In ‘Renewable energy’ Category

Hydrogen fuel cell powered train

Hydrogen as a fuel – is it viable?

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Is the hydrogen economy ever going to happen and are fuel cell vehicles really a viable alternative? Lance Turner cuts through the hype and takes a realistic look at using hydrogen for transport and energy storage.

ANYONE interested in renewable energy will have come across numerous articles on hydrogen fuel cells, and in particular, their use in cars and other transport as a potentially greener replacement for conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) drivetrains. However, to date there are very few fuel cell vehicles on the roads, apart from a few in demonstrator fleets, all subsidised by either the government or vehicle manufacturers.

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So why haven’t we seen the fuel cell revolution as promised? There are a number of reasons, but let’s first look at the basics of fuel cells.

 

What is a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle?

In its simplest form a hydrogen fuel cell consists of two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) separated by an electrolyte. Hydrogen gas is introduced at the anode and oxygen from the air at the cathode. The two combine to produce electricity, heat and water.

In a fuel cell vehicle, hydrogen is stored in high-pressure tanks and delivered to the fuel cell at a reduced pressure, while air is passed through the fuel cell stack (the common term for a number of fuel cells in a single unit) courtesy of an electrically driven compressor system. By varying the rate of gas flow through the stack, the electrical output of the fuel cell system can be controlled.

The electricity then normally passes through a DC to DC converter to produce a voltage suitable for the vehicle’s drive motor and battery bank (or ultracapacitor bank).

The resulting electricity powers one or more electric motors, which propel the car— exactly like a battery-based electric vehicle.

As mentioned, fuel cell vehicles include a battery or large ultracapacitor for temporary energy storage. This is required as a fuel cell takes a small amount of time to respond to gas flow rate changes. In a vehicle this would be an unacceptable delay—imagine putting your foot down only to have the car do very little for a couple of seconds. The battery and/or ultracapacitor store a relatively small amount of energy but they can deliver it immediately as a large amount of power. They also provide extra power when the total demand exceeds that available from the fuel cell stack (which usually has a lower maximum power output than the motors are rated for) such as when overtaking and hill climbing.

Indeed, the main difference between a purely battery electric vehicle (EV) and a fuel cell vehicle (FCV) is that the FCV has a combination of fuel cell system and small battery rather than a single large traction battery—in most other respects they are quite similar.

To store a usable amount of hydrogen in a small space, such as required for a vehicle drive system, you need to compress it enormously. How much does it have to be compressed? To gain acceptable ranges comparable to a typical petrol car or current long range EV (400 km or more), the level of compression is many hundreds of times atmospheric pressure.

Both Honda with their Clarity FCV and Hyundai with their ix35 vehicle use a maximum tank pressure of 700 Bar, or around 700 times normal atmospheric pressure, 70 megapascals, or over 10,000 psi in the old of pressure per square centimetre of tank surface area. terms. In more common terms, that’s 700 kg

Read the full article in ReNew 139.

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100% renewables – how feasible is it?

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With ongoing discussion by government and media about the effect of renewables on the grid, the ATA’s Andrew Reddaway and Damien Moyse consider the feasibility of 100% renewables for Australia.

THE ATA (ReNew’s publisher) supports a transition from fossil fuels to renewable generation in Australia’s electricity grid.
As well as being important to meet our international commitments to fight climate change, this brings other benefits such as improved local health outcomes, greater energy security and more jobs.

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However, as this transition progresses we must ensure the grid remains reliable and avoid economic hardship. How can this be achieved as we approach 100% renewables? This article considers the challenges of relying on intermittent generation, ways to address those challenges and a plan for moving forward.

Read the full article in this month’s longform.

Read more articles in ReNew 138.

credits-onshore-wind-turbine-franseska-mortensen-and-samso-energy-academy

Island of energy: community-owned and renewable

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Denmark’s Samso Island went from complete reliance on imported oil and coal to 100% renewable electricity in just a decade. Jayitri Smiles and Nicky Ison explore the community and government partnerships that made it happen.

DURING the global oil crisis in 1973, Denmark began to think creatively about how to supply cheap energy to their population. As they built their first wind turbine, they were unknowingly establishing themselves as future world leaders in renewable energy.

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Today, Denmark aims to have renewable energy powering 100% of their country by 2050 and to eliminate coal usage by 2030. These targets build on a track record of success: since the 1990s Denmark has witnessed the quadrupling of renewable energy consumption.

The creation of the world’s first fully renewable energy powered island, Samso, is an exemplar of Denmark’s leadership. Not only has Samso become a carbon-negative region, but it has accomplished this world-first using community investment.

In 1997, Denmark’s Minister for Environment Svend Auken was inspired at the Kyoto climate talks. He returned home with a passion to harness the collective efforts of local Danish communities in a way that promoted self-sufficiency in renewable energy. Auken held a competition, which encouraged Danish islands to consider how their clean energy potential could be achieved with government funding and matching local investment.

The most compelling application came from Samso, a small island west of Copenhagen with a population of 4100. This island of 22 villages, at the time run purely on imported oil and coal, was suddenly thrust into the global spotlight and, through a combination of local tenacity, investment and government funding, transitioned to 100% renewable power in just a decade.

At the heart of this energy revolution sit Samso’s community-owned wind turbines. Onshore turbines with a generation capacity of 11 MW offset 100% of the island’s electricity consumption. Another 23 MW of generation capacity from ten offshore turbines offsets Samso’s transport emissions. Most (75%) of the houses on the island use straw-burning boilers via district heating systems to heat water and homes, and the remainder use heat pumps and solar hot water systems.

The extraordinary result is a carbon-negative island and community. The island now has a carbon footprint of negative 12 tonnes per person per year, a reduction of 140% since the 1990s (compare this to Australia’s footprint of 16.3 tonnes per person in 2013 and Denmark’s overall footprint of 6.8). Not only is the island energy self-sufficient, they now export renewable energy to other regions of Denmark, which provides US $8 million in annual revenue to local investors.

And Samso is not slowing down. Highly motivated, knowledgeable and passionate locals are aiming for the island to be completely fossil-fuel free by 2030. They plan to convert their ferry to biogas and, despite already offsetting their vehicle emissions via renewable energy generation, residents of Samso now own the highest number of electric cars per capita in Denmark.

 

Read about their transition in ReNew 138.

tau-pv-project-2016

Islands in the sun (and wind)

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The idea of moving to renewable energy generation is proving attractive to many smaller communities, particularly island-based communities. Here are some of them.

