Green states and brown

This is a guest post from kiashu.

I thought it might be interesting to see if the households of different states were more or less "green". We can look at carbon dioxide emissions, but those don't always give a clear picture if we're talking about households; someone from Kiama in New South Wales can't really help it if Newcastle is the biggest coal exporting port in the world. So let's look at what households can control directly.

Since 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Australia can be attributed to electricity generation, and since water stress is so significant to us (every state is building desalination plants), two good measures of how "green" we are in our households is how many of us choose "green" sources of electricity, and how much water we use each day.

The GreenPower program in Australia is a federal accreditation system where companies buy electricity generated from solar, wind, and so on. This must be "new" generation, that is, from sources built after 1997. That's so they can't just buy it from some hydroelectric plant built in 1950, and to encourage the building of new generation.

Recent reports about GreenPower are encouraging. In the first quarter of 2007 there were 500,021 GreenPower customers, but by fourth quarter 2007 there were 724,506, a 45% increase. These were 695,885 residential, and 28,621 commercial. For some reason, the Northern Territory and Tasmania are not part of the scheme.

We can also look at how much water we use.

All figures are by household, and Australia has 2.6 people per household. The water is in litres per day.


Looking at this, we see that my home state of Victoria is the "greenest" overall, using the least water and having the largest share of GreenPower customers. Western Australia is definitely the brownest state.

GreenPower costs about one-third more per unit of electricity, however the average Australian household uses 5,000kWh annually, or about 14kWh/day, which with a few simple conservation methods (as for example in the guidelines to the one tonne CO2 lifestyle) can be reduced to 2,500kWh/yr or 7kWh/da, so that GreenPower plus conservation is cheaper than conventional power alone.

And with water, conservation is not difficult. Victoria has a long way to go - we need the other 86.7% to join us, and 570lt a day per household is at least three times as much as needed. But we leave the other states in our dust... or rather, we leave them in their dust, the dust from global warming and lack of water.

Cross posted from GWAG.

Kiashu, you have come up with a really interesting local way to look at our domestic "green-ness".

I have a couple of comments on Greenpower.

First, it is a GREAT scheme which enourages people like me to buy renewable electricity when we cannot install solar PV for reasons like roof shading or lack of up-front capital. Greenpower doesn't apply in Tasmania because electricity in that state was almost 100% renewable hydro until recently, and it doesn't apply in NT for completely the opposite reason - the Territory has an isolated grid largely dependent on fuel oil for generation, so no renewable plants are in place yet. Greenpower is very new in WA, another isolated grid known as the SWIS, and recent launch explains the low % there.

The trap in interpreting Greenpower data is that it fails to distinguish between the many households buying only 10% or 25% Greenpower ("token" users perhaps) and the few buying 100% at significantly greater cost. I buy 100% Greenpower and it costs me about $300 a year above non-Greenpower charges - still a bargain considering Australia has staggering cheap electricity by world standards, which incidentally is one of the reasons Solar and Wind plants are so hard to justify here.

It would be interesting to dig deeper into the Greenpower data and compare delivered MWh as a percentage of state totals. I wonder if they would provide the data?

Cheers, Mark

I'd love to se these numbers too - the inability to distinguish between 10% Greenpower and 100% Greenpower leaves a lot of uncertainty as to how green we are.

Tasmania is listed by the quarterly GreenPower report as a participant.

Figures for renewable generation are easy enough to find. However, as the GP report says,

From 1 July 2006 onwards, GreenPower providers are required to source 100 per cent of accredited GreenPower sales from 'new' GreenPower generation. For long term GreenPower sales contracts signed prior to 1 July 2006, the 100 per cent ‘new’ GreenPower requirement must be implemented as contracts are renegotiated or by 31 December 2008,
whichever is earlier.

"New" means at least half the generation was built since I think 1997. I've not been able to find figures on renewable generation vs "new" renewables.

The report tells us that GreenPower sales to the 695,884 customers in fourth quarter 2007 were 154,800MWh. This is 154,800,000kWh, or 222kWh per household. The actual average may be a bit higher, bear in mind that about a third of the customers only signed up during 2007 so they won't have been with it for the whole year. Average household use in Australia is about 1,200kWh a quarter. So we find that about 20% of their power use was supplied by GreenPower.

Of course we might also find that the sort of people who sign up for GP also conserve energy, so that the actual use may be more than 20%.

The UIC, drawing on printed sources, says,

In 2006 Australia's power stations produced 255 billion kilowatt hours (TWh) of electricity (243 TWh public supply + 12 TWh for non-grid autoproducers), 65% more than the 1990 level and growing at 3.3% pa.

Of this gross amount, about 18 TWh is used by the power stations themselves, leaving 237 TWh actually sent out (net production). Then about 17 TWh is lost or used in transmission and 9-10 more in energy sector consumption, leaving 210 TWh for final consumption - or 187 TWh apart from aluminium exports.(Vencorp suggest that typically net TWh are about 10% less than gross TWh, with transmission and distribution losses often being 10%.)

So the 154.8GWh GreenPower sold each quarter is about 0.2% of all generation. By comparison, just one wind turbine project at Portland is expected to produce 500GWh annually, that is not much less than the 600GWh or so demanded by current GreenPower customers.

So renewable generation is small in Australia, but is far greater than that demanded by GreenPower customers; the extra 5.5c/kWh GreenPower customers pay goes to subsidise renewable energy for the rest of the country who don't pay for it.

