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We’re headed for an electricity war: here’s how to stop it

The traditional electricity industry has been stunned by the enthusiastic uptake of solar panels across the nation. Why? Because rapid uptake of rooftop solar power, solar hot water and energy efficiency…

It doesn’t have to come to this, but governments need to step in now. fras1977/flickr

The traditional electricity industry has been stunned by the enthusiastic uptake of solar panels across the nation. Why? Because rapid uptake of rooftop solar power, solar hot water and energy efficiency technologies are eroding the profits of coal fired power stations, retailers and network businesses.

It’s no surprise that with multi-billion dollar investments at stake, many businesses are fighting back. Without prompt government action, healthy competition for Australia’s energy future could turn into an ugly war.

Policy support for solar panels has already been slashed. There is talk of winding back the national Renewable Energy Target and even introducing new subsidies for coal power stations.

Perhaps the most insidious threat to clean energy is the move towards a new system of billing. Rather than the current system of charging customers mainly for what they use (in cents per kilowatt-hour), electricity providers are shifting a bigger percentage of each bill towards fixed daily access charges (in cents per day).

Fixed charges cannot be easily avoided by consumers who save energy or generate their own power. The Queensland Competition Authority has already proposed households with solar power pay a mandatory tariff along these lines.

But this rearguard tactic could prove counter-productive in the longer term. Increasing fixed charges increases the temptation for customers to avoid them by leaving the grid altogether. The solar power industry is keenly anticipating continued falls in the cost of battery storage that will allow solar customers to disconnect from the main network to extend the solar industry’s growth.

If this technological arms race gets out of control, we could have expensive battery storage capacity installed in streets that already have expensive spare network capacity.

Fortunately, some electricity industry leaders recognise the potential dangers ahead. As Craig Severence describes it

The unspoken fear of all utility managers is the “Death Spiral Scenario”. In this nightmare, a utility commits to build new equipment. However, when electric rates are raised to pay for the new plant, the rate shock moves customers to cut their kWh use. The utility then raises its rates even higher – causing a further spiral as customers cut their use even more… In the final stages of that death spiral, the more affluent customers drastically cut purchases by implementing efficiency and on-site [solar PV] power, but the poorest customers have been unable to finance such measures…"

This is a scenario we can and should avoid. Our electricity networks will be crucial to determining whether the transition to clean energy will be smooth and efficient or wasteful and acrimonious. We urgently need our network businesses to embrace emerging clean energy technologies, to focus on consumer benefit and to develop more sustainable business models. For this to happen, we need governments to act.

The recent Institute for Sustainable Futures report Investing in Savings: Finance and Cooperative Approaches to Electricity Demand Management concludes that government should encourage and support electricity network businesses to invest in helping their customers reduce their demand and save energy.

Such “demand management” by network businesses can defer the need for expensive new supply infrastructure and thus reduce network businesses' need to hit consumers with higher bills.

To support distributors and the clean energy industry collaboration for greener, more customer-friendly investment, governments should:

  • state a clear policy of supporting network demand management wherever it can reduce customer electricity bills

  • ask network businesses to adopt demand management targets to cut electricity demand and customers’ electricity bills, and report progress towards such targets

  • offer financial incentives to network businesses to invest in demand management (the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is one obvious existing institution to provide this)

  • let network businesses share in the future savings of avoided network infrastructure in order to recover their investment in demand management.

There are numerous case studies where Australian electricity network businesses have helped consumers to reduce demand, and reaped the rewards. For example, on Queensland’s Magnetic Island, electricity provider Ergon Energy has encouraged consumers to install solar panels and smart meters and replace inefficient lights. Peak electricity demand has been reduced by 46% and overall energy consumption by 40%. In the process, Ergon Energy has saved millions of dollars because they now will not need to install a new power cable to the island for at least eight years.

The rapid power bill increases we’ve seen in Australia over the past five years have mainly resulted from network businesses investing more in infrastructure to meet rising electricity demand. Electricity prices nationally have risen in real terms by 70% between June 2007 and December 2012. Network investment is still running at an unprecedented and astonishing rate of over $20 million per day.

It is easy to point the finger at networks businesses for “gold plating”, but the key reason they have been spending too much on the grid is because that is what their regulations ask them and reward them to do. While these regulations are now being reformed, it will take years before customers see the benefits.

This means years more of unnecessary grid infrastructure that will ultimately have to be paid for, either by customers, including through higher fixed charges, or by taxpayers and investors through writing off stranded investment. This in turn means long-lived financial incentives for network businesses to fight solar panels, battery storage, energy efficiency and smarter energy use that could cut both customer bills and carbon emissions.

Electricity businesses working with customers to reduce demand and costs must become the rule rather than the exception in Australia. We cannot afford for our network operators to become enemies of clean energy options such as solar power, batteries, energy efficiency and smarter energy use.

Instead, they must become strong allies in the fight for an affordable and sustainable energy future. Otherwise, both consumers and the climate will pay.

This article is based on a report from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, commissioned by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Investing in Savings.

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180 Comments sorted by

    1. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike - in the electricity business, as other posters have noted, it was the other way round.. when these networks were government owned (as many still are), the state governments were always ripping "dividends" out of them to shore up their own finances. A constant source of complaint. Although there are problems with monopoly ownership, so they have to be regulated, holding them privately means that investment decisions are more likely to be relevant to the needs of the network and thus the consumers.

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    2. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike, your 10 year payback period implies a current annual electricity consumption from the grid of about $2500. Gadzooks! This is 3 to 4 times higher than my current electricity use and I understand it's significantly higher than the average electricity usage in Australian homes. Wouldn't a better option for you be to reduce your electricity usage via energy efficiency, house retrofitting, etc?

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark, you can't REALLY believe that........ investment decisions are more likely to be relevant to the needs of the shareholders!

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark, doesn't that rely on the rather naive assumption that the good of the shareholders axiomatically equates to the good of the customers an dthe wider community? Undoubtedly, sometimes and to some degree it does, but there's no shortage of examples where it has the exact opposite impact. I suspect we're dealing with one of those more-negative-than-positive misalignments with the current structutre and behaviour of the electricity industry.

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    5. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie

      The $2,500 annual bill may be 3 - 4 times higher than yours, but it's about what I currently pay.

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    6. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      " The current electricity system of centralised generation is a dying business model, and it's end will be accelerated as more and more people realise that it is a lot cheaper and more convenient to move off the grid. "
      That's a bit presumptuous Mike for by far the greater percentage of populations most anywhere are always going to be reliant on supplied grid power and the real difficulty for them is going to be when grid supply becomes less reliable.
      Many urban people will not be able to do so…

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    7. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      " Mark, you can't REALLY believe that........ investment decisions are more likely to be relevant to the needs of the shareholders! ""
      I may be wrong Mike and Mark is quite capable of putting his own case but if you look at a state owned enterprise as compared to a private entity, the State in the past has had the attitude of this is what we need and you the consumers can pay for it whether you like it or not.
      A private entity looking to make a profit will need to be considering what the market…

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    8. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Analysed? Can you cite anything? I suspect not.. in any case you are still left with the problem that under government ownership funds were shifted according to political need - a major problem, as I pointed out. So if you have evidence against private ownership - and I was under the impression that the Productivity Commission??? had analysed teh results and found that private ownership was more efficient - then you need to find a solution. What do you recommend?

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    9. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Actually that's true its more likely to be relevant to the shareholders - but the shareholders would want an efficient network, so its a lot closer than government.. anyway, as I pointed out, regulation would still be required..

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    10. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Posted this above.. Actually that's true its more likely to be relevant to the shareholders - but the shareholders would want an efficient network, so its a lot closer than government.. anyway, as I pointed out, regulation would still be required.. never said it wouldn't..