Kangaroo Island: Currently powered by a 15 km undersea cable from mainland SA which is nearing the end of its design life, one option, moving the island to renewable energy generation, has been examined by UTS Institute For Sustainable Futures. The outcome of the study was that the cost of replacing the undersea cable would come in at $77 m whereas a local wind/solar/diesel hybrid system was estimated at around $87 m. However, once ongoing costs such as network charges are factored in, costs for the new cable option rise to $169 m, compared to $159 m for local supply. The system would likely include doubling the existing 8 MW diesel generation capacity, installing between four and eight wind turbines, adding five hectares of solar farm and around 800 solar rooftops. The end result would be 86% renewable and 14% diesel generation.
www.bit.ly/KangUTS100

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Isle of Eigg, Scotland: In 2008, the island’s electrification project was switched on, providing 24-hour power for the entire island. Previously, electricity had been provided by individual households using their own generators, resulting in excessive noise, pollution and high maintenance burdens on individuals. The project included laying of 11 km of cable and installation of three hydroelectric generators—100 kW at Laig on the west side of the island, with two smaller 5 to 6 kW hydros on the east side. Four small 6 kW wind turbines below An Sgurr and a 50 kW photovoltaic array round out the system. There are also backup generators for periods of low renewable input. To prevent overloading of the grid, each house has a maximum power draw of 5 kW, and 10 kW for businesses. When excess renewable energy is being generated, the electricity is used to heat community buildings.
www.islandsgoinggreen.org

Bruny Island, Tasmania: As looked at in ReNew 136, the CONSORT Bruny Island Battery Trial is an ARENA-funded project to install up to 40 battery systems on the island, with the view to stabilising the grid and reducing the use of diesel generation during the peak season. Households that participate in the trial will be provided with a large subsidy to install solar power and a smart battery storage system. They will also be able to sell their stored energy into the electricity market via Reposit Power. So far, the first round of participants have been selected. www.brunybatterytrial.org

Rottnest Island: The Rottnest Island Water and Renewable Energy Nexus project involves the construction of a 600 kW solar farm to complement the existing 600 kW wind turbine, which was installed in 2005 and already produces around 30% of the island’s electricity needs, saving more than 300,000 litres of diesel a year. The solar farm is expected to push the renewables portion to 45%, further reducing the need for diesel fuel. Funding for the project will be jointly provided by the Rottnest Island Authority ($2 m) and ARENA, which will provide $4 m. www.bit.ly/RottnestSust

King Island: The King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP) aims to increase the island’s renewable energy generation to around 65%, and up to 100% at times, while reducing the reliance on diesel fuel. By adding energy storage and energy flow control, the system allows greater contribution of power from renewable sources. Integration of smart grid technology provides the ability to control customer demand to match the available renewable energy supplies. The storage system, the largest electrochemical battery ever installed in Australia, is capable of producing 3 MW of power and storing 1.6 MWh of usable energy.
www.kingislandrenewableenergy.com.au

Island of Ta’u: The island of Ta’u in American Samoa lies around 6400 km off the west coast of the USA. Until recently it was entirely diesel-powered, with diesel being delivered by ship. Disruptions to deliveries had at times resulted in severe electricity restrictions—not great when you rely on electric pumps for basic water requirements. Ta’u now has a solar power and battery microgrid that can supply nearly 100% of the island’s electricity requirements from renewable energy. The new microgrid has all but eliminated power outages and greatly reduced the cost of providing electricity to Ta’u’s almost 600 residents. The system consists of a healthy 1.4 MW of solar generation capacity from SolarCity, which feeds into 6 MWh of grid-grade storage from Tesla (Tesla recently aquired SolarCity) consisting of 60 Tesla Powerpacks. The project was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Interior. It is expected to offset more than 400,000 litres of diesel per year.
blog.solarcity.com/island-in-the-sun

Read more in ReNew 138.

fronius-hybrid-diag

Just add batteries

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There’s more to consider than just the brand or size when adding storage to a solar system. Damien Moyse and Nick Carrazzo highlight some of the issues to consider in a field with ever-evolving technology.

There are multiple ways that batteries can be added to an existing or new solar PV system. These different configurations will influence the system’s capabilities so it’s important to carefully consider the approach you take. This article covers the most common approaches currently available in Australia, but note that technology and options are developing rapidly so we will be updating this advice regularly.

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The majority of solar PV systems currently installed in Australia are unlikely to be ‘battery-ready’—an existing solar customer cannot simply purchase a lead-acid, lithium ion, flow or sodium battery and have it retrofitted to their existing system.

The solar panels can be retained, of course, but an additional or replacement inverter and charging components will likely be needed to charge and use the batteries.

One approach (DC coupling) involves replacing the existing grid-interactive inverter with a new hybrid inverter; such inverters can both control charging of the battery and conversion of electricity from DC to the AC required for household use. As a cheaper alternative, in a fairly recent development, the replacement of the grid-interactive inverter can be avoided through fitting a DC to DC converter between the solar array and the battery bank—thereby negating the need to replace the existing grid-interactive inverter.

A second approach (AC coupling) requires installation of a second battery-dedicated hybrid inverter (with integral charger controller), with the existing grid-interactive inverter retained.

As such, almost all the new battery products currently on the Australian market are either sold with a new inverter (some as part of an integrated ‘all-in-one’ storage unit and some with the inverter separate from the battery) or require an inverter to be purchased separately.

Thus, most existing solar customers will need to replace their existing grid-interactive solar inverter, add a second inverter or add a DC to DC converter to their system. Which approach is taken depends on whether the system uses AC or DC coupling and the capabilities required of the system. Coupling refers to where within the system the batteries are connected.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

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Tassie off-grid home

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Given their distance from the nearest power pole, it made sense financially as well as philosophically for this Sydney couple to go off-grid in their new home in Tasmania. Peter Tuft describes how they went about it.

As we approached retirement my wife Robyn and I knew we did not want to spend the rest of our lives in Sydney. Sydney’s natural environment is glorious but it is also much too busy, too hot and humid in summer, and our house was too cold and hard to heat in winter. We had loved Tasmania since bushwalking there extensively in the 1970s and it has a lovely cool climate, so it was an obvious choice.

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We narrowed the selection to somewhere within one hour‘s drive of Hobart, then on a reconnaissance trip narrowed it further to the Channel region to the south. It has lush forests and scattered pasture with the sheltered d’Entrecasteaux Channel on one side and tall hills behind—just beautiful. And we were extraordinarily lucky to quickly find an 80 hectare lot which had all those elements plus extensive views over the Channel and Bruny Island to the Tasman Peninsula. It was a fraction of the cost of a Sydney suburban lot.

The decision to buy was in 2008 but building did not start until 2014 so we had plenty of time to think about what and how to build. We have always been interested in sustainability, and renewable energy in particular, even before they became so obviously necessary: my engineering undergraduate thesis in 1975 was on a solar heater and Robyn worked for many years on wastewater treatment and stream water quality. There was never any doubt that we would make maximum use of renewable energy and alternative waste disposal methods.

From the beginning we knew the house would be of passive solar thermal design. The house sits high on a hill (for the views!) and faces north-east. The main living room is entirely glass-fronted, about 11m long and up to 4m high with wide eaves. That allows huge solar input to the floor of polished concrete. A slight downside is that there is potential for it to be too warm in summer, but we’ve managed that with shade blinds and ventilation and so far it has not been a problem. All walls, floor and roof are well insulated, even the garage door, and all windows are double-glazed. Supplementary heating is via a wood heater set in a massive stone fireplace chosen partly for thermal mass and partly because it just looks awesome. Warm air from above the wood heater convects via ducts to the bathroom immediately behind the chimney, making it very cosy indeed.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

powerwall

Australia’s first Powerwall home

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Nick Pfitzner and family are the proud owners of the first Tesla Powerwall home in Australia. Nick Pfiztner describes their configuration and the lessons they’ve learnt so far.

