Falling Short – F.I.T. in renewable power

A desire to improve the competitiveness of Renewable Energy in Australia’s power mix is problematic and it is not necessarily technical limitations that hamper the project or is it financial limitations despite bank risk concerns. Especially if the later is supported by the Government bringing forward $160 million in Clean Technology Investment Program (CTIP) funding to 2014-15 to increase manufacturing investment and boost productivity and competitiveness – The budgets key message that CTIP program demand is strong and growing, and there is no change to the funding commitment.  It also is possible the coalition could maintain the $1 billion commitment to the investment programs, albeit it may be called something else for branding purposes.

Co2Land org argues it is not sufficient to be experience in, or have an understanding of the challenges in the design or deployment of renewable energy solutions. That is referring to only the infrastructure, energy output, utility area of responsibility, power capability, transmission and distribution capacity, or even storage technology as the solution set.

The more dangerous issue is the means that an uncooperative energy utility can muster a political wedge and creates sufficient doubt of the effectiveness of the program that will lead to a fall-out with the community. Recently in Australia Co2Land org has been given information that a bitter war is engaged between parties over such a Queensland power line duplication proposal and it all seems so unnecessary. As an observation there is room for both sides to move on this one. However, the agenda may be more complex and looking further afield Canada has some lessons we could learn from over the growth of renewables and why utilities might be so sensitive to the growth of such. It could be our problems in Australia are similar to the following as the Pike Research report that says energy is becoming increasingly democratized and the role of utilities is changing, from producing power and supply markets to purchasing it from distributed sources. We also know in Queensland the State Government has a large ownership stake in generation and supply – albeit they are not alone from the other states and it all gets down to variation of the model as opposed to opposition of the models of operation. Regardless each has ample opportunity to hamper success of ‘buy local’ feed-in into the grid system as the rules stand.

Looking further to the problems of Canada and the utopian belief that all would embrace the new world, it is reported by www.energymanagertoday.com, on 21 May 2013:

“Ontario has fallen short of its goal of creating 50,000 jobs and 5 gigawatts of renewable energy power with its ‘buy local’ feed-in tariff program, despite gathering early momentum by generating 31,000 jobs and turning one in 7 farmers into energy producers, says a report by the Institute of Local Self-Reliance.

Hydro One, the province’s largest utility, has been a major roadblock to progress says ILSR report author John Farrell, since it set a limit of sourcing just 7 percent of its energy from distributed renewable sources, compared with 15 percent for most US utilities. In US states where the cost of power is high, like Hawaii and California, utilities have upped the limits even further, at 25 and 50 percent respectively.

Farrell says Hydro One did not prepare to accommodate the boom in distributed power from the FIT program and missed deadlines to link up to new sources of power. As a result, despite overwhelming demand for FIT and contracts being signed for most of the 5 gigawatts, only 10 percent of the projects are producing electricity now.

Because of the demand for FIT, Ontario will actually be able to shut down all its coal-fired plants next year, and meet most of its 2030 renewable energy goals 12 years early – but its notable success has come at a price, since unprepared utilities were not able to bring the contracted energy on line.

The slow development led to political backlash that nearly toppled the ruling Liberal Party in the 2011 elections. It did lose its majority, which Farrell says jeopardized support for FIT. The Great Recession also stymied progress.

Since then, Ontario has reviewed the FIT program and revised its rules last year, doubling its focus on local ownership and participation. Farrell believes the move, which he says should have been adopted two years ago, will reduce political angst and local opposition and increase return on investments.

Farrell suggests that the Ontario Power Authority needs to streamline its process for developing renewable power with existing contracts and push utilities to get better at determining grid capacity. It should also review whether utility-scale mega projects make sense, given the difficulties in getting it to market. With these changes, “the FIT program may still live up to much of its early promise” he says.”

Sometimes you have ask – why do we ignore the obvious in Power Play? I answer is it is the nature of things to only see our side as a team play, and there is no I in team. ‘I’ referring to the society as a collective, and it has no advantage to be a collective outcome.

