Alice Springs


Wind & Solar cheaper than Coal or Gas. #auspol 

A new study by energy experts from the Australian National University suggests that a 100 per cent renewable energy electricity grid – with 90 per cent of power coming from wind and solar – will be significantly cheaper future option than a coal or gas-fired network in Australia.

The study, led by Andrew Blakers, Bin Lu and Matthew Stocks, suggests that with most of Australia’s current fleet of coal generators due to retire before 2030, a mix of solar PV and wind energy, backed up by pumped hydro, will be the cheapest option for Australia, and this includes integration costs.
The report says that wind is currently about $64/MWh and solar $78/MWh, but the costs of both technologies are falling fast, with both expected to cost around $50/MWh when much of the needed capacity is built. 

With the cost of balancing, this results in a levellised cost of energy (LCOE) of around $75/MWh.
By contrast, the LCOE of coal is $80/MWh, and some estimates – such as those by Bloomberg New Energy Finance which adds in factors such as the cost of finance risk – put it much higher.
Blakers says his team did not need to dial that higher price of coal into the equation: “We don’t include a risk premium or carbon pricing or fuel price escalation or threat of premature closure because renewables doesn’t need any of this to compete,” he says.
Nor do his estimates include any carbon price, which will further tip the balance in favour of renewables.

 Nor do they include future cost reductions in wind and solar.

 “There is no end in sight to cost reductions,” Blakers says.
“Much of Australia’s coal power stations will reach the end of their economic life over the next 15 years. 

It will be cheaper to replace these with renewable energy.”

The two key outcomes of this modelling is that the additional cost of balancing renewable energy supply with demand on an hourly basis throughout the year is relatively small: $A25-$A30/MWh (US$19-23/MWh), and that means that the overall cost of a wind and solar dominated grid is much lower than previous estimates.
Indeed, the ANU team suggest that less storage is needed than thought. 

The optimum amount of pumped hydro is 15-25 GW of power capacity with 15-30 hours of energy storage.
blakers 100This is based on more wind than solar. 

If Hwind and PV annual energy generation is constrained to be similar then higher power (25 GW) and lower energy storage (12-21hours) is optimum.
Total storage of 450 GWh +/- 30% is optimum for all the scenarios. This is equivalent to the average electricity consumed in the NEM in 19 hours.
At this stage it should be pointed out that Blakers is a long time proponent of pumped hydro, and this modelling appears designed to support that technology.

For instance, the modelling avoids any “heroic” assumptions about technologies that have not been deployed at scale – meaning battery storage and solar thermal and storage are not included, and neither is geothermal or ocean energy.
Nor does the modelling – which looks at every hour of the year based on data from 2006-2010 – assume other opportunities such as demand management, when consumers agree and sometimes get paid for reducing their load at critical moments on the grid.
The modelling shows that a large fraction of the balancing costs relates to “periods of several successive days of overcast and windless weather that occur once every few years.”
Substantial reductions in balancing costs are possible through contractual load shedding (as occurred in Tomago aluminium smelter and BHP’s Olympic Dam recently), and the occasional use of legacy coal and gas generators to charge pumped hydro reservoirs if needed.
Another option is managing the charging times of batteries in electric cars.
“Although we have not modelled dynamical stability on a time scale of sub-seconds to minutes we note that pumped hydro) can provide excellent inertial energy, spinning reserve, rapid start, black start capability, voltage regulation and frequency control,” the authors write.
Pumped hydro has become a focus of attention in recent weeks, advocated by the Coalition government and others, seemingly in the absence of any consideration about the falling costs of battery storage.
EnergyAustralia last week announced a study into a large 100MW pumped hydro facility on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsular.

 This work includes contributions from the ANU team.
So, how much does all this cost? 

The ANU team estimates $184 billion, or $152 billion at future prices of wind and solar. 

But before the Coalition and others start to hyperventilate about the billions to be spent, the ANU team also point out that this means no fuel costs in the future.
That’s why the key number is $75/MWh, which is around one third of the price that Queenslanders have been paying so far this year for their coal and gas power, making the investment in a 116MW solar farm by zinc producer Sun Metals, which is looking to expand its facility, as a good idea.
Some other interesting points from the study:
+ A sensitivity analysis has been performed on the baseline scenario by varying the following cost- components by +/- 25%: PV, wind, PHES, HVDC/HVAC, system lifetimes and discount rate. 

The effect on LCOE is less than +/- $2/MWh except for system lifetimes, for which the effect is +/- $5/MWh, and wind capital cost and discount rate, for both of which the effect is +/- $10/MWh (about 10%).
+ Large scale deployment of electric vehicles and heat pumps would increase electricity demand by up to 40%. 

Importantly these devices have large scale storage in the form of batteries in vehicles and heat/cool in water stores and the building fabric. 

This storage may substantially reduce LCOB in the future.
+ The LCOB (levellised cost of balancing) calculated in this work is an upper bound.

 A large fraction of LCOB relates to periods of several days of overcast and windless weather that occur once every few years. 

Substantial reductions in LCOB are possible through reduced capital and maintenance costs, contractual load shedding, the occasional.
+ In most scenarios the modelling meets the NEM reliability standard of no more than 0.002% of unmet load (4 GWh per year) without demand management.” 

However, in other scenarios we assume that demand management is employed during critical periods, which are typically cold wet windless weeks in winter that occur once every few years.
“During these periods the PHES reservoirs run down to zero over a few days because there is insufficient wind and PV generation to recharge them, leading to a shortfall in supply.