Our household had the privilege of the first Tesla Powerwall installation in Australia (maybe the world, they say). It has been a very interesting experience so far, and we’ve learnt a lot about what makes the house tick from an electricity point of view.  I’ve also had the opportunity to discuss the energy generation landscape with several organisations developing similar energy storage technologies.

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As a self-described Elon Musk fanboy, I became seriously interested in energy storage for our house after the Tesla Powerwall launch in 2015. I knew about other home storage systems, but mostly associated them with lead-acid systems and off-grid enthusiasts. We had previously got a quote for an off-grid AGM lead-acid system at one point, but we didn’t have the finance or space to make the BSB (big steel box) happen at that time.

However, by late last year with our finances more in order, we decided to take the plunge with the Powerwall. We chose Natural Solar as the installer. They had advertised themselves as the first certified installer of Powerwall in Australia and helped guide us through the options available.

We opted for 5 kW of Phono solar panels with a SolarEdge inverter and, of course, the Powerwall, for a total cost of $15,990 installed.

And add Reposit grid credits

Natural Solar also informed us about Reposit Power, a software package designed to maximise the benefits of home storage for the consumer. In a nutshell, Reposit is a software-based controller for the entire system. It learns the household usage patterns, gathers weather forecast data and interfaces with the inverter to make decisions about import or export of energy based on two important concepts:

Tariff arbitrage. This is the practice of switching to a time-of-use grid tariff and charging the battery at times advantageous to electricity pricing. This may occur when solar PV generation predictions for the next day are poor or where energy storage has been used up overnight. In either case, off-peak power can be imported for use the next morning.

GridCredits. This is an ARENA-supported project to investigate the use of intelligent storage and distribution of power via consumer-level battery systems, with the aim of reducing network infrastructure costs in future. Consumers are rewarded not through feed-in tariffs based on intermittent solar generation, but rather guaranteed power delivery from the battery. When the wholesale market for electricity is especially high, the electricity retailer discharges electricity from the battery into the grid, paying the consumer $1 per kWh.

These two factors could assist with the financial equation, so we figured it was worth the add-on cost of installing Reposit—an extra $800 at the time.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

Fronius Primo 5.0 Single phase 5kw inverter_1

An inverter buyers guide

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Whether you live off-grid or have a grid-connected generation system, the right inverter can make all the difference. We check out what’s available, where to get them and which one is right for you.

Choosing an inverter may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re thinking about installing a solar or solar + battery system. But every one of the 1.5 million solar systems already installed in Australia includes an inverter and, in fact, it can be thought of as the ‘heart’ of the system—if it’s not working, your solar generation is wasted or, if you’re off-grid, you’ll be without power (or at least without mains-equivalent 240 volt power*).

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But what is an inverter and why is it so important? In a nutshell, an inverter takes electricity from a power source that produces DC electricity, such as solar panels or a battery bank, and converts it into mains-equivalent power (240 volt AC), ready to be used in your house.
It is important to have a good inverter. In off-grid systems, if your home relies solely on 240 volt power from a stand-alone inverter and the inverter fails, you will have no power, even though it is still being generated and stored. In grid-connected systems, an inverter failure means your solar panels are doing nothing until the inverter is repaired or replaced.

Which inverter for your needs?
The majority of currently installed grid-connected solar systems will be using a grid-interactive inverter. A grid-interactive inverter converts the energy from solar panels into mains power and feeds it into the house’s electrical wiring—no storage is involved. As indicated by the name grid-interactive, these inverters can export energy into the grid, and require a grid connection (or an equivalent 240 volt AC supply) to operate; they can’t operate in a stand-alone capacity.

When you bring energy storage into the equation it gets a little more complex, as the inverter needs to deal with both a generation source (like solar panels) and batteries; and possibly also the grid.

In off-grid systems, a stand-alone inverter can be used to convert the DC electricity from the battery bank into mains-equivalent power to run standard appliances. An inverter-charger is like a stand-alone inverter except that it has a mains voltage level input, which can be used to charge the batteries from the mains or a generator—it is not, however, grid-interactive, so can’t export energy to the grid.

The most complex inverter type is the hybrid inverter, which can feed energy into the grid from either the solar array or the battery bank. Many hybrid inverters can also power the house from the batteries during a power failure, in effect becoming a large UPS (uninterruptible power supply). They can also charge the batteries from the grid.

This makes many hybrid inverters true bi-directional devices, and many, if not most, can handle all of the energy flows in a home energy system. Some can even divert the excess solar energy to a particular load, such as a water heater, replacing the need for a separate device, known as a solar diverter (the SunMate is one example), for this purpose.

Let’s now look at the features of each type of inverter in a bit more detail.

Grid-interactive inverters
Grid-interactive inverters are connected to both the power source (usually a solar array but sometimes a wind or hydro turbine) and the mains power grid. Energy generated by the power source is converted to AC mains power of the correct voltage and frequency and this supplements the power drawn from the grid by the home’s appliances. At times there will be more energy generated than being used and the excess is fed into the mains grid. At these times you will accumulate export credits, although how much you get paid for those depends on your feed-in tariff.

Grid-interactive inverters vary enormously in size, from 10 kW or larger units for big domestic and small commercial systems, down to tiny 200 watt models. Some, known as microinverters, are even designed to be mounted on the back of a solar panel to make the panel itself a grid-interactive module. These are ideal for those who want to start small and increase their system over time, or for systems where the array may be partially shaded—in a solar system using microinverters, each panel is independent of the others and not affected if other panels are shaded.

Read the full article in ReNew 137

For the full tables from this guide in PDF format, click here

Renewable energy courses

Renewable energy courses guide

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We’ve updated our renewable energy courses guide ready for enrolment time. You’ll find the table of courses—from TAFE certificates to postgraduate degrees—here. In the article, Anna Cumming has a look at what’s new in the industry.

IN the two years since we last published a review of the renewable energy courses available in Australia, things haven’t all been rosy for the renewable energy (RE) industry. Months of uncertainty at federal level over the national Renewable Energy Target, funding cuts to climate-related science, and the scaling back of feed-in tariffs for solar generation have all contributed to a reduction in the size of the industry.

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The latest available Clean Energy Council (CEC) figures put the number of people employed in the wider RE industry at 14,020 for the financial year 2014–15, down a big 27% from the peak of 19,120 in 2011–121. However, the CEC puts some of this contraction down to a consolidation of the small-scale solar industry to more stable and sustainable levels. It also notes that RET legislation was passed right at the end of the reporting period, and since then confidence has grown: “The mood across the industry is upbeat in 2016, and it is expected that job figures will begin to grow once project development begins in earnest again under the RET in the coming years.”