 

Closing 21 Feb – excluded

Closing 21 Feb 2013, Community Renewable Energy Projects: Message  – Innovations excluded and technology chosen must be commercial. This is despite many innovators being able to prove an environmental benefit at least cost.  It is not a new issue it is a matter that is a symptom of measures providing a pathway regardless of the evidence. Albeit, justification for this approach can be found by some oblique reference to some far away story.

As the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory explains “One of the most serious (and valid) criticisms of subsidies for “renewable” energy is that they heighten the perception (but not the reality) that wind and solar are less expensive and more energy efficient than conventional fuels”.

If we single out the NSW Renewable Energy Precincts Program and the expression of interest for funding the wording says “EOIs will only be accepted for projects proposing to use renewable energy technologies that are commercially available and have been demonstrated in operation at a similar scale generation capacity for 12 months or more. Solar photovoltaic technology and wind are the two most common, and commercially available, renewable energy technologies. Most CRE projects internationally use one of these two technologies”. This is interesting as world wide, and in Australia, there are technologies that offer a better power capacity ratio. It is also interesting that in Australia at least one public entity has taken legal action to restrict (Suppression) the opportunity for a commercial opportunity with alternative renewable energy. When the reference is made to power capacity ratio it simply means – coal fired can be replaced by this technology as base load. It should also be said at a lower cost than wind and solar. AKA – cost benefit is superior.

It is difficult to understand why a ‘community’ program is directing a bias in this way towards wind & solar. CO2Land org feels this is a shame because more than a few communities would be able to scratch together sufficient green waste and other biomass resources to run a genuine base load or peak lopping plant, from what is waste with the added advantage of also having very useful co-products and creating more permanent local employment.

It follows that local government have obligations for services and various industry is within the boundaries they manage. Industry does two things: 1) They tend to consume more of the fuel resources available in the geographical area, and 2) Produce waste that is often toxic or hazardous in the environment.

In a growing trend around the world (being a reference was made in the NSW REP EOI), and since 1980, as far as CO2Land org can see, major industry is increasingly looking at methods for recovering the fuel value from many wastes.

CO2Land org can identify some of the different methods to do so and each is superior in their own way, and certainly make use of existing problems of waste and remove much of the need for virgin material in the products they offer. The point is made – not one product such as electricity generation of wind and solar, but also other products that make up the needs of society.

To give examples: Gasification, Pyrolysis, Plasma conversion are increasingly being piloted or in production in other parts of the world. Not surprising is that many of the leading work was from Australia, then ‘discovered’ by America, India, China and other countries determined to solve their resource and waste problems. If you were to argue it is cost that is the problem. As a single product produced wind and solar can argue they the high ground. “But consider this case of cement kilns converting waste: The ash in waste fuels becomes part of the cement product in a cement kiln, this system is one of the very few that actually consumes all of the waste material – both organic and inorganic turning all of the waste into product – no ash, no change in emissions and no impact on product quality”. Patent Number 8268073 System and method for making cement and cement derived therefrom

Inventors: Burton J. Kunik, James C. Berns, David G. Gossman

More recently, engineered fuels (Synfuels) are carrying on to advance the latest step in the process that started over 30 years ago. Some might even recall or have read that in World War 2 years the need to ‘invent’ devices to get the family car around as fuel was rationed. The new advances present the real potential for using a wider variety of waste materials, including treated medical wastes, to consume waste materials instead of coal and other natural resource based fuels in the manufacturing process.

