Innovative rural energy policy from the Greens

Via Greensblog, news that the Greens have announced a new policy aimed at combining the need for an alternative power generating system other than coal, and the need to maintain rural incomes and communities.

So, Farming Renewable Energy proposes a three-stage process to help struggling farmers become renewable energy generators, supplementing their income, revitalising their communities with jobs and investment, and keeping regional Australia alive.

The first stage is overlaying maps of climate vulnerability with maps of renewable energy resources and identifying the areas where there is a strong overlap. For solar, in particular, this will be considerable. Once there is an indication of areas, a process of consultation would begin, drawing together the communities with the industry and the three levels of government. This is about identifying specific regions which want to take up the offer, and developing the vital relationships to make it happen.

Finally, Renewable Energy Development Zones would be declared, where large-scale investment would be attracted by the highly streamlined approvals process (because much of the work would already have been done), existing relationships and, importantly, government investment (using funds gathered via emissions trading permit sales) to support skills development and paying for high voltage interconnectors to the main electricity grid where necessary.

This policy appeals to me in terms of addressing two problems with an elegant solution. There’s a lot more detail in the Greensblog post, which contains links to further documents on Greens Senators own sites.

I could handle seeing a bit of me-too-ism from the LibNats and Labs on some policies from the non-major parties, truly I could.


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23 comments on “Innovative rural energy policy from the Greens
  1. It’s moderately interesting, but if we go down the industrial-scale solar road, the land requirements are tiny in the Australian context.

    Assuming average insolation levels and 10% conversion efficiencies (that is, 10% of the sunlight that falls on an area is converted into electricity), we could produce all our electricity using solar energy from about 0.5% of the area we currently grow wheat on. In total, it’s about 110,000 hectares.

    Land is not the barrier for converting solar energy into electricity. The cost of the equipment to do so is.

  2. tigtog says:

    I think the idea is that the government grants will help fund the costly equipment, although of course whether the planned funding is adequate is a valid question.

  3. I suppose the point I’m trying to make is the number of farmers who will benefit, directly, from renewable energy projects on their land is minimal.

  4. bilb says:

    Good point, Robert. Firstly you are correct in that solar thermal is not that efficient. It’s main advantages are the lower cost of the hardware in relation to most other generation methods, the speed at which the plant can be manufactured on site, and the very long life of the system. In David Mills’ scheme the steel work is manufactured entirely automatically. It would be my expectation that somewhere along the way solar photovoltaic would catch up and become more cost effective with vastly improved energy conversion efficiencies. From that point forward it would become the new plant of choice, but more likely installed in a distributed form at the community level.

    Farmers will get some benefit from the new highly prosperous communities built up around the large solar thermal fields but their main benefit will come from the many other forms of energy farming which will be mixed in with their food production. A lot of farmers making a little bit of energy (wind, solar sterling, biodiesel, biomass, methanol, algal oil, ethanol, whatever be their interest) can make a very big difference. Many forms of farming are struggling to be commercial against the background of drought and increasing temperatures, but with higher returns for their crops from the inevitable food price increases and the added income from energy farming, farming in general can adapt to the new climate and be profitable. I believe.

  5. tigtog says:

    But the Greens idea isn’t to cram lots of wind/solar generators on just a few properties, the idea is to spread generators out across lots of struggling properties, so that they still grow their crops/stock, they just have a generator or two as well.

    Supplementing rural incomes like this could make quite a difference to many communities, I would have thought.

  6. Sam Clifford says:

    Tigtog, I would think so, too. Not only does it provide a reliable source of income, unlike a crop in drought, but it’s sustainable and provides a service to the rest of the community, unlike welfare. I think it’s a great policy and I’m really happy to see the Greens coming up with policies aimed at helping those in rural areas.

  7. Tim Hollo says:

    Thanks, tigtog. Indeed, the idea is that we could use an array of technologies over a wide spread of land to supply more than our energy needs – enough to start using renewables to create liquid fuels for export, etc, as bilb notes.

