‘Energy for democracy’: A plan for out-of-this-world solar power

Satisfying Australia’s energy needs while simultaneously putting the country on firmer national-security footing is a lofty goal.

That sort of “energy for democracy” is what Melbourne architect Serdar Baycan hopes to help create.

Tectura Architects MD Serdar Baycan has high hopes for a series of orbiting solar power stations.

Tectura Architects MD Serdar Baycan has high hopes for a series of orbiting solar power stations. Credit:Jason South


Baycan has teamed up with one of the world’s foremost experts in space-based power to design and build a new system to supply energy for the country.

Their proposal is to test and then launch a series of orbiting solar power stations to capture sunlight, convert it to radio waves and send the energy down to terrestrial receivers to provide a source of endless clean electricity.

The plan to help Australia achieve total energy security and dramatically slash carbon emissions would also make the country less vulnerable to coercion in energy markets, the Melbourne architect said.

“This is energy for democracy,” said Baycan, acknowledging that space itself has become democratised, through greater commercialisation, new technology and new businesses.

Reusable launch systems, such as those pioneered by SpaceX, can dramatically lower the cost of putting objects in space from $US20,000 a kilogram of cargo a decade ago to closer to $US2000.

The boom in the commercial space industry now constitutes an estimated three-quarters of global space activity. Advances in 3D printing make for new possibilities in space construction, as well.

The effects of climate change, meanwhile, accelerate and the global demand for energy rises.

There’s another factor. National security: China also has plans to develop space-based power, potentially outmanoeuvring democracies on a technology they first invented.

Serdar’s partner on this project is California-based John Mankins, who, after a long career at NASA, wrote the book on space-based solar power. Literally. In 2014, he published The Case for Space Solar Power, which outlines the latest ideas on a technology undergoing constant improvements.

Baycan’s bet, as well as Mankins’, is that enough has changed on Earth since the idea was first developed in the 1960s to make space-based solar a reality for Australia and the US.

The technology is called Solar Power Satellite by means of Arbitrarily Large Phased Array (SPS-ALPHA), which refers to the innovative modular design of the cells used to capture solar power in orbit.

Australia would require 10 to 12 units, stationed in geo-synchronous orbit, at a production cost of $US10 billion each. Each one would be able to produce about 20 billion kilowatt hours a year, essentially indefinitely.

Mankins said the use of radio waves to transmit electricity from point to point, over “very long distances is proven technology.” The most recent time was a test at over 160 kilometres.

“Although space systems must be developed, the principle technologies for space solar power have all been proven, either in the laboratory or in terrestrial applications,” he said.

Baycan and Mankins met during at a National Space Society summit in the US last year, after Baycan was asked to join a team of US experts planning for human habitation of Mars.

Tectura Architects, Baycan’s firm, is known for its design of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in Parkville and the development of the Kingston Centre for Monash Health, among numerous other projects.

Baycan’s designs, drawing on his nearly three-decade career in scientific and educational architecture, were shortlisted in a competition.

“We spoke about how this is going to benefit both countries and create an extraordinary number of jobs,” said Baycan, who compared space-based power to the Snowy Hydro power scheme, which, after World War II, opened up swaths of the country for development.

“An Australian needs to be involved in effective and practical space industries that have implementation on Earth,” he said.

That’s a goal shared by the Australian Space Agency, formed last year, with an eye to helping develop local industry and expertise in order to get a bigger share of the growing US$345 billion global space industry.

Still, the challenges are daunting.

Space engineer Stephen Bornstein of Cyborg Dynamics Engineering, who is not involved in solar power, said falling launch costs had changed the economics of the business. Yet, the efficiency of space-based power would have to be proven in order for a project such as Baycan’s to succeed.

Solar power from space needed “a good, strong business case as to how that would be deemed a reasonable power source in comparison to ground-based solar”.

Baycan, however, believes the urgency created by climate change, a worsening international political situation, and a renewed focus on nation-state technological competition make the case for action.

“Standing still, Australia’s going to get run over,” he said.

Chris is Digital Foreign Editor at Fairfax Media.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

By Chris Zappone June 1, 2019 — 10.00pm

WA could go it alone on green power policy beyond 2020 after coalition ditch Renewable Energy Target

UPDATE: WA could “go it alone” on a green power policy beyond 2020 after the coalition said it would abandon the national Renewable Energy Target in a package aimed at fixing problems in the east coast electricity market.

