Categories
Uncategorized

1 year, 40 new wind and solar farms

Over the next 12 months, 40 wind and solar farms are scheduled to begin full operation. Where are these projects located and why are there so many?

On April 30, the manager of the electricity grid AEMO (the Australian Energy Market Operator) released their updated generation information data. This data is updated every few months and provides a wealth of information about power stations in Australia’s electricity system (specifically the National Electricity Market, which includes all states and territories except the Northern Territory and Western Australia). This includes power stations in operation, under construction and planned.

Perhaps the most interesting information in this data is the Full Commercial Use Date estimations. This is an indication of when a new power station will become operationally available to generate electricity, after the completion of commissioning. The Full Commercial Use Date is not fixed and can change (see more below) but it is decent indicator of when new projects are expected to be connected to the electricity grid.

To make sense of this data, first a couple of definitions:

  • committed power station is a project that is proceeding to construction, with finance locked in and planning largely complete. It may have begun construction but it has not yet started commissioning or generating electricity.
  • A power station in commissioning has completed construction and has begun the testing process in preparation for full commercial operation. 

Now onto the data.

AEMO’s generation information shows that nine wind and solar farms are currently in the commissioning process, with another 31* committed projects scheduled to be fully operational within the next twelve months, by the end of April 2021.

In total that is an astonishing 40 new wind and solar farms ready or nearly ready to begin operation. The combined capacity of these power stations is 5,738MW – a huge amount of extra power, larger than the capacity of Victoria’s entire coal fleet. 

Averaged out, this means a new wind or solar farm will begin operation every 9 days over the next year.

Victoria is home to 15 of these projects, Queensland has 10** and New South Wales has 10. South Australia has three and Tasmania has two. 21 of these projects are solar farms and 19 are wind farms. You can see the full list of projects in the table below.

This is an extraordinary amount of new renewable capacity. What is the explanation for this huge number of complete or nearly complete projects joining the grid in such a short space of time? 

The truth is many of these projects have been complete for months or even longer. New tough regulations introduced by AEMO to make sure wind and solar farms can safely and reliably operate in the grid and a lack of proper grid planning in years gone by have led to a significant backlog of wind and solar projects that have finished construction but have been forced to wait to connect to the grid.

AEMO updates the generation information data every few months and in the short time since the previous update in February, six wind and solar projects have had full commercial use dates pushed back significantly.

In Queensland, the Kennedy solar and wind project has had its full operation date pushed back by four months, as has the Warwick solar farm. In New South Wales, the Darlington Point solar farm has been pushed back by five months. But the worst delays have been experienced by two Victorian solar farms: the full commercial use date for the Yatpool solar farm has been pushed back by six months and the Cohuna solar farm has been delayed by a full year.

There are so many new wind and solar farms on some parts of the electricity network that the grid is becoming very congested. In some parts of the grid, like north-west Victoria, these problems are becoming really severe and the existing grid is close to being full.

Nonetheless, it appears that AEMO have established a good process to clear this backlog of projects waiting to connect and with better systems in place, hopefully the connection process for future projects will be far more efficient.

So with 40 wind and solar farms beginning operation, does this mean the renewable industry is alive and thriving? Well, not exactly. But that is a topic for another post.

Table. Dates for full commercial operation of new wind and solar projects.