David Tolliday, Renewable Energy Training Coordinator at Holmesglen in Victoria, shares this feeling. “The initial RE boom [homeowners taking advantage of rebates and premium feed-in tariffs to install solar PV] has passed, and the solar install industry has settled to around 4200 accredited installers—a good sustainable number,” he says. “The big opportunities now are in bigger-scale stuff like commercial solar, and battery storage on grid-connected systems.”

So, how to get involved? For those wanting to get into the industry or upskill, there is a wide variety of training and courses to choose from, from undergraduate and postgraduate university courses in engineering or focused on broader energy strategy, to hands-on solar design and install certificates offered by TAFEs and private registered training organisations (RTOs), and even free online MOOCs (massive online open courses). See our previous RE courses guide in ReNew 129 for a comprehensive look at the types of courses available, prerequisites and typical training pathways; here, we look at what’s new since 2014.

Download the table of renewable energy courses here (130KB).

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

csr-bradford-solar

Finding value in sharing

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Can we find value for both customers and the network in sharing locally generated energy and thus accelerate a transition to 100% renewables? Bruce Thompson and Paul Murfitt discuss the potential in microgrids, virtual power plants and more.

The transformation of the electricity network is certainly now upon us. Years of environmental advocacy, rapid technology advances and shifts in consumer demand are driving an unprecedented shake up of our century-old supply network. With this change come opportunities (and some risks) to harness the value of renewable energy across the grid as we drive towards zero emissions.

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Traditionally, Australia’s electricity networks were largely built and controlled by state governments, and operated as central power supply systems managed with two policy imperatives in mind: security of supply and cost-effectiveness. The much-heralded disruption is turning this system upside down, bringing technical and financial challenges along with opportunities.

The big shift to date has been ‘behind the meter’, where there is a clear case for householders and businesses to invest in solar PV to avoid the cost of conventional energy supply. Yet establishing value ‘in front of the meter’—sharing your locally generated energy across the grid—has so far been fraught.

With the tapering off of feed-in-tariffs, owners of solar have been frustrated they don’t receive a fair price for their homegrown generation. On the other side of the fence, network operators have been aggrieved by the need to manage the technical impacts of solar PV and wind while their business model ‘death spirals’ from lower consumption.

Beyond the angst, new models such as microgrids and virtual power plants are starting to demonstrate that sharing solar PV generation and battery storage across the grid can leverage the opportunities and help manage the risks inherent in Australia’s changing electricity sector. For customers, potential benefits include access to wholesale pricing and retail tariffs. For networks, there can be lower costs from local control and load management, particularly if the models can reduce peak demand and avoid the need for network infrastructure augmentation.

Of course, the value of sharing locally generated energy across the grid is dependent on the time of day, the time of year and the location. The key challenge for ‘in front of the meter’ solutions is not only to understand the technology, but also to apply the fundamental principles of supply and demand to determine where the greatest value can be realised.

Bruce Thompson recently joined GreenSync as the Community Development Director following 12 years at Moreland Energy Foundation Ltd (MEFL) as major projects director. He is also the outgoing chair of the Coalition for Community Energy (C4CE). Paul Murfitt was recently appointed director of energy efficiency for the Victorian Government and is the outgoing CEO of MEFL.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

mooroolbark

Neighbourly sharing: mini-grid in Mooroolbark, community battery in WA

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Neighbours in the Melbourne suburb of Mooroolbark are set to share their energy generation via a mini-grid in an Australian-first trial run by AusNet Services. Eva Matthews finds out what’s involved.

IN AN Australian first, network provider AusNet Services is currently rolling out a solar + storage mini-grid trial in Mooroolbark, in Melbourne’s east.

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Of the 16 homes on the chosen street, 14 will each have between 3 and 4.5 kW of solar panels and a 10 kWh battery storage system installed, with a cloud-based monitoring and management platform to optimise power flows across the mini-grid and to provide demand management support to the network.

The two-year trial was announced in April and was made possible with funding from the Demand Management Innovation Allowance. Participants don’t pay for the equipment and, at the end of the trial, get to keep their panels and inverter (but the control system and battery storage go back to AusNet Services).

As at end August, all houses have solar panels, inverter and battery storage installed, enabling data gathering on energy generation and usage patterns. The control system should be in by end October, which is when testing can begin in earnest. Testing will include deciding when to charge and discharge the batteries, and at what rate, based on current and forecast customer usage and PV generation as well as the network requirements. A single objective (e.g. minimising the overall peak demand on the mini-grid) can be implemented in a number of ways, so they will be developing and testing different approaches. The stabilising device and switching equipment that enable the mini-grid to be islanded (isolated from the rest of the network) will be installed towards the end of this year.

The group of houses will operate as a mini-grid from a control and electrical point of view, but the metering and billing arrangements are unchanged. To enable financial offsetting of one participant’s generation against another’s usage would require different meters to be installed—with a parent meter for the mini-grid and sub-meters for each house—so instead they will be modelling the potential financial effects.

Two households were unable to participate in the trial; however, this will provide fortuitous real-world data for where there is less than 100% opt-in—testing how the mini-grid can serve the energy needs of these houses without having their energy contribution in the mix. AusNet Services’ Distributed Energy and Innovation Manager Justin Harding explains, “Those houses will simply appear as extra loads in the mini-grid. For example, if we are trying to reduce the net demand of the mini-grid to zero at the connection point to the main grid, all houses would need to export a small amount of energy to offset the non-participants’ load.”

Simone and Joel Beatty make up one of the households participating in the trial. When they purchased their home five years ago, Simone says they noticed that a lot of the new houses being built were having solar installed, and it was something they were interested in, but hadn’t been able to afford. So when AusNet Services came knocking on their door with news of the trial, Simone says they were “definitely excited.” As well as looking forward to seeing how it all works, and the impact on their electricity bills, Simone says they have also benefitted from the information provided by AusNet Services—how they can log in to a web portal to monitor their electricity usage and ways in which they can be more energy efficient. She says they have “definitely already altered some behaviours.” And not only has there been an educational side effect of having the technology installed, it has given the neighbourhood something in common to talk about and get excited about. Simone says “everyone seems very positive about it” and adds that friends and family are jealous!

This trial follows a three-year battery storage trial by AusNet Services that tested how residential batteries can reduce customer’s maximum demand for electricity and support the network. Justin Harding says that there will likely be an “evolution of trials” into the future. This Mooroolbark trial has a strong customer learning and technical focus; the next step could be a larger project with more of a commercial focus, looking at how best to structure finances and customer agreements.

Tech used in Mooroolbark mini-grid:

  • 3 kW of panels (JA Solar) per house, except where customers had existing PV systems
  • 10 kWh lithium ion battery storage (LG Chem) per house
  • 5 kW battery inverter (Selectronic
    SP Pro) per house
  • Peak Response Unit (GreenSync) per house—a communications device for optimising power flows, includes 3G modem that talks to the main control system and battery inverter
  • cloud-based control platform (GreenSync’s MicroEM)—runs forecasting/optimisation calculations to enable locally generated/stored energy to be shared between homes, based on the needs of individual houses and the needs of the mini-grid
  • a separate 3-phase inverter and Toshiba battery system from Power Technology to keep the mini-grid stable when in islanded mode
  • switching cabinet with circuit breaker and protection relay to transition the mini-grid to/from the main grid, supplied by EIV.