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    11. In reply to Mike Stasse

      Comment removed by moderator.

    12. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mltchell,
      What, then, would be the market motivation for the industry that makes tiny rooftop thingos that few would buy if it was not for the large subsidy?

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    13. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Felix, if you consider equitable conduct among the list of 'good', what do you say about taxpayers who for some reason (like living in a tall apartment block) cannot practically fit a subsidised rooftop unit and are therefore paying funds to those who can? It's quite close to legalised theft. That's a negative misalignment if ever I saw one.

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    14. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark, it is further complicated because the COAG mechanism was used to force a structure on players in the electricity generation business. It varies from State to Sate, so it's hard to generalise, but we seem to have a mandated structure of about 6 layers, some of whom pass on costs and GST to others below, thus compounding costs. You can't properly criticise private enterprise that is severely constrained by government pre-conditions.

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    15. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      hi Mark,

      There are a number of studies into the change in ownership the electrical system in Victoria, I will find them and forward them to you.

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    16. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      hi geoffrey,

      You are correct that without subsidy there is little reason, other than the possible ethical concerns that some people may hold, to use the rooftop PV.

      My project is developing solar PV solutions that are cheaper than grid power without subsidy. For me that is the only real way to ensure equitable take-up of the technology

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    17. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Greg North

      In your dreams..........

      Post Peak Oil, the grid will collapse.

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    18. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      PV is so cheap now, it's already on par with the grid. That's why I don't believe people who install it now can complain about the non FiT situation..... not even the solar industry thought even three years ago any of it would get this cheap.

      We paid $6,600 for a 2.2kW Chinese inverter three years ago...... my Mother in law paid $7,600 for 5 kW with a state of the art German SMA inverter. You could almost say I'm green with envy....

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    19. Chris Dunstan

      Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Hi Mike,
      According the NSW regulator IPART, the average electrcity in NSW in 2012/13 is $2,231 (see Figure 5 in the Investing in Savings Report ), so your consumption is just a bit above average.
      On the other hand, the more energy efficient your home the lower the cost of solar panels and batteries you would need.
      Low cost solar may drive a renewed interest in energy efficiency.

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    20. John Bromhead

      logged in via email @netspeed.com.au

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      East Germany, West Germany. North Korea, South Korea.

      Monopoly businesses such as electricity transmission or distribution companies require proper regulation. The situation of gold plating either one comes down to poor oversight and regulation by the regulators and the governments they work for.

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    21. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Chris Dunstan

      Thanks Chris. The NSW data is interesting even though I do live in Adelaide - I am glad to hear that my bills are not all that unusual. I know they would be slightly higher than normal as I live in a 130 year old house with 4 adults (my 80 year old parents live with me - and they are not averse to using the air conditioner or heaters at the drop of a hat).

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    22. Brooke Berry

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Not sure what state you're in, but I'm in Qld and our family of four is currently paying nearly $600 a quarter, with every bill increasing by about $100 due to the state govt bulk electricity charge increases. We have no air-conditioning, heat by fireplace and rarely use fans as we are insulated, and have solar hot water. Would hate to see the bill of someone renting a postwar cottage.

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    23. John Bromhead

      logged in via email @netspeed.com.au

      In reply to Greg North

      Greg North is right. If you live in Adelaide your solar system will make three times as much energy in January as it does in July. In Canberra it is two times.
      At the end of March in Canberra, solar system production measured in a sample of 40 averaged 20% of a fine mid Autumn day for an eight day period. How much overcapacity of either storage and system does one need to cope with that.
      Rather than using storage and overcapacity, what the owners of solar generators are doing are relying on the centralised generation system and now complain if they are asked to pay for it.
      Of course, those in Canberra receiving $500/MWh gross tariff aren't going of grid, at least not for the 20 years this tariff applies.

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    24. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark, shareholders want a profit - that's nothing like the same thing as an 'efficient network' - that's an utterly simplistic elision of two different things that are only marginally related. There are plenty of ways to actually increase profit by running a sub-optimal network - surely an economic journalist doesn't need me to remind him of that obvious fact?

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    25. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Geoffrey, have you ever thought that those people who are unable to install PV themselves also live in the same climate as everyon eelse and might be grateful that someobody invested his/her capital in something that reduces emissions? but, as a serial denialist, I expect that thoughts of that kind are unable to register.

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    26. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to John Bromhead

      I gather then that you'd be happy to see private electricity generators required to account for the broader and longer term public interest by, for example, helping customers reduce energy usage and fostering renewables?

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    27. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to John Bromhead

      How do you think that fixed tariff will be looking against normal retail prices in, say, 10 years - when those PV panels will still b epumping plenty of clean energy into the grid?

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    28. Henry Verberne

      Once in the fossil fuel industry but now free to speak up

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      That is the approach I have taken via adding more ceiling insulation, retrofitting double glazing in living areas, reducing air leaks etc. I am now gradually changing lighting to LED's as the price comes down.

      I am not convinced that going off grid would ever pay for itself unless prices of the necessary equipment become much lower.

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    29. John Bromhead

      logged in via email @netspeed.com.au

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Well I hope the wholesale price of electricity now at $60/MWh with the carbon price are multiples below $500/MWh feed-in tariff. It is not about retail price but the price of putting wholesale electricity into the grid.

      Electricity generators should have nothing to do with the customers of the electricity retailers. If governments want to institute programs to reduce consumption they should set up their own scheme and target it towards people who are using 8% of their household income on energy rather than aim programs at those who are able to help themselves.
      The ACT government for instance has an energy reduction scheme that allows subsidies for the relatively rich to install a low energy pool pump or retrofit double glazing. I don't mind paying more for my electricity if this money is used to help those who need it reduce their bills and emissions.

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    30. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to John Phillip

      Wow............ what a great opportunity to get everything just right...

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    31. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Actually Mike this is incorrect - the quote (indeed from the Bible - new testament) is "For the love of money is the root of all evil"

      There is nothing evil about money itself.

      It is also a hard economic reality, that has been conveniently ignored for decades, that the largest component of the cost of electricity in our current system is the poles & wires - the grid itself. It accounts for around 50% or more of the actual costs.

      We price electricity as if it were predominately a variable cost when it really isn't

      So every time someone drops off the grid it actually adds to the unit cost of everyone still on it.

      Time we stopped pretending otherwise

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    32. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike - Money was always an idea and a promise. If this is a surprise to you and think money must be "cash" then you are vulnerable to more than just the peddling of fear in the video.

      And it is hardly germane to the discussion of the true cost of delivering electricity.

      But if you wish to stay trapped in your ideological outrage about the "evils of money" that is your perogative

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    33. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark Harrigan

      Actually Mark on my electricity bill, the Supply Charge represents about a 1/3 rd of the bill. I have solar but it is yet to be connected to the grid. On my next bill I would expect the fixed component of the bill to go over 50% as the variable charge for usage drops.

      Every one in Australia has heard the reports that electricity bills went up because of grid "gold plating".

      So I do not follow the argument being made here that solar PV users connected to the grid are not paying for it.

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    34. Mark Harrigan

      PhD Physicist

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike (a) the supply charge does not reflect the actual cost of the fixed cost components (grid, transmission and power plant) and (b) apparently you cannot read. I specifically referred to Solar PV users going OFF the grid as effectively increasing the price for everyone else. Do not assume I am arguing that is a bad thing (or a good thing). It is simply a fact

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    35. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Yea, I really hope so, Mike. It'd be fantastic to NEVER have to speak to anyone from Origin again :) . The author's explanation of the spiral phenomenon only serves to confirm this desire. All of this is in addition to the opportunity to do the right thing with regards to our own personal energy usage.

