Policy and management response
Reflecting the need for a global response based on collaborative and coordinated action by nation states, this section starts with an overview of climate action by South Australia, followed by a summary of national and international frameworks for cooperation.
Reflecting the large contribution of the energy sector to greenhouse gas emissions, state of the environment reports in 1988, 1993, 1998 and 2003 all recommended development of a sustainable energy policy. The 2003 report also recommended development of a state greenhouse plan and integration of climate change considerations in urban and infrastructure planning. The 2008 and 2013 reports placed a stronger emphasis on the need to plan for adaptation in response to unavoidable climate change.
Key measures taken since the 1980s in SA in response to climate change are listed in Figure 17.
Hornsdale Power Reserve
The first project initiated by the Renewable Technology Fund was a 100 MW/129 MWh grid-connected lithium-ion battery storage facility, charged using renewable energy generated by the Hornsdale Wind Farm.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve, which began operation in December 2017, is significant because of its size and the impact it is having on the electricity grid. The battery is able to instantly dispatch large amounts of power to the grid quickly and reliably when needed to support the SA electricity grid. It provides frequency control and short-term network security services traditionally provided by the large thermal generators.
In just one month of operation, the battery had an impact far beyond SA’s grid, rapidly responding to help arrest the fall in frequency caused by a major coal-fired generator tripping interstate on more than one occasion. A portion of the battery is also reserved for providing a dispatchable source of electricity to the grid, firming up the wind power produced by the wind farm and reducing the need for expensive gas peaking plants.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve is expected to be the first of a number of battery, pumped hydroelectric, and solar thermal storage installations in SA. While battery technology can provide fast frequency response (in seconds), pumped hydroelectric and solar thermal can provide significant power output over longer periods once batteries lose power and need recharging.
Aurora Solar Energy Project
The SA Government has recently entered into a generation project agreement with a private renewable energy and storage developer to supply its current electricity demand for 20 years, largely underwriting the building of the largest solar thermal tower unit with storage in the world.
This 150-MW Aurora Solar Energy Project will produce synchronous renewable energy, dispatched into the grid when needed, and improve grid security and stability. The project will deliver both direct generation of electricity when the sun is shining as well as up to 8 hours of molten salt thermal energy storage. It will be large enough to supply 5% of SA’s current total daily electricity consumption.
Tesla Virtual Power Plant
The SA Government will provide a $2-million grant and $30 million loan from the Renewable Technology Fund to assist the rollout of a 250 MW Tesla virtual power plant, consisting of at least 50,000 home rooftop solar and Tesla Powerwall battery systems across SA by the middle of 2022.
As a whole, the virtual power plant with 250 MW of capacity and 650 MWh of storage will provide network security services and meet around 20% of SA’s total average daily energy requirements. The solar PV output will first supply the host households and the excess energy dispatched to the grid will be centrally controlled to meet the needs of the grid.
South Australia continues to have the largest amount of installed wind and solar capacity (1,831 MW) in the country, and the second highest proportion of households with rooftop solar (32.3%).
The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to make national determinations that demonstrate their effort and commitment to meet the 2°C target and to strengthen efforts in pursuit of a 1.5°C target. This includes regular reporting by countries on their emissions and implementation efforts.
On ratifying the Paris Agreement, Australia committed to reduce emissions to 26–28% of 2005 levels by 2030. This represents a 50–52% reduction in emissions per capita and a 64–65% reduction in the emissions intensity of the economy.
Prior to the Paris Agreement, the Australian Government introduced a limited base carbon tax through the Clean Energy Act 2011, which came into effect on 1 July 2012. In 2014, the Australian Government repealed the Clean Energy Act through the Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Act 2014, which took effect on 1 July 2014.
In its place, the government introduced a subsidy scheme (Direct Action) consisting mainly of funding of projects to reduce emissions from the Emissions Reduction Fund. Other national measures include a renewable energy target (RET), energy efficiency design regulations for appliances and buildings, other subsidy schemes and public investment in information.