As Chief Scientist Alan Finkel endorsed the coalition’s new energy package as “credible”, State Labor leaders accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of being hostage to the right-wing of his party for abandoning Dr Finkel’s proposed clean energy target.

Mr Turnbull said the coalition’s alternative plan for a National Energy Guarantee, which needs approval from the Council of Australian Governments, would lower prices in the east coast energy market and could be adopted for WA’s grid.

“There is the opportunity to import similar principles into those markets but WA has a very different electricity market,” Mr Turnbull said, adding that the east coast “had the big problems in terms of affordability and particularly reliability”.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said though the Government’s agreement to cut emissions by 26 to 28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030 would be enshrined in Federal legislation, a Federal market mechanism would not be imposed on WA.

WA Energy Minister Ben Wyatt said the State would need to decide whether to follow suit if the Eastern States adopted the energy guarantee, which puts in place reliability and low emission obligations.

“Post-2020, there may be the potential reality of a non-national regime guiding the uptake of renewable energy technology,” he said.

Under the Government’s plan, coal and gas will contribute between 64 and 72 per cent of energy generation by 2030, compared with 39 per cent under Labor’s proposed renewable target.

Premier Mark McGowan complained the States had not been consulted about the Turnbull Government’s energy policy backflip.

“Back in June we had Professor Finkel come to the COAG meeting in Hobart and brief us on the clean energy target and the Federal Government was wildly keen on it.

“Now, they’ve gone in a completely different direction without consulting the States. Now we are the ones that actually run the energy systems.

“It’s actually bizarre that the Commonwealth would come up with new arrangements for the States without even talking to us.

“It mainly applies to the national electricity market which is basically the Eastern States but if there is a change to the renewable energy target, that could well impact WA.”

Mr McGowan said he would work with the Commonwealth determine the implications but appealed for certainty from the Federal Government.

Federal shadow minister for energy Mark Butler said the Government should provide modelling to back its claim consumers would save up to $115 a year on average over 2020 to 2030.

In a sign of the challenge for the coalition as it seeks agreement from State leaders on the policy, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the plan would not cut bills or carbon emissions.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said it amounted “to a subsidy of the coal industry”.

WA households could be hit by 15% rise in electricity prices

WA households could be hit with flat electricity price increases of more than 15 per cent over the next three years as the State Government shores up power provider Synergy’s financial position.

After consumers were stung with an 11 per cent increase in power bills this year, Energy Minister Ben Wyatt signalled the Government was aiming to repeat the dose in coming years.

Mr Wyatt told a Budget estimates hearing into Synergy that the forecast improvement in the power supplier’s bottom line for this financial year was largely because of the decision to impose the price increase on “fixed” charges.

For residential customers, this is the supply charge and is separate from consumption charges.

It was increased to 98.9¢ a day from 48.6¢ last year — an increase of $169 a year. A typical household power bill is $1722 a year, according to Treasury.

With assumed price increases in the State Budget of 7 per cent, 5.6 per cent and 3.5 per cent between 2018-19 and 2020-21, Mr Wyatt said “there is probably still more to come” in Synergy’s shift towards a greater reliance on fixed charges.

He said that the changes announced as part of the Budget had slashed the State-owned utility’s operating subsidy — which will fall from $280 million last year to a forecast $146 million this year and zero next year.

“This has been a big part of the tariff reform that we did earlier to try to get more into the fixed charge and there is probably still more to come when more of the tariff needs to be attached to the fixed charge,” Mr Wyatt told the hearing.

“That 10.9 per cent increase allocated and tied to the fixed charge went a long way … in securing the revenue flow for Synergy.”

Until this year, about 80 per cent of the average annual power bill was based on consumption.

Critics claim the situation is inequitable because some households have been able to avoid higher consumption charges by installing solar panels or energy efficient appliances.

The WA Council of Social Service said the changes disproportionately affected poorer households because they lacked the means to minimise their exposure. Its chief executive Louise Giolitto called on the Government to ensure low-income households were properly compensated for further rises.


Source: thewest.com.au

The Clean Energy Target is gone, so what have we got instead? And what does a National Energy Guarantee mean for consumers?

Malcolm Turnbull has unveiled his shiny new energy policy, complete with its own three-letter acronym to replace the doomed Clean Energy Target.