Aims/benefits of the trial:

  • test how mini-grids can support the network, e.g. to better manage peak demands, reduce risk of system overload, defer capital expenditure
  • optimise value of the assets both for customers and the network, e.g. getting full value from battery storage when customers are grouped and there is one overriding control system versus single households exporting/importing energy to/from the grid
  • better understand household generation and usage patterns to help determine payment structures and tariffs, and test how energy self-sufficient a community can be
  • test potential for an uninterruptible power supply, i.e. where homes can be islanded, either individually or as a microgrid, and stored energy used if the grid goes down
  • investigate the performance of new methods to identify and mitigate electrical faults in a 100% inverter-based supply environment.

Best of both? Community battery trial in WA

A CUTTING-EDGE residential battery trial underway in the new Perth suburb of Alkimos allows residents to generate solar electricity and benefit from access to a ‘virtual storage’ battery system.

Led by local energy provider Synergy, in collaboration with Lendlease and LandCorp, the project involves a utility-scale grid-connected 0.5 MVA/1.1 MWh battery energy storage system located on-site in two shipping containers.

It has a number of aims: to reduce energy bills for participating households and improve network efficiencies by ultimately reducing connection costs. However, the most interesting and important aspect of the trial is Synergy’s ‘time of use’ billing product called the Peak Demand Saver plan.

The plan works by offering a three-part tariff for network energy, with different energy charges for peak daily (4 pm to 8 pm), off-peak day (midnight to 4 pm) and off-peak evening (8 pm to midnight). The time-of-use energy tariffs are designed to encourage households to minimise consumption and maximise returns on their solar PV investment—but without the need to invest in their own battery storage.

This new-style product means Alkimos residents pay a fee each month to have access to the community-scale battery storage. Those who store solar credits during the day draw on them first during the peak daily period, and then for the evening off-peak without incurring any additional costs, in much the same way they would their own battery.  During the day households use their own solar energy.

“It’s everybody’s battery to use. Customers pay $11 per month to use it, and then we calculate their usage over a 60-day billing period,” said Synergy.

“Anything they put into the batteries is theirs to draw on at peak times at no additional charge. And whatever they have left in the battery after the 60-day billing cycle is purchased from them at a 7 cents per kWh [feed-in tariff] rate. Because it is ‘virtual’ storage you can pretend it is your own battery, it’s just your neighbours are pretending it’s their battery too.”

So far, 65 residents have opted to participate in the trial since it began in April 2016 with the aim that 100 households will take part over the four-year trial period. Before residents join the trial, Synergy analyses their historical consumption to ensure the tariff suits their usage patterns.

“However, we’ve already had customers who want to participate even though they are not necessarily going to be better off, because they want to be part of the first shared battery trial in Australia,” said Synergy.

The trial will cost around $6.7 million and is backed with a $3.3 million Australian Renewable Energy Agency grant, and when launching the trial ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said community-scale battery storage held great promise. “A new [housing] development like this might actually need less of a connection, or a smaller connection [to the electricity network]. That means lower costs for those people that are buying new lots and less investment into poles, wires and transformers,” he said.

For more info: www.synergy.net.au/Global/Alkimos-Peak-Demand-Saver-plan

Read more on microgrids in ReNew 137.

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Electric vehicles: the market in Australia and overseas

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Bryce Gaton reports on the evolution of government support and global carmakers’ production plans, which together are driving uptake of electric vehicles.

This year has seen a plane fuelled only by the sun travel around the world, a plethora of home electric storage systems come on the market, Australian households with solar PV systems pass the 1.5 million mark and a Tesla Model S travel from Sydney to Broome. Given 2016 is just past halfway through, what else is to come? Is 2016 to become the year that the hoped-for seismic shift in sustainable transport, energy sourcing and use truly begins?

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The power to change things is more in our hands than ever before and I will offer examples from around the world that hopefully we can look back on in 20 to 30 years time to say, “We really did start the sustainable transition then!”

Electric cars around the world

Right now, pure EVs with a 300+km range—the ‘Bolt’—are rolling off the Chevrolet production line to arrive in US showrooms in the last quarter of this year.

Similarly, Mercedes, Volvo, Renault, Nissan, BMW, Kia and many other Chinese makers already offer pure EVs in their lineups, and most of these have announced plans to match the 300+km range of the Bolt and Tesla Model 3. Mercedes is releasing plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and even Jaguar is rumoured to be well down the track in developing an electric sedan and SUV to match the belatedly perceived threat to their core market from Tesla’s Models S and X.

And VW, as part of its mea culpa for the dieselgate emissions scandal, has recently announced plans to heavily move into electric vehicle design and production.

Overall, the trend towards less polluting vehicles continues, with global uptake of EVs and PHEVs climbing at an increasing rate, growing from 45,000 EVs sold in 2011 to more than 300,000 in 2014 (see Figure 1). EVs represent more than 1% of total new car sales in the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA (closer to 20% for Norway). And in China, 2014 saw 230 million e-bikes, 83,000 electric cars and 36,500 e-buses hit the road.

Read the full article in ReNew 137.

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Still a clever country

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Energy efficiency consultant Geoff Andrews admires Australian innovation, but, as has often been noted, finds the next step—commercialisation—is lacking. Collaboration, governments and risk-taking could all improve that, he suggests.

I view innovation as change for good, so change which improves sustainability clearly qualifies. Most readers of ReNew would agree that we have to improve the sustainability of our society, so we must innovate. But, how do we do that, and what lessons can we draw from Australia’s sustainability innovation performance to date?

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There is no question that Australia has provided the world with more than its share of innovations, including in sustainability. In renewable energy alone, Australia has led the world in PV efficiency for decades, pioneered many improvements in solar water heaters, and is now developing wave energy. We’ve been first or early implementers of two flow battery technologies (vanadium redox by Maria Skyllas-Kazaco at UNSW in 1980 and zinc bromine by RedFlow). Scottish-born James Harrison built one of the first working refrigerators for making ice in Geelong in 1851 (before that, ice was imported from Canada),and we invented wave-piercing catamarans and the Pritchard steam car. We even had manned (unpowered) flight by heavier-thanair craft a decade before the Wright brothers with Lawrence Hargrave’s box-kite biplane.

Of course, Australian innovations are prevalent in many other sustainability areas including medicine, construction, agriculture and fisheries, but space is limited here. What we could have done a lot better is commercialising those innovations in Australia. Imagine if Australia led the world in the manufacture of solar panels, refrigerators, air conditioners, wi-fi devices and evacuated tube heat exchangers, the way we do with wave-piercing catamarans and bionic ears.

Improving commercialisation would provide funds to improve our budget bottomline and allow us to do even more innovation and more commercialisation. To achieve this, I think we need to do several things.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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From engineer to activist: a renewables industry is born

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ATA member Trevor Berrill has been involved in the renewables industry in Australia since it began, as an engineer, academic, trainer and ‘alternative technologist’. He gives a personal take on the slow emergence of an industry.