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    36. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, yes, please go off grid so that your tiny feedback to the grid, if you have one, will allow easier grid management without 'dirty' feedback trickles coming in from the amateurs.

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    37. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      You realise that unlike the grid's dirty power, ours is an electronically generated perfect sine wave that makes all appliances last way longer than the noisy signal you seem to believe is cleaner......

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    38. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike S,
      If you dream enough, you can make a case that our military should be disbanded in favour of citizens with pitchforks. National policy has already emasculated our research capabilities in nuclear power generation, for example, so we have a huge mental barrier erected without our wishes in regard to the adoption of nuclear.

      Sorry, don't think your scenario above will or even should, happen. You amateur rooftop lovers have cost the rest of us a lot of money in tariffs, diversion of work functions, non-optimum use of materials, subtraction of research effort from more worthwhile functions, etc.
      Try to remember this in a decade, when you have had breakdowns, degraded performance, worn out parts and a big bill coming your way to fix the mess.

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    39. John Kerr

      IT Education

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      ".....holding them privately means that investment decisions are more likely to be relevant to the needs of the network and thus the consumers. " Ehhh? Privately holding these resources means they will be managed for the needs of INVESTORS and PROFIT. Many examples of the "gold plating" of the network have been shown to be an attempt to access the guaranteed 10% return rather than being for the good of the consumer as the recent Manning Valley case shows. Private Enterprise is exactly for the good of the private owners, not the general public. Every example of changing over to private ownership that I have seen has ended in tears for the consumer. Governments CAN run monopoly enterprises provided that they set them up with rules and then do not politically interfere with their running.

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    40. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to John Kerr

      A guaranteed 10% return on investment is insanely high. Is it any wonder they have been spending far more money than is needed. Governments can get financing for 3%.

      Privatisation has been a disaster and led to much higher prices.

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    41. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to John Kerr

      To John Kerr (IT Educator)

      In 1890 Theodore Roosevelt as Governor of New York State and one of the ablest politicians ever rejected the private enterprise establishment of vital services like water, sewage, gas, electricity, fire brigade etc.and forcibly acquired them all and put them under public management for the common good.

      Roosevelt was from a very wealthy New York familiar and rejected the behaviour of his "Wig" class in the interest of all Americans. Yet in the nineties we saw a reversion…

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    42. Eddy Schmid

      Retired

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Dead Right Mike.
      Imagine if the generating stations were still a public asset, would there then be this cry about loss of profits ?
      I don't believe so.
      The problem has been deliberately created by greedy, short sighted people who saw an opportunity to reap rewards, by grasping a publicly built asset, they were not entitled too.
      Now they wish to move the goal posts and rearrange the deck chairs to continue reaping their ill gotten gains.
      Sorry people, you've burnt your bridges big time.
      I have refused to sign on to the current solar schemes because they are not designed to benefit the consumer.
      When I do buy my solar array, it will be OFF THE GRID, and the utilities can take a running jump, as can the share holders who have been living the life of Riley up until now.

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    43. Eddy Schmid

      Retired

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Quote; I was under the impression that the Productivity Commission??? had analysed teh results and found that private ownership was more efficient Unquote.
      LOL, are you serious ? How efficient is it now ? Clearly there was a flaw somewhere in their analyzing .
      Pray tell Mark, who formed this Commission and who sustained it, providing the finances to run same ?
      Let me guess, the Government, right ?
      In my 63 years years I've discovered that all such Government appointed boards or Commissions usually…

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    44. margaret m

      old lady

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike it is not so much money that is the root of all evil it is THE LOVE OF MONEY that is the root of all evils. & globalisation is it's child. Try reading the privatisation of Europe.
      We could NATIONALISE if the greedy do not reconsider but then we have the global masters our politicians have subjegated the sovereign power and the national interest to this corporatisation of many economies.

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    45. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Geoffrey

      If I dream enough huh? Given that I spent 23 years in the military, I will give that one a miss thanks.

      And I don't actually care one way or the other if you think off grid power generation "should' happen,and the people who are moving off grid don't care what you think either. It's happening whether you think it 'should' happen or not.

      Have I cost you lots of money in tariffs etc have I? Thanks Geoff - you just made my day!

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    46. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Eddy Schmid

      Eddy, thank you for your kind words. I try and post material that brings fact and common sense to the issues. The NBN and the BER of Gonski were my strategies and I saw them as the only common sense way of overcoming serious flaws in our system.

      If I may ad something else you might like but will upset both Labor and Coalition supporters, that is the only way of solving our rising public debt problem is by re-hiking personal tax rates, back to 2004 marginal tax levels. The eight tax cuts in a row…

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    47. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      Mike,
      The writing is on the wall and it does not look happy for the go-it-alone movement.
      This is from an article in the Australian newspaper:
      http://www.thegwpf.org/benny-peiser-europe-pulls-plug-green-future/

      You might find it distasteful to read this article, but it is in essential agreement with studies I have done independently, forming a basis for my comments on threads like this one. It's not my fault if it offends your amateur views.

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    48. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, I'm a geologist of some 40 years standing and just the first minute of Simon Michaux's presentation provided enough false statements to turn me off. Mining is sustainable? I've never said that and no geologist or mining person I know has ever made this claim, so a talk on why mining isn't sustainable holds no appeal to me.
      The earth is stable but us human beings aren't? Global population will stabilise within 30 or 50 years and then plummet, reducing pressure on all our natural resources, including air and biodiversity. So the whole basis on which Michaux's talk is founded is false or misguided. Sorry, there are more important discussions to be had.

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    49. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      You can't be serious.................... "more important discussions to be had"? MORE SERIOUS THAN THE END OF CIVILISATION....???????????????

      Do yourself a favour and bipass your bias and have another look.

      BTW, population will not "stabilise within 30 or 50", it is BANG ON TARGET to start collapsing by 2025, just as the Club of Rome predicted would happen in 1971.

      http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/are-we-on-the-cusp-of-global-collapse/

      http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/03/31/there-is-nothing-we-can-do-meadows/

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    50. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, that's just not correct. I also have a 5kW system, but I know that the cost was much higher than what I paid, and it was subsidised by people paying higher electricity prices - possibly people on low incomes who couldn't afford to put in a system (thanks LNP voters - your government did a great negotiating job!). In addition, the output of a system of this size - in kWh - is the important thing and this is less than half of what a typical household would consume. In addition, the cost of providing…

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    51. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to John Bromhead

      Hey, wait a minute - the fixed daily charge for the infrastructure is still paid for by solar panel generators! We reduce the load on the network, avoid the cost of building a new power station and we have to pay more for it? WTF?

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    52. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      Actually, it was mostly subsidised by taxpayers, and people on low incomes don't pay a lot of taxes.

      If your 5kW system is not producing half the energy you consume, you are consuming way way too much.... We have 3.5kW, and that produces FIVE times what we need...!!

      My next storage bank will be Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries. Should last well past me. And re depreciation... you are still thinking in DOLLARS. All that paper money in your wallt is not worth the paper it's written on, but that's an entirely different debate. Forget gensets....... soon there won't be any oil to run them with.

      See........ we come from altogether different mindsets. YOU my friend are in for a very big shock over the next ten years.... and not the electrical kind!

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    53. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to John Kerr

      Sorry - aren't the "general public" allowed to buy stock in generating companies? seems like th esimple solution would be for you to buy stock and become an investor to reap all those profits...

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    54. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Hi Mike. How much a home consumes depends on the number of people in it and lifestyle, and it is much more likely your consumption is way below average than vice versa. Maybe you don't shower...?

      I have several hundred LiFe batteries here and they have a similar lifetime (sorry) and you will need to replace them in 5 years, so unless you're planning to top yourself before then... just build that into your costs, because people who make them still believe in money. I suggest you store them away from your house too - any short and you may be in for a big insurance claim...

