Fact Check: Which state uses the most solar energy?

RMIT ABC Fact Check

Updated March 22, 2019 11:29:45

The claim

Climate change has been identified as a key issue for voters in Saturday’s New South Wales election, and is expected to be an influential factor in the upcoming federal election in May — particularly in the northern Sydney seat of Warringah, held by Tony Abbott.

Currently, New South Wales and Western Australia are the only two states in Australia without a renewable energy target.

The NSW Liberal-National Coalition Government and Labor Opposition have both campaigned on investment in renewable energy, including solar energy.

During a NSW leaders’ debate with Opposition Leader Michael Daley, Premier Gladys Berejiklian sought to establish the government’s credentials on renewable energy.

Ms Berejiklian said “the largest … use of solar energy is actually NSW”.

Is that correct?

RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.

The verdict

Ms Berejiklian’s claim doesn’t check out.

Fact Check compared NSW with other states in three ways:

  • the consumption of solar energy as a proportion of total energy;
  • the amount of solar energy generated; and
  • the installed capacity to generate solar energy.

Where available, this was done in raw terms and on a per capita basis. All of the figures were further broken down into large-scale and small-scale solar systems.

Of the resulting 11 measures presented in this fact check, New South Wales held the top ranking in only one. Queensland held the top ranking in six of the measures, while South Australia held the remaining four.

What is solar energy?

As described by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, solar energy is energy created by the heat or light of the sun.

Solar power is produced when that energy is converted into electricity or used to heat air, water or other substances.

There are currently two main types of solar energy technology: solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal.

Solar PV technology converts sunlight directly into electricity using PV cells.

The solar PV cells are then combined in panels, which can be used in a number of ways, including being placed on rooftops and installed in fields to create large-scale solar power plants.

Solar thermal technology, meanwhile, converts sunlight into thermal energy (or heat), which can either be used directly or converted to electricity.

These two technologies can also be combined into one system that generates both electricity and heat.

On expert advice, the figures presented in this fact check relate to solar PV systems.

How do we measure solar energy?

Three types of measurements are available for assessing Ms Berejiklian’s claim.

Official data is collected on solar energy generation, capacity and consumption as a proportion of a state or territory’s total energy use.

All the data can be broken down into large-scale and small-scale systems.

The generation and capacity figures are also available in both raw terms and on a per capita basis.

As NSW is the state with the largest population, the per capita figures are important.

Solar energy capacity is measured in megawatts (MW) for large-scale installations and kilowatts (kW) for small-scale installations, while solar energy generation is measured in gigawatt hours (GWh), megawatt hours (MWh) and kilowatt hours (kWh).

Small scale installations are those under 100kW (mainly rooftop), while large scale installations are anything above 100kW, and are dominated by large utility scale systems (which are typically greater than 5MW).

Some of the data is available for all states. Some is only available for the National Energy Market, which comprises all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

As Ms Berejiklian framed her claim in the present tense, the latest available data has been used.

The figures used in this fact check were separately extracted from official sources by Iain MacGill, associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications and joint director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets at the University of New South Wales, and Roger Dargaville, senior lecturer and researcher in renewable energy at Monash University.

Their work was peer reviewed by Dylan McConnell, researcher at the Australian-German Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne.

What proportion of energy consumption comes from solar?

In the National Electricity Market in the year to March 1, 2019, South Australia was the state to draw the largest proportion of solar energy, at 10.7 per cent.

Queensland drew the second highest proportion, at 7 per cent, while New South Wales and Victoria drew 4.5 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively.

What the generation data shows

Professor MacGill provided Fact Check with Australian Energy Market Operator data accessed via the OpenNEM platform to show gigawatt hour solar generation for the National Electricity Market (which includes all states and territories except Western Australia and the Northern Territory) for the period March 1, 2018, to March 1, 2019.

In that year, Queensland generated the highest total number of gigawatt hours of solar electricity, with New South Wales coming in second place, and Victoria third.

When broken down by size, New South Wales generated the highest number of gigawatt hours of solar electricity from its large-scale systems, although Professor MacGill noted that Queensland had pulled ahead of New South Wales on this measure in the months to date in 2019.

In terms of small-scale rooftop systems, Queensland generated the highest number of gigawatt hours.

When adjusted for population, South Australia was the leader per capita, followed by Queensland, and then New South Wales.

What the capacity data shows

Dr Dargaville provided data from the Clean Energy Regulator and the Australian PV Institute to show total rooftop and utility PV energy capacity across Australia in 2018.

“New South Wales does not have the largest amount of solar energy generation capacity in Australia,” he said.

“This honour is clearly owned by Queensland, which has a total of just under 3800 MW installed capacity of PV, compared to New South Wales’ total of just under 2500 MW. Victoria comes in third with just under 1900 MW of solar PV.