 The amount of PV, wind and PHES storage could be increased to cover this shortfall. However, this substantial extra investment would be utilised only for a few days every few years.”
One suggestion is to relax the reliability standards: “A portion of the savings in investment in PV, wind and PHES would be available to compensate certain consumers for partial loss of supply for a few days every few years.

 For example, reducing the overall cost of electricity supply by $2/MWh by allowing an unmet load of 336 GWh per 5 years would save $2 billion per 5 years, which is equivalent to $6,000 per unmet MWh.
Hmmm, but just imagine the headlines.

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Climate Outlook May Be Worse Than Feared. #auspol 

Climate Outlook May Be Worse Than Feared, Global Study Suggests
Newswise — As world leaders hold climate talks in Paris, research shows that land surface temperatures may rise by an average of almost 8C by 2100, if significant efforts are not made to counteract climate change.

Such a rise would have a devastating impact on life on Earth. It would place billions of people at risk from extreme temperatures, flooding, regional drought, and food shortages.
The study calculated the likely effect of increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases above pre-industrialisation amounts. 

It finds that if emissions continue to grow at current rates, with no significant action taken by society, then by 2100 global land temperatures will have increased by 7.9C, compared with 1750.

This finding lies at the very uppermost range of temperature rise as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 

It also breaches the United Nations’ safe limit of 2C, beyond which the UN says dangerous climate change can be expected.
Research at the University of Edinburgh first created a simple algorithm to determine the key factors shaping climate change and then estimated their likely impact on the world’s land and ocean temperatures. 

The method is more direct and straightforward than that used by the IPCC, which uses sophisticated, but more opaque, computer models.
The study was based on historical temperatures and emissions data. 

It accounted for atmospheric pollution effects that have been cooling Earth by reflecting sunlight into space, and for the slow response time of the ocean.
Its findings, published in Earth and Environmental Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, may also help resolve debate over temporary slow-downs in temperature rise.
Professor Roy Thompson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who carried out the study, said: “Estimates vary over the impacts of climate change. 

But what is now clear is that society needs to take firm, speedy action to minimise climate damage.”

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We’re at War to save the planet! #auspol #climatechange #science 

By Paul Mason

It hits you in the face and clings to you. 

It makes tall buildings whine as their air conditioning plants struggle to cope.

 It makes the streets deserted and the ice-cold salons of corner pubs get crowded with people who don’t like beer. 

It is the Aussie heatwave: and it is no joke.

Temperatures in the western suburbs of Sydney, far from the upmarket beachside glamour, reached 47C (117F) last week, topping the 44C I experienced there the week before.

 For reference, if it reached 47C in the middle of the Sahara desert, that would be an unusually hot day.
For Sydney, 2017 was the hottest January on record. 

This after 2016 was declared the world’s hottest year on record. 

Climate change, even in some developed societies, is becoming climate disruption – and according to a UN report, one of the biggest disruptions may only now be getting under way.

El Niño, a temperature change in the Pacific ocean that happens cyclically, may have begun interacting with the long-term process of global warming, with catastrophic results.
Let’s start by admitting the science is not conclusive. 

El Niño disrupts the normal pattern by which warm water flows westwards across the Pacific, pulling the wind in the same direction; it creates storms off South America and droughts – together with extreme temperatures – in places such as Australia. 

It is an irregular cycle, lasting between two and seven years, and therefore can only be theorised using models.
Some of these models predict that, because of climate change, El Niño will happen with increased frequency – possibly double. 

Others predict the effects will become more devastating, due to the way the sub-systems within El Niño react with each other as the air and sea warm.
What cannot be disputed is that the most recent El Niño in 2015/16 contributed to the extreme weather patterns of the past 18 months, hiking global temperatures that were already setting records.

 (Although, such is the level of rising, both 2015 and 2016 would have still been the hottest ever without El Niño.) 

Sixty million people were “severely affected” according to the UN, while 23 countries – some of which no longer aid recipients – had to call for urgent humanitarian aid. 

The catastrophe prompted the head of the World Meteorological Association to warn: 

“This naturally occurring El Niño event and human-induced climate change may interact and modify each other in ways that we have never before experienced.”
The warning was enough to prompt the UN to issue a global action plan, with early warning systems, beefed-up aid networks and disaster relief preparation, and calls for developing countries to “climate proof” their economic plans.
Compare all this – the science, the modelling, the economic foresight and the attempt to design multilateral blueprint – with the actions of the jackass who runs Australia’s finance ministry.

Scott Morrison barged into the parliament chamber to wave a lump of coal at the Labor and Green opposition benches, taunting them: 

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared. 

It’s coal. 

It was dug up by men and women who work in the electorate of those who sit opposite.” 

Coal, argues the Australian conservative government, has given the economy “competitive energy advantage for more than 100 years”. 

Labor and the Greens had called, after the Paris climate accord, for an orderly shutdown of the coal-fired power stations that produce 60% of the country’s energy.
The Aussie culture war over coal is being fuelled by the resurgence of the white-supremacist One Nation party, led by Pauline Hanson, which is pressuring mainstream conservatives to drop commitments to the Paris accord and, instead, launch a “royal commission into the corruption of climate science”, which its members believe is a money-making scam.
All over the world, know-nothing xenophobes are claiming – without evidence – that climate science is rigged. 

Their goal is to defend coal-burning energy, promote fracking, suppress the development of renewable energies and shatter the multilateral Paris agreement of 2015.

Opposition to climate science has become not just the badge of honour for far-right politicians like Ukip’s Paul Nuttall.