State:Wind and solar projectsFull commercial use dateSize (MW)
SABungala Two solarMay-20135
NSWBomen solarMay-20100
NSWGoonumbla solarMay-2070
NSWNevertire solarMay-20132
QLDYarranlea solarMay-20103
VICElaine windMay-2084
VICYendon windMay-20144
VICMurra Warra Stage 1 windMay-20226
VICCherry Tree windJun-2058
QLDMaryrorough solarJul-2035
QLDCoopers Gap windJul-20453
TASCattle Hill windJul-20144
VICDundonnell windJul-20336
VICKiamal Stage 1 solarJul-20200
QLDKennedy solarAug-2015
QLDKennedy windAug-2043
SALincoln Gap wind stage 2Aug-2086
SALincoln Gap wind stage 1Aug-20126
VICMortlake South windAug-20158
NSWDarlington Point solarSep-20275
QLDHaughton solarSep-20133
TASGranville Harbour windSep-20112
VICYatpool solarSep-2050
VICCrowlands windSep-2080
QLDOakey 2 solarOct-2056
QLDWarwick solarOct-2032
NSWLimondale solar 1Nov-20220
NSWBiala windDec-2011
NSWSunraysia solarDec-20229
NSWCollector windDec-20227
NSWMolong solarDec-2032
QLDLilyvale solarDec-20118
VICMoorabool windDec-20312
VICStockyard Hill windDec-20532
VICGlenrowan West solarDec-20106
VICBulgana Green Power Hub windJan-21194
QLDGangarri solarMar-21120
VICWinton solarMar-2185
NSWCrudine Ridge windApr-21135
VICCohuna solarApr-2131
Total: 40 projects5,738

Much of the data in this post was sourced from AEMO’s Generation Information April 2020. This is the one-stop shop for information on power stations in the National Electricity Market and is updated every few months.

*This total includes the Mortlake South wind farm and the Limondale One solar farm, which are technically classified as emerging and maturing projects rather than committed projects. But both projects are expected to have full commercial use by the end of this year so I have included them in this list.

** Queensland is also home to the Hughenden solar farm. This project is committed but a full commercial use date is not provided and as such, it is not included in this post.

Categories
Uncategorized

Which coal power station is the most polluting? And is newer better?

Which of Australia’s 19 coal power stations are the most polluting? And are more modern coal power stations less polluting than older ones?

There are two ways of measuring how polluting a coal power station is. One way is to look at total greenhouse gas emissions – simply, which power station produces the highest emissions over a given time.

Another way is to compare a power station’s emissions to the amount of electricity it produces – how many emissions are created for each unit of electricity produced? This is called the emissions intensity and it is calculated by dividing emissions by electricity production. This is the approach I will use in this post.

Emissions intensity is useful because it accounts for the fact that power stations generate different amounts of electricity. For example: if power station A is running full bore 365 days a year, it will produce significantly more emissions than power station B that is running for just 200 days a year. But if both power stations were running for 365 days, power station B may actually produce more emissions. That is, power station B has a higher emissions intensity.

The biggest determinant of emissions intensity is fuel source. Solar and wind energy can be utilised without any emissions being generated, so its emissions intensity is zero. The energy in coal, gas and oil can only be released by being burnt – producing a lot of greenhouse gas emissions in the process. Burning gas is less polluting than burning coal, and burning black coal is less polluting than burning brown coal.*

Let’s look at the numbers. There are 19 coal power stations still operating in Australia. How do they compare?

Until 2017 the title of dirtiest power station had long been held by Victoria’s now-shuttered Hazelwood power station. Today, Australia’s dirtiest coal power stations are Hazelwood’s neighbours, the three remaining coal power stations in Victoria. Fed by highly polluting brown coal, the Yallourn power station is now Australia’s dirtiest power station, with an emissions intensity of 1.31. This is fully 39% more polluting than the dirtiest black coal power station in Australia (Callide B in Queensland). This ancient power station is the second oldest in Australia, built in the early 1970s. 

There is a decent gap after Yallourn, with the second and third dirtiest power stations the nearby Loy Yang A (1.16) and Loy Yang B (1.13). These power stations were built in the 1980s and 1990s respectively.

All three of these power stations are run on brown coal, which is why they are so polluting. There is a big gap between those three and the rest of Australia’s coal power stations (the full table is below).

Australia’s other coal power stations all run on black coal and they are located in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. The emissions intensity of all these coal power stations is similar. The dirtiest is Callide B (0.94) and the least dirty are Kogan Creek and Millmerran (both 0.82). 