      You've obviously not yet actually done anything with these technologies, so I'll leave you to live and learn. Been there - done that.

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    55. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      Yes we shower......... in fact, the only limitation on our hot water is how much cold water is in our tank....... and I'm talking water hot enough out of the tap to sterilise my stubbies before I refill them with home brew... you can make tea with our hot tap water!

      Like everything, not all batteries are made equal. I take it you are talking about AA cells? LiFePO4 batteries must be charged with CVCC charging, or they will be killed off prematurely...

      PROPER LiFePO4 batteries have individual charging management controllers, and even when used in cars will last well over ten years. And that's TEN YEAR OLD technology! I've seen properly maintained lead-acid batteries in solar power systems last thirty years...... these new batteries could last 40 or 50 years as they are far less affected by discharge cycles...

      Lithium batteries will last way longer than diesel.......

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    56. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      Barry, I also think that your estimate of how much electricity a typical household uses is too high. My wife and I installed a 3Kw system 18 months ago and it has completely eliminated our payments to Synergy (southern WA's electricity provider) and provided a cash payment of $1000 for the 2012/13 year. Yet you're saying that a 5Kw system would provide less than half of a typical home's electricity. My conclusion is that many people could easily reduce their electricity usage very significantly through energy conservation and better management of their electrical appliances, with only minor inconvenience to current lifestyles, so a 5Kw system should be more than adequate.

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    57. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Actually, no I'm talking C cell packs, each triple set with its own controller. These were used to power an electric pump through a magnetic coupling and were assembled in a long stainless steel pressure housing. We're professional users...I bet you believed that CDs were indestructible when they were first brought out... like I say, you'll live and learn. However, there is some good news in battery technology on the horizon, with the development of solid electrolytes. These would be a potentially more robust battery, with about twice the power density of lithium, and not have the downside of that metal. Just not here yet...

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    58. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Hi Bernie. Our average daily usage is 29kWh, compared to the national average of 21.6kWh in winter for a house with 4 people. Mind you, we have a very large house with swimming pool, etc. although we don't need to use the AC and we have reverse cycle water heating, insulation, low power lighting, etc. In summer we cover all our usage with the solar, but in winter, only about half. I've also got no other ower system (e.g. gas or wood) - so if you use anything other than electricity to run your house, that's not comparing apples with apples.

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    59. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to John Phillip

      Yes, I like LNG too - bit spotty on deliveries, but much cleaner than diesel. Quite a bit of real estate needed for the tank.

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    60. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      Are you sure they're not Lithium ION as opposed to Iron?

      BTW, never assume you think know what someone on the internet knows... I'm a qualified designer of stand alone solar power systems, I know a lot about batteries...

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    61. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Barry Nicholson

      We've got a few acres, so the real estate isnt an issue. The cost is the only real problem, but that has come down dramatically in the last three years and beats connecting to the grid hands down. Imagine, too, NEVER having to speak to anyone from Ergon, Energex, Origin etc, again :)

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    62. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Peter Foster

      Well said Peter!

      The President of OPEC said in 2009, "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stone and the oil age won't end because we ran out of oil". How right he is and how ominous for the Middle East..

      The US is switching to natural gas sources and building the gas pipelines across the US to enable the flow of super cheap natural gas that will see the US switch production to natural gas powered cars by about 2022. Moreover, the US now has an abundance of cheap shale oil it can…

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    63. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      "Imagine filling you car tank at home or at the supermarket car park at 2c a litre which is the expected US price"

      Hahahahahahahahahahahahahah!!! That's the FUNNIEST thing I have read in a very very long time.........

      All that "abundance of cheap shale oil" is already PEAKING.... and I reckon within five years will be yesterdays energy fad.

      Here's an article from FORBES.... not exactly a left wing greenie outfit "that write from their bush hideaways miles from the action of our dynamic…

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    64. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      Texas is so fracked, over thirty towns have run out of water......

      Such progress.......

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  1. Mark McGuire

    climate consensus rebel

    "Proving that idiocy truly has no bounds, Spain issued a "royal decree" taxing sunlight gatherers.

    The state threatens fines as much as 30 million euros for those who illegally gather sunlight without paying a tax."

    http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/spain-levies-consumption-tax-on-sunlight.html
    .
    If a carbon (sic) tax makes sense to you, you should be falling over yourself to voluntarily pay this tax before it is law in Australia.
    After all, who will think of the children's children if not the advocates?

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    1. Mark McGuire

      climate consensus rebel

      In reply to Ian Milliss

      There appears to be no difference, Ian.
      As for your conspiracy theory, is Cubbie Station a big money irrigator?
      Isn't it at the start of the Murray/Darling?
      https://theconversation.com/cubbie-station-sale-no-threat-to-food-security-9421

      ~ MARCH 27, 2013: Good summer rains means Cubbie station bust now a boom
      http://www.couriermail.com.au/business/good-summer-rains-means-cubbie-station-bust-now-a-boom/story-fnefl294-1226607138530#

      And, the only "denialists" I am aware of are the ones who deny the current "pause" in global warming despite record carbon (sic) levels, and they are funded by "big money" from taxpayers via governments to the tune of billion$.

      https://theconversation.com/fact-check-has-global-warming-paused-12439

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      "Proving that idiocy truly has no bounds"

      Well that turns out to be quite ironic.

      McGuire copies and pastes poorly translated nonsense from a libertarian conspiracy blog site.

      Spain is a monarchy so legislation is signed by the King. Here it is signed by the G-G. So the "royal decree" claim is to dupe the gullible. Come on down Mark McGuire.

      The conservative government in Spain like the anti-renewable crowd in Queensland (see above) is proposing an additional tax on solar users . If you attempt to avoid it, you will be fined - hence the claim that "illegally gather sunlight without paying a tax."

      McGuire discovers that tax avoidance in Spain is a crime. Next week he is planning to discover that robbing banks in Spain is a crime.

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    3. Bernie Masters

      environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

      In reply to Ian Milliss

      Ian, can I respectfully suggest that your example of farmers being charged to store water that falls on their own property is quite different from sunlight falling on your property. Here in south west WA, the problem is that too many farmers are collecting all the water that falls on their properties, preventing their downstream neighbours from receiving any or enough to sustain environmental functions in rivers, streams or wetlands. So in WA the fees that farmers are paying for water is to ensure that there whole hydrological system is being properly managed and that upstream farmers are not preventing water flow downstream to the detriment of neighbours and the environment.

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    4. Mark McGuire

      climate consensus rebel

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Hmmm. Thanks for that spray, Mike.

      When you can't address the facts presented, best to attack messenger.
      Good luck with that.

      Surely you have a link to the climate science that supports the sunlight tax from stopping extreme weather?

      Next robbing banks in Spain?
      I'll leave that to real criminals:

      Carbon markets are particularly vulnerable to criminal activity because the "commodity" being traded has no physical presence and is difficult to measure, INTERPOL has said.

      http://www.trust.org/item/20130805162119-vpely

      A new Europol report cites an “emerging trend” of Mafia involvement in the wind and renewable energy industry across Europe, the Americas and Australia.
      The attraction is clear: huge subsidies, guaranteed markets and prices – and a serious opportunity for money-laundering.

      http://www.trendingcentral.com/wind-energy-the-greenfellas-connection/

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    5. Ian Milliss

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      re environmental flows etc that is a valid argument but I doubt if that was the real underlying motive in the legislation. I would have thought it was more related to the over allocation of irrigation rights downstream. If irrigation higher in the catchment area still results in crop increases there then surely the issue is just an adjustment of the system, a correction even you might say.

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    6. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Mark McGuire

      "Surely you have a link to the climate science that supports the sunlight tax from stopping extreme weather?"

      Mark. You appear to have a reading comprehension problem.