 It has become the central tenet of their appeal to unreason.
People facing increased fuel bills, new taxes on methane-producing cattle farms, dimmer light bulbs and the arrival of wind and wave technologies in traditional landscapes will naturally ask: is this really needed? 

Their inner idiot wishes it were not. 

For most of us, the inner rationalist is strong enough to counteract that wish.

What distinguishes the core of the rightwing populist electorate is its gullibility to idiocy-promoting rhetoric against climate science. 

They want to be harangued by a leader who tells them their racism is rational, in the same way they want leaders who tell them the science behind climate change is bunk.

Well, in Australia, people are quickly finding out where such rhetoric gets you: more devastating bushfires; a longer fire season; more extreme hot days; longer droughts. And an energy grid so overloaded with demands from air conditioning systems that it is struggling to cope.
And, iIf the pessimists among climate scientists are right, and the general rise in temperature has begun to destabilise and accentuate the El Niño effects, this is just the start.
The world is reeling from the election victory of Donald Trump, who has called climate science a hoax.

 Dutch voters look set to reward Geert Wilders, whose one-page election programme promises “no more money for development, windmills, art, innovation or broadcasting”, with first place in the election. 

In France, 27% of voters are currently backing the Front National, a party determined to take the country out of the Paris accord, which it sees as “a communist project”.
The struggle against the nationalist right must, in all countries, combine careful listening to the social and cultural grievances of those on its periphery with relentless stigmatisation of the idiocy, selfishness and racism of the leaders and political activists at its core.
It’s time to overcome queasiness and restraint. 

We, the liberal and progressive people of the world, are at war with the far right to save the earth. 
The extreme temperatures and climate-related disasters of the past 24 months mean this is not some abstract struggle about science or values: it’s about the immediate fate of 60 million people still recovering from a disaster.

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Have we all gone coal crazy? #auspol 

By Charlotte Wood

Have we gone coal crazy?

Whist temperatures climbed above 47 degrees last week, our Treasurer brandished a lump of coal in Parliament, singing its praises before the chamber. 

As hundreds of bats dropped dead from their trees in the extreme heat, our Attorney General moved to amend the Native Title Act so that Traditional Owners can’t defend their land from monstrous mining projects like Adani’s mega coal mine.

 Whilst the NSW Fire Commissioner warned that weather conditions were worse than those that preceded the Black Saturday Fires, our Government suggested that Australia’s largest public pot of clean energy funding could be made available to fund coal. 

And as climate experts warn that global warming could reach catastrophic levels by the end of the century, Australia successfully bullied the $10 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to keep investing in coal.

This is just a snapshot of our Government’s regressive stance on climate change over the past fortnight alone. 

How on earth did we get where 90% of Australians expect our Government to take action on the greatest moral challenge of our time yet our politicians are instead doubling down on coal and backing away from climate action like their life depends on it?

One can’t help but think it might have something to do with the cosy relationship between our politicians and the big polluters. 

As Naomi Klein famously said: “it’s hard to tell where the Australian Government ends and the coal industry begins.”

 Indeed, the revolving door between Canberra and the mining industry is a well oiled one. 

It’s no coincidence that the Mineral’s Council is one of the closest buildings to Parliament House, nor that we have documented almost 200 incidences of revolving door syndrome, where a senior mining industry official pops up in a senior Minister or bureaucrat’s office, as the Minister or head of department themselves, or vice versa.

Think Minerals Council Policy Chief Sid Marris who was just appointed Turnbull’s climate energy advisor. Or how about the Deputy Director of the Liberal Party who took up the role of External Relations Director for coal seam gas company Metgasco or Australia’s lead negotiator for the Kyoto Protocol who became the Australian Coal Association. The list is endless.
With connections as cosy as this, it’s no surprise that for every dollar the fossil fuel industry gives our politicians, they get $2000 back in the form of taxpayer handouts. 

This is despite survey after survey showing that Australians don’t want their hard-earned cash propping up the polluters and would rather have it fund health, education and renewables.
Amidst this backdrop, it should come as no surprise that our Government would fight so hard to help Indian mining company Adani build what would be Australia’s largest new coal project in Queensland, even when it is patently clear that the mine will lock in runaway global warming, devastate the Great Barrier Reef and provide only a small fraction of the jobs offered by renewables at 21 times the price.
In reflecting upon all of this, the first analogy that springs to mind is that of a junkie. The harder the side-effects of their habit stare them in the face, the tighter the addiction grips. 
The fear of losing the high compels them to cling harder than ever to the very thing that will destroy not only them but everyone around them.
Just like a junkie, our Government and the coal industry are increasingly confronted with the impacts of their fossil fuel addiction.

 Last year, it was the die off of vaste swathes of the Great Barrier Reef, an ecosystem so precious it has come to define Australia’s natural beauty to the rest of the world, not to mention providing employment for almost 70,000 Australians. Last week it was freakish temperatures, so hot you could fry an egg on the bonnet of a car, so hot that hundreds of bats literally fried to death, and so hot it strained our hospitals and pushed our energy grid to the limits.

This was a heatwave fuelled by the choices our politicians make every day to ignore the science as they dig deep for the mining lobby and throw our collective fate to the increasingly ferocious wind. And yet, rather than respond to these resounding alarm bells, our politicians and the big polluters are instead praising louder and clinging harder to the black rocks, fumes and oily goo that is trashing our future.
Scientist’s worst predictions of what might come next from this attachment to fossil fuels are increasingly dire.