“In terms of total PV per person, South Australia leads that race, with around 765 W per person, with Queensland close second with around 757 W per person, and Western Australia third with 431 W per person. New South Wales has around 310 W per person.”

The results are similar when broken down by size.

The vast majority of solar energy in Australia is generated by rooftop solar systems. As of December 31, 2018, more than two million Australian households had a rooftop solar system.

Dr Dargaville provided Fact Check with Clean Energy Regulator postcode data for small-scale installations across all states and territories for the calendar year 2018.

The data includes small-scale installations of 100kW or less.

In 2018, Queensland had the most installed rooftop solar capacity (2,368 MW), followed by New South Wales in second place (1,915 MW) and Victoria in third (1,528 MW).

New South Wales did have the highest level of newly installed rooftop solar capacity in 2018, though its total capacity remained behind Queensland.

Looking at the small-scale figures on a per capita basis, South Australia was the leader in 2018 (577.6W per capita), followed by Queensland (472.5W per capita) and Western Australia (409.1W per capita).

For large-scale capacity, the experts provided data sets from AEMO (January 2019, for the National Electricity Market) and the Clean Energy Regulator (February 2019, for all states and territories) to show MW capacity for large-scale solar projects (greater than 100kW).

The numbers reported by the agencies differ somewhat as a result of differences in reporting dates and definitions for inclusion in the data.

But the outcome remains the same: Queensland leads in terms of large-scale solar capacity, while New South Wales comes in second and Victoria third.

What about the size of solar projects?

In response to Fact Check’s request for the basis for the claim, a spokesman for Ms Berejiklian said the Premier’s comment was in relation to solar energy generation projects.

They provided a link to a 2018 NSW Department of Planning and Environment assessment of the Yarrabee Solar Project, a photovoltaic solar plant proposed to be built in the Riverina Murray region of southern New South Wales (and which has been approved by the NSW Government).

The spokesman pointed to a line in the report that states: “NSW is currently leading Australia in large-scale solar, with eight major operational projects, including the largest solar farm in Australia.”

Dr Dargaville said: “New South Wales does have some very large operational renewable energy projects, notably the very large solar farm at Coleambally.

“With 188 MWdc of photovoltaic panels, it is currently the largest solar farm in Australia, closely followed by several other comparably sized solar farms in Queensland (Daydream 180 MW, and Sun Metals 150 MW).”

“One could argue that the Bungala Solar farm in South Australia, with two units of 138 MW each, is larger.”

“There are also large solar farm projects in New South Wales that have reached ‘financial close’, meaning they are about to begin or are under construction.

“Limondale (313 MW) and Darlington Point (275 MW) will be the largest solar farms once constructed.”

Professor MacGill told Fact Check: “If we consider solar projects built in 2018 or under construction, using the Clean Energy Council project tracker, Queensland built considerably more utility PV generation than New South Wales in 2018 (around 600MW versus 330MW).

“Queensland also has more projects under construction or due to start construction soon than New South Wales (around 4GW versus 2GW).”

Principal researcher: Lucinda Beaman

factcheck@rmit.edu.au

Sources

Alexandra Smith, Climate change top of voters’ minds in NSW election, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 March, 2019

Australian Government Climate Change Authority, Australia’s climate change policies at the Australian and state and territory government levels: a stocktake, March 2019

Liberal Party of Australia, NSW Division, Our Plans: helping households cut power bills with clean energy, 10 February 2019

Australian Labor Party, NSW Branch, Our Plan: Delivering cleaner and cheaper energy, 2019

NSW Votes Leaders Debate, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8 March, 2019

Australian Government, Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ‘Solar energy’

Australian Government, Geoscience Australia, ‘Solar energy’

Australian Energy Market Operator, Fact Sheet, The National Electricity Market

Australian Government, Department of the Environment and Energy, ‘Solar PV and batteries’

OpenNEM, using Australian Energy Market Operator data, rooftop and utility solar generation (GWh), 1 March 2018 to 1 March 2019

Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Energy Statistics, Table O, Australian electricity generation, by fuel type, physical units, April 2018

Clean Energy Regulator, postcode data for small-scale installations

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3101.0 Australian Demographic Statistics, June 2018

Australian Energy Market Operator, Generation Information, existing and committed generation projects in the National Electricity Market (NEM)

Australian PV Institute, using data from the Clean Energy Regulator’s Large Scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) database, large-scale PV systems

Topics: solar-energy, alternative-energy, environment, electricity-energy-and-utilities, state-elections, sydney-2000, nsw

First posted March 22, 2019 08:58:43

How do I get solar panels in my school?

Posted March 18, 2019 13:04:19

The You Ask, We Answer election project has received more than 100 audience questions about the environment, with many NSW voters telling us that climate change policies will determine their decision on Saturday.

