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Analysis and Comment (50)

A cloud is hanging over Australia’s renewable energy industry after the government’s review recommended that the Renewable Energy Target be scaled back. A cloud is hanging over Australia’s renewable energy industry after the government’s review recommended that the Renewable Energy Target be scaled back. Leon Brooks/Wikimedia Commons

Renewable Energy Target review – experts respond

The review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) has recommended deep cuts to the scheme. If implemented by the government, the changes could mean closing off the scheme to new large-scale wind…
Clouding the issue: the latest analysis of the impact of the Renewable Energy Target contradicts previous reports. Clouding the issue: the latest analysis of the impact of the Renewable Energy Target contradicts previous reports. Bo-deh/Wikimedia Commons

How does the Renewable Energy Target affect your power bills?

The review of the Renewable Energy Target is due to be handed to the federal government any day now, yet amazingly there are still conflicts over whether the policy makes electricity more or less expensive…
Battery costs can make up a quarter of the cost of an electric car such as this Tesla Model S. Battery costs can make up a quarter of the cost of an electric car such as this Tesla Model S. Shal Farley/Flickr

Affordable batteries for green energy are closer than we think

At the heart of the current debate around energy is the question of storage. In cars, how to build batteries that run for hundreds of kilometres; in electricity, storing energy from solar panels for when…
Wind farms: great, unless it’s not windy. Wind farms: great, unless it’s not windy. mattinbgn/Wikimedia Commons

Renewables still have a long way to go to compete with fossil fuels

Australia has some fairly ambitious goals for green energy: a renewable energy target (currently under review) of 20% of electricity from renewables by 2020, and a forecast to get 51% of electricity from…
Water storage is used to smooth the output from hydroelectric power - but it can be used with other renewables too. Water storage is used to smooth the output from hydroelectric power - but it can be used with other renewables too. Martin Kraft/Wikimedia Commons

How pushing water uphill can solve our renewable energy issues

More and more renewable energy sources are being plugged into Australia’s electricity grids. South Australia, for example, will get 40% of its electricity from wind and solar once the Snowtown wind farm…
While Australians love Michael Leunig’s whimsical ducks, there’s another ‘duck’ pushing your power bills higher. While Australians love Michael Leunig’s whimsical ducks, there’s another ‘duck’ pushing your power bills higher. Used with permission from Michael Leunig

Slash Australians’ power bills by beheading a duck at night

Rooftop solar power has slashed Australians' demand for electricity during the day, but left evening peak power demand largely unchanged. That’s why, as strange as it may sound, we now need to behead a…
The new budget has served up a big hit to Australia’s environment. The new budget has served up a big hit to Australia’s environment. Anton Balazh/Shutterstock

Litany of deep cuts for environmental programs

Budgets are often framed as give and take. But in the case of the environment, the government is taking large amounts of money in cuts, while giving little back beyond funding the Direct Action climate…
Australia has a possible path to 100% renewables – if governments and business can be persuaded to take it. Australia has a possible path to 100% renewables – if governments and business can be persuaded to take it. AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Renewable energy target can go all the way to 100% – if we let it

The political outlook for renewable energy is not great – and I’m not just talking about the view out of Joe Hockey’s car window. The Renewable Energy Target (RET), which aims to deliver 41 million megawatt-hours…
Automatically labelling people as NIMBYs if they have concerns about local power projects is not a constructive way to proceed. Automatically labelling people as NIMBYs if they have concerns about local power projects is not a constructive way to proceed. Grahamec/Wikimedia Commons

Calling people NIMBYs won’t stop development arguments

From coal seam gas to wind farms, new resource projects seem to be pitting communities against corporations, and people against their neighbours. We often see, in such cases, community concerns labelled…
Panel power in London. Panel power in London. Tom Chance

Solar power can bring a bright energy future – even in the UK

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports has once again called for a “massive shift” to renewable energy. The challenge of curtailing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions is considerable…
Could Australia have large solar farms like this one in New York? Could Australia have large solar farms like this one in New York? Brookhaven National Laboratory/Flickr

Big solar could boost Australia’s power, if renewables funding stays

The recent start of construction on the first of two large-scale solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants in outback New South Wales shows the importance of renewable energy targets and funding. The first…
Will transmission charges cloud over Germany’s solar industry? Will transmission charges cloud over Germany’s solar industry? Ben Birchall/PA

Grid access tax may cost more in lost renewables than it earns

Germany, one of the world’s leading users of solar power, is set to charge people generating their own solar-powered electricity for access to the national grid. The move is part of the package of reforms…
If power can’t come to the village, the village must make its own. If power can’t come to the village, the village must make its own. AbuBakr Bahaj