My own interest in alternative technology sprang from disillusionment with the engineering education I’d received at QUT in the early 1970s. It was a time for challenging the establishment, but engineering seemed all about fostering the status quo. I worked as assistant to the maintenance engineer in a coal-fired power station near Ipswich, and also down Mt Isa Mines. I saw and smelled the pollution, and I wasn’t impressed.

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I entered an essay competition on energy futures run by Engineers Australia. My essay outlined a decentralised power system run from renewable energy. I came second in the competition. The winning essay promoted the status quo, more fossil fuels.

There had to be a cleaner, greener way. With Friends of the Earth, I was involved in activism, campaigning hard against nuclear power. But I thought we shouldn’t just be against something; we had to present an alternative energy future.

Then I was given a copy of Radical Technology, edited by Godfrey Boyle and Peter Harper. Therein lay the foundation of a future I could believe in—renewable energy, energy-efficient buildings, organic food production and sharing resources in self-sufficient, ecologically sustainable communities.

Defining alt tech
It was one of those editors, UK scientist Peter Harper, who coined the term alternative technology, to refer to “technologies that are more environmentally friendly than the functionally equivalent technologies dominant in current practice.” Peter went on to be a leading researcher and educator at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, a centre that’s been showcasing sustainability since 1973.

Birth of an alternative technologist—and an industry
I went on to become a technical officer at the University of Queensland in the mid-1970s, and there I worked for leading academics in renewables research, Dr Steve Szokolay, a solar architect, and Neville Jones, a wind energy researcher. We tested solar collectors and built low-speed wind tunnels, an artificial solar sky and controlled environment rooms. In my spare time, I became an ‘alternative technologist’ at home, building solar water heaters, pedal-powered contraptions and small wind generators—perhaps in common with many ATA (ReNew’s publisher) members!
Then I got invited by Adrian Hogg, owner of Alternatives to work part-time designing and installing small PV systems throughout south-east Queensland. Adrian was a founding member of ATRAA, (the Appropriate Technnology Retailer’s Association of Australia) along with Stephen Ingrouille and Tony Stevenson (Going Solar in Melbourne), Brian England (Self-sufficiency Supplies, Kempsey) and Sandy Pulsford (Solaris Technology, Adelaide).

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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Solar sells: Australian PV research and innovation

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From PERCs to heliostats to improving PV quality, Andrew Blakers from the Australian National University describes high-impact innovations that found their way through Australian-led, government-supported research.

Through consistent government grants for innovation over the past 40 years, Australia has punched far above its weight in renewable energy innovation, particularly when it comes to photovoltaics (PV). The potential benefits for the Australian economy are substantial. PV now constitutes about a quarter of new electrical generation capacity installed worldwide each year; wind comprises another quarter; and coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro and all other renewables combined constitute the other half. In Australia, PV and wind comprise practically all new generation capacity.

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Support for research and innovation lies at the heart of accelerated growth of the renewable energy industry. It supports later-stage commercialisation directly through technology development. Additionally, university research groups underpin undergraduate and postgraduate education and training of engineers and scientists.

High-impact Australian innovations
What are some of the ways Australia has contributed to solar research, and what are some of the commercial successes? Here are eight examples of high-impact innovations that emerged from Australian-led R&D.

1. PERC SOLAR CELLS
The PERC silicon solar cell is an Australian invention which is now used in about half of new solar cell production lines worldwide. It’s set to soon dominate the worldwide solar industry, according to the International Technology Roadmap for Photovoltaics. So far this is the most successful renewable energy technology to emerge from Australia.

2. PHOTO-LUMINESCENCE
BT Imaging’s advanced photo-luminescence characterisation systems for research and industry emerged from the University of NSW. They enable researchers and industrial engineers to visually assess silicon quality in great detail and to modify processes to maximise quality.

Read the full article in ReNew 136.

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Less noise, no fumes – testing cordless leaf blowers

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ReNew reader Colin Dedman puts the latest generation of lithium-ion cordless leaf blowers to the test and is blown away by how far they’ve come, though price and run time can be an issue.

Why would you buy a cordless leaf blower? Why would you buy a leaf blower at all? For the most sustainable living, shouldn’t we rake up all our leaves and debris by hand, and clean out our gutters by crawling around on the roof?

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For those of us with rainwater tanks, cleaning the gutters frequently is a necessity rather than a luxury, to ensure that precious rainwater ends up in the tanks rather than spilling out of a blocked gutter. For many years I cleaned up the leaves by hand, while cursing the weekly scream of my neighbour’s two-stroke leaf blower. Then my aging back convinced me that if you can’t beat them, join them, so I purchased my own screaming $88 petrol blower, that does clean the gutters and patio well. But I hate using it on account of the noise, fumes, hard starting and mixing/storing of two-stroke fuel. There must be a better way.

Corded electric leaf blowers are quieter, always start first time and can potentially use renewable electricity, but the inconvenience of a long extension cord rules them out for me. What about the electric cordless blowers then—are they just ‘toys’ as many people think?

Here I blow away the myths, by subjecting a variety of cordless blowers to a series of standard tests so you can judge which blower, if any, is suitable for your needs. I’ve included two mid-range petrol blowers and a corded blower in the tests for comparison.

Measuring blower performance
Some manufacturers would have us believe that the all-important parameter is the air flow rate in cubic metres per hour, while others boast of their impressive discharge velocity in kilometres per hour or metres per second. In reality, both are important.

The most useful single parameter to measure a blower’s effectiveness is the blowing power in watts (W), being the power of the moving airstream, as this relates directly to the ability to shift stubborn debris and move a lot of leaves and debris in a short time. The blowing power is less than the input power, due to inefficiencies in the motor and fan.

Manufacturer published values of air flow and velocity have not been included, because they are sometimes incomplete or inconsistent. In one case the specifications printed on the box were different to in the user manual—both can’t be right! Other issues include quoting the peak rather than average velocity at the discharge nozzle, and quoting the higher flow rate without the nozzle attached. Therefore, to enable meaningful comparison of competing blowers, I’ve measured the air flow rate, velocity and blowing power according to ANSI Standard B175.2, using calibrated equipment, and tabulated this for all the blowers tested, providing a resource for comparison of blower performance.

To read the extended version of this article in its entirety, click here to download it in PDF format.

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Solar panel buyers guide 2016

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We’ve contacted photovoltaics manufacturers for details on warranties, cell types, size and price to help you decide which solar panels are best for you.

Large-scale manufacturing of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels has led to significant price reductions in recent years, to the point where they have become a common sight in the Australia urban landscape. From powering domestic dwellings to providing power for camping or even hot water, PV panels are everywhere.

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Or almost everywhere. While there are well over a million homes in Australia sporting solar arrays of various sizes, there are still many homes without solar.

This article aims to provide up-to-date guidance for those people looking at purchasing a solar installation, whether that’s a new system or an upgrade. It includes types of solar panels and factors to consider when buying them. The guide focuses on PV panels only. For information on other components that may be used in a solar installation (e.g. inverters), system sizing and economic returns, see ‘More info’ at the end of the article.