Solar subsidies and installations have been on the minds of many respondents, including this question from Rob Domone from Denistone:

“What are the policies on installing solar PV and insulation on suitable state-owned property, including on new demountables and school roofs?”

The Liberal Government is rolling out a $20-$30 million program to install solar panels on state-owned buildings and have smart batteries fitted on those with existing solar systems.

The Resources, and Energy and Utilities departments are waiting for buildings to “get back to them with costings”, a ministry spokesman said.

Labor has promised to conduct an audit of all government buildings and “where suitable install solar panels”.

It also intends to have all state-owned buildings buy their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

So what about on schools?

The Government announced in November its Cooler Classrooms fund, which is investing $500 million to have air conditioners installed in classrooms across NSW and, where possible, have them powered by solar systems.

More than 900 public schools were named in the first funding round, with a spot on the list for those with an average summer temperature of at least 30 degrees Celsius.

Almost 50 schools have had air conditioning already installed under the scheme.

Will Labor’s Cool Schools program include staffrooms?

This was a question submitted to You Ask, We Answer by a teacher who often has to teach and prepare for classes in rooms measuring over 30 degrees.

— Labor’s Cool Schools commitment does not include staffrooms, a party spokesman said.

— The Government’s Cooler Classrooms fund is focused on classrooms and libraries. A Liberals spokesman did not confirm whether staffrooms would be fitted with air conditioners.

But the fund only applies to classrooms and libraries, with one western Sydney principal upset that their school’s un-air-conditioned hall was not deemed a “learning space” and didn’t qualify despite being used by students during class time.

The school self-funded air conditioning in its classrooms several years ago.

“It’s unfortunate the definition is so tight and precludes things like school halls, which are used for subjects like music, drama, scripture, and the students sit their HSC exams in there,” the principal said.

Labor, meanwhile, has promised similar with its Cool Schools policy but with an additional $300 million redirected after its promised cancellation of the Sydney Football Stadium demolition.

On Sunday, Opposition Leader Michael Daley said $100 million of the funding would be dedicated to having solar systems power new air conditioners in more than 350 schools.

How can schools get solar panels?

More than 1,430 schools across New South Wales have had solar panels installed in the past decade to reduce their total carbon footprint.

The types of systems differ depending on the school, from an 18-kilowatt system at Kensington Public School to a 99.9kW design at the new Ballina High School which opened in January.

The Department of Education said schools should contact School Infrastructure NSW if they were interested in installing photovoltaic systems.

The Solar My Schools program founded by the Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra councils helps schools apply and provides this guide for them to follow:

  • Have an independent feasibility report done that estimates the cost, analyses energy consumption and determines the most suitable system.
  • Raise funds for the project and apply to the Education Department for a funding contribution. A department spokesman said it would fund 50 per cent of the installation costs if the school met “certain criteria”.
  • Once funds have been raised, the Education Department will manage the project, including applying for development approvals and hiring contractors.

Easier said than done

Anthony Weinberg, the councils’ regional environment coordinator, said it was a complex process with a “lack of information” for schools, particularly with how the Government would contribute funding.

“It is really tough, and one of our approaches is writing a lot of grants to the State Government and other organisations seeking funding for their solar systems,” he said.

“We look at ways to get around funding issues.”

Mr Weinberg said it was much easier for independent and Catholic schools to apply for solar panels “because there is less bureaucracy”.

Some of the difficulties schools faced, he said, included whether they could direct the savings they were making from solar systems back into the school.

“In the past there’s been some uncertainty whether the school can recoup the savings from the solar system, and whether that would go back to the Department of Education as revenue.”

He also said the Cooler Classrooms program would not reduce a school’s total greenhouse gas emissions because the solar systems would only power new air conditioners.

The office of Education Minister Rob Stokes did not reply to questions about whether schools could reinvest any savings or if their utility funding would be reduced as a result.

Students leading the change

The installation of solar panels at Caringbah High School last year was organised by Kal Glanznig, a Year 12 student who lobbied his principal, student body and P&C department to back the initiative.

He’s now at university and won’t be around to benefit from the 100kW solar system, which reduces the school’s energy use by about $15,000 a year.

It’s a legacy equivalent to planting 800 trees.

“I was really ecstatic to see the school can benefit from a little idea I had,” he said.

“The solar panels will last 20 to 30 years.

“A whole generation of Caringbah High students will have a better education than I did.”

Inspired by his work, the Sydney Student Leaders Coalition — formed by students from 25 schools across Sydney last year — has adopted Kal’s process, including the letters he drafted to the Education Department, as a guide for others.

“It’s a convoluted process and not many people know about it,” said Harvey Hayes, a student at Tempe High School.

“That’s why we’re trying to set these programs where councils can be the go-between between the department and the schools to make that whole process easier.

“It should be a priority for the department to help the students.”

She said climate change was a huge conversation topic for students, with hundreds of her peers attending Friday’s climate rally.