      Your link was to the very conservative Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy imposing a tax on renewable energy. It is your mob that is attempting to tax sunlight.

      Having not understood the first conspiracy theory you then link to another. Take off the tinfoil hat - the world will look completely different without it.

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    7. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      " I don't approve of this solar tax of course, what really needs to happen is a jubilee such that all debts are written off, the banks told to go to hell, and the REAL economy, the economy OF the people instead of the one OF the banksters be reinstated....... a reboot would go a long way to avoiding TOTAL collapse......"
      I can handle the first part Mike, re no solar tax but as for your jubilee I do not care so much for being jubilant for all writing off of debts will do in many cases is to reward many people who have just not been prepared to live within their means and for those who have been doing so and perhaps even building up some little wealth through hard toil rather than pissing it up against a urinal in the local pub or wherever, it'll just remove any incentive and you will see the likes of depression for many becoming total collapse.

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    8. Mark McGuire

      climate consensus rebel

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      "It is your mob that is attempting to tax sunlight."

      Mike,
      You assume incorrectly about me.
      I am equally against Abbott's action on carbon (sic).

      It is a complete waste of billions of dollars and it will not alter the climate or weather. Ever.

      LNP climate policy is based on the science of the Climate Commission/UN-IPCC.

      http://www.liberal.org.au/latest-news/2011/05/23/coalition-welcomes-climate-science-update-0
      http://climatecommission.gov.au/basics/rio20-another-step-journey-towards-sustainability/

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    9. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Greg North

      You obviously know not what is going on...... it's only a matter of time before it actually happens.

      Debts grow exponentially faster even than GDP does. Eventually (now?) there is not enough growth to service the debt, and everyone foes bankrupt. haven't you noticed what's happening in Europe, Egypt, the US, blah blah....? Just the tip of the iceberg.

      great change is coming.....

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    10. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Greg North

      Jubilant and jubilee seem to be connected.
      In practice (and in the fiftieth year incidentally) the lenders who have not endeavoured to help their customers repay their loans lose out but the others don't.
      It's Biblical!
      Mike might be onto something.

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    11. Barry Nicholson

      Engineer

      In reply to Ian Milliss

      I think you might find the difference is that water is on an earth-bound cycle, and storage removes it from the ecosystem while sunlight comes from that big hot ball thing in the sky.

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  2. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    PLACING POWER LINES UNDERGROUND: It is interesting that five and a half years ago on 20 January 2008 after several years of investigation to overcome cost and retro fitting issues, I put a formal submission to Steven Conroy, Minister for Telecommunications that for about the same cost of just rolling out a now vital fibre optic national broadband system swing cables from poles as Foxtel and Optus did in the nineties with the ugly thick coaxial cables, they could undertake a "greenfields" renewal…

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    1. Fred Smith

      Electrical Engineer

      In reply to Terry Reynolds

      The upgrading of the existing overhead network I do believe is concidence rather than conspiracy. I am not sure about the rest of the country, but in NSW the last 5 or so years have been dedicated to catching up on the previous 10-15 years of neglect (when the bean counters took over and decided that maintainence didn't make any money and should be cut).
      I have had the same idea myself in regards to undergrounding all services. It would incur additional expense of course to do this, but it would be far cheaper in the long run and future proof all the services. The increased security in supply (defined allocations in the footpath, no poles to get run into) would be well worth it IMHO.

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    2. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Fred Smith

      Fred, we had the sudden same upgrading of the overhead network in Victoria at the same time and I believe it took place in every State except Tassie which is still owned by the State Government. That latter was the first place the NBN was started and done by that States Electricity Commission.

      I would be interested to hear from other readers that have had similar thoughts or information. It is a simple concept using existing technologies and ample evidence of costs.

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  3. John Newlands

    tree changer

    Unless there is a cheap battery breakthrough and when the feed-in tariff is about 8c per kwh Australia wide I think most of these predictions will never happen. As pointed out in response to the Tim Flannery article in 2011 PV generated less than half a percent of Australia's electricity. The solar power export surges on cool sunny days can be prevented by smart meters perhaps controlled by a central command system. Poland is blocking power surges from Germany on cool sunny days.

    When this happens the rule for households will be 'use it or lose it'. The night time and low cloud generators will charge more because their overheads are spread less thinly. It's not clear if household bills (for those with grid tied PV) will actually reduce due to higher connection and night time charges.

    BTW my power bill is about $100 in credit in mid winter in Tasmania due to a generous feed-in tariff. It's not really fair that I should be subsidised by others.

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    1. Bill Skinner

      Research Professor at University of South Australia

      In reply to John Newlands

      John, to some extent I agree with you re the fairness of being subsidised by others (those paying more for power because they do not have PV). My FIT is around 60c and, yes, that is too high but I suspect not by that much. What would be a fair FIT? I'm sure the sums could be done, but I'm sure that would not take into account the "whatever the market will bear" philosophy of every business and the subsidies received by the non-renewable sector.

      Costs due to infrastructure investment are passed…

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to John Newlands

      I believe it is a matter of PRIORITIES.

      Most people have no problem spending $20K (or even more!) on a gas guzzling car, a second bathroom, huge flat screen TVs, etc etc...

      Besides, if you reduce your energy consumption like we did, then you probably only need to spend $5K on batteries. We will be going off grid in Tasmania, using Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries like those used in electric cars. They easily last twice as long as Lead-Acid ones, can be cycled all the time without capacity…

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  4. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " It is easy to point the finger at networks businesses for “gold plating”, but the key reason they have been spending too much on the grid is because that is what their regulations ask them and reward them to do. While these regulations are now being reformed, it will take years before customers see the benefits. "
    We had better hope that reforms are not driven by bureaucrats somewhere with little understanding of what cannot usually be seen but is expected to be ultra reliable.
    After clean water…

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    1. William Raper

      Retired

      In reply to Greg North

      "It is easy to point the finger" as you say, but not wholly at the regulations. Did not the network businesses spuriously claim that both demand and peak demand was increasing for 2 years after both were decreasing? Even trying to sue an individual who pointed that out?

      What were the regulators doing about this. Surely they must have had the data, or was it just like the regulators who ignored Commonwealth Bank investment scams?

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  5. Fiona Haines
    Fiona Haines is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Professor of Criminology at University of Melbourne

    Very helpful article, thanks. Alternative options are to ensure an environmental goal is placed within the NEM, not outside of it as is the current case with the RET. The current aims of accessibility, affordability and reliability (with a competition mandate to drive efficiency) within the NEM mean that environmental goals of both households and new energy companies are placed in a position of conflict with the current encumbents. Essentially, the current regime pits the RET against the goals of the NEM. Further, individual households with solar PV (and who have strong motivation to 'do somethin' about emissions) are disenfranchised with way they are treated economically which, together with the lack of action by government on emissions, povide strong incentive to pull off the grid entirely.

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    1. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Are there currently any legal constraints on what you are proposing? I would imagine the electricity supply companies would be lobbying hard against the concept.

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    2. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Hi Mike,

      We have observed that if you do not pay your power bill people in fluro vests come and remove the fusses... so there is a solution.

      More seriously we are looking at legislative issues, which vary state to state, but we also note how the ACCC view incumbents who attempt to use remanent legislation to limit the productivity gains inherent with effective competition.

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    3. Fred Smith

      Electrical Engineer

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Interesting work you are doing there. Would love to see some details on the generation/storage side if it isn't commercial in confidence. How high is the reliability factors or are they dependent on the social adjustment?
      I assume the social changes you are talking about is the lifestyle adjustment to get the consumption curve to better fit the generation curve? (use power when the sun shines and the like)
      Storage technologies are really holding solutions like yours back. If only there was some huge advance in that area, ideas like yours would really take off.