Averaging out the emissions intensity of each state’s coal fleet paints a similar picture, with Victoria’s brown coal fleet much dirtier than the black coal fleets in other states. In terms of tackling climate change, clearly we should be prioritising the closure of Victoria’s coal fleet before other states. 

Average emissions intensity of each state’s coal fleet:

VICWAQLDNSW
1.20.910.880.88

This lack of variation in emissions intensity among black coal power stations is perhaps not surprising considering they all use the same fuel source – black coal. But on the other hand, the oldest of these power stations was built in 1971 (Liddell) and the youngest was built in 2009 (Bluewaters). This is a gap of 38 years. Surely coal power station technology has improved and become less polluting over the course of four decades?

A look at the average emissions intensity of Australia’s black coal power stations by decade of construction reveals that the answer is a resounding no:

  • 1970s: 0.90
  • 1980s: 0.89
  • 1990s: 0.88
  • 2000s: 0.87

Coal power stations built in the 2000s are just 3.3% less polluting than those built in the 1970s.

So next time you hear someone talking about new “modern”, “high efficiency”, “low emissions”, “ultra supercritical” coal power stations, have a good laugh. The only way to stop a coal power station from being so polluting is to stop it burning coal. The newness of the power station doesn’t make much difference.

Table of Australia’s coal power stations by emissions intensity. The dirtiest are at the top, the least dirty are at the bottom:

Facility NameStateTotal Emissions 
(t CO2-e)
Emission Intensity 
(t CO2-e/ MWh)
Primary Fuel
Yallourn
Power Station
VIC13,467,2021.31Brown Coal
Loy Yang A
Power Station
and Mine
VIC18,798,5191.16Brown Coal
Loy Yang B
Power Station
VIC9,564,1201.13Brown Coal
Callide B
Power Station
QLD4,597,7680.94Black Coal
Callide C
Power Station
QLD5,811,2260.93Black Coal
Gladstone
Power Station
QLD7,917,1990.93Black Coal
Muja
Power Station
WA3,530,0160.92Black Coal
Liddell
Power Station
NSW8,528,4220.92Black Coal
Bluewaters
Power Station 1
WA1,510,1300.91Black Coal
Collie
Power Station
WA1,442,9810.91Black Coal
Bluewaters
Power Station 2
WA1,443,9410.88Black Coal
Bayswater
Power Station
NSW14,115,4130.88Black Coal
Stanwell
Power Station
QLD7,457,3090.87Black Coal
Tarong
Power Stations
(including Tarong North)
QLD10,273,7970.87Black Coal
Vales Point
Power Station
NSW6,802,3040.86Black Coal
Mt Piper
Power Station
NSW5,944,9550.86Black Coal
Eraring
Power Station
NSW15,457,9650.86Black Coal
Kogan Creek
Power Station
QLD5,108,9440.82Black Coal
Millmerran
Power Station
QLD5,050,4310.82Black Coal

The table and all data in this post was sourced directly or calculated from the Clean Energy Regulator’s annual Electricity sector emissions and generation data 2018-19.

* Broadly speaking, there are two main stages at which the fossil fuel industry produces greenhouse gas emissions: extraction and burning. When coal or gas is dug up from the ground, emissions that were trapped in the ground are released into the atmosphere (extraction). More emissions are then released when coal or gas is burnt, often in a power station to produce electricity (burning). This data only looks at power station emissions so it does not account for the emissions produced during extraction.

Categories
Uncategorized

Europe’s coal phase out is gathering momentum

It is an unfortunate side effect of the times in which we live: events that in any other circumstance would be big news, now barely cause a ripple.

On April 17, Austria became the second European country to phase out coal, with its last coal power station switched off. 

This news was followed just four days later by Sweden announcing that it too had closed its last coal power station. 

These are the first European countries to finish phasing out coal since Belgium in 2016.

Two wealthy, developed countries kicking the coal habit is big news. Austria has the 29th largest economy in the world and Sweden the 23rd largest (Belgium is 24th). And these countries will not be the last, with the list of former coal burning countries likely to get much longer in the next few years.