 Where 3-4 degrees of warming by the end of the century was once forecast, we’re now facing down the possibility of a world that is 7 degrees warmer than it is now. 

Such a world would be so unlike today’s that it doesn’t bear thinking about if you want to retain your mental health.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. As Australia’s politicians and coal barons are working hard to meet these terrifying milestones, the rest of the world is leaving us behind.
China, the world’s largest energy market, is moving rapidly away from fossil fuels, with plans to invest almost $500 billion in renewables by 2020. 

More than half of Latin America’s energy came from renewables in 2016. In Europe, almost 90% of newly installed energy last year came from renewables.

 And the vast continent that is Africa is increasingly turning to large-scale solar and wind projects to meet the needs of its rapidly growing population and to address crippling poverty, prompting predictions it could become a renewable energy superpower. Even across the pond, New Zealand already generates 80% of its energy from renewables.
But most importantly, this mass global energy shift is backed up by the support of millions of people around the world, taking action at every level. 

The global climate movement boasts millions of active supporters, who populate every facet of public life, from bureaucracies and banks to schools and streetsides. They span cities and regional towns, on every continent on earth. They are not divided by class, creed or colour, gender, age or postcode.
They have organised in their communities to move institutions worth $7 trillion AUD to divest from fossil fuels, turned out millions in the streets, halted multi-million dollar coal mines, gas hubs and oil pipelines, shut down fossil fuel company headquarters, won bold policies and legislation to cut pollution, and are building thousands of community-led clean energy solutions from the ground up. They are not funded by dirty cash like the big polluters but are instead driven by their vision of a better world and compassion for their fellow citizens and the natural beauty of this planet we call home.
And though these times are tough, the future will be made by people like these. They are too many in number, too strong in conviction for our politicians to ignore.
So as the right spreads hate and Australian politicians dig us deep into a climate mess, we should take solace from the fact that, behind the headlines, fake facts and radio shock jocks, millions of people are busily building a different future, fuelled by clean energy and kindness. 

The history books will remember not those who let themselves be lured by the highest fossil fuel bidder but those who, without fear or favour, rolled up their sleeves, laced up their boots and fought for a better world.

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Coal is nothing to joke about. #auspol #climatechange 

Coal will kill more people than World War II. Why do our ministers joke about it?
While the numbers are not yet in on Australia’s latest heatwave summer – one of the worst in our history – between 1100 and 1500 people will have died from heat stress.

 That’s been the average of recent years.

When Treasurer Scott Morrison jovially informed the House of Representatives “Mr Speaker, this is coal. 

Don’t be afraid!

 Don’t be scared! 

It won’t hurt you,” he was, according to all reputable scientific and medical studies worldwide, misleading the Parliament.

By mid-century, the effects of worldwide burning of coal and oil in heating the climate to new extremes will claim more than 50,000 Australian lives per decade, a toll nearly double that of World War II.
And that doesn’t include the 12.6 million human lives lost globally every year (a quarter of all deaths), according to the World Health Organisation, from “air, water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change, and ultraviolet radiation”, all of which are a consequence of human use of fossil fuels. 

The main sources of those toxins are, indisputably, the coal and petrochemical industries.
To pretend, as do Morrison and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, that this is all a great joke shows a cynical and contemptible disregard for the sufferings and painful deaths of thousands of Australians from exposure to the effects of fossil fuels. 

Understanding of the toxicity of burnt fossil hydrocarbons has been around since the 19th-century industrial revolution. The climatic effect of fossil fuels has been accepted universally by world climate and weather authorities since the mid-1970s – almost half a century ago.

Yet certain Australian politicians and leaders still pretend they are ignorant of facts that are known to everyone else. And they jeer at Australians with the common sense not to want to die from them.

As eastern Australia sweltered through the recent 40 to 47-degree heatwave and elderly people who couldn’t afford to switch on their air conditioners for fear of the power bills suffered and died, floods and bushfires related to the same climatic disturbance claimed further victims.
The Australian Climate Institute warned politicians a decade ago that the death toll from heat stress alone was then about 1100 in the five cities of Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. 

Nationally, the number is now probably 1500 to 2000 a year – but no national records are kept, perhaps for obvious reasons.

Scott Morrison with his pet coal in Parliament.

Scott Morrison with his pet coal in Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The institute said at the time: “With no action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, Australia is projected to warm by between 0.4 to 2.0 degrees by 2030 and 1.0 to 6.0 degrees by 2070. This warming trend is expected to drive large increases in the frequency, intensity and duration of extreme temperature events. For example, by 2030, the yearly average number of days above 35 degrees could increase from 17 to 19-29 in Adelaide and from 9 to 10-16 in Melbourne.”
According to more recent projections – such as, for example, those of Professor Peng Bi of Adelaide University – annual heat-related deaths in the capital cities are predicted to climb to an average of 2400 a year in the 2020s and 5300 a year in the 2050s. And that’s just in the capital cities.
Added to deaths from fire, flood, cyclone and pollution-related conditions such as cancer and lung diseases, fossil fuels will be far and away the predominant factor in the early deaths of Australians by mid-century. Not a single family will be unaffected by their influence.
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Abbott/Turnbull governments’ policy – promoting the use and export of coal, trying to discourage its replacement by clean renewables and foot-dragging on climate remediation measures – has dreadful consequences in the short, medium and long term for individuals and families.
We want to know the road toll – but not the fuel toll.
Directly and indirectly, these policies will contribute to the loss of far more Australians than did the combined policies of the Hitler/Hirohito governments in the 1940s (27,000). They will cost many thousands more Australian lives than terrorism. Yet ministers treat them as a jest.
While it’s true Australia’s emissions, from fossil-fuel burning, mining and exports, are a small percentage of world emissions, they nevertheless contribute meaningfully to a situation that, unchecked, could see the planet heat by 5 to 6 degrees by 2100. 