    And, there are always options to build solar arrays in the order of 100MW instead of 1GW, and spread them across a region. Makes more sense, in fact, in terms of improving the maximum likely insolation.

    Alternatively, as has been suggested, farmers could form a cooperative to effectively invest in a renewables installation on one person’s land, but spreading the benefits of direct income across the communtiy. They’ll all benefit from the indirect income, anyway.

  8. bilb says:

    Spreading concentrating solar out is possible. There is an issue with distance of the collectors from the turbine house (oil pumping distance) and turbine size. Steam turbines are (apparently according to Franz Trieb) around the 200 to 250 megawatt size (around 4 square kilometres of collector). So it is possible to have patches of plant spread around. With Australia needing as many a 60 gigawatts of solar capacity (along with all of the other sources) there is the possibility of a reasonable spread if that was deemed to be commercially supportable.

  9. mikestasse says:

    It is in fact TOTALLY INCORRECT that solar thermal is less efficient than PVs! Depending on the technology and application, ST can be 50 to 90% efficient, whereas PVs rarely better 15%. The PVs on my roof are barely 8% efficient…….

    The barrier to installing any renewables is NOT money, it’s energy. If you want to see where lots of money can be found for renewables, look no further than here:

    And if you want to see what an energy barrier looks like, go here:

    Mike Stasse
    Energy Efficiency consultant

  10. Tim Hollo says:

    Bilb, I think I’ve seen discussion of turbines closer to the 100MW size, but 200MW may be correct. That is what I meant – not tiny bits and pieces dispersed far and wide, more an issue of smaller modular units that together feed into the grid in ‘patches’ as you say.

  11. bilb says:

    MikeS, Robert was more correct than not correct.
    The figures on the trough solar system are: 350,000 square metres of reflector per square kilometre; 50 megawatts (nominal) per sq klm; yield 143 watts per sq mtr; with about 1300 watts solar energy per sq metre against 143 watts converted and delivered as grid power equals around 11% efficiency. The efficiency is increasing steadily with better mirrors and better collector tubes. It is not wonderful but it works very reliably, and cost effectively. These are the figures as I understand them to be, but I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong. The figures for the fresnel system are slightly different because it is possible to get up to 475,000 sq mtrs of mirror area per square kilometre, but the operating temperature is lower for some reason. David mills is talking about higher yields per sq klm than the 50 megawatts, but I haven’t seen his figures in print.

  12. mikestasse says:

    I see, I didn’t realise less than half the area was covered. Why can’t these things be more closely grouped together? Not only would it be more effocoent, it would cut down on plumbing etc.

    And BTW, nominal irradiation on Earth (and not too far from the Equator) is 1000W/m2. You can only get 1300 in space.

  13. bilb says:


    The trough solar being a deep dish casts larger shadows as compared to the fresnel system where the shadows have a lower profile. Hence the spacing. The rest of the land lost is for vehicular access between the rows of collectors. If your W/sq mtr is correct then that lifts the efficiency to 14%.

    Nice website by the way.

  14. In any case, unless the efficiency is a couple of orders of magnitude wrong, the point about land still stands. There ain’t going go be much of it used. Agriculture is a really inefficient way to turn sunlight into useful energy compared to what we can construct for the job – which, incidentally, is why I’m so skeptical about biofuels.

    Mike, you won’t get any disagreement from me that the Iraq war is a colossal waste of money. However, just because it was a waste of money doesn’t make the case for any particular form of renewable energy. Maybe we should build mainly geothermal plants and spent the rest of the money we save on free beer for all.

    As for spreading generators out far and wide, that means you have to spread steam turbines out far and wide for solar thermal, which means both less efficiency and higher construction costs. Or, for wind turbines, you need to run high-voltage power lines to all of them, which costs lots of money.