Solar power is the only answer to light up rural Africa

It is estimated that around one and a half billion people globally have no access to reliable electricity. Most live in developing countries where the cost of connecting rural villages to the electricity…
Solar is taking off in Australia’s suburbs, but what are inner-city livers to do? Solar is taking off in Australia’s suburbs, but what are inner-city livers to do? Duncan Rawlinson

How will your energy get greener? Depends where you live

In Australia’s middle and outer suburbs, rooftop solar technology provides a clear way to reduce the emissions from the energy our houses use. But higher density housing types (apartments and medium density…
When it’s hot, the sun is shining. That’s good for solar power. When it’s hot, the sun is shining. That’s good for solar power. Flickr/jimwhimpey

When the sun don’t shine, the power don’t flow … or does it?

Renewable energy seems to be on a roll. One million Australian homes have rooftop solar cells. There’s so much renewable energy it’s reducing wholesale electricity prices. But then, that old chestnut pops…
Regional centres and outer suburbs - not inner-city latte sippers - are leading the solar charge. Regional centres and outer suburbs - not inner-city latte sippers - are leading the solar charge. Duncan Rawlinson

Solar revolution led by outer suburbs

Households across the country are putting solar panels on their roofs at a rate that has exceeded all expectations. This year we hit 1 million rooftops with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, up from just…
Solar panels covering just 1 per cent of Australia’s landmass could provide all our electricity needs. Solar panels covering just 1 per cent of Australia’s landmass could provide all our electricity needs. Flickr/Rantz

How do we get to the next million solar roofs?

There are now one million Australian homes with solar electricity. That means 2.5 million Australians now rely on solar power – more than the population of Brisbane. Australians have clearly shown their…
You don’t need to be Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis to be happy about renweables. You don’t need to be Glastonbury’s Michael Eavis to be happy about renweables. Ben Birchall/PA

Farmers could use land to create power as well as food

One of Britain’s largest independent cheese producers, Wyke Farms in Somerset, picked up a commendation in the BusinessGreen Leaders awards this month for its efforts to become completely energy self-sufficient…
When the sporting gods smile at Australia, we go to Rio, but Brazil has long been on the international business map. When the sporting gods smile at Australia, we go to Rio, but Brazil has long been on the international business map. AAP

All business roads lead to Rio

We have recently witnessed Brazil being hit by mass protests not seen since the days of the military dictatorship, but apart from the Socceroos going to the 2014 World Cup and the Rio Olympics in 2016…
A trade dispute between China and the EU could blow up into full-on stormy weather. A trade dispute between China and the EU could blow up into full-on stormy weather. Ben Birchall/PA

International spat over solar must not turn into trade wars

Manufacturers and politicians embroiled in the dispute between China and the EU are closely watching the looming deadline of June 5th. By then the European Commission must conclude its provisional anti-dumping…
How selfish! Are solar panels really pushing up the price of power for everyone? How selfish! Are solar panels really pushing up the price of power for everyone? Elliot Brown

More solar, less power demand, higher prices: does it add up?

If I install solar panels and a car battery to run my air conditioner, should I pay higher electricity network fees? The electricity industry and Queensland’s Energy Minister would say yes, but is that…
It doesn’t matter that wind and solar power are intermittent: the need for base-load power is a myth. It doesn’t matter that wind and solar power are intermittent: the need for base-load power is a myth. Flickr/Eidoloon

Baseload power is a myth: even intermittent renewables will work

The future of civilisation and much biodiversity hangs to a large degree on whether we can replace fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – with clean, safe and affordable energy within several decades. The…
China’s solar photovoltaic industry has exploded in the last decade. China’s solar photovoltaic industry has exploded in the last decade. AAP/Chinese Solar Energy.

What’s going on with Chinese solar?

The bankruptcy of Chinese solar energy company Suntech Wuxi is being depicted in the media as a sign of chaos in the solar industry. The industry is said to be suffering from disastrous price falls created…
How do rooftop solar panels work? How do rooftop solar panels work? Abi Skipp

Explainer: what is photovoltaic solar energy?

