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Generating Electricity

 By Bruce Key, Member of Wodonga Albury Towards Climate Health (WATCH)    

There is some good news and some bad news.  First the bad news.  During the next several decades most of the electricity generating infrastructure using coal as a fuel will need to be replaced.  The reasons are obsolescence, air pollution and CO2 emissions.

Now for the good news.  The first part relates to costs.  Contrary to popular perception the cost of generation using renewable fuels, especially wind, is comparable to coal generation.  The report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) titled Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2015 Edition is worth reading in this regard.  It is based on data for 181 plants in 22 countries.  It shows that for average conditions the costs of coal, nuclear and wind at the source (before distribution and administration costs) are all about nine cents per kWh.

The next good news is that the conversion to renewables is already well under way. Quoting the IEA again:  “By 2020, the amount of global electricity generation coming from renewable energy will be higher than today’s combined electricity demand of China, India and Brazil.”

Another piece of good news relates to Australia.  The previous federal government may have been luke-warm about renewable energy, but some states are not.  For instance, more than 50% of SA’s electricity is generated from wind and solar with the remainder coming from energy efficient combined cycle gas plants.  The gas plants cater for those times when there is insufficient renewable energy being generated.  As more renewable energy comes on line there will be a lower use of the gas plants.  Already there are days when more that 100% of the state’s electricity requirements are produced by renewable energy.  The surplus is of course exported to other states.  The number of such days will increase steadily as more renewable sources come on line.

The final coal station still in operation in Port Augusta closed down on May 9 after operating for 31 years. It generated 520 megawatts of power from coal but failed to compete with the falling price of clean renewable energy.

The point to note is that SA has achieved this transition away from coal painlessly.  In fact, the SA government sees renewable energy as a business opportunity and a job generator for the future. We should too.