If the frozen methane deposits in the Arctic and ocean are released, then warming may exceed 10 degrees, beyond which large animals, including humans, will struggle to exist.
With such temperatures and climatic extremes, it will become impossible to maintain world food production from agriculture. 

Hundreds of millions of refugees will flood the planet. 

According to the US Pentagon, there is a high risk of international conflict, even nuclear war, in such conditions.

These are the rational, evidence-based truths that politicians like Morrison and Joyce gleefully ignore in their enthusiasm for coal. Indeed, Joyce is advocating a course likely to ruin his party’s main long-term constituency: farmers.
Australians rightly regard deaths from motor accidents, suicide, domestic violence, preventable disease, war, drugs and other causes as tragic, unjustifiable, unacceptable and unnecessary. Yet there is a curious national silence, a wilful blindness, about the far larger toll of preventable death from coal and oil. We want to know the road toll – but not the fuel toll. This national ignorance encouraged by dishonest claims that they “won’t hurt you”.
Yes, they will. Coal and oil will hurt you worse than almost anything else in your life.

 They will reap your family, and maybe you, too.
When there are clean, safe, healthy substitute readily available – renewables, biofuels, green chemistry – sensible Australians will turn their back on the untruths and the propaganda, and vote only for politicians whose policies do not knowingly encompass our early death.
Julian Cribb is a Canberra science writer and author. His latest book is Surviving the 21st Century (2017).


Coal-fired generators have no future. #auspol 

The simple truth: Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia

By Ian Verrender

An investment of that magnitude also requires huge amounts of project debt 
Govt may fund coal power

Treasurer Scott Morrison says the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could be used to fund new clean coal power stations.

What it found was that none of the new technologies can deliver power as cheaply as our current batch of carbon belching coal plants.
When it came to renewable energy, wind was the winner while among the new-generation fossil fuel plants, gas-fired combined cycle plants and supercritical coal-fired generation came out on top.

In a nutshell, the study explains that renewable energy has high upfront costs but is extremely cheap to run, given the fuel — wind and sun — comes at no cost. 

Gas plants are cheaper to build, but have higher running costs.
But there’s one crucial cost that weighs heavily on the minds of investors and bankers. 

And that’s carbon.
According to the CSIRO, if a carbon price was introduced, the economics of power generation shifts in favour of renewables, although a relatively high price is required. 

Wind is competitive with new-generation coal at $30 a tonne of carbon dioxide, solar at $70 a tonne.
Carbon storage, the kind of technology the Government is now looking at, can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to up to $70 a tonne.

The simple truth: Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia

 Barnaby Joyce holds a lump of coal in the House of Representatives

PHOTO: The debate over carbon emissions and electricity couldn’t have occurred at a more appropriate time. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Maybe it’s the heat, or the unprecedented run of searing temperatures scorching the continent.
Whatever the cause, the torrid debate in Parliament over carbon emissions and electricity in recent months couldn’t have occurred at a more appropriate moment.
The only problem is that every politician, state and federal, has always clung to the truism that power begets power or, perhaps the inverse; that whoever delivers blackouts gets booted out of office.
Turnbull’s turnaround

The man who lost the leadership by fighting to introduce a carbon price is now against renewable energy, Stephen Long writes.

As the finger-pointing over higher prices nationally, blackouts in South Australia and threatened disruptions across the eastern states escalates, any notion over rational debate on how best to address the nation’s long-term energy challenges has evaporated.
Put aside the irony that the recent run of misfortune on the national electricity grid is the direct result of a savage uptick in extreme weather conditions, a trend the vast bulk of climate scientists have been warning of for decades.
The simple truth is that, despite the entertaining theatre of insults in the national capital, Australia’s future power needs overwhelmingly will be provided by renewables and gas. 

Coal-fired generators have no future in Australia.
That is a trend driven by energy generators and consumers, both of which have abandoned hope of policy leadership from Parliament.
Generators jettisoned the idea of coal years ago, at least when it comes to building new power stations, because they carry too much risk.

 You’re looking at upwards of $1 billion for a large-scale coal-fired generator that would be expected to last around 50 years.
No rational businessperson is willing to commit that kind of funding over that period, in an electoral cycle that lasts just three years.

 And that’s just the equity side.
An investment of that magnitude also requires huge amounts of project debt and, faced with the prospect of stranded assets and non-performing loans, financiers have wiped their hands of the idea of coal-fired electricity.
Consumers, meanwhile, have plunged into renewables, with Australians among the world’s fastest adopters of rooftop solar.
Renewables v coal
Sadly, much of the debate about our future power generation has become mired in political point-scoring and simplistic arguments designed to inflame and outrage; where ignorance dominates academic research. 

The recent power outages in South Australia are a prime example.
While it has become fashionable to denigrate scientists, particularly when related to climate or energy, it’s worth reading through the CSIRO’s 2015 report into Australia’s future energy needs.
“Electricity grids are complex systems and the largest machines ever developed by humans,” it notes.

With that in mind, it attempted to compare the costs of various forms of power generation, from traditional fossil fuel plants to the renewable technologies and everything in between.
Govt may fund coal power

Treasurer Scott Morrison says the Clean Energy Finance Corporation could be used to fund new clean coal power stations.