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    4. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Fred Smith

      hi Fred,

      One of the design requirements is that we achieve supply availability equal to or better than the alternatives, which means we use hybrid architectures that use local PV and local ICE generation.

      We do not want people to change their life styles, in fact our design loads are for profligate users with lots of air-conditioning and pool filters. The social issues are all around co-operating with neighbours. Our major constraints are physical, you need a group of 4 or 6 adjacent neighbours to agree to sharing a system. Hence this is our big issue

      Yes storage is a key cost driver, but the batteries are now available and prices are close to what is required. Most of our tech work is design optimisation modelling .... which is code for working out how to minimise storage but maintain availability.

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    5. Peter Hindrup

      consultant

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mitchell: if it is not against your commercial interests, would you mind identifying the batteries that you are looking at?
      I went through this exercise approximately two years ago and decided that when batteries become more than a joke, it is feasible.
      Sounds as if I either missed something, or as if there has been some major improvements in batteries --- lord knows, there was room enough for improvement!

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  6. Fred Smith

    Electrical Engineer

    Great article Chris. I posted something along similar lines in a separate topic in regards to the rates. The spiral of decreasing demand -> increasing costs is well underway and it is something I don't think will stop.
    If you look at the costs for electricity (based on NSW), you have about 6-8c in generation costs 20-22c in transportation costs (Transgrid + Ausgrid/Endeavour/Essential) and say 4c in retail margin. Now if you accurately separate the fixed and variable costs (for the NSW average…

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  7. Mark Lawson

    senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

    There would certainly be a case for more systematic approach to saving carbon in networks, but there was never an economic case for putting PVs on roofs in a million mini-installations. If it is cost-effective to use PVs in the system then they should be collected up in a central facility, where they can be properly sited, managed and maintained and there would be economies of scale. Also, the grid operators could manage how they take the output.

    The reality is that these PV concessions (now wound…

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    1. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark your superficial high level analysis is distracting me from my work.

      The issues surrounding the roof top PV rollout are technically complex and there is a significant body of research that discuss both the advantages and disadvantages. At the moment, with the total amounts and concentration of deployed rooftop PV there is little or no impact on the technical performance of the network, and any impact seems to be positive. If PV rollout continues we will hit limits and possible problems, but…

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    2. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike - none of your comment is particularly relevant to what I said. Certainly when they offered generous subsidies for these things then all sorts of people installed them. That is indeed what the free market is about. However, it makes no sense of any kind as energy policy, the subsidies were put in place to buy green votes and for no other purpose.

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    3. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mitchell - you need to go back and read what I wrote originally. I wasn't talking about technical performance. Of course the grid can be managed to so that delivery and reliability is unaffected. The problem is that the the efficiency could be so much better if they were in a central installation, as is blindingly obvious. Its not complex at all. The second point is do the PV panels actually save carbon? What generators were deloaded when the PVs operated? How was their efficiency (emissions/output…

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    4. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      " That said we now have about 2GW of installed PV capacity which does have a net economic benefit, even if you only count the benefit gained by the displacement of burning hydrocarbons. "
      The nett economic benefit is also questionable Mitchell and you would need to do some in depth research on power stations operation to appreciate why.
      In short, a coal fired generating unit is not really designed for just lifting off on the accelerator when renewables are generating and then putting the foot down…

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    5. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Hi Mike,

      I concluded some years ago that the political processes we have in this country would never be able to cope with or address the impact of power generation on Climate change, and yes there are some people who will never be convinced. ( and in a few weeks they will probably run the place)

      As a result I now recognise that what I need to do is produce clean electricity cheaper than the existing system and people will buy it. If it is cheaper I don't have to convince them about the scientific…

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    6. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      the subsidies were put in place to buy green votes and for no other purpose.

      WRONG. they were put in place to achieve economies of scale.

      Mission accomplished.

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    7. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to MItchell Lennard

      Mitchell - again,, sorry, but you're not reading my posts and I urge you to go back and looked at the research you cite. You will find that when you do, those studies assume that a MW of electricity generated by PVs displaces a MW worth of generating capacity and resulting emissions. I'm talking about what happens when a mass of them start producing electricity and their actual effect on the electricity production system in Aus. What generators have to be taken off grid? What is the resulting loss…

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    8. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mike - I wouldn't want to bring you back to earth. You're so comfortable where you are, and for once you're not hostile. If you put in a charge for connecting to the grid so that all users are treated the same, and can all subsidies then I have no objection to this. If people want PVs let them have PVs.

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    9. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      No that's right.. to buy green votes - if you wanted economies of scale you'd put these things in to a central facility.. it will be interesting, however, to see if PV prices go back up now that these subsides are being cut back everywhere

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    10. MItchell Lennard

      Researcher - Distributed Energy Systems

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Hi Mark,

      I do undertand your post, and your understanding does show a more in-depth understanding than most people who come to the issue from a business background, but its still simplistic and not in line with all the research and the shed loads of analysis that the taxpayers have paid for.

      Efficiency in electrical generation systems is a concept that is easily misunderstood.

      Technically highly distributed PV can be shown to be efficient in the way it exploits the existing infrastructure…

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  8. Monica's wicked step

    logged in via Twitter

    In WA, the former pensioner supply charge rebate (100% of the supply charge, meaning that pensioners only pay for their electricity consumed) has been changed to a "Cost of living allowance" (CoLA). I suspect that when the State Government-owned electricity provider inevitably increases the supply charge, the CoLA won't be increased at the same rate, meaning that pensioners will be paying for a fixed charge for the first time.

    The current Coalition government also erred by having a very generous…

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  9. Mike Stasse

    retired energy consultant

    I think power companies have every reason to be worried!

    To retrofit existing high DC voltage grid tie systems with battery back up . Up to 600 volts O/C .
    Available soon .

    Devices like this Morningstar TriStar MPPT 600V controller - which can connect directly to the 250+ dc volt output of the solar array of a grid connected solar system will make it relatively easy for householders to become independent. They support 48V battery systems - and with the improvements in a AGM oir gel-cell lead acid technology - and the integral battery management systems of the controller - battery banks could have quite long lives.

    http://www.morningstarcorp.com/TS-MPPT-600V/

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  10. Mike Brisco

    Scientist at Flinders University of South Australia

    Do home solar generators, have an official presence in the national electricity market yet?

    If not -- about time they did.

    As the Market's usually restricted to large generators only - SA government needs to set up an Office or Consortium, to represent us home generators . Our combined might - 50,000 homes (say) and 1 kw (say) add up to 50 MW generation, no mean amount.

    Admittedly, we only generate 50 MW at certain times and certain days - but that's no different from gas turbines, or wind farms. Those corporations already have an official presence in the NEM, but afaik, home owners do not. As the comments here show, small generators probably have different infrastructure needs from the large players - so is about time we had a presence in all this.

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    1. Fred Smith

      Electrical Engineer

      In reply to Mike Brisco

      That is not a bad idea at all. The only difference would be the level of control over the output, as those others listed often turn on when the rates are good.
      If the energy generated in solar PV was sold at the NEM rate as opposed to the multiple and varied FIT's in existence, it would be a much more equitable outcome. It would also be a lot fairer on the grid, and hava a fair chance of slowing the increase in power bills.
      I am all for 1kWh being equally priced over all generation types, and having the market supply and demand set the price.

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  11. Mike Pope

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    The author laments that … “rapid uptake of rooftop solar power, solar hot water and energy efficiency technologies are eroding the profits of coal fired power stations, retailers and network businesses”.