“Both state and local governments should be reaching out to the Australian Youth Parliament and getting younger people involved, because it is our future.

“We’re interested in this and it’s something we want to have a say in, so it’s important we have a seat at the table for young people.”

Topics: state-elections, elections, schools, climate-change, solar-energy, alternative-energy, environment, human-interest, sydney-2000

Solar panel efficiency has a limit, but scientists are working on it

Solar panels now grace the roofs of more than 2 million Australian homes. But when it comes to solar cell efficiency records, the numbers aren’t so clear-cut.

These days, the best silicon solar cells operate at 26.7 per cent efficiency.

Hang on. Only 26.7 per cent? That seems pretty low, especially when you find out that’s under ideal lab conditions.

But don’t diss the efforts of chemists and physicists — 26.7 per cent, and the tiny efficiency gains that led to it, is a big deal.

Put simply, there’s a limit to how much of the sun’s energy can be converted to electricity by solar systems.

In the case of your standard rooftop silicon panels, efficiency tops out at around 32 per cent.

(And that’s a theoretical figure. Out in the real world, silicon panels are around 20 per cent efficient.)

So why does this 32 per cent limit exist, and can we work around it?

How do solar cells work?

First, we need to understand the nuts and bolts of how solar cells, which make up panels, generate electricity from sunlight.

Let’s go with silicon solar cells, given they’re the most familiar.

These cells are made of a silicon wafer that’s “doped” with small amounts of other elements, so electrons flow around a circuit in a particular direction to give us electricity.

Electrons in silicon atoms usually hang out in what’s called a “valance band”. While there, electrons aren’t free to move around, so the silicon acts like an insulator.

But if an electron gains enough energy, it can jump into a higher energy “conduction band” where it’s mobile and — voila! — able to produce electrical current.

The amount of energy needed to bounce between the valance and conduction bands is called the “band gap”.

In solar cells, sunlight in the form of photons provides the energy kick electrons need to traverse the band gap.

And for silicon, that band gap is 1.1 electron volts.

Where does silicon’s efficiency limit come from?

Named after the physicists who calculated it in 1961, a material’s maximum efficiency is called the Shockley-Queisser limit.

It’s a fairly complex calculation that takes into account a bunch of factors. A big one is that not all photons are created equal when it comes to energy.

The sun spits out a wide spectrum of photons, from ultraviolet through to infrared.

But redder photons carry less energy than their bluer counterparts, said Andrew Tilley, a chemist at the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute.

“So light with energy below the band gap passes through the silicon, unabsorbed.”

That ends up being a large proportion, too — around 20 per cent of sunlight falling on a solar cell simply does not contain enough energy to provide that 1.1-electron-volt boost.

What happens to two-thirds of the sun’s energy?

Photons that aren’t energetic enough provide a large chunk of wasted energy. This is called the transmission loss.

And then there are heaps of photons that are too energetic.

Take, for instance, an orange photon with 2 electron volts hitting a silicon solar cell. It kicks up an electron from the valance band to the conduction band, but traversing the band gap only requires 1.1 electron volts.

This leaves 0.9 electron volts of energy left over, which manifests itself as waste heat or, in fancy physics terms, thermalisation loss.

In the case of silicon solar cells, thermalisation and transmission account for about 35 and 20 per cent, respectively, of efficiency loss.

The remaining 15 per cent or so is energy lost due to other quirks of optics and thermodynamics.

Are we stuck with max efficiency of 34 per cent?

Of course not. Physicists and chemists are finding ways to capture energy that would usually be lost in transmission and thermalisation and turn it into electricity.

Let’s see how we can get around the big thermalisation problem. One way is to stack layers of solar cells, with each absorbing a different part of the spectrum.

The key is to use old tried-and-tested silicon with another semiconducting material to create a “stacked” solar cell.

Stacked solar cells have been used for years, but generally only in solar-powered devices where space is a premium, like satellites and spacecraft.

Triple-layer solar panels that were popped on the now-dead Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers back in 2003, for instance, boasted a 27 per cent conversion efficiency.

But they were made of gallium-arsenide which, even now, costs up to $300 per watt — about 100 times more expensive than silicon panels.

A new and quite promising candidate is a group of materials called perovskites, which have “shot from obscurity to being awesome in a short period”, said Niraj Lal, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

The beauty of perovskites — aside from the fact they are cheap and made from plentiful materials such as lead — is that their band gap can be “tuned” depending on their chemical make-up.

Last year, Oxford researchers stacked a perovskite capable of catching high-energy, blue photons on top of a silicon cell, which then caught lower-energy photons towards the red end of the spectrum, to create a stacked or “tandem” solar cell that was 28 per cent efficient.

“When you start combining these cells, then you can really go past the Shockley-Queisser limit,” Dr Lal said.