Then there is products from the treatment of medical waste including sharps: Embodiments of this invention provide methods for converting a used healthcare material including a complex mixture of components including pulp materials, polymer materials, metal materials, and/or other material such as ceramic materials, ash materials, etc. directly into a burnable fuel, Without the need for component separation. Patent Number 8163045 Method and system of making a burnable fuel Inventors: Burton J. Kunik, James C. Berns, David G. Gossman

Still struggling in Australia is Real Power Systems. Peter and Kerry Davies have built a considerable amount of bench testing conducted (circa 2009 to now) and are successfully testing, including onsite pilots of their gasifier and pyrolysis retort and this success continues to lead to product identification not previously considered. They started being most interested in bio-char production for agricultural purposes, and the range of fuels that can produce and the range of waste they can treat under various water saturation condition is striking. And, they can produce syngas, synfuel, syncrude and have solved problems such as “Cavitation Phenomenon at the Reactor Chamber” that plaqued or was the reason for more expensive offering in the field.

If you can consider the cost savings when compared with traditional fuels it can be enormous. The environmental saving through the use of engineered fuels (syfuels) is a significant reduction of GHG emissions. So much so that engineered fuels, are getting overseas regulatory approvals and are meeting EPA definitions for “sufficiently processed”.

We are saying we should compare complimentary and alternative solutions to our energy problems, and being we should be very conscious of the traps involved in the development of technology, It can be very hard to stay focused when development is proving there is so much flexibility and opportunity in direction.

Possibly this is why the 21 Feb 2013 closing EOI has chosen to stay focused on wind and solar, but then something more needs to be done in keeping with the developments and as such building on advances to ensure uniform characteristics can be judged to gain a higher level of understanding and open whole new avenues for applications of otherwise problematic materials. What could be better than the local government waste dump having onsite production capability of syncrude made from waste tetra packs and plastics? it does make things oddly enough, a tad more difficult…but not impossible.

Bioenergy policy – case for clarification

Two important statements: Coal is not a sustainable option for energy production. Energy production ‘product substitution’ could result in the use of higher carbon alternatives. Do we need to educate policy makers on what this means?

During 2011, a company called Carbon Innovation had high hopes that bioenergy projects would form part of its sustainability platform. The platform built on biomass for energy production and biochar products. It was a noble cause and the indicators were it could be a success. Like so many innovators, the fight became not about the quality of product, but of policy, and waiting for the strategy to be formed and implemented. All this takes time. Time is money and for a business case to be proven it needs to be bankable.  To be bankable requires metrics and measure of product approval.

In the debate of climate change verses global warming it should be clear-cut: The former is trends and the later is shorter-term rises. But somehow, deniers fixated on the later, media adopted the term as a de facto for sensationalism and controversy. The result what was a genuine cause becomes ‘issue’.

Let me put Carbon Innovation’s cause to you first: Forrest floor waste has many negative consequences and the bioenergy potential was a focus towards truly sustainable inputs.  Sufficiency reports advises any further investigation into waste products for energy use, such as wood waste from forestry was a sensible alternative to coal burning, and a very good global warming mitigation.

Representation to ABARE questioned if there was an accurate accounting system. Whether the systems were capable of raising awareness of carbon debt and material substitution, or whether it merely found a ‘lumping in ‘ approach easier. The argument being it is a lazy way and the approach fails to be robust and in all likelihood would lead to a challenge of the effectiveness of genuine environmental benefits. It should be clarified what was asked was for waste to be used as the fuel, not the deliberate destruction of a carbon sink.

Carbon Innovation Pty Ltd is now in the process of a ‘Strike-Off Action In Progress’ with ASIC – as a volunteer action by the management.

The CO2Land org notices a number of stories now circulating on Biomass for energy production and finds some interesting foes for the concept. Albeit it might be again the problem of ‘lumping in’ and things being taken as a ‘broad brush’ statement and failing to see the wood for the trees – not original but illustrated the problems very well.

While Carbon Innovation was trying for a favourable policy position in Australia, to offer a carbon neutral renewable resource, the UK government supports this shift through subsidies on biomass to combat climate change. However, some environmentalists label these subsidies ‘climate fraud’. Background stories:

Bioenergy policy

“The UK Bioenergy Strategy published earlier this year, aims to support sustainable bioenergy in order to reduce emissions. With this goal in mind, the UK plans to continue subsidising the use of wood for large-scale power generation. The strategy makes it clear that the use of wood, in comparison to coal, will result in emission reductions. As a result, several British power companies are actively following this directive”.