What it found was that none of the new technologies can deliver power as cheaply as our current batch of carbon belching coal plants.
When it came to renewable energy, wind was the winner while among the new-generation fossil fuel plants, gas-fired combined cycle plants and supercritical coal-fired generation came out on top.
In a nutshell, the study explains that renewable energy has high upfront costs but is extremely cheap to run, given the fuel — wind and sun — comes at no cost. Gas plants are cheaper to build, but have higher running costs.
But there’s one crucial cost that weighs heavily on the minds of investors and bankers. And that’s carbon.
According to the CSIRO, if a carbon price was introduced, the economics of power generation shifts in favour of renewables, although a relatively high price is required. Wind is competitive with new-generation coal at $30 a tonne of carbon dioxide, solar at $70 a tonne.
Carbon storage, the kind of technology the Government is now looking at, can also be expensive, ranging from $5 to up to $70 a tonne.

 Scott Morrison holds a lump of coal in Parliament

PHOTO: “On this side of the house you will not find a fear of coal,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)

Carbon pricing is inevitable
Although early attempts at pricing carbon emissions have failed, no-one in the power industry, or those that finance it, is under any illusion that emissions will be free forever.
It is the same in mining. 

Every major corporation views carbon pricing as inevitable and includes a range of prices when determining the economics of long term projects.
Why is everyone talking about a carbon tax?

These are the five things you need to know about the debate over carbon pricing.

Given the significant costs levied on those putting waste into landfill and the prohibition on disposing of noxious materials into our waterways, it’s remarkable that to this day, the atmosphere is freely used as a garbage dump at no cost.
Last week, a study commissioned by the Minerals Council claimed that renewable energy in Australia was the beneficiary of huge subsidies.
Large-scale renewable projects, it claimed, were on the receiving end of $1.8 billion in direct subsidies last year alone. That’s a claim rejected as simplistic and incorrect by those in the renewables industry.
Whatever the number, there is no doubt that renewable energy has been on the receiving end of vast subsidy handouts both for large scale and home generation here and around the globe.
But it’s equally true that, in the absence of a carbon price, high-polluting industries have been getting a free ride, not only by avoiding the cost of damage to the environment and the planet, as the science overwhelmingly points to, but through the damage to the health of countless millions of people.
It’s also worth noting that every Australian coal-fired power plant was built with taxpayer money. As were the electricity distribution systems.

 And while many since have been sold to private interests, the sales processes have thrown up some interesting numbers.
When the NSW government sold its electricity generation assets for $1.5 billion, the deal was hailed a breakthrough.

 But the Tamberlin Inquiry in 2011 discovered about $4 billion worth of taxpayer subsidies to the generators in the form of cheap long-term coal contracts.
Coal-fired generators also use huge amounts of water, much of which — unlike farmers — is gifted to them.

 Then, of course, there are the would-be new coal miners up in the Carmichael Basin — most notably the Adani family — with their hands out for about $1 billion in taxpayer-funded infrastructure.
What’s the solution?
From an economic perspective, it would be far more efficient to eliminate subsidies altogether and to put a price on carbon that reflected its true cost.

 Private investors then would be able to choose which technology was most efficient.
One of the great drawbacks of renewables has been the intermittent nature of its generation. As a famous politician once noted wryly:
“If the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine, there is no power being generated.”

That’s true. 

But energy storage, particularly batteries, is the game changer that could rectify that shortcoming.
Just as the cost of solar panels has plummeted in recent years, as production technology has improved and the huge demand from households and business has improved economies of scale, the same can be expected from energy storage technology systems.
That will create a new set of technical headaches and cost challenges on how best to maintain a national power network, for which we appear to be entirely unprepared.

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Human activity causing climate change 170 times faster #auspol

Humans are causing climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.
For the first time, researchers have developed a mathematical equation to describe the impact of human activity on the earth, finding people are causing the climate to change 170 times faster than natural forces.

The equation was developed in conjunction with Professor Will Steffen, a climate change expert and researcher at the Australian National University, and was published in the journal The Anthropocene Review.
The authors of the paper wrote that for the past 4.5bn years astronomical and geophysical factors have been the dominating influences on the Earth system. 

The Earth system is defined by the researchers as the biosphere, including interactions and feedbacks with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and upper lithosphere.

But over the past six decades human forces “have driven exceptionally rapid rates of change in the Earth system,” the authors wrote, giving rise to a period known as the Anthropocene.

“Human activities now rival the great forces of nature in driving changes to the Earth system,” the paper said.
Steffen and his co-researcher, Owen Gaffney, from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, came up with an “Anthropocene Equation” to determine the impact of this period of intense human activity on the earth.

Explaining the equation in New Scientist, Gaffney said they developed it “by homing in on the rate of change of Earth’s life support system: the atmosphere, oceans, forests and wetlands, waterways and ice sheets and fabulous diversity of life”.
“For four billion years the rate of change of the Earth system has been a complex function of astronomical and geophysical forces plus internal dynamics: Earth’s orbit around the sun, gravitational interactions with other planets, the sun’s heat output, colliding continents, volcanoes and evolution, among others,” he wrote.
“In the equation, astronomical and geophysical forces tend to zero because of their slow nature or rarity, as do internal dynamics, for now. 