Then there are tricky and complicated methods that take high-energy photons and manipulate them so solar panels can use them without producing as much waste heat.

There are also efforts to catch and manipulate two low-energy photons to create one high-energy photon. This is called photon upconversion.

records facts and figures

Solar cell records, facts and figures

  • In 2014, a German-French team created a four-layer solar cell that could convert 46 per cent of concentrated sunlight into electrical energy
  • Silicon crystal solar cells are at 26.6 per cent efficiency for normal sunlight, and 27.6 per cent with concentrated sunlight
  • The perovskite-silicon tandem cell efficiency record is 28 per cent
  • Quantum dot solar cell, containing tiny semiconductor particles and built by a University of Queensland team, recently achieved 16.6 per cent efficiency

Source: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Figures correct at time of publication.

Other materials, like zinc telluride, can be designed to have a mid-band-gap stepping stone of sorts. These are called intermediate band materials, Dr Tilley said.

“The idea is electrons can use a low-energy photon to get halfway between the valance to conductance bands, then another to get them to conductance.”

While Dr Lal thinks tandem perovskite-silicon solar cells will likely be the next phase of commercial solar cells, there are still quite a few kinks to iron out.

Perovskites are often made of toxic materials like lead and they degrade faster than silicon, especially if they get water on them.

Silicon solar cells tend to come with a guarantee that after 25 years of use, they’ll still operate at 80 per cent of their initial efficiency.

“The challenge is how to make perovskites stable, so they last in a harsh climate like Australia’s,” Dr Lal said.

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‘Voting Liberal has been my default. I’m changing’: How climate could change the NSW election

Updated March 04, 2019 07:17:04

It’s a sticky February morning and Willoughby resident Johan Hedstrom is on his walk around picturesque Middle Cove on Sydney Harbour.

He’s in Harold Reid Reserve, where the sound of birds singing and leaves crunching under foot makes it feel far from the Sydney CBD, which is only 10 kilometres away.

But Mr Hedstrom is concerned his grandchildren may never get to experience this.

Key points:

  • Labor and Liberal polling shows climate change is on voters’ minds in NSW
  • In some marginal seats like Coogee, it is rated the number-one issue
  • NSW and WA are the only states without a renewable energy target

He’s so worried about climate change and the impact it’s having he’s changing his vote when NSW electors head to the polls on March 23.

Climate change has traditionally been viewed by voters as a federal issue, but Labor and Liberal polling shows it’s also on the state political agenda in NSW.

“Voting Liberal has been my default position,” he said.

“I’m changing my vote because climate change is one of the big issues for me.

“It’s not the only issue but I do feel we are not doing enough because we don’t have much time on our hands.”

Mr Hedstrom lives in the safe liberal seat of Willoughby, held by the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian — he personally likes Ms Berejiklian but said her party could be doing more about climate change at a state level.

“Labor are distinguishing themselves from the Coalition and they are upping the ante which is good,” he said.

“Their initiative of 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030, it’s setting a good target and which is more in line with what I’d like to see.”

The massive fish kills on the Darling River in outback NSW resonated with Sydneysiders and firmly placed environment and climate change at the forefront of voters’ minds in Broken Hill and Bondi.

Matters of State

NSW’s broken water system

Residents of Bourke, in north-west New South Wales, are living under the worst water restrictions the town has ever faced. What’s it like fearing to turn the tap on? And when will it end?

Both major parties are now focussing on the climate more this election campaign.

The Labor Party this week announced it would put in place a renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030 if it’s elected.

NSW and WA are the only states without a renewable energy target.

The Opposition also wants to provide rebates for people installing solar panels on their home.

The Liberals have a zero net emissions target by 2050 and are offering low interest loans for solar battery systems for some households as part of their election promises.

But the Climate Council said NSW had a long way to go when it came to renewable energy.

The organisation’s latest report showed NSW at the bottom of the pack, with only 6 per cent of the state’s electricity being sourced from wind and solar.

The climate council is a publicly-funded independent organisation focused on climate change.

“NSW is in the Dark Ages when it comes to energy,” said Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie.

“While other states have been leading the way moving towards more renewable power, NSW is reliant on ageing, inefficient coal fired generators, that are vulnerable to things like heat waves and extreme weather events.”

Already across NSW there are around 500,000 homes with solar panels.

Ross Browning in Turramurra on Sydney’s Upper north shore spent $18,000 installing solar panels on his home — he received an $8000 rebate and has reduced his electricity bills by 70 per cent.

To encourage more people to get solar panels on their homes he thinks the Government or Opposition should look at providing rebates for solar batteries.

Without a battery the solar energy caught during the day can’t be stored to use at night.

“The batteries are expensive [but] there is a huge benefit,” he said.

“There is no rebates on batteries at the moment, I think it’s a no-brainer we have to look at batteries as well.”

