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Energy in the NT: FAQ

Energy is a complex issue not well understood by anyone outside of the industry. That creates an environment where myths and misunderstandings abound. So let's clear them up! You can also read our overview of energy in the NT.

This is a live doc that will be updated throughout 2020. Have questions that need answering? Email admin@ecnt.org.

In March the NT Government made an announcement in which effective immediately for all new behind-the-meter solar installations of up to 30kW in size is a new feed-in-tariff of 8.3 cents per kWh. (An important side note: all businesses and households who currently receive the premium one-for-one FiT will continue to do so. They will only surrender the premium FiT if they upgrade the capacity of their system, move premises or take advantage of the battery subsidy.) 

8.3 cents per kWh is a huge drop, so in order to support the continued uptake of renewable energy we are calling on the government to implement an optional time-of-day tariff. 

A time-of-day tariff prices electricity differently depending on the time of day. During peak times, such as during weekday evenings when the network is most congested, electricity costs the most. With a time-of-day tariff, that peak period could become an opportunity for solar and battery owners to sell energy back to the grid and get the most bang for their back from their investments. 

A time-of-day tariff will continue to encourage greater uptake of rooftop PV and battery storage systems and could enable consumers to reduce their electricity costs during the most expensive times of the day, promote energy efficiency, and increase reliability and security by reducing demand pressure on the system at times of high demand. 

Holding onto a clunky, highly-centralised, gas-powered grid, is a bit like refusing to upgrade to a smartphone just because your uncle scored a good deal on some old dial telephones a few years ago. We are witnessing every other Australian state upgrade to efficient, networked, fast and agile technology; the NT only shoots itself in the foot if it tries to cling to outdated tech.

Putting aside the moral imperative to upgrade to clean energy, there is a strong economic case to be had with NT’s abundance of solar resources representing an opportunity to revitalise our economy. If we don’t seize it, other states will make better progress and grab market share.

Learn more.

Solar energy was not to blame for the Alice Springs blackouts that occurred in October of last year. Cloud cover is a normal event and a well-designed energy system, using existing technology, has the capacity to handle changing weather. 

Rather, an independent investigation into the blackouts uncovered woefully inadequate reporting functions in the NT energy agencies. The report recommended a range of technical adjustments, checks, and improvements to address the problems that led to the blackouts. However, some industry insiders also point to a deeper, more systemic problem of internal resistance to adapting to renewable energy within the NT's energy agencies that could prove more difficult to resolve.

And as pointed out in A Plan to Repower Australia, emerging technology such as storage "is able to respond faster than traditional power generators in an emergency, which means it helps with power stability in peak demand situations. It is a decentralised and distributed technology, which builds resilience and redundancy".

Digital technology has allowed for two-way communication between electricity utilities and its customers. You can think of a "smart grid" as the equivalent of your smartphone compared to an old dial telephone.

Here's a taste of what our "smart" system will do:  

  • Not only will Territorians generate energy from their own panels, but they’ll also be able to trade clean energy locally with neighbours, the nearby solar garden, or the solar project at the edge of town  
  • When the sun is shining smart software will send a signal to energy users to turn on their pumps and fill up their batteries. Future electricity use will be much more dynamic – demand follows generation, as much as generation follows demand 
  • If there’s a big storm and a power line goes down, network control can decide to ‘island’ a town or a suburb, disconnecting it for a few hours or days from the main grid and running it on electricity from solar, batteries and other local renewables, which turns that area into a micro-grid and helps the Territory weather the storm’s aftermath  

Yes. In 2017, an independent expert panel found that "with careful planning, appropriate governance, effective regulation, and policies to encourage investment" a target of 50% renewables by 2030 was achievable. The panel's report Roadmap to Renewables has 11 recommendations and 50 enabling actions for the government to achieve the target whilst maintaining the affordability of energy supply and without compromising network reliability and security.

Currently, the government put the proportion of renewables in the system at "less than 10%". Although government sources have told us that they expect the uptake of renewables within the energy grid to reach 12% by the end of 2020.

Learn more about the NT renewable energy target and get the basic facts to energy in the NT.

The construction and operation of large-scale of renewable energy will itself create a major industry. But its real potential is as a catalyst for wider, long-lasting economic renewal. Unlike previous capital-intensive projects in the Territory, renewables provide the foundation for permanent jobs in diverse new industries. It will be an enabler for a fantastic range of renewable-powered energy-intensive activities.

Repowering minerals mining, manufacturing and industry with 100% renewable energy, creating over 8,000 jobs and increasing
annual revenue by more than $2 billion by 2030 is exactly the economic solution needed in the NT. This strategy will attract new residents as well as boosting NT Government revenue.

Page 21 of the report The 10 Gigawatt Vision shows just how many jobs and in which industries will be created if invested in renewables.

Read the full report.