Types of solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film
Solar panels are made from many solar cells connected together, with each solar cell producing DC (direct current) electricity when sunlight hits it. There are three common types of solar cells: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and thin film.

Both monocrystalline and polycrystalline cells are made from slices, or wafers, cut from blocks of silicon. Monocrystalline cells start life as a single large crystal known as a boule, which is ‘grown’ in a slow and energy-intensive process. Polycrystalline cells are cut from blocks of cast silicon rather than single large crystals.

Thin-film technology uses a different technique that involves the deposition of layers of different semiconducting and conducting materials directly onto metal, glass or even plastic. The most common thin-film panels use amorphous (non-crystalline)silicon and are found everywhere from watches and calculators right through to large grid-connected PV arrays.

Other types of thin-film materials include CIGS (copper indium gallium di-selenide) and CdTe (cadmium telluride). These tend to have higher efficiencies than amorphous silicon cells, with CIGS cells rivalling crystalline cells for efficiency. However, the materials used in some of these alternatives are more toxic than silicon—cadmium, particularly, is a quite toxic metal.

Read the full article in ReNew 134

Click here to download the full buyers guide tables in PDF format.

Chris's off-grid wind and solar system powers his home and electric vehicle.

Off-grid wind and solar

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It’s a windy place near Canberra, and Chris Kelman is taking good advantage of that! He describes the evolution of his impressive off-grid wind and solar system — and the avid meter-watching that goes with it.

In a quest to demonstrate the possibility of living a fossil-fuel-free life, I have now made a couple of attempts at setting up my house to run on ‘home-grown’ energy.

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My first project, back in 1987, used home-made solar hot water panels, a ‘massive’ 90 watts of PV plus a 1 kW Dunlite wind generator (pictured on the cover of Soft Technology 32–33, October 1989; Soft Technology was the original name of ReNew). At this stage, renewable energy technology was in its infancy and everything was DIY, including building an 18 m tripod tower for the turbine (overcoming a fear of heights was a personal fringe benefit). On this basic system I did manage to run lights, computer, TV and stereo, but there were thin times, of course.

These days, home energy systems are more like Lego — you just plug and play. So with a move back to the bush near Canberra a few years ago, I decided to do it all again, but this time with sufficient capacity to run a standard 230 V AC all-electric house, workshop, water pumps—and an electric vehicle.
The house I purchased had been set up pretty well as a passive-solar home, though it was connected to the grid at the time. It has a north-facing aspect, good insulation and a lot of (double-glazed) windows allowing winter sun to maintain a cosy slate floor. The result is a very stable environment for most of the year.

Energy production—phase 1
In phase one of my new project,in 2012, I installed 3 kW of PV with a Sunny Island off-grid inverter and 40 kWh of VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries. Initially, hedging my bets, I configured it as a grid-connected system, with the grid acting as a backup ‘generator’ when required.

After a few months I realised that I rarely needed to use the grid and, as I owned a small antiquated petrol generator from my previous project, I decided it was time to cut the umbilical cord. This turned out to be a rather amusing process. My local energy provider didn’t seem to have an appropriate form for ‘removal of service’ and was bemused about why I would ask them to take the meters away. It was all a bit much for them. Even after the process was completed, I would still occasionally discover lost-looking meter readers around the back of the house!

The weather in this region is well known for its reliable solar insolation, apart from some lean months in mid-winter. Fortunately we are well supplied with wind power as well, as indicated by the Capital wind farm only a few kilometres away.

To confirm the wind resource, I set up a Davis weather station on a 12 m mast at my proposed turbine site and undertook a six-month wind survey. The results from this were compared with historical records from the area and a good correlation was found. This was enough evidence to convince me that wind power backup, particularly to cover the lean winter months, was the best option for my system.

Read the full article about Chris’s impressive off-grid setup in ReNew 134.

”The future is bright fellow women of renewable energy.” Miwa Tominaga delivering a rousing speech at the
2015 All Energy Conference. Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Council.

The double-glazed ceiling: Women in renewables

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When asked why it is important to have a gender balanced cabinet, Canada’s Prime Minister replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Sarah Coles looks around in 2015, wonders why Australian women are under-represented in the renewables sector and speaks with leaders in the field about ways to address the imbalance.

LAST month the Clean Energy Council (CEC), the peak body for renewables in Australia, held a Women in Renewables lunch as part of the All-Energy Conference in Melbourne. The lunch was organised by Alicia Webb, Policy Manager at the CEC. Roughly 20,000 people work in the renewables sector in Australia. Men outnumber women in all fields: solar, wind engineering, energy efficiency, hydro, bioenergy, energy storage, geothermal and marine. At the 2015 Australian Clean Energy Summit hosted by the CEC there were 93 speakers, 11 of whom were women.

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Women are generally under-represented across science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, of the 2.7 million people with higher level STEM qualifications in 2010–11, men accounted for around 81%.

There are myriad reasons for the low numbers of women in renewables. Gender disparity starts early with cultural stereotypes and lack of encouragement from teachers. Around 25% of girls are not doing any maths subjects in their last years at high school. When I was in year ten and acing science, my biology teacher said to my mother, “Sarah is good now but her grades will suffer when she starts noticing boys.” Returning home my mother (holder of a science degree) delivered a succinct verdict, ”Mr P. can get stuffed.” But discrimination like this is still common.

Some people think a change in governance is needed; that if there are more women in leadership roles this will have a trickle-down effect. As of 2014, women made up 21% of the Rio Tinto board and 22% of Qantas. Stats like these are often bandied about as examples of progress but to my mind if you take a big piece of pie and cut it in half you end up with two equal portions, not one piddley 22% sized piece and one 78% chunk. I decided to speak with some women at the top of their game to find out what should be done to even up the portions.

Miwa Tominaga

Miwa Tominaga knows what it is like to face gender discrimination at work. Miwa’s first full-time job was as the only female electronics technician at a radio transmitter site. She moved to Victoria to pursue a career in the sector, first working as a CAD drafter for electrical building services and then landing a job in renewables doing technical support at a company that manufactures electronic solar charge controllers. While she was working she studied renewable energy through an online course. When she provided phone support, hearing a woman, people would often ask to be put through to someone technical.

Later, installing solar panels at Going Solar, a woman said to Miwa, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you do know what you are doing, don’t you?” The answer is a resounding yes. Miwa won 2014 CEC’s awards for ‘best install under 15kW’ and ‘best stand-alone system’. She currently works at a solar inverter manufacturer doing sales and tech support: “because it’s a worldwide company there are lots of opportunities.”

When I ask Miwa about discrimination she says, “A lot of women have experienced renewables being a male-dominated industry.” Miwa gave a speech about it at the CEC lunch. “I think it makes a huge difference if you’re working with men that see you as an equal not as an assistant. There have definitely been times when I have been judged for being a woman, especially by customers.” But she says that most of the time people are very supportive or indifferent towards her gender. “They say, ‘Oh wow, you’re gonna get on the roof by yourself!’”