However, my point in the article was not that GreenPower was having a great effect, but rather that the consciousness of environmental and consumption issues was growing. Nobody changes their actions before changing their minds, and the significant number of people volunteering to pay extra shows that people's minds are changing. It's a start.

As Mark points out Tasmania is an extraordinary case having had only hydro and gas peak power in 2005 and now a third imported power in April 2008. The HVDC cable emerges from Bass Strait in Gippsland so I presume Vic brown coal is a major contributor. Does that count as Vic emissions?

I also wonder if offsets contribute to the high green percentages. In other words the customer pays extra $$$ for green power and the utility spends 20c of that on sustainable basket weaving in Peru. Because the State govt lets them I suspect.

Another criterion is 'vulnerability' in both water and energy. Being an ex-Adelaide homeboy I think they are living on a knife edge. 60% of their water cames from the Murray, an 'exotic' stream. Their fossil generation comes from Leigh Ck coal ('flammable dirt') with maybe 30 years reserves and from Cooper Basin gas (10 years?) and the spur line from the Otway Basin (also 10 years?). I have a photo to prove their big Wattle Pt wind farm contributed almost no electrons to the ACs at full tilt during the March heat wave.

I concede this extra data is probably not available.

GreenPower is a federal programme, so what the States do is irrelevant to it; it's only for electricity got from generation of which at least half is built since 1997 (or some similar year, I forget which). There are no carbon offsets involved. It's strictly a programme for renewable electricity generation.

Of course electricity and natural gas retailers are free to sell carbon offsets, but those aren't GreenPower. So the figures I gave don't reflect nonsense like people paying for some busybody to take some Indian farmer's diesel water pump off her and give her a treadle pump instead.

The UIC says Australia's peak electrical demand is around 50 GW, that's before transport electrification. On a continuous average basis the Rudd target of 20% of that is 10 GW so we could do with lot more renewable plant with overbuild and/or storage mechanisms. The 40% criterion suggest we will need 20 GW of low carbon baseload.

Here's one idea. I believe wind power could be used to pump water though an adjoining hydro scheme in western Tasmania to create a 200 MW near-baseload system. The mothballed Heemskirk Windfarm is right at the foot of the Pieman series of dams rising to 230 metres elevation about 50km from the coast. The wind farm was proposed for a spot near the river mouth and had planned to use the same transmission lines as the hydro.

The windfarm electrical output could be dedicated to daily pumping many megalitres of water (fresh or brackish) in a loop. The dam valves should be able to regulate the hydro downhill flow despite uneven flow of water back uphill. I know a litre of water raised one metre has a potential energy of nearly 10 joules but I don't know how much to allow for pumping losses, wind variability or associated river flows.

Only 100 such projects could create the holy grail of renewable baseload.

Thats one way of getting renewable baseload (I won't start on all the other forms of storage).

Pumped hydro is about 75% efficient apparently (according to wikipedia anyway - so its isn't ideal but is very useful in some circumstances.

I prefer diverse (both by type and by geography) renewables to overcome the "baseload" issue (preferably coupled with smart grids / demand management), but storage lets you get away with a lot in the case of unforeseen events or poor balancing of generation distribution - so you need some.

Who killed off the windfarm ? I take it the dams already exist, which is 95% of the battle in terms of environmental obstacles.

It would be handy to come up with a list of sites / projects like this to put into a "post oil" plan for the country...

If I recall the Howard guvmint said the kitty was empty and there'd be no more wind subsidies. I think they said they were at 2% which is a lot less than the green power figures cited in the article. At that point the local Vestas factory closed (it now makes mining machinery) and Tas Hydro sold 50% of the wind farm subsidiary to China Power and Light who are going strong in that country. So the dams are there but the adjoining wind farm is only on the drawing board.

That area is going through a mining revival for nickel, zinc, copper, tin and magnetite. A 100 unit motel style dormitory is being built for workers. I'd guess the extra electrical needs will come via Basslink and Victorian brown coal as well as shiploads of imported diesel.

In other words we continue to grow the carbon dependent economy and sell out renewables. All with the blessing of 'I'll do something about climate change' Rudd.

Yes, it's as I said: we have to distinguish between how much renewable energy is produced and how much GreenPower is paid for. The supply of renewable energy far exceeds the demand in the current Australian market, 700,000 GreenPower households are subsidising 7 million others.

I notice in your table on Green Power proportions that NSW lags most other states in their uptake. I think one of the reasons why this is so is that the major electricity retailer in NSW (Energy Aust) changed the way they charge for 100% Greenpower.
The used to charge a premium on the kWh consumed but now they hit you with a fixed cost per quarter irrespective of how much you use. So if you are an efficient household and have a low power consumption the cost per kWh is outrageous. That is why I have gone back to only 10%.
I know other companies can supply Greenpower but when I have made inquiries there are lots of disincentives if you want to use Greenpower from a non-franchise supplier.
Any recommendations?

Yes, companies sell GreenPower in lots of different ways, like those pre-bought "blocks". It's stupid. And that's what makes it impossible for me to answer the questions I was given above, how many customers use what proportion GP. There are just too many schemes, it's almost as bad as bloody mobile phones.

You might be interested in Green Electricity Watch. They list all GreenPower schemes available, and give each a rating based on how much is new generation, how well-advertised and explained it is, and so on.