A better question is, can we afford not to? As the Solar Citizens report A Plan to Repower Australia shows, getting pollution out of our entire energy system by 2050 means Australia gets a $800 billion slice of the global renewables investment, and all the jobs that come with it.

Between now and 2050, moving to clean energy and increasing energy efficiency will result in fuel cost savings that cover 110% of the cost of this shift. Our investment in fuel-free electricity would start paying itself off in lower prices as early as 2025, and by 2040 at the latest. Australia would save, on average:

  • $9 billion a year on power sector fuel costs
  • $11 billion a year on transport fuel costs

The Environment Centre NT also teamed up with recognised think tank Beyond Zero Emissions to produce The 10 Gigawatt Vision, a blueprint for repowering the NT with renewable energy and zero-carbon industries. This groundbreaking report demonstrates that by 2030, the NT Government could help drive investment in 10 gigawatts of renewables, creating over 8,000 new jobs and over $2 billion in revenue. Cheaper renewable energy can also reduce living costs for all Territorians. Home electricity bills could fall by a third by 2030 and electric vehicles could save households as much as 80% off transport fuel bills. 

Read the full report.

There are a few things to unpack in this question. Firstly, people often confuse government support with subsidies. Subsidies are the provision of cash or the absence of costs such as tax for a particular technology, person, organisation or project. Subsidies are just one form of support that governments can give to clean energy projects, regulation, obligations, coordination, information removal of legislative barriers are just a few other forms of support.

So why do renewables need government support? Well, firstly, while our gas generators are getting old they are not going to shut down by themselves in time to avoid dangerous climate change. To shut them down in time will need government intervention.

Secondly, there isn’t a level playing field. Our gas-fired power stations were built with public money and fossil fuels still receive a massive amount of government support. No matter what the energy source, new generators are major public infrastructure investments with long lifespans, and clear government policy is needed to keep the costs of finance under control.

Thirdly, there are a huge number of market barriers for renewables and where markets fail, governments have a responsibility to act.

Finally, electricity is an essential service. Governments hold the ultimate responsibility for a functioning electricity system, and we cannot let them abdicate this responsibility.

(Source: A Plan to Repower Australia)

While the water required for a large-scale hydrogen production industry will be significant, it is not unusual compared with other industrial uses. 

Page 47 of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy shows the theoretical amount of water needed to produce a kilogram of hydrogen for each production pathway.

In practice water requirements for hydrogen production will vary depending on factors including production method and technology, the water content of the input fuel and the need for additional water for indirect production requirements such as cooling and input water purification. Different electrolysis technologies have differing water consumption requirements.

To produce enough hydrogen to satisfy Japan’s projected annual imports in 2030 would require less than one per cent of the water now used by Australia’s mining industry each year. To be a major supplier of a large-scale global hydrogen industry in 2050, however, would require more water. Under strong hydrogen growth settings, water consumption in 2050 in Australia may be the equivalent of about one-third of the water used now by the Australian mining industry.

Australia will therefore need to consider how to balance hydrogen’s demands with other water priorities. In many areas there will be limited capacity given existing demand from agriculture, industry, mining and households. Other uses for water may have higher economic, social or cultural value. Social acceptance of hydrogen production will depend on it not unduly affecting these existing uses.

There are also options to increase supply, including recycling and desalination. The cost of the electricity to desalinate seawater to produce hydrogen is minor – likely less than five cents per kilogram of hydrogen.

(Source: Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy)

Both nuclear power and gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology are vastly more expensive than solar PV on capital costs alone. The very long construction timelines for nuclear power also rule it out of a scenario that involves rapid decarbonisation of the stationary power sector.

Because variable renewables are already cheaper to build than fossil fuels and getting cheaper every year, most plausible scenarios for Australia’s future assume they will make up a much higher proportion of the generation mix. Baseload generators like nuclear power are very slow to ramp up and down and lose their owners’ money when they’re not running, making them a poor match for an electricity system with a high proportion of variable renewables. What’s needed is electricity that can be dispatched on short notice to meet peaks in demand or drops in supply and that provides the right kind of grid-stabilising services, such as batteries.

(Source: A Plan to Repower Australia)

Professor Rodney Stewart from Griffith University recently told the ABC that while panels are "a relatively small waste stream", it's only because most of the solar panels installed have only been installed in the past decade.

"We have estimates that by 2050 we'll have 1,500 kilotons of solar PV waste being disposed of," he said.

"Some of those, if they're in landfill, could leach into groundwater and get into water systems.

"And these are sometimes rare earth materials or types of materials we want to re-use because the extraction of those minerals in mining is energy-intensive."

Stewart recommends the industry create some authorities to self-regulate and push their members to improve their rates of refurbishment or enabling recycling of components. "And then those free-riders that aren't doing that, that want to just import cheap products that can't be re-furbished or recycled, then they can't play in the space in Australia," he said.

(Source: ABC News)