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Sydney takes first steps to leave the grid

City of Sydney is taking a first step towards reducing its dependence on the electricity grid and centralised energy with the official launch of a city-wide low-carbon energy network, to be built via a series of tri-generation plants installed by Origin Energy subsidiary Cogent Energy.

The launch of a program to ultimately build a trigen network of 410MW or more across the city is the first of its kind in Australia, and the first where major users are looking for solutions that do not require further investment in grid infrastructure. In fact, over time, it may not require the grid at all.

Australia currently rates somewhere behind Uganda and Indonesia in terms of efficient use of energy. As Allan Jones, one of the architects of the City of Sydney scheme, pointed out today, little more than 30 per cent of the energy used to produce electricity at coal-fired stations actually leaves the plant, more is lost in transmission, and anyone using a 100W tungsten light bulb is creating 90 per cent heat. For some users, therefore, they are actually only using 3 per cent of the energy that is created.

Trigen systems seek to address that by locating small gas plants on site – usually in basements – that use excess heat for heating and cooling (via absorption chillers) for that and nearby buildings. The cost per megawatt-hour of electricity is not significantly different from what is paid now, but consumption is reduced by two thirds or more, and greenhouse emissions are also significantly reduced.

The City of Sydney plans to invest close to $500 million in its trigen network over the next decade or two, but estimates that it will negate the need for up to $1.5 billion in network upgrades and new power stations over the same time.

The city has signed a deal with Cogent to install 63.5MW of capacity in coming year, which will be centred around four precincts – near Town Hall in the south of the CBD, near Martin Place, at the new Green Square development, and in Pyrmont/Ultimo around the refurbished CUB site and UTS.

Cogent says it will invest $100 million in the first state of the program over a 10 year period, cementing its place as the leading tri-gen operators in the country. It is also installing a single plant for a precinct in Melbourne.

“Tri-generation is a compelling, alternative energy solution that helps lower carbon emissions and network demand, while increasing energy efficiency and power security,” said Jim Galvin, the head of retail markets for Origin Energy.

Jones suspects that the days of “supersizing grids” as Australia’s network operators are seeking to do now, may be coming to an end. While the current five year program to spend $45 billion in grid infrastructure snuck through with few people paying much attention, the next five year plan – when a similar amount may be proposed – will come under greater scrutiny.

Jones estimates that $17 billion of that $45 billion is earmarked for NSW, and a third of the total is avoidable – at least according to a study by the Institute of Sustainable Futures last year, which proposed a focus on distributed energy such as tri-gen. Network costs currently account for more than half of retail electricity bills and more than half of the recent and anticipated cost increases.

The City of Sydney says that the network will provide 70 per cent of the electricity requirements in the local government area, and reduce emissions by around the same quantum. Jones thinks it could achieve more than that – particularly with the introduction of energy efficiency measures and other technologies such as building integrated solar.

He says the system could also become entirely renewable, by substituting the natural gas to be used in the tri-generation systems with bio-fuels, and also exploiting geothermal heat that lies around 1km beneath the surface.

*This piece first appeared at RenewEconomy.

5
  • 1
    Posted Tuesday, 3 April 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    This particular Allan Jones is dangerous for all the right reasons.

    If Clover Moore’s team deliver even half of this she will have done her job 5 times over.

    Where is the acknowledgment from the conservative wingnut dimwits?

  • 2
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Tuesday, 3 April 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    How shameful that a local government … not even recognised in the Constitution … should be showing the great and powerful how to do it. Great stuff.

  • 3
    Jean
    Posted Tuesday, 3 April 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Only a matter of time before the NIMBYS decide this equipment causes cancer … endangers the children … frightens the cat.

    And have you seen Clover’s new toy wind generator that has turned a former industrial site, Bicentenniel Park at Glebe, back into an industrial site?

    Token schemes and big announcements- welcome to Sydney.

  • 4
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 4 April 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    It seems that the Industrial Revolution is about to complete a circle. It began when coal fired steam produced unimagined amounts of motive power in concentrated areas which required equally unimaginable number of workers to utilise the energy to transform the raw materials of the vast Empire.
    Centralisation made financial sense but the dark, $atanic mill$ had other, less pleasant results, with which we have been living for over 2 centuries.
    Modern techniques (and who knows what may come from nanotech) have enabled many 3rdWorld countries to leap whole fields - rickshaw wallahs with mobiles don’t need to beg & bribe sclerotic bureaucracies to roll out copper wire.
    The Post Industrial West doesn’t need megacities coz they don’t nuttin’ no more, just consume the seed corn accumulated during three centuries of colonial dominance.
    Perhaps the West can lead the world again by decentralising, small scale electricity generation in situ doesn’t need the stride the country with pylons.
    Similarly with water & sewerage provision.
    All that would be required is a change of attitude by the general populace to decide to smell the flowers and enjoy life working half as much because living costs drop 2/3rd and for the rich and their wholly owned political subsidiaries in Parliament to pull their heads in.
    Ohh…
    Ohh

  • 5
    AR
    Posted Wednesday, 4 April 2012 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Oops, apologies to Dylan, that should be “ they don’t MAKE nuttin’ here no more”.

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