Dirtier than coal?

“A new report challenges the assumption that biomass is carbon neutral. ‘Dirtier than coal?‘, a combined effort between RSPB, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, goes so far as to say that replacing coal by burning whole trees would increase emissions by 49% over the next 40 years. The report identifies two key critiques of the assumption that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source.

1. Wood is inefficient

Stuart Housden, Director at RSPB Scotland, explains that the aim of government biomass subsidies is to shift towards lower carbon intensive inputs. Housden argues that replacing coal with wood will not have this outcome.

“When trees are burnt in power stations, CO2 comes out of the chimney, just like it does when you burn coal. The difference is that wood is less energy-dense and is wetter than coal, so it takes a lot more energy to harvest, transport, process and finally burn it…

Transport emissions are likely to rise as the UK will be forced to import wood in order to meet rising demand. On a local scale, as demand and price rises, industries using wood may be pushed into using cheaper options. This ‘product substitution’ could result in the use of higher carbon alternatives.

2. Carbon debt

Advocates of biomass argue that losses in carbon storage from harvesting of wood is compensated by regrowth. This leads to the second ‘accounting error’ of the bioenergy strategy. It fails to recognise the time lag between initialising regrowth and mature, carbon sequestering ecosystems. This issue of ‘carbon debt’ is one of the most serious criticisms of biomass for energy production. Housden goes on to point out that,

(It can take decades, if not centuries for the trees to recapture that carbon, leaving us with more emissions in the atmosphere now – when we least need it).”

 To put into a summary:

They are correct in these main areas:

  • There is the need for an accurate accounting system that avoids ‘lumping in’ one size fits all
  • Accounting systems should factor an awareness of carbon debt and material substitution
  • Bioenergy should refocus towards truly sustainable inputs
  • Further investigation into waste products for energy use, such as wood waste from forestry would be a very sensible strategy
  • There must be continued discussion over biomass as a renewable resource, and the classification of carbon neutral
  • Carbon neutral must be clarified in a policy context, as should other loose terms such as sustainable, real, even carbon (see footnote).

Many groups and governments agree coal is not a sustainable option for energy production. What is not clear is the question of the assumptions that surround policy regarding biomass as a product substitution. However, CO2Land org cannot support claims of ‘climate fraud’ by some environmentalists saying Governments practice it. We claim it is more akin to ignorance and under resourcing of responsible units, and that need to be addressed to get effective actions from government.

Footnote: Carbon – the word confused in CFIPosted on August 2, 2012 by co2land .

Off the tracks

Is the dream of renewable energy already over? To judge from what was said recently one might be forgiven for thinking so.

Almost every speech at the high-level talks of the importance of fossil fuels for energy supply is underlined. And not just by industry representatives, but also by the responsible ministers. The Environment Minister even said: was “against discrimination of fossil fuels”.

Those are just words, but the actions speak even louder. Fact is the use of coal increased substantially last year. Ironically, the additional coal used in the power stations could have been exported, while the export could be counted bringing down our energy-related CO2 emissions to a level not seen before. No wonder some people say our economy is where the real climate change is taking place.

However, it would be premature to write off the governments ambitious energy plan at this stage. We did manage over the past few years to increase renewable energy production to an unprecedented level. This is not an unimportant achievement.

The real question is whether we can build on this success by turning the renewable energy revolution from a subsidy-drain into an engine of technological and economic development. As energy observers note it is a gamble: “No other country can tap such technical expertise from industry or such bottom-up activism from municipalities, companies and citizens’ cooperatives in support of the low-carbon industry.

To prevent the renewable energy industry from becoming permanently sidetracked will require a massive effort and a much greater degree of faith (and coordination) than the current government is displaying. The industry has entered into a precarious, if not chaotic, phase. You can read her assessment of the current energy mood in Berlin by clicking here.

CO2Land apologize for the excitement, but we are not alone!