All these forces still exert pressure, but currently on orders of magnitude less than human impact.”
According to Steffen these forces have driven a rate of change of 0.01 degrees Celsius per century.
Greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans over the past 45 years, on the other hand, “have increased the rate of temperature rise to 1.7 degrees Celsius per century, dwarfing the natural background rate,” he said.
This represented a change to the climate that was 170 times faster than natural forces.
“We are not saying the astronomical forces of our solar system or geological processes have disappeared, but in terms of their impact in such a short period of time they are now negligible compared with our own influence,” Steffen said.

“Crystallising this evidence in the form of a simple equation gives the current situation a clarity that the wealth of data often dilutes.
“What we do is give a very specific number to show how humans are affecting the earth over a short timeframe. It shows that while other forces operate over millions of years, we as humans are having an impact at the same strength as the many of these other forces, but in the timeframe of just a couple of centuries.
“The human magnitude of climate change looks more like a meteorite strike than a gradual change.”
Gaffney and Steffen wrote that while the Earth system had proven resilient, achieving millions of years of relative stability due to the complex interactions between the Earth’s core and the biosphere, human societies would be unlikely to fare so well.
Failure to reduce anthropological climate change could “trigger societal collapse”, their research concluded.

Press link for more: The Guardian


Welcome To Hell On Earth in Australia #ClimateChange #auspol 

Welcome to hell on Earth in Australia
The strongest heatwave for 2016/17 is about to sweep South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland bringing extremely hot conditions with increased bushfire and heat stress risks. 

Above image – Maximums via OCF/BSCH for Saturday, February 11th.
Over the next 4 to 5 days, a low pressure trough is forecast to move slowly though South Australia and VIC before drifting North through New South Wales and Queensland. 

This trough is forecast to combine with a ridiculously hot airmass overhead and dry in very dry and hot conditions ahead of it to produce widespread severe to extreme heatwave conditions.

BOM Heatwave Pilot for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday

5 capital cities are forecast to be in the firing line with the following temperatures over the next 4 to 5 days.

• Adelaide 41 / 41 / 39 / 37

• Melbourne 34 / 37 / 27 / 28

• Canberra 26 / 35 / 40 / 41 / 35

• Sydney 26 / 29 / 35 / 39 / 36

• Brisbane 31 / 31 / 32 / 35 / 37
While most people will be feeling the above temperatures given the population density in cities. Spare a though for those in Western NSW, Eastern SA, North-West VIC and Southern/South-West QLD. Maximums, which for an extensive period of time have been in the mid 40’s, are about to get even hotter. Here are some of the following temps.
• Mildura (VIC) 40 / 44 / 44 / 42

• Moomba (SA) 46 / 46 / 45 / 46

• Birdsville (QLD) 46 / 46 / 45 / 45

• Port Augusta (SA) 45 / 45 / 44 / 45

• St George (QLD) 39 / 39 / 40 / 43 / 45

• Ivanhoe (NSW) 42 / 43 / 45 / 47

• Wilcannia (NSW) 45 / 44 / 46 / 47

• Penrith (NSW) 27 / 34 / 43 / 43 / 40
Some locations are expected to at least challenge February records, some of these could be long standing. 

The addition of Summer records is also possible given many locations in NSW are closing in on records for the number of days above 35ºc and 40ºc. 

The heat is forecast to continue over Northern NSW and Southern QLD beyond these 5 days, however there will be a seperate blog for that.

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The likelihood of “Megafires” expected to increase #climatechange #science #auspol 

The likelihood of extreme wildfires – or “megafires” – across the world is expected to increase as global temperatures rise, a new study says.
The research, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, uses satellite data to identify the 500 most extreme wildfires in recent years. Almost a third of these megafires caused deaths, burned down homes, or were declared a disaster by a national government.
Using climate change projections for the middle of this century, the study suggests there will be a 35% increase in the days with high danger of fire across the world. 

But the some regions will see even larger increases, the researchers say, including western states of the US, southeastern Australia, the Mediterranean and southern Africa.

Black Tuesday
On the 7th February 1967, dozens of bushfires tore through Hobart, the capital of Tasmania. In the space of four of five hours, the ferocious wildfires killed 62 people, injured 900 and destroyed 1,400 homes. Black Tuesday, as the disaster came to be known, remains one of the worst wildfires in Tasmania’s – and Australia’s – history.
Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Black Tuesday, and residents of Tasmania will be marking the occasion with an exhibition of objects that people saved from the fires and the stories that go with them.
It’s exactly these types of extreme wildfires that the new study investigates. The research, led by scientists from the University of Tasmania in Hobart, uncovers where megafires are most likely to strike around the world, and how they might be affected by climate change.
Aerial view of water bombing a bushfire from a helicopter, Sydney Australia.

Aerial view of water bombing a bushfire from a helicopter, Sydney, Australia. Credit: JohnCarnemolla/iStock/Getty Images.
‘Game changer’
The study uses satellite data collected by imaging instruments aboard two NASA satellites, Terra and Aqua. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer, or “MODIS”, was a “game changer” for scientists measuring wildfires, says Prof Louis Giglio, a research professor at the University of Maryland, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Through the 1990s we were stuck using sensors that were never intended for observing fires, and consequently provided a distorted view of global fire patterns and behaviour. MODIS…enabled us to begin mapping biomass burning worldwide with unprecedented fidelity and consistency.”
Using MODIS data, the researchers identified more than 23 million wildfires globally between 2002 and 2013. While the most severe fires are often loosely dubbed “megafires”, the researchers went a step further by identifying the 500 most extreme wildfires to carry forward for their analysis.
Of these 500, 22 were ruled out as they were caused by volcanic eruptions or industrial fires. With the remaining 478, the researchers assessed which ones could be classed as “disasters”. There are many definitions of wildfire disasters, the researchers note, many of which focus on the economic impacts – but there is no consistent global database for this. So the researchers based their definition on whether an emergency was declared or the fires caused death or loss of property. For this they used national disaster databases, news reports and internet searches.
In the map below, you can see the 144 “disastrous” megafires as red triangles. The blue dots are the other 338 fires that didn’t cause economic or social harm. The grey shading indicates areas that have experienced the most wildfires – of any severity – over 2002-13.