    Isn’t that precisely what technological innovation is supposed to do? Isn’t it supposed to bring about the demise of electricity generated by burning fossil fuels and so reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

    There is an antiquated notion that we need to maintain a clunky 20th century Grid, loosing…

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    1. Chris Dunstan

      Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Mike Pope

      Thanks Mike. That wasn't a lament - just an observation.
      I agree that the future will likley involve a lot more local solar and batteries, even if many of those batteries are in electric vehicles. My point is simply that if our networks are not a big part of this transition, then they are likely to be a big drag on it.
      We need to expedite the future, not waste waste years and billions of dollars fighting over it.

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    2. John Bromhead

      logged in via email @netspeed.com.au

      In reply to Mike Pope

      If solar thermal plants ever become more than rich men's toys they will be located where the solar resource is highest. If the plant gets 25% more sun it can afford the transmission losses.
      Geothermal generation will be where the hot rocks are.

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    3. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Mike Pope

      In your dreams Mike!

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  12. Terry Reynolds

    Financial and political strategist

    Chris Dunstan, you have provided the sort of though provoking and ideas article that many of us look forward to getting out of "The Conversation"

    I don't know why the major city commuter rail systems don't cover over their rail system with a PV system that gets fed into the grid, and cuts the massive power cost of the system and protects the rail assets from the hot sun.
    I have to admit I don't know how much power an electric seven carriage train draws and how much such a massive PV system would contribute to the grid.

    I note that the same "trolls" are on to this excellent article too, remorsefully defending the Coalition or seeing almost everything different as an attack on Coalition policies. Give us some of your original ideas and let Abbott fight his own battles please. He gets well enough paid for it.

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  13. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

    Boss

    "Perhaps the most insidious threat to clean energy is the move towards a new system of billing."

    There are two more dominant threats.
    1. The subsidies on small new units are running out, so we have fewer carpetbaggers.
    2. The masses are realising that the global warming mob sold them a pup.

    Let's revisit this site in a decade when the amateur home jobs are breaking down, when the home tariff feedbacks are negligible, when it's time to replace a worn out unit and the global temperature is still falling, the latter having a probability worth factoring in to future guesses.

    There are three cures that dominate.
    1. Establish a free market in scientific research on climate.
    2. Establish a free market in the energy generation sector.
    3. Audit papers from the past 20 years and flag and correct those now known to have serious errors.

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  14. Jane Kelly

    student

    The electricity infrastructure that we should be building is for Solar-thermal power on the grid. See Beyond Zero Emissions and Re-power Port Augusta.

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    1. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Jane Kelly

      Jane, see Spain.

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  15. Lois Achimovich

    Doctor

    Very interesting and important article and feedback.
    It’s extraordinary the way people are walking over the politicians and taking up renewables. The response at present in WA appears to be jack up the costs via fixed daily access charges, in order to keep the coal miners networks etc are not their fair cop.
    How useless our governments have been on this issue? (I absent Kevin Rudd and the Green’s starting the ball rolling with subsidies) Blind Freddie could see that solar and wind, once in place…

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    1. Terry Reynolds

      Financial and political strategist

      In reply to Lois Achimovich

      Lois, it is interesting what you say. When Kevin Rudd first decided to do something he allocated $2 billion to retrofit roof insulation to homes without it, usually the poor, at no cost to them. Today 1.2 million houses have roof insulation that has kept those families warmer in winter and cooler in summer and saved on power bills.

      Unfortunately because 3young installers died in Queensland, and one in northern NSW (one from heat exhaustion), the Coalition and the media went nuts blaming the Federal Government. They did not on the other hand give credit to the Government for all the homes in the rest of Australia that had no deaths and few problems
      and who will benefit from the policy as long as they reside in the house.

      Yes, Kevin Rudd when re-elected on 7 September 2013 will need Doctors like yourself with vision and consideration for the less well off to push for assistance to have solar installed at minimal cost.

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  16. Chris O'Neill

    Retired Way Before 70

    "It is easy to point the finger at networks businesses for “gold plating”, but the key reason they have been spending too much on the grid is because that is what their regulations ask them and reward them to do. While these regulations are now being reformed, it will take years before customers see the benefits."

    If there is more action like this:

    http://www.abc.net.au/austory/content/2012/s3818131.htm

    then it won't be as long before customers (and landusers) see the benefits.

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  17. Teresa Lennie
    Teresa Lennie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Educator

    "The rapid power bill increases we’ve seen in Australia over the past five years have mainly resulted from network businesses investing more in infrastructure to meet rising electricity demand."
    But this makes no sense: "The great de-electrification", another The Conversation article from only a few days ago, makes the point that demand has been FALLING.
    It therefore seems fair to say networks have been gold-plating, even if ineffective/inefficient regulation is a significant cause. If retail electricity prices continue to climb, against the trend of wholesale pricing (which has been shown to be decreasing), there is no worry about consumers reducing their demand - we already ARE!

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    1. Chris Dunstan

      Research Director, Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology, Sydney

      In reply to Teresa Lennie

      Good point, Teresa.
      I should have said,
      "network businesses investing more in infrastructure to meet FORECAST rising electricity demand."

      Network business are still building for forecast peak demand increases. While total electricity consumption has clearly been falling since 2007, peak electrical demand is more variable. While in general peak demand has been fairly steady across Australia, it just takes one particularly harsh cold snap or heatwave to set new peak demand records.

      This is exaclty why we need demand management - to avoid forecasts of peak demand growth and the need to build rarely use network infrastructure.

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  18. charles davies

    Quizzical Observer

    Don't want to give anyone any ideas,but local government here will charge money on one's rate demand if one is not connected to the sewage lines, but they physically pass by one's property.
    This principle is also applied if one disposes of one's own waste, and there is a garbage collection service available.
    Maybe going off-grid will end up ensuring similar legislation?
    Privatize the profit, socialize the cost.

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  19. Edward Henner

    Consulting Electrical Engineer

    There are some misconceptions about government owned electricity companies and privately owned electricity companies, and how things have changed since the start of the National Electricity Market.

    When grids and power stations were State Government-owned several decades ago, they were centrally planned enterprises where the planning was performed to meet specific reliability criteria considered essential to meet the requirements of consumers such as industrial, commercial, domestic and rural…

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    1. Lois Achimovich

      Doctor

      In reply to Edward Henner

      Hi Edward,
      My concern as a non-engineer is that the planet's burning and anything to"expedite the future" and "not waste years and billions of dollars fighting over it" would seem vital. Further my first post, successive governments have either denied the urgency of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere or denied that it isn't a problem at all. As a number of other posts have shown, people are going around government inertia and doing it themselves. Investors over the last ten years would have to be blind and deaf to know that putting money into coal (particularly), as well as oil and gas, is a dicey proposition. Federal and state governments have done very little to predict and legislate on these issues: thank goodness, the average person is not waiting until it's too late.
      Thanks for a fascinating discussion.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Lois Achimovich

      Lois, it is commonly believed that replacing coal with solar will reduce CO2 emissions. This is wrong. In fact, initially, all that manufacturing of panels INCREASES emissions. Just ask the Chinese..!

      There is only one way to reduce emissions...... reduce CONSUMPTION.

      But this goes against the grain of all other commonly held beliefs like infinite growth, and printing money out of thin air to finance it ad infinitum.......

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Edward Henner

      "opting out can only be practical for isolated rural properties"

      REALLY? Why.......? I know several such "off grid" suburban people (some are even off grid with water)... they do very nicely thank you very much...

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    4. Edward Henner

      Consulting Electrical Engineer

      In reply to Lois Achimovich

      Hi Lois,
      I completely share your concerns about the environment and support action to reduce global warming. I have installed a typical 1.5kW solar PV on my roof and while it reduces my grid power usage considerably, I certainly depend on grid power when the sun goes down for things like cooking, lights, fridge and TV. Even in summer when I get the most out of the solar PV panels, the average daily energy produced by these panels is only about 1/6 of my total daily requirement. It was only economical…

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    5. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Edward Henner

      Economics...?? WHO CARES...???