The Turramurra man also had climate change on his mind and believes it’s the “number one” issue for the March 23 election.

“We need long-term decisions made for our future generations,” he said.

In the eastern suburbs seat of Coogee, climate change was such an issue the Liberals were seriously worried they could lose the seat to Labor.

It’s currently held by Bruce Notley-Smith by a margin of 2.9 per cent.

Environment groups are now holding regular forums in the seat with local candidates and residents.

At one meeting in Randwick last Wednesday night, 60 people gathered discussing the lack of open space, tree lopping in their suburbs and climate change concerns.

“Hundreds of trees over 100 years old through out our cities are being chopped down,” said one resident.

“I would like to see a stand along climate change department established under the department of premier and cabinet,” said another.

Mr Nottley-Smith did not attend.

Back across town in Willoughby, Mr Hedstrom wanted the major parties to listen to voters concerns.

“I think climate change is a serious issue and the majority of the population are thinking that so it’s strange that major parties haven’t taken it seriously,” he said.

This state election they have to.

Topics: state-elections, government-and-politics, solar-energy, alternative-energy, environment, climate-change—disasters, climate-change, elections, nsw, bondi-2026, bourke-2840, broken-hill-2880, coogee-2034, sydney-2000, turramurra-2074, willoughby-2068

First posted March 04, 2019 05:19:15

Major beef processor develops low emission energy hub at Wagga Wagga

Teys Australia’s chief supply chain officer Tom Maguire, industry and corporate affairs manager John Langbridge, and resource efficiency group manager Carl Duncan at the low emissions energy hub at Teys Australia’s beef processing plant at Wagga Wagga, in southern NSW.

Construction of the $42 million low emissions energy hub at Teys Australia’s Wagga Wagga plant is underway.

f Construction of the $42 million low emissions energy hub at Teys Australia’s Wagga Wagga beef processing plant is underway. The hub will include baseload bio-generation, solid waste digestion, solar PV, energy storage and biomass boilers to produce steam.

Does heat help or hinder solar panels?

Posted March 02, 2019 10:27:08

The future of solar energy in Australia has never looked brighter.

Key points:

  • Demand for electricity is expected to increase in parts of Australia this weekend
  • Experts say solar panels become less efficient in extreme heat
  • The perfect temperature for a solar panel is about 25C

Solar firms and farms are springing up across the country, and more than 20 per cent of the nation’s homes have solar installations.

There is also largescale investment by state governments in home battery schemes which capture energy generated by rooftop panels, with the aim of driving down household power bills.

But despite their growing popularity, there are still some lingering misconceptions about how solar cells work, especially in very hot weather.

“A solar panel is a bit like the silicon chip inside your computer, if it gets too hot it doesn’t work quite so well,” University of WA resources scientist Ray Wills said.

Parts of southern Australia, including Adelaide, are currently enduring an unusually hot start to autumn.

Temperatures rising above 40 degrees Celsius are expected across South Australia today, with temperatures in the high 30s forecast in parts of Victoria.

Will the heat help or hinder solar panels?

In sweltering conditions, many will switch on their air conditioners, driving up demand for electricity.

While it is easy to assume that blazing sunshine would boost the performance of solar panels, generating more power, that is not necessarily the case.

“A really hot day, you’ll actually produce less power because the solar panel gets so hot,” engineer and solar analyst Finn Peacock said.

“The heat from the sun actually degrades the efficiency of the panel.

“So the perfect conditions for solar are strong sun but cold, which is pretty unusual unless you’re in the Arctic.”

What works best?

In order to work at maximum efficiency, the perfect temperature for a solar panel is about 25C.

But that refers to the temperature of the panel itself, not the atmospheric temperature.

“On a 45C day, I would expect the panel to be at least 75C, so the panel is 50C hotter than the optimum,” Mr Peacock said.

For every degree above that optimum, power output will decline by about half a per cent.

“If it’s 10C higher than normal, it’s underperforming by 5 per cent which is not a lot,” University of NSW solar researcher Renate Egan said.

It’s all about light, not heat

There are different types of solar energy production: solar photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal.

As its name suggests, solar thermal harnesses the heat of the sun and operates in a similar way to a coal-fired power station — it boils water and generates steam.

But most rooftop solar panels and solar farm projects in Australia are photovoltaic — they convert light into electricity.

“The way solar PV works is that you have this material, typically silicon, and there’s a certain kind of magic that goes on in silicon,” Associate Professor Egan said.

“It’s known as a semi-conductor, which means it conducts electricity some of the time.

“When you shine a light on [it], it generates free electrons and those electrons can then travel, so it becomes a conductor when it’s exposed to light. That’s how a solar panel works.”

The reason extreme heat hinders that process is because of the basic physical properties of the semi-conductor.

Is this bad for power bills?

Not necessarily.