Bowman et al (2017) Fig2a

Global distribution of 478 “extreme wildfire” events, classified by those identified as being disasters (red triangles) or not (blue dots). Grey shading indicates the frequency of wildfires (of any size) between 2002 and 2013. Source: Bowman et al. (2017)
The map shows that megafires hit all continents (except Antarctica), though are predominantly found in subtropical and temperate regions. Arid areas, such as North Africa and the Middle East, tend not to see megafires as there is limited vegetation to burn. In the savannahs of tropical Africa, meanwhile, frequent wildfires mean vegetation doesn’t often build up sufficiently to allow a fire to turn into a megafire.
The “disastrous” megafires are mostly concentrated in two main areas, explains lead author Prof David Bowman. He tells Carbon Brief:
“We found that economically and socially disastrous extreme fires were concentrated in regions where humans have built into flammable landscapes, such as areas surrounding cities in southern Australia and western north America.”
Nearly all – 96% – of these disastrous megafires occurred during periods of unusually hot and/or dry weather, the researchers say.
Making ‘a bad situation worse’
Recent research shows that the number of days wildfires are likely to burn each year is increasing as global temperatures rise. And the new study finds that extreme wildfires are likely to become more widespread in future, Bowman says:
“Climate change projections suggest that the geographic footprint of dangerous fire weather is likely to expand globally.”
The study projects how the Fire Weather Index (FWI) – an estimate of wildfire risk based on weather conditions and how dry the landscape is – will change across the world in future. They look specifically at the changes in “high” fire danger under a climate change scenario where global CO2 emissions aren’t curbed (RCP8.5).
You can see the results in the map below, which shows the projected change in “high” fire danger from 2000-14 to the middle of the century (2014-70). The regions with the largest increase are shaded orange and red, while the areas with decreasing risk are shown in green.

Projected changes in the number of days exceeding the 93rd percentile of the Fire Weather Index (FWI) by the mid 21st century (2041-2070) under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Dark red shading indicates the largest increases, while the pale green 

Projected changes in the number of days exceeding the 93rd percentile of the Fire Weather Index (FWI) by the mid 21st century (2041-2070) under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5). Dark red shading indicates the largest increases, while the pale green hows small decreases. Red triangles and blue dots show recent extreme wildfire events as per previous figure. Source: Bowman et al. (2017)
Globally, the results suggest a 35% increase in the number of days per year with a high fire risk. However, some of the regional increases are much larger, Bowman says:

“More extreme fires are predicted along the Australian east coast including Brisbane, and the whole of the Mediterranean – Portugal, Spain, France, Greece, and Turkey.”
As many towns and cities are in areas where megafires occur – such as in western US and Southern Australia – this will put more people in harm’s way in the future, says Bowman:
“Climate change is going to make a bad situation worse.”
The findings make a compelling case that adds to the mounting evidence on the increasing risk of wildfires, adds Giglio:
“Clearly on the current path we can expect a greater risk of extreme fires in much of the world. The outlook for the western United States is particularly worrying.”
While the publication of this study on the anniversary of Black Tuesday is a “fortuitous coincidence”, says Bowman, it highlights that the combination of cities surrounded by flammable forests and increasing wildfire risk “will lead to more fire disasters”.
Bowman, D. M. J. S., et al. (2017) Human exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events, Nature Ecology & Evolution, doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0058

Press link for more: Carbon


Experts should speak out on #climatechange #auspol 

Experts are right to speak out on climate change threat
Tomorrow marks the eighth anniversary of the worst bushfires in Australian history – the Black Saturday fires in Victoria. This firestorm killed 173 people, injured 5000, affected 109 communities and damaged or destroyed 3500 buildings. 

For the doctors, nurses and psychologists called to respond, and who continue to deal with its aftermath, now is a time not only to reflect on lessons of the past, but to prepare for the future. 

We know climate change is making extreme weather events – bushfires, droughts and heatwaves, storms and floods – more frequent and severe.

 All of these disasters harm the health of our patients and communities. 

Bushfires are devastating, and their impacts and consequences long lasting.

 As well as causing death, the immediate health risks include radiant heat injuries, dehydration, heat exhaustion, smoke inhalation and trauma. 

In the aftermath, communities face serious public health issues such as sanitation and water safety, smoke pollution, food insecurity, infection control and access to basic accommodation, healthcare and community services. 

Sadly, in the longer term, people affected by bushfire disasters are also at higher risk of many ongoing physical and mental health problems. 

They also face the social and economic costs of rebuilding homes, communities and infrastructure.
Health professionals have a responsibility – to our patients and communities – to speak up on issues that threaten human health. 

It’s why leading medical organisations are describing climate change as a “public health emergency”, mirroring the experiences of doctors and nurses on the frontline.

 So, just as we advocated for tobacco control, health professionals are now mobilising to demand urgent action to mitigate climate change in order to reduce the risk of the tragedy and devastation of another Black Saturday. 
Dr Kate Charlesworth is a Public Health Physician in NSW and works with the Climate and Health Alliance. 

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