    As for farmers forming cooperatives to run wind turbines, rural cooperatives weren’t particularly great at running things directly related to agriculture, to be honest. Most have them have been demutualised over the past few years. One of the last remaining examples was AWB. There was a great example of an active shareholder base keeping their eye on the activities of management…

  15. mikestasse says:

    A target of reducing greenhouse emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 means 61.1 Mtoe of oil+gas+coal per year.
    We used 126.4 Mtoe in 2006 and the average growth 1990-2006 was 2.3%.

    If that continues until 2008, we will be on 132.4 Mtoe.
    Cutting that consumption over 2008-2020 involves an average reduction of 6.2% each year
    and beyond that, a reduction of 6.7% each year out to 2050.

    So these targets mean we have to change from growth of 2.3% into reduction of 6.2% each year.
    And if we only reach zero energy growth in 2010, as suggested below,
    we will be looking at 7% reduction per year till 2050.
    That is like removing the entire aluminium sector emissions every year.
    This will certainly crash the economy.

    There are certainly more efficient ways of making a living,
    but we can’t afford the money or the energy to rebuild our infrastructure to copy Japan’s low-emissions lifestyle.
    Doing that would cause a high emissions lifestyle !

    If we don’t have strong emissions targets, the planet will cook.
    If we do have strong emissions targets, the economy will crash.
    I think this means we have left it too late,
    and given the people who are currently in charge, the planet will cook.

  16. Tim Hollo says:

    Mike, I don’t share your doomsday feeling that these cuts will crash the economy. Certainly we’ll ahve to curb conspicuous consumption, but that doesn’t mean crashing the economy.

    We’ve developed policies for energy efficiency that can quite easily achieve 1/3 of the emissions reductions necessary by 2020. Add renewables to that and you’re getting close to halfway there (45% or so of the 2020 target). Stop landclearing completely, stop logging old growth and start reafforestation seriously and we’re getting close to 2/3. Begin a radical shift in transport away from private vehicles towards public tranport and telecommuting, reduce waste and reduce emissions from agriculture and industrial processes (we’re lacking clear policies on this, we admit, but keen to develop them after the election) and we can achieve it.

    Hard, but not impossible.

  17. bilb says:

    Well, Robert, you are not going to get your Nukes, so find a way to make the other work.

    Mike, your “doom or bust scenario” flies in the face of everyones expectations and experiences.

  18. Robert Merkel, the AWB being caught allowing rake-offs to Saddam is NOT relevant to the workability of rural co-operatives.

    Successfully selling wheat isn’t seen as a bad thing by all that many people, the money didn’t come out of Ozzi pockets, and the UN ok’d every transaction. Hence it hasn’t become a big issue, despite lots of screeching from the sav-blanc-and-oysters set.

  19. FDB says:

    That’s Guinness and oysters, thank you very much.

  20. mikestasse says:

    So Tim, you’re going to cut emissions/consumption AND grow at the same time?

  21. mikestasse says:

    In fact, I should’ve said, “So Tim, you’re going to cut emissions/consumption AND grow at the same time we have dimisnishing amounts of fossil fuels?”

  22. […] Contrary to Authority wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt … uch of the work would already have been done), existing relationships and, importantly, government investment (using funds gathered via emissions trading permit sales)… […]

  23. Huggybunny says:

    Solar thermal cannot be much more than 45% efficient if it uses the steam cycle. PV can theoretically achieve similar efficiencies but not with silicon.
    The real issue with all solar technologies (and wind for that matter) is the Annual Capacity Factor (ACF); as this will always be less than 50% (about 30% for tracking solar) the peak output will always be more than twice the average output. This in essence means that the energy delivery from PV is always going to be system stability limited. Even with tracking solar thermal I would expect an injected energy limit of about 10%+. With non tracking rooftop PV it is about 2%!
    Artificial geo thermal is the way to go; an ACF of over 90% and an unlimited resource and absolutely zero emissions.

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