The Government claims the new plan — including a National Energy Guarantee, or NEG — will be kinder to hip pockets and will reduce emissions enough for Australia to uphold its end of the Paris climate change agreement.

Here’s what it all means:

So what’s new?

The Government is effectively putting the onus on retailers to guarantee (the G in NEG) two things: reliable supply and emissions reduction.

The first part of that means power companies would be required to use a percentage of electricity from sources such as coal, gas, batteries and pumped hydro.

This would be ready to use at short notice to stop blackouts like the one seen in South Australia last year.

It would also keep the power system stable at a lower price because it would be done via long-term contracts, not the short-term spot price.

The second part — reducing emissions — means they’ll be scrapping subsidies and incentives for renewables and instead expecting retailers to ensure the power that they’re buying is efficient enough to help Australia meet its international obligations (i.e. what we signed up to do during the Paris climate change conference).

It is not yet clear what the penalty would be for companies who fall short of that, but it is likely they would be able to make up a shortfall the following year.

Will my power be cheaper?

Malcolm Turnbull says: YES.

Spruiking the new plan, the Prime Minister said: “Your power bills are too high and rising too fast.”

So how much are we talking? The typical household could save between $110 and $115 each year for a decade from 2020, according to the Energy Security Board, which costed things for the Government.

BUT … the head of the Energy Market Commission, John Pierce, who is *also* a member of the Energy Security Board, said that figure was an average over the decade, leaving open the possibility it would be much lower in the early years.

Mr Pierce told Sky News that some modelling showed the saving could be as low as $25 a year in 2020.

When Mr Turnbull was asked in Question Time if the Energy Security Board had provided any lower figures, he said the only information he had was the figure quoted in the Security Board’s letter to him; that’s where the $115 figure came from.

Here’s what deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop had to say:

“This is a very secure way of ensuring reliability, affordability and meeting our Paris commitments … it doesn’t require a CET, it works on market mechanisms and will drive prices down.”

But keeping the power bills down is reliant on a range of measures including state government policies.

What about reliability?

“Keeping the lights on” is a key element of the Government’s mantra.

It insists that the scheme is designed to ensure that the electricity supply will be more reliable because power companies will have to use “dispatchable” power.

The Government is already backing chief scientist Alan Finkel’s call for more investment in batteries. His aim is to make solar power more reliable because the energy could be stored and released to prevent shortages, and the Government has adopted that plan.

This goes much further by making the power companies source some of their power from sources like coal, gas, pumped hydro or even encouraging ways to reduce demand.

Will it bring down emissions enough?

In November last year the Government promised to reduce emissions by between 26 and 28 per cent by 2030 as part of the Paris climate change accord.

It says that target will still be met, but with no incentives or subsidies for renewables under this scheme.

The Government says renewables are becoming more competitive without subsidies, so the Renewable Energy Target is no longer necessary.

It’s understood those subsidies for using renewables will be phased out after 2020.

Labor argues the new plan will destroy the renewables sector.

The Climate Council says it will mean less renewable energy than we need to tackle climate change.

Will it keep coal-fired power plants running longer?

Power companies will be forced to use baseload sources, which could keep some coal-fired power plants operating longer.

But the Clean Energy Council says these plants are becoming unreliable because of their age.

Mr Turnbull says solar, wind, coal, gas, batteries and pumped hydro will all be part of the energy mix.

How did we get here again?

Towards the end of last year, the Federal Government asked Dr Finkel to review the energy sector after a statewide blackout in South Australia.

That review focused on the sustainability of the current system, its environmental impacts, and affordability for consumers.

Dr Finkel came back with a bunch of recommendations.

One of those was a Clean Energy Target, which would have seen electricity companies forced to provide a set percentage of their power from low emissions (clean) technology — things like renewables and efficient gas.

His modelling showed a CET would lower power prices by subsidising investment in clean power generation, increasing the supply of electricity.

But some in the Coalition were sceptical about the CET, saying it would make for less reliable service.

And so the Government went back to the drawing board, and came up with this plan.

Will the NEG get the nod?

The Government thinks it can make these changes without federal legislation, meaning it could avoid a Senate showdown.

But it will need the backing of the states and territories, which have their own policies over energy.

Either way, the bipartisan approach to energy has died with the CET.

Federal Labor attacked the Government’s approach as a capitulation to former prime minister Tony Abbott.


Source: abc.net.au