Of the 24 countries remaining in Europe that still burn coal*, 11 have pledged to stop burning coal by 2030. France has committed to getting off coal by 2022, Slovakia and Portugal in 2023 and the United Kingdom in 2024.

Add to those Italy, Ireland (both 2025), Greece (2028), Finland, the Netherlands (both 2029), Hungary and Denmark (both 2030), which will all be coal free within ten years.

Another three countries, (Spain, Czechia and (North) Macedonia) are all reviewing the future of their coal industries, with expectations that Spain and North Macedonia will adopt targets in line with the countries above.

Germany, the biggest coal burner in Europe, has pledged to go coal free by 2038, a target criticised by many for being too late (although mechanisms exist to bring this target forward by a few years).

With another 14 European countries already coal free**, that leaves nine countries still burning coal with no plans to phase out. Poland, the second biggest coal burner in Europe, is the last hold-out in northern Europe. The rest are all in south-eastern Europe and include most of the former members of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo, plus the much bigger Romania and Bulgaria.

Concerningly, some of these countries continue to have plans for new coal power stations, although it seems that every month or so a proposed coal project is cancelled. In particular, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia have plans for a number of new coal power stations that have either received development approval or are seeking approval.

It is now often accepted that it was inevitable that Europe was going to move on from coal but actually it was far from certain back in 2010 that Europe would be where it is today. 

Back at the start of 2014, no European countries had coal phase out policies. 

And despite the justifiable focus on China, the United States and India, European countries are still some of the biggest polluters in the world. Germany (6th), the United Kingdom (17th), Poland (18th), Italy (19th) and France (20th) are all in the top 20 most polluting countries in the world. In fact if you added up the emissions of these five nations as if they were one country, it would be the fourth most polluting country in the world (using 2018 data).

The contrast with Australia is stark. We have no national plan to phase out coal. And if left to the private sector, Australia will continue to burn coal until Queensland’s Millmerran coal power station shuts down – the owners have announced they plan to keep it open until 2051.

Most of the information in this post was sourced from Europe Beyond Coal. If you would like more detailed information on coal in Europe, look no further than Europe Beyond Coal. It is a wonderful resource, regularly updated. 

*This analysis is excluding Russia, Ukraine and Moldova due to poor data. Both Russia and Ukraine have large coal industries; Moldova I am not sure about.

**Belgium, Austria, Sweden and 11 other countries that have never had coal industries.

Categories
Uncategorized

About the blog

ICENERVESHATTER is a Melbourne-based blogger with an interest in energy, climate change and politics.

My name is Louis Brailsford and I have been working on energy, climate change solutions and politics research for a number of years. I am currently a campaigner at the wonderful Climate Council, having previously worked here as an energy researcher. In the past I have done report-writing and policy research for Greenpeace, Australian Conservation Foundation, The Greens and the AYCC. 

I am passionate about both the energy sector and politics, and it is my hope that this blog will be a resource for others who want to learn more about these topics but are perhaps intimidated by its complexity. Getting a handle on energy jargon in particular is almost like learning a second language.

This blog is not primarily intended for the experts (although hopefully you may learn a thing or two!). Rather, I write posts assuming that the reader is intelligent but otherwise not very familiar with the topic. I avoid energy jargon as much as possible.

Posts can generally be divided into two categories: high level overviews (eg. the Queensland coal industry or American politics) or deep dives into a very specific topic (eg. constraints on solar farms in western Victoria or political polling in a particular state).

I generally try (and occasionally fail) to limit posts to 1,000 words – that means you can read them in around 10 minutes and prevents me spending hours writing them. This may mean that I do not always go into as much depth as you would like. As such, I always include links to other resources in my posts. 

Feedback is always welcome. If there is a topic you would like me to look at or you think I am wrong about something (it happens), add a comment to the end of the post. Enjoy!