There are two main types of solar energy technology: photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal. Solar PV is the rooftop solar you see on homes and businesses - it produces electricity from solar energy directly…
It’s time to take solar transport fuels a lot more seriously. It’s time to take solar transport fuels a lot more seriously. National Renewable Energy Lab

Here’s to hydrogen: Australia is missing the potential of solar fuels

Many times in human history governments have tried to write policies based around future technologies and missed identifying the transformational keys. In the 1970s, for example, few if any horizon-scanning…
Things go wrong when prices are out of whack. Things go wrong when prices are out of whack. Kevin Baird

Set reasonable PV feed-in tariffs, or expect perverse outcomes

Contrary to expectations, demand for electricity in Australia has been falling for several years. Reasons for this include large price rises (of which the carbon price is a relatively small component…
Australia could soon have millions of small electricity generators. Australia could soon have millions of small electricity generators. absentmindedprof/Flickr

Energy White Paper underestimates solar

The 2012 Energy White Paper has much to commend it. In particular, the far greater acknowledgement of the need to shift to clean energy sources is a fundamental shift from previous White Papers. The emphasis…
The mechanisms that make some fish hard to see could be used in next-generation electronics. The mechanisms that make some fish hard to see could be used in next-generation electronics. mattieb

‘Invisible’ fish could light the way to better optical devices

Imagine setting up mirrors in a circle around you, the shiny sides all facing outwards to reflect your surroundings. To the casual observer you would appear to be “invisible”, blending into the environment…
Wind and solar power appears to have been behind a drop in wholesale power prices in South Australia, leading to a proposal to reduce retail prices for consumers. Wind and solar power appears to have been behind a drop in wholesale power prices in South Australia, leading to a proposal to reduce retail prices for consumers.

Power of the wind - how renewables are lowering SA electricity bills

Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power appear to be the impetus behind a South Australian proposal to substantially drop electricity prices, just as other states are hiking theirs. The Essential…
Sunlight falls equally on leaves and solar panels, but which does the best job of turning it into useful renewable energy? Sunlight falls equally on leaves and solar panels, but which does the best job of turning it into useful renewable energy? kincuri/Flickr

For efficient energy, do you want solar panels or biofuels?

About 80% of the world’s total energy consumption is derived from fossil fuels, with only 12.5% from renewable resources. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources derived from sunlight - such…
A cleaner, more efficient Australia will blend smart grids and meters with renewable power’s growing capacity. Pictured: Spain’s Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal power plant. A cleaner, more efficient Australia will blend smart grids and meters with renewable power’s growing capacity. Pictured: Spain’s Gemasolar concentrated solar thermal power plant. Gemasolar

Challenge 13: smart energy demand and renewable supply

In part 13 of our multi-disciplinary Millennium Project series, Mark Diesendorf argues that it is high time we got smart about power: how we generate it and how we deliver it. Global challenge 13: How…
Do you see the light? Solar costs are comparable to fossil fuels, and are falling 45% annually. Do you see the light? Solar costs are comparable to fossil fuels, and are falling 45% annually. Flickr/MyEye85

Newsflash: solar power costs are falling below fossil fuels

Recent postings to The Conversation have enlivened the debate over the “Great Transition” that is underway all around the world from the fossil-fuelled energy systems of the 20th century to the renewably…
Embrace the blazing sphere. Embrace the blazing sphere. AAP/EPA/NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Set the controls for the heart of the sun: time for solar courage

John Gardner, US Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare joined Lyndon Johnson’s cabinet in 1965 to help create a ‘Great Society’ to end poverty, promote equality, improve education, rejuvenate cities…
Lack of political will is holding back Australia’s solar innovation: here, AREVA Solar’s CLFR technology. Lack of political will is holding back Australia’s solar innovation: here, AREVA Solar’s CLFR technology. Solar Dawn

Serious about renewables? It’s time to refloat the Solar Flagships

Australia knows how to provide public leadership in the complex coordination of public events. Just look at the recent staging of the opera La Traviata on Sydney Harbour. It was a one-off event that required…
The Big Dish, developed in Canberra, could be a renewable energy winner if the government focussed funding. The Big Dish, developed in Canberra, could be a renewable energy winner if the government focussed funding. WizardPower

Time for government to pick a renewable energy winner

Let’s start with a question: why has Denmark been so successful in renewable energy creation and uptake? It can’t be that Denmark is a windy place (although that helped) or that it was a social democratic…
ANU’s “big dish” solar is the envy of Asia, but the Australian Government has turned its back. ANU’s “big dish” solar is the envy of Asia, but the Australian Government has turned its back. AAP

Wake up Australia, and take a lesson on solar from Korea

I am here in Seoul, the burgeoning and confident capital of a burgeoning and confident Korea, to investigate the country’s formidable “Green Growth” strategy. Back in August 2008, the Korean government…
US-China competition could lead to a brighter clean energy future, or a trade war. US-China competition could lead to a brighter clean energy future, or a trade war. whitehouse.gov