      Electricity is worth far more than what we pay for it. There's nothing else like it to keep the lights on.

      We who go off grid now are far more worried about whether ten years from now there will even be a viable grid that works at all.

      Check out this presentation by Australian geologist Dr Simon Michaux

      http://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/conventional-thinking-is-over/

      The party's over Edward.

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  20. Lois Achimovich

    Doctor

    Hi Mike
    Yes, the solar panels have to be manufactured, but once they're up, there's no mining, no transporting, no wrecking the environment. I've also got a second hand array of old panels which uses a deep-cell battery - works like a charm to freeze the Engel and give me four lights. Magic!
    Cheers
    Lois

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  21. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

    Boss

    It is quite frightening to see the up[take of 'schoolgirl mass hysteria' replete with expressions like 'ethical considerations' and 'carbon free'.
    The good scientists among you should have learned from successive waves of fear mongering over the centuries, that power freaks are alive and well today.
    The whole edifice of global warming is crumbling, as assessed by data not opinion, yet the masses are whipping each other to a lather of co-congratulatory adoration and spending scarce funds in ways that are relatively useless and of greater values when applied elsewhere.

    Before you next wax lyrical, go back to the fundamentals of global warming and look for damaging change over the last 20 years. There is very little of present significance and a steady decline in the 'we're all going to die' predictions from people who are data driven rather than conscience-driven.

    At present, it's like putting gold crowns on the milk teeth of babies.

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    1. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      Motivated reasoning or jut plain gullible to believe nonsense like that?

      DARA - Humanitarian aid NGO with an agenda
      http://daraint.org/about-us/

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    2. Gary Murphy

      Independent Thinker

      In reply to Peter Lang

      This is their agenda:

      "DARA is an independent organisation committed to improving the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian action for the benefit of vulnerable populations who have been affected by armed conflict or natural disasters. In particular, DARA seeks to strengthen accountability and learning in the humanitarian sector. Working with partners, DARA conducts research and evaluations on humanitarian policy and practice. DARA actively promotes humanitarian principles, assesses performance, and supports innovative approaches."

      What's your point?

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    1. Michael Hay

      retired

      In reply to Gary Murphy

      I consider that there should be a clearly stated government proposal that ALL electricity generation in Australia WILL BE non-polluting.
      As a second stage to this announcement, a study should be commenced to evaluate the piping of rainwater from north of the Tropic of Capricorn to Southern NSW and Victoria.
      This survey should include the feasibility of creating hydro-electricity with the piped water; the creation of holding dams to ensure supply during summer and the distribution of the end supply to irrigators and the Coorong.
      If this does not cause a reduction in pollution, then a simple levy of $1.00 per tonne of carbon emitted should be imposed - with the suggestion that this could be increased at any time and will thus hang like the Sword of Damocles over the heads in certain Boardrooms.

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  22. Lois Achimovich

    Doctor

    Thanks for the Tesla piece, Terry, I heard it on a DVD on Tesla and have just ordered his autobiography.
    The furore in Perth is huge at moment because of Barnett welching on the solar panel deal.
    From yesterday's WA Newspaper : "The Western Australian Government intends to slash the solar feed-in tariff rate for households that installed systems between mid 2010 and mid 2011. Those who invested in solar during that period will have their incentive reduced from 40c to 20c per kilowatt hour over the next year."

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  23. Lois Achimovich

    Doctor

    Mr Sherrington's piece is not on the list, though it arrived at my email.

    Benny Peiser is the director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. There are a number of essays on the website which may be of interest to the list. One of the statements was: "Our main focus is to analyse global warming policies and their economic and other implications. Our aim is to provide the most robust and reliable economic analysis and advice."

    It is well known that changing from fossils fuels to renewables…

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    1. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to Lois Achimovich

      Lois.
      I have no idea of the meaning behind 'list'. Do you keep one? What is on it? Does it make you a participant in 'conspiracy idealisation', a term much used by Prof Lewandowsky, now at Bristol, formerly UWA, who has published about his notions of scepticism in a couple of papers that have been alleged to have mortal errors of statistics and design?
      It matters no who the person is. It's the scientific best that is the target.
      FYI, the Global Warming Policy Foundation is headed by Lord Lawson…

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  24. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

    Boss

    People with a genuine interest in the future of Australian electricity might ponder the politics of how this might be achieved:
    https://majorprojects.affinitylive.com/public/ef12b5f127488c3257d3ff4fe6b59cf0/02%20Chpt%204-5.pdf

    Note that one can calculate:
    The existing Bayswater burns 7.5 million tons of coal annually.
    The Bayswater B proposal, the new USC coal fired plant will only be burning 6.1 million tons of coal a year.
    That’s a reduction in CO2 Emissions of 19%.
    Does that solve a few emission targets if you subscribe to them?

    (Thanks, Tony).

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  25. margaret m

    old lady

    THIS IS THE NUT of this article & the transfer of valuable assets to the private sector regulations ASK them and REWARD them to do. means YEARS more of unnecessary grid infrastructure that will ultimately have to BE PAID FOR either by customers, including through higher fixed charges, OR BY TAXPAYERS and (highly unlikely) investors through writing off stranded investment. This in turn means long-lived financial incentives for network businesses to ELS, BATTERY STOREAGE, ENERGY EFFICIENT & SMARTER ENERGY use that could cut both customer bills and carbon emissions. LNP IPA would fool us into the illusion of lower wages when it means poorer services and we still have to subsidise private sector with out taxes. ESSENTIAL SERVICES SHOULD BE RUN BY GOVERNMENT IN THE NATIONAL INTEREST and for the profit of the taxpayer and the Government THAT SHOULD REPRESENT THEM.

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  26. margaret m

    old lady

    I meant lower taxes not wages but I repeat it means less efficient services more unemployement and another way of paupering the public purse leaving governments & voters small business at the mercy of big business

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  27. John Kerr

    IT Education

    I have been following this conversation but yesterday I came across some interesting information. I found my electricity bill from May 2005. What did I pay before privatisation ripped through the NSW system? Peak electricity was 13.26c/kwh, now 31.29c/kwh. Off peak was 4.8c/kwh now 12.29c/kwh. Connection fee was $36 for 3 months, now $130. Roughly a 260% rise in 8 years. Petrol would be $2.60 a litre if subjected to the same rise. Just imagine if food had risen this amount!

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    1. Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Boss

      In reply to John Kerr

      You are probably paying through the nose for windmills that no sane person wants.

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    2. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Geoffrey Harold Sherrington

      Geoff,

      >"You are probably paying through the nose for windmills that no sane person wants."

      Well, only if you think paying about $100 per tonne CO2 (about 20 tines the EU carbon price) is 'paying through the nose' :(.

      Some people seem to think that's fine (their mostly the rich elites who think like that).

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    3. Peter Lang

      Retired geologist and engineer

      In reply to Peter Lang

      CO2 abatement cost with wind power

      We can roughly estimate the cost per tonne CO2 avoided by wind power as follows:

      Average Cost of electricity from existing coal plants = $30/MWh
      Average Cost of electricity from wind farms = $110/MWh
      Difference = $80/MWh (this is the subsidy we are paying to reduce CO2 emissions from electricity generation)

      How much emissions do we cut for $80/MWh?
      Coal plants average across the NEM = 1 t CO2 /MWh
      Wind farms = 0 t CO2/MWh
      Difference = 1 t CO2 /MWh…

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    4. Michael Shand

      Software Tester

      In reply to Peter Lang

      Love AEMO, work with them day to day.

      They did a study to find out if it was possible to get to 100% renewable in the next few decades and what the cost would be

      Have you heard of this study? Can you guess the result?

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