While electricity output from household solar panels will likely drop today, that doesn’t mean homes will stop producing their own power, or even be producing less power than they need.

“It’s not a show stopper. It’s still very useful to have solar during a heatwave. If you’ve got a good system, it should power your house through,” Mr Peacock said.

“You may produce 30 kilowatt hours in the day instead of 40 kilowatt hours in the day, but if you’ve got a reasonably efficient home that would be way more than enough to power your home through the heatwave.”

Topics: weather, solar-energy, alternative-energy, environment, sa, adelaide-5000

The ‘magical, otherworldly’ solution to sustainable clean drinking water

Posted February 23, 2019 06:30:00

Enduring stage six water restrictions for almost a year, the town of Murrurundi is now home to ground-breaking new technology that harvests the sun and air to create clean drinking water.

Key points:

  • Hydropanel harvests the sun and air to create clean drinking water
  • Can produce 3,000 bottles of water per month
  • Town pool also filled with imported 990,000 litres of water

When Murrurundi Public School Principal Rebecca Hopkins arrived in mid-2018, she did not think the town’s dry conditions could get any worse.

When water restrictions were raised to level six just a month later, she was proven wrong.

“It was no way near as dire as it is now,” Ms Hopkins said.

Restrictions include no watering of gardens and lawns, three-minute showers and limited laundry use.

Answering emails in her office on a quiet afternoon last year, a cold call offered Mrs Hopkins a lifeline for the community’s plight.

Word of Murrurundi’s crippling restrictions had reached Byron Bay, where sustainable food collective Three Blue Ducks decided to lend a hand.

Early adopters of hydropanels, technology which harvests the sun and air to create clean drinking water, Three Blue Ducks decided to donate over $30,000 worth of panels to the small town of 1,000.

The first school in New South Wales to host hydropanels, Mrs Hopkins said the generosity of the donation was overwhelming.

“For the community members, not just monetarily it means a lot, but such a gift like that really warms your heart,” she said.

“It’s not something that a small school like ours could afford without some assistance.”

With some parents having had spent $1,500 in the past year on bottled water, Mrs Hopkins said the access to reliable drinking water would have a direct impact on student’s education.

“Not having to buy bottled water for our office and for our staff and for our students, that’s a load off our minds,” she said.

“That means we can spend those resources more wisely on students’ learning.”

While the 10 donated panels sit within school grounds, members of the community have been encouraged to sign in at the front office and fill bottles and containers during school hours.

“They just feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they can fill up anytime and enjoy the water that they’re drinking,” Mrs Hopkins said.

How hydropanels turn air and sun into drinkable water

With the 10-panel system capable of producing 3,000 bottles of water per month, hydropanels use solar power to produce large-scale condensation.

Water is then mineralised and placed in an ozonator, where it can be channelled to a nearby tap.

Zero Mass Water Asia Pacific Vice President James Symons said despite the technology’s farfetched elevator pitch, it could soon become pedestrian in drought-affected communities.

“A lot of innovations seem too good to be true when they set out and then they become commonplace, and that’s the definition of technological disruption,” he said.

“We’re here to complement traditional infrastructure and say to these communities even when times are at their worst in times of drought, at least you can always have fresh drinking water.”

After gaining clearance from the NSW Department of Education, Zero Mass Water was authorised to install NSW’s first school-based hydropanels.

Mr Symons said schools were the perfect place to position panels within towns.

“Whenever you have problems with drought and water shortages we always think about our most vulnerable community members,” he said.

“That’s obviously children in many cases.”

As off-grid, modular systems that scale as needed, Mr Symonds said the potential for hydropanels was still yet to be seen.

“Our vision is to make these units deliverable at a community-scale,” he said.

Community rallies to keep hope flowing

Murrurundi’s local swimming pool has become a beacon of hope in the town.

Entering a sweltering 2018 summer without it was almost a reality, though.

Unable to pay the freight for water, the Upper Hunter council was assisted by local pub, The Royal Hotel.

After hosting various fundraising events raising $1,700 in donations, the driver, truck and fuel were paid for.

By the first week of December, the Murrurundi War Memorial Swimming Pool was open, requiring 990,000 litres of water to clean and fill.

“You can imagine the joy that they get from swimming, that’s what they look forward to,” local school principal Ms Hopkins said.

“It would’ve had a very negative impact on the mental health of not just the adults in the family, but particularly the children.”

‘They’re doing as much as they can’

Sophie Luscombe and Rachel Brown are Murrurundi Public School’s co-school captains.

After practising her backstroke under the pool’s blue canopy, Ms Brown said long-term water restrictions had taken both a visual and emotional toll on the town.

“We can’t have vegetables, we can’t have gardens because we can’t water them,” she said.

Grateful for the generosity her town had enjoyed, Ms Luscombe said she was excited to have sustainable clean drinking water.