Who owns the sun? Patent law and clean energy

There is a trade war brewing between the United States and China over intellectual property relating to clean technologies – particularly solar power. Steven Chu, a scientist, Nobel Laureate in Physics…
With so many barriers to large-scale solar, roof-top panels may still be the way to go. With so many barriers to large-scale solar, roof-top panels may still be the way to go. murphyz/Flickr

Not dead yet: Flagship ‘collapse’ only part of Australia’s solar story

The “collapse” of the Solar Flagship Program has recently hit the news. With Minister Ferguson re-opening the bidding for the photovoltaic (PV) component of the program, and extending the deadline for…
Domestic solar panel use has risen dramatically in recent years; commercial uptake can’t be far behind. Domestic solar panel use has risen dramatically in recent years; commercial uptake can’t be far behind. EPA/Patrick Pleul

We’re set to hit our renewable energy targets – now let’s aim higher

A recent report by the Clean Energy Council claims that the capacity of domestic solar panels in Australia has increased 35-fold in the past three years. This (among other factors) means we are well on…
India’s power needs are growing at a staggering rate and coal won’t do the job. India’s power needs are growing at a staggering rate and coal won’t do the job. NASA

How do you power a billion lives?

As the Australian Labor Party changes its stance on trading uranium with India, a pertinent question arises: why is India so keen to buy this controversial fuel? And what do India’s energy resources look…
Photosynthesis converts low-energy photons into usable energy; it may teach us how to do the same. Photosynthesis converts low-energy photons into usable energy; it may teach us how to do the same. papalars

New chlorophyll could hold the key to more efficient solar panels

As the great spectre of climate change continues to loom large over the future, the search for viable, renewable energy sources is becoming ever more important. Solar power has long been seen as a vital…
Building and racing a solar car is a true team effort. Building and racing a solar car is a true team effort. Matt Cumming

A first-hand account of the World Solar Challenge

The World Solar Challenge (WSC) is a race held every two years in which roughly 40 teams race solar-powered cars from Darwin to Adelaide. I’m a member of the UNSW Solar Racing Team (called Sunswift). The…
The Tokai Challenger team after winning the 2011 World Solar Challenge. The Tokai Challenger team after winning the 2011 World Solar Challenge. World Solar Challenge

The World Solar Challenge and the future of solar cars

On October 20 2011, the Tokai Challenger solar car drove quietly into Victoria Square in the centre of Adelaide, winning the 2011 World Solar Challenge. The car had crossed Australia from north to south…
Developing sustainable energy sources needs some of the country’s best and brightest. Developing sustainable energy sources needs some of the country’s best and brightest. x-ray delta one

If I had a blank cheque I’d … develop hydrogen-based sustainable energy

Project: Develop hydrogen-based sustainable energyCost: $20 millionTimeframe: Seven years Finding real green energy is a vital area of research. Is there an energy that meets the needs of its users, and…
There are several options for future energy generation. We just need to get there. There are several options for future energy generation. We just need to get there. waldopepper

Stepping stones: the slippery path to a clean energy future

In news today, the Greens are calling for an end to federal funding for a proposed coal- and gas-fuelled power plant in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. Others have suggested the plant provides a source of “transition…
Solar is now a viable industry that should be taken seriously. Solar is now a viable industry that should be taken seriously. AFP Photo/Sakis Mitrolidis

Solar will force coal and nuclear out of the energy business

A solar energy revolution is brewing that will put the coal and nuclear industries out of business. Solar is already reaching price parity with coal in many parts of Australia. In contrast to coal and…
Concentrating solar energy has a lot of commercial potential in Australia. Concentrating solar energy has a lot of commercial potential in Australia. John Marmaras/CSIRO

With a bit of concentration, solar thermal could power your town

Most people are familiar with solar energy generated by photovoltaic (PV) solar cells; they are the tiny PV cells on your calculator or the large PV installations that many people are installing on their…
Large-scale solar could be Australia’s dominant renewable technology by 2030. Large-scale solar could be Australia’s dominant renewable technology by 2030. AAP

Australia’s confused solar policy lacks energy

Australia has a huge solar energy resource. Solar collectors spread out over a square 50 km could generate all of Australia’s current electricity demand. Of course in practice, we would need a mix of renewable…

Research and News (5)

Research Briefs (13)

City shadows reveal its energy flow

By calculating the amount of solar radiation reaching streets and buildings, researchers could help optimise the way energy…

Wild is the (solar) wind

Satellite observations have revealed that magnetic oscillations carrying energy from the Sun’s surface into its outer atmosphere…