Camden | Northern Rivers
overview of possible impacts from coal seam gas
development in Northern Rivers, New South Wales
Project by Elfian Schieren, 2012
2. Energy and coal seam gas development
2.1 Economic viability underpinning coal
seam gas development
Unconventional gas in the form of coal seam
gas, shale gas, basin centred gas and tight gas is considered the most viable
alternative to coal fired power as it widely considered being the next cheapest
energy source to coal (Rutovitz et al, 2011).
New technological advancements such as
hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling are now allowing companies to
access these resources and boosting the global production of nonconventional
gases like coal seam and shale gas (Osborn et al, 2011).
These technological advances and strong
international gas prices have unlocked Australia’s coal seam onshore and
offshore gas reserves for production and export (Australian Department of
Resources Energy and Tourism, 2011).
2.2 Renewable, sustainable energy
There are many options available for
cleaner and renewable energies and Australia is well placed with renewable
resources to lead development in this area.
A recent cost assessment of the different
energy options in Australia revealed that renewable sources are becoming more
competitive with fossil fuel energy production (Australian Bureau of Resources,
Energy and Economics, 2012).
There has been a rapid drop in solar
photovoltaic technology costs resulting from increased global production of
photovoltaic modules (Braga et al, 2008) and production of biogas from landfill
is now cheaper than energy from brown coal (Australian Bureau of Resources,
Energy and Economics, 2012).
A major limitation for renewable energy as
a substitute for coal fired power is the ability for base load power generation
either from constraints in available technology or power capacity (Needham,
Competition for land between different
renewable energy systems could limit their prospective as electricity producers
(de Vries et al, 2006).
- Solar Power
A major limitation for solar power has
always been loss of energy production during cloudy weather inevitably requiring
large energy storage for these periods.
Batteries have been the main option and are
considered an expensive and inefficient method of energy storage (Zweibel et
New technological advancements have
invented compressed air storage where solar is used to pump compressed air into
underground caverns, abandoned mines, empty gas reservoirs and aquifers.
This air is then released on demand to turn
turbines aided by burning small amounts of natural gas, reducing the normal gas
usage by 60%.
This system is being successfully used in
Germany (Zweibel et al., 2007) and through integration with gas electricity
production, could potentially extend the life of conventional natural gas or
biogas reserves during the transition to renewable energy systems.
- Wind Power
Wind power is considered one of the most
economically viable options for renewable energy production exhibiting lower
energy costs than biomass or solar systems (de Vries et al, 2006).
Research on the energy footprint of two
wind farms (onshore and offshore) near Denmark found that, based on a 40%
efficiency, the farms paid back their energy requirements within 0.26 to 0.39 of
a year, around 2% of the 20 year lifetime of the turbine (Schleisner, 1999).
Germany has rapidly promoted the use of
wind power and has developed new technologies such as high-voltage direct
current (HVDC) to overcome current limitations in providing an efficient,
economical and reliable solution to non-renewable energies (Kirby, 2002).
Using underground cable and improved
control capabilities, the HVDC makes it economically feasible to connect small
scale, renewable power generation into the main AC grid (Weimers, 1998).
There is considerable research and
investment into energy from waste such as biogas production from landfill or
manure and bio-hydrogen from domestic food waste and wastewaters (Van Ginkel et
Biogas from landfill, pig and cow manure,
sewage and food wastes is now widely used as a transport fuel for cars in
Europe, particularly in Italy which has over 650 000 biogas fuelled cars and
buses (European Biofuels Technology Platform, 2009).
Biogas production has been driven by
increased regulations and taxes on waste disposal, a growing need for renewable
fuels, industry initiatives and the need to improve air quality (National
Society for Clean Air and Environmental Production, 2006).
Biogas is cheaper to run than petrol and
diesel, 55% and 40% respectively but have larger capital costs causing most
biogas to be used for electricity production.
The environmental benefits, such as CO2
savings, from biogas usage are considered to be high particularly when combined
with the benefit of waste reduction (National Society for Clean Air and
Environmental Production, 2006).
Reconfiguration of the current electricity grid is essential to integrate
renewable power inputs (Needham, 2008).
A new technology named the Smart Grid using
decentralised management stations which allow for a more rapid response to
fluctuations in power demand is being trialled in Newcastle, Ku-Ring-Gai,
Newington, some Sydney areas including the CBC and the rural town of Scone as
part of the National Energy Efficiency Initiative (Australian Department of
Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2012).
The Smart Grid system may be more effective
in dealing with the varied input from renewable sources, coping with base load
limitations and offers money savings through the use of smart meters that
alleviate the need for meter reading (Dopita and Williamson, 2010).
Most science places renewable energy
sources as intermittent dispersed sources unviable for base load power
operations without transmission, storage and power conditioning (Hoffart et al,
Technological advancements happening in
Europe and even Australia suggest that many of these hurdles can be overcome.
Hybrid renewable energy systems are
considered to have the potential to improve economic viability and customer
acceptance of renewable electricity production (Nema et al., 2009).
Carbon pricing in Australia is helping
renewables to become more economically viable but the Australian Federal
Government states that, according to the global market, renewable energy is not
yet competitive enough with gas prices for large scale investment to be
considered (Australian Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, 2011).
However, the largest recorded growth in
energy consumption in 2009-10, in Australia, was in renewable energy which grew
by 17.1% in comparison to gas consumption at 4.5% (Schultz and Petchey, 2011).
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