In 2016, the Australian Government commissioned a review into the future security of the national electricity market. The review was undertaken by an independent expert panel chaired by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Allan Finkel and the final report was released on 9 June 2017.
The government endorsed all the recommendations from the review except one for a clean energy target. In August 2018, the government announced a package of measures to reduce the cost of electricity.
Many economists recommend a price on carbon as the preferred approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is based on arguments of both economic efficiency and environmental effectiveness. This is confirmed in a 2016 Australian paper that compared policy instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and concluded that:
- A long-term carbon tax or emissions trading scheme with auctioned permits, and removal of most of the current regulations and subsidies, offers a more cost-effective, equitable and low operating cost policy strategy.
- A comprehensive base would include all fossil fuels, without exception, and cover about 80% of current emissions, with agriculture emissions the main exemption.
- To maintain current effective purchasing power levels and minimise tax interaction distortion effects, the taxation revenue windfall must be recycled as lower income tax rates and higher social security rates.
- With a comprehensive base, and medium to long-term price intervention, regulations for renewable energy could be phased out.
- Regulations to correct information and other market failures, particularly affecting the choice of energy efficient equipment will be worthwhile complementary instruments.
- Policy design to reduce the 20% GHG emissions by agriculture, land use and other small businesses is challenging.
- Measures of emissions at the firm level are limited and operating costs are high.
- A package of regulations and subsidies, building on those now in operation, may be a second best option.
The recommendation for a price on emissions was also echoed in a draft report released in April 2018 by the NZ Productivity Commission on a low emissions economy. The report recommends a broad-based and effective emissions pricing scheme.
The key international agreements on global climate change over the past 2 decades are shown in Figure 18.
In 2017, almost three-quarters of global new energy generation capacity was renewable and approximately 17 countries generated more than 90% of their electricity with renewable energy. Electricity from coal and gas fell for the 5th consercutive year.
Wind farms and noise
SA has more than 20 wind farms and is on track to achieve 73% renewable electricity generation by 2020, with at least 8 new projects under construction. The state’s abundant wind resources means it has the capacity to generate more than a third of Australia’s wind electricity.
There is ongoing debate about the potential health effects associated with wind farms, in particular noise pollution. In South Australia, there are well-established assessment processes at the development application and commissioning stages of wind farm proposals which include noise.
This state was the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce guidelines for assessing noise from wind farms and its noise criteria are among the strictest in the world. The guidelines are based on health advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the (then) Department for Health and Ageing.
The NHMRC concludes that there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans. Given the limitations of the existing evidence and continuing concerns expressed by some members of the community, further high quality research on the possible health effects of wind farms is required. NHMRC-funded studies are underway and are expected to report in 2020.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published noise guidelines for the European region in 2018, including guidelines for noise from wind farms. The recommendations of the WHO Guideline Development Group (GDG) are that for average noise exposure, noise levels produced by wind turbines should be below 45 dB Lden, as wind turbine noise above this level is associated with adverse health effects.
WHO states that there might be an increased risk for annoyance below these levels but there is a lack of evidence of an increased risk for adverse health outcomes. It acknowledges that the quality of the data on health effects of noise from wind turbines is low.
The EPA Wind farms environmental noise guidelines published in 2009 stated that the predicted equivalent noise level (LAeq,10), adjusted for tonality, should not exceed 35dB(A) in localities which are primarily intended for rural living, or 40dB(A) in other zones, or the background noise (LA90,10) by more than 5dB(A), whichever is the greater.
The EPA continues to monitor NHMRC, WHO, and other scientific and technical research associated with noise impacts from wind farms, and will seek to incorporate any latest advancements into its guidelines.
During 2012–13, the EPA undertook a noise study at the Waterloo Wind Farm approximately 100 km north of Adelaide. The study was in response to community concerns over potential noise generated from wind turbines. The study found that noise from the wind farm, where detectable, complied with the conditions of the development approval and EPA guidelines.