“The town is really asking for more help, but we’re getting as much as we can,” she said.

“The technology is great because it is helping our town out and we’re getting yummy water, and clean water.”

Are hydropanels the sustainable solution?

Professor Michael Roderick, a researcher at the Australian National University’s School of Earth Sciences, said hydropanels could potentially provide a creative counter to the greenhouse effect.

Dr Roderick said CO2 created by land clearing, cars and industrial works warms the atmosphere, which in-turn allows it to hold more water.

“Water by itself is a very strong greenhouse gas, so it multiplies the CO2 effect,” he said.

According to Dr Roderick, extracting water vapour out of the atmosphere could ease the greenhouse effect.

On the other hand, he said over-harvesting water from the atmosphere could negatively impact on the environment, but only on a large scale.

“If you had a large set of panels, then downwind of the extraction point the air’s going to be depleted of humidity,” Dr Roderick said.

“Plants growing in that downwind environment would tend to experience slightly more water stress than they had before.

“The effect would be quite limited, it would just depend on the size of the installation.”

Topics: water-management, water, water-supply, solar-energy, drought, environment-education, primary-schools, public-schools, secondary-schools, environmental-technology, murrurundi-2338

Hydropanels

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AEDT = Australian Eastern Daylight Savings Time which is 11 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)

Shell to buy battery maker in ‘major play’ for renewables

Updated February 16, 2019 14:41:58

Global petroleum giant Shell has announced it will take over German home battery company Sonnen, as part of its strategy of investing in renewable technologies.

Key points:

  • Shell says Sonnen is a global leader in energy storage
  • Advocates say the takeover is a positive step for renewables
  • Sonnen is currently expanding its business north of Adelaide

Sonnen is an emerging player in Australia’s energy market, establishing a base at the former Holden site in Adelaide’s north to manufacture batteries for installation in homes.

The purchase for an undisclosed sum will be subject to regulatory approval, but has been welcomed by renewable energy advocates as a positive step for the sector as well as consumers.

“Sonnen is one of the global leaders in smart, distributed energy storage systems,” Mark Gainsborough, executive vice-president of Shell’s new energies division, said in a statement.

“Full ownership of Sonnen will allow us to offer more choice to customers seeking reliable, affordable and cleaner energy.”

Sonnen will retain its independent branding, and CEO Christoph Ostermann said the investment would allow the company to boost production.

“Shell will help drive the growth of Sonnen to a new level and help speed up the transformation of the energy system,” he said.

Sonnen officially opened its home battery assembly site at the old Holden factory in November.

The local workforce is expected to expand by 430 jobs by the end of the year, as the company embarks on a plan to build 50,000 battery systems over the next five years.

“It’s a major play for Shell, at the end of the day they’re a global energy giant,” said Planet Ark co-founder Jon Dee.

“They need to play in that space, and that’s why it makes sense that Shell have bought Sonnen in this way.

“South Australia took the right step when it came to moving into battery technology — not just the Tesla battery on the grid, but also when it comes to home batteries as well.”

Takeover ‘about money, not morals’

Renewables industry analyst Giles Parkinson, who runs renewable advocacy website Renew Economy, said the announcement was good news for consumers and would help make batteries more affordable.

“As you get more and more manufacturing, you’re going to start to see those costs coming down,” he said.

“Basically the prediction for batteries is that it’s going to follow the same cost curve as solar. Solar’s come down 90 per cent in cost in the last 10 years.”

Shell established its new energies wing in 2016, with the company committing to diversify into renewables as part of a strategy to reduce its carbon footprint.

“It’s another sign that big oil companies are getting a clear view of the future, and that future is not their traditional business which has been based around oil extraction and petrol,” Mr Parkinson said.

“They’re now investing very rapidly in battery storage companies.

“This is about money … this is a business decision, this is not a moral decision.”

Sonnen has previously predicted federal Labor’s plan to introduce battery subsidies could “tip the market” for household batteries.

Engineer and solar analyst Finn Peacock has welcomed Shell’s move, but is also sceptical about the company’s motivations.

“This is pocket change for Shell,” he said.

“I don’t see that Sonnen has particular advantage in the battery space compared to the other big battery manufactures such as Tesla.

“They’re really very expensive batteries and they really need to work on getting the costs of those whole units down.”

Mr Peacock said grid-scale batteries like Tesla’s project near Jamestown currently made better economic sense than home battery packs.

“Household batteries will be important in the future but the price they’re at now — they simply do not pay for themselves while they’re in warranty,” he said.

“The rebates for home batteries are pure politics. Politicians haven’t looked into the economics of household solar and storage.”

Topics: alternative-energy, environment, oil-and-gas, solar-energy, electricity-energy-and-utilities, energy, adelaide-5000, elizabeth-south-5112, elizabeth-5112, sa, australia

First posted February 16, 2019 13:44:20