Monday, 19 May 2014

My submission to the RET review panel

This is my personal submission to the panel currently reviewing the Renewable Energy Target legislation - the policy that provides an incentive for the uptake and integration of renewable technology into our electricity grid. I've added some pictures and corrected a few grammatical errors I made. Enjoy. 

To the Renewable Energy Target review panel,

My name is Ketan Joshi. I work as a 'Research and Communications Officer' at a renewable energy company based in Sydney. After spending four years studying a science degree, I entered the renewable energy industry, working with my new employer and a colleague to establish a 24/7 operations and control centre, designed to monitor and dispatch renewable energy in response to fluctuations in price and demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM). I now work in the research and communications field.

I spent a large amount of time doing shifts in the control centre, at any possible time of day, and on any day of the week, watching the energy market closely.  In that time, it became starkly clear that the criticisms levelled at renewable energy in the public sphere are untrue or exaggerated. The full extent to which renewable energy contributes meaningfully to the grid has been underestimated. The Renewable Energy Target (RET) has played a significant role in efficiently encouraging this integration.

The Capital Wind Farm, as seen by a touring bus driving past

Since then, my time engaging with individuals and communities around operational wind farms has shown that nearly everyone living near wind farms has a positive experience with the machines. Media coverage represents a biased sample of the total population of people living near wind farms – a bias corrected when we delve more deeply into the communities around wind farms. Though community engagement is not a written aspect of the RET policy, the development of renewable energy technology is dependent entirely on the acceptance of these technologies by the communities that live adjacent to them.

Finally, I'd like to discuss the outcomes of climate science, considering the importance of this field of study in relation to Australia's renewable energy policy schemes. Decarbonisation is an effort stemming from the established linkage between greenhouse gas emissions and dangerous increases in global temperatures.

Contribution to Generation in South Australia 

South Australia is a success story – the state sees long stretches of time where a significant proportion of its electrical power is generated by wind turbines. On average, this amount is 28% .

At the infrequent times at which wind turbines are not generating electricity, the market operates as it always has done. Yet, there are times when South Australia unassumingly outlines an optimistic picture of an energy market that competitively and efficiently incorporates technology that is not bound to carbon pollution.

One example of this is the time period spanning science week, last year. During that week myself and a colleague set up a booth in the Australian Museum, displaying some solar panels, a demonstration wind turbine and some technical fact sheets on the technology and engineering underpinning the machines we operate. The following is a graphic  displaying South Australian generation against South Australian demand, for the duration of Science Week:

At times, wind output was low, and at other times, wind output served a significant proportion of South Australian electrical demand. The Australian Wind Energy Forecasting System  (AWEFS), developed and operated by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), accurately forecasts the output of wind farms, thus arming them to consistently manage the secure and efficient delivery of electricity to households. The image below shows 24 hour and 12 hour forecasts against actual generation, during a severe heatwave that occurred in January 2014, using data provided  by AEMO.

The integration of wind energy in South Australia has not been responsible for any blackouts, brownouts, network collapses, load-shedding or fuel poverty. This is due largely to the fact that the deployment of this technology has been overseen by a large variety of extremely experienced engineers, scientists and analysts. Through their considerable skill, a novel technology that operates on a unique pattern of generation is on the verge of providing enough electrical energy to meet the needs of every single residential household in South Australia .

At the time of writing this document, total wind output in the National Electricity Market is 644 megawatts, approximately enough to supply electricity for 910,546 households  (using a 4 person household in Brisbane as an example)

Benefits to Adjacent Communities 

An SKM report commissioned by the Clean Energy Council found that: a typical 50 megawatt wind farm:

  • Has an estimated average construction workforce of 48 people with each worker spending $25,000 per year in the local area. This equates to some $1.2 million per year flowing into hotels, shops, restaurants, and other local service providers.
  • Employs around five staff for operations and maintenance, equating to an ongoing local annual influx of $125,000. 
  • Provides up to $250,000 annually in payments to farmers, a proportion of which flows into the local community.
  • Provides a community contribution of up to some $80,000 per year for the life of the project.

I've been involved in several community events during my time in the renewable energy industry, and each of them has been extremely successful. An example is an annual fun run held at the Woodlawn Wind Farm, where locals experience the wind farm up close. The photo below shows runners at the base of a wind turbine at Woodlawn Wind Farm, near Bungendore in New South Wales.

Public support for wind energy is widespread. An Essential Vision poll showed that 76% of the public support wind energy, and that 71% of Liberal / National party voters are also supportive of wind energy.

The integration of wind farms into the communities that host them is just as important as the integration of wind farms in the National Electricity Market. The large majority of operational wind farms are not only accepted by the community, but warmly welcomed.

The Urgency of Decarbonisation to Protect Australian Society 

As with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection or the connection between smoking and lung cancer, there exists an established scientific consensus on the impacts of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the atmospheric systems that sustain civilisation, and the economies contained within.
Some of the scientific organisations that concur with the scientific consensus established by the scientific community include:

- The Australian Academy of Science
- The CSIRO  
- The Bureau of Meteorology 
- Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies 
- The Australian Coral Reef Society 
- The Australian Medical Association 
- The Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society 

Given the widespread acceptance of the science of climate change amongst Australia’s most established scientific bodies, it is clear that retaining our current reliance on fuel types that emit large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is directly and inarguably an act of cruelty to Australia’s future residents.

The warnings issued by global scientific bodies such as the IPCC, reminding us of the monumental urgency of decarbonisation, ought to be heeded and carefully considered, when the Renewable Energy Target is being considered by the panel. If we can reduce our carbon emissions efficiently and in such a way that empowers and informs communities, then we ought to do so with great vigour. Anything less and we will face harsh judgement from future generations, and the burden of an unpleasant legacy.

Thanks and regards,
Ketan Joshi 

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