Miwa thinks a top-down approach is a game changer. Danish legislation requires companies to work actively towards gender equality. It is one of the countries that has legislated for quotas around female board representation. Norway passed a law in 2005 requiring companies to appoint boards that include at least 40% women. Malaysia passed a law requiring female board representation of at least 30% by 2016. Miwa thinks Australia needs quotas too. “Start from the top at the board level. I do some volunteering for Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) and I know that they make sure the board is about 50% women, 50% men. It makes a difference when they start at the top. It sets an example and really gives women opportunity.”

Emma Lucia

Emma Lucia felt empowered by encouraging teachers at school, and went on to study Mechanical Engineering and Arts at Monash University. Emma says she became interested in renewables when she was at university and studied abroad. “When I was finishing university everyone went into either automotive, mining, or oil and gas. My first job was actually supposed to be as a mining consulting engineer! I remember sitting in an environmental engineering class, which I did as an elective in my final year of university and thinking, ‘Is this [mining] what I really want to do with my life?’ I wanted to have a positive influence on the environment not a negative one.” The mining consultant role fell through and Emma worked as a building services engineer doing environmentally sustainable designs. “Through that I knew energy is where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in renewable energy. I could see that that would be a game changer.”

Early on in her career she felt constrained by the attitudes in the male-dominated engineering field. “In one company the more interesting work was often offered to my male colleague ahead of me,” says Emma. She found support, though, from other colleagues, who refused to see her sidelined. But it was difficult having to fight such battles, and in the end she decided a sideways transition was needed. “I now work in a more people- oriented role, but still using my skills, and in a renewable energy company. It’s been a good move,” says Emma.

She believes that having support mechanisms within organisations is a crucial step in overcoming discrimination. Emma says that “sometimes women may be a little bit more self doubting” so support from the organisation can help. “Also you need to trust yourself and trust in your abilities and really back yourself.” She adds, “Find a mentor or trusted advisor or someone you can bounce ideas off of who can help you cut through when you have problems in your career.” Emma thinks a key to gender diversity is to network with like-minded women and to get more women on boards, “I’m on the board of the Australian Institute of Energy and I actively look to increase the diversity of our committee members and speakers. I feel very strongly that change doesn’t happen in isolation.”

Katrina Swalwell

Dr Katrina Swalwell is a senior wind engineer and former Secretary of the Australasian Wind Engineering Society. After school, Katrina was all set to go into science at university but happened to do work experience at CSIRO with an engineer who said, “Why don’t you go and become an engineer and get paid more for doing the same job?” She completed a Science and Mechanical Engineering degree followed by six months study in Denmark looking at wind turbines. At university, about 20% of the undergraduates in engineering were women. “The vast majority of my fellow students were really supportive, nice guys. I had one case where a guy complained openly that I got better marks than him because I was a female. My friends and I just laughed because I did preparations for the pracs and he never did, so we thought that might have a bit more to do with it.”

Katrina says that, while she has always been supported in her career, most of her female friends who went through in engineering are no longer working in technical roles: ”The opportunities aren’t necessarily there. There are more opportunities in management or other things. They’ve gone into a whole variety of roles, a lot of them technically related, like one is a patent lawyer and one does electricity market modelling; she would call herself a modeller rather than an engineer now.” It isn’t all doom and gloom: “I think renewables is a great industry in that it is relatively new so there isn’t that entrenched resistance to females in the roles.”

Katrina says flexibility is key to attracting more women to male-dominated roles. For example, in Denmark there is state-supplied childcare. “The company that I work for is German. They’ve got laws now where there is six months paternity leave just for the father, so it has really prompted guys to take some time out.” Taking time off becomes more accepted for everybody as a result.

Katrina says girls need to be informed about their options, “If I hadn’t had that mentor when I was in year 12, I probably wouldn’t have been an engineer.” Like Miwa and Emma, Katrina sees boards as an important catalyst for change. “I’ve been involved in the women on boards group. They encourage women to consider taking board roles. They provide a service for companies that are looking to increase their gender diversity.”

Mentoring, support for diversity, workplace policies that support flexible working hours, baseline measurements and representation targets are some of the ideas for tackling the under-representation of women in renewables. At last year’s All-Energy Conference there were only three women speakers out of a total of 30. We still have a long way to go but change is afoot. The Clean Energy Council has introduced a policy of no all-male panels at the 2016 conference.

The renewables industry in Australia is working hard to accelerate the advancement of women but it needs to get gender equality targets enshrined in law. We need to address gender pay gaps, prioritise the issue and create accountability. We often hear politicians speaking about renewables targets but the time is ripe for them to address the issue of gender targets across this booming sector because, as Emma puts it, “Renewables are going to play a significant role in Australia’s growth so encouraging diversity in renewables will ensure better outcomes for the future of our country.”

Lego v Barbie

Miwa: “I was definitely a Lego kid. I ended up playing with a lot of my brother’s cars and stuff. I think my Mum stopped buying me Barbies because I didn’t play with them!”

Emma: “I did have a Lego kit and another one of my favourite toys was my Barbie Ferrari car.”

Katrina: “I had a Lego technical kit, the one with motors, so I could play with that. I was encouraged to explore whatever I wanted to do but I think my mother was still very surprised when I chose to do engineering

Image: ”The future is bright fellow women of renewable energy.” Miwa Tominaga delivering a rousing speech at the
2015 All Energy Conference. Photo courtesy of the Clean Energy Council.

 

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The future of energy: Large-scale solar worldwide

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Not just good for the planet, large-scale solar is now often the cheapest option. Lance Turner looks at some of the impressive projects powering up right now.

As the world’s governments slowly wake up to the reality of climate change and the need to shift energy generation away from fossil fuels to renewables, the corporate world is just getting on and doing it.

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Large-scale wind farms have become common, but large-scale solar farms are less so. However, this seems to be changing, with multi-megawatt and even gigawatt-scale solar generation plants being developed at a considerable pace.

Cheaper than the fossils
The main driver behind this seems to be that solar has actually become one of the cheapest forms of energy generation. In many cases, solar plants are proving to be cheaper than gas, nuclear and even coal-fired power plants, especially when the complete life cycle and environmental factors are taken into account. Indeed, recent tenders in both Chile and India for energy generation have been won by solar because it was the cheapest option. The Chilean auction was open to all technologies, yet solar won the majority of the generation contracts, with other renewables taking the rest. Not a single megawatt of generation capacity went to fossil fuel projects. Further, the auction produced the lowest ever price for unsubsidised solar at just US 6.5 c/kWh!

The huge US renewable energy development company SunEdison won the entire 500 MW of solar capacity on auction in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh with a record low unsubsidised tariff for India of 4.63 rupee/kWh (US 7.1 c/kWh)—lower than new coal generation, particularly when using imported coal.

It’s not just in the developing world that solar is beating fossil fuels. In October, an auction in Austin, Texas, resulted in 300 MW of large-scale solar PV being contracted at less than US 4 c/kWh. Even before tax credits, the price is still under US 6 c/kWh—beating gas and new coal plants.

While many of these contracts involved photovoltaics, other forms of solar generation such as concentrated solar thermal systems also fared well, gaining some contracts and producing prices under US 10 c/kWh.

Read the full article in ReNew 134.