study also found that the yellow-breasted bunting, once super-abundant, has declined by 80% since 2002, putting it in the highest category, “critically endangered”. It blames illegal trapping in China.
The snowy owl population in the North American Arctic is much smaller than previously thought. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
In the North American Arctic, the report found the snowy owl population is much smaller than previously thought and in rapid decline. It said climate change, which has caused snow to melt and reduce rodent cover, was one the key factors.
However, the study did find some positive trends. The Dalmatian pelican has seen its numbers increase in Europe thanks to the introduction of artificial nesting rafts and disturbance prevention. In New Zealand two species of kiwi are more numerous to the control of predators and a programme of egg rearing.
Burfield said: “Thankfully success in kiwi and pelican conservation shows that, when well resourced and supported, conservation efforts really do pay off.”


Friday, 15 December 2017

Audit Office Slams Australia’s Dud Investments In “Clean Coal”

RenewEconomy - 

Alpha Males and the Lump of Coal.
Clean coal may be a marketing term that you can still read in the Murdoch press and hear on the ABC, but the technology remains nothing more than a fantasy – and a point of distraction and a lacquered prop for the fossil fuel industry and its proponents.
The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has published a damning assessment of Australia’s carbon capture and storage program, noting that more than $450 million has been invested by the government over the past decade, and nothing achieved.
Not a single tonne of CO2 has been saved, no technology is ready for deployment, and the ANAO report slams the government for having no strategic direction, no oversight over the projects, and little accounting for the spending.
Australia’s CCS programs were launched by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2007 and 2009 as part of his climate package, and the vision then – despite enormous skepticism that the technology was a crock – was to have 20 plants up and running  by 2020, so Australia could “lead the world”.
The technology was championed by Labor energy minister Martin Ferguson and the Coalition’s Ian Macfarlane. Ferguson warned the “lights would go out” without it. Both Ferguson and Macfarlane now work for major fossil fuel lobby groups and are still campaigning relentlessly against renewables.
The ANAO report focuses on two of the federal government’s “clean coal” initiatives – the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Flagships program, and the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative (NLECI).
“Key performance measures for the programs provide limited insight into the extent to which the programs are achieving the … strategic objective of accelerating the deployment of technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” ANAO notes.
Indeed, at one point, the only performance measure monitored by the department of science and industry was the number of programs, not what the programs were actually doing or, as it turns out, not doing.
The NLECI was assigned $500 million and given the task of demonstrating “clean coal” technologies, including CCS, by 2015, and making them available for commercial deployment by 2020.
It spent $233 million, but nothing happened, and it was a farce from the get-go. ANAO notes it had no program guidelines or risk management plans in place.
Three of the five initiatives didn’t happen because of technology and cost issues; there was no clear rationale in selection of replacement projects and there is no detailed assessment of what, if anything has been achieved.
The CCS Flagships program fared little better. The government originally proclaimed it would result in “at least 20 large-scale, integrated CCS demonstration projects” being launched globally by 2010, for broad deployment of CCS by 2020.
It was initially promised $2 billion, but this was gradually wound back, presumably as successive governments recognised what a complete boondoggle the technology was.
CCS Flagships ended up spending $217 million and another $42 million is committed. According to ANAO “none of the CCS Flagships projects met the original timeframe or reached the stage of deployable technology as originally envisaged in the program design.
“It is therefore unclear whether the program is capable of delivering on its strategic policy objective as the program is due to close in 2020 and all funding is currently committed.”
Nearly every paragraph of the report is a damning assessment of what is clearly government and bureaucratic incompetence.
Some examples:
  • “Program guidelines were not subsequently developed to provide advice to departmental staff on project selection, decision making processes, and applicant requirements.”
  • “Specific conflict of interest arrangements were not in place at the commencement of the program.”
  • “Despite the program being in operation since 2008, the first risk management plan for the program was not completed until the first quarter of 2011–12.”
Projects in NSW were closed early because, farcically, it turns out there were no storage options.
On the flagships, the government must have had a sense that most projects would fail, so it wanted to fund as many as possible. Some $4 billion was considered before being reduced to $2 billion.
In the end, a fraction of that was spent, there was “no over-arching strategy”, and nothing succeeded.
The projects funded, including the notorious Zerogen project, have all failed. “None of the projects have met the original timeframe of the program. Reasons for this include: technical feasibility; absence of suitable storage options; and financial feasibility,” ANAO notes.
The most extraordinary part of the report goes to the assessment of whether it was all worthwhile. Clearly not, but you wouldn’t know that from the program details.
As ANAO notes:
Currently, there is no transparent framework in place to publicly report program outcomes. The department has established one performance measure for each program, related to the number of projects supported (NLECI) and the number of companies supported (CCS Flagships). However, these measures provide limited insight into whether the program is achieving its strategic policy objectives.
Amazingly, the department is congratulated for having “exceeded” this, the one and only key performance indicators, because it supported more projects than it planned. Little matter that they were all complete duds.
“As shown in Table 4.7, for the period 2014–15 to 2015–16, the department has met, and for the CCS Flagships program in 2015–16 exceeded, the performance targets set for the program,” ANAO notes, before going on to suggest that the number of projects may not provide insight enough.
“The CCS Flagships program has not been evaluated despite over eight years of operation,” it notes.
That’s not surprising. It is probably too much to expect of the government department to admit – like many coal industry executives – that clean coal is a myth, and a waste of everyone’s time and money.
It takes the breath away.


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