GreenPower funny numbers

The bunch of shady individuals who resell electricity to us (no, not these dudes - "Jackgreen", who're no better if you ask me) saw fit today to provide us with a cheery note telling us that, as of next year, we will automatically be supplied with "10% accredited" GreenPower!

GreenPower is, according to the Australian Government Web site all about it, new renewable energy. Not just the hydro-electric power that Australia's had since the Seventies; an actual replacement for the vast amounts of almost entirely coal-fired electricity (some of it the particularly filthy brown-coal-fired type...) that keeps the rest of Australia's lights on.

We have, Jackgreen excitedly added, the option of upgrading to 25%, 50% or one hundred per cent "accredited" GreenPower, for an extra fee, if we like.

Gee! Doesn't that sound great!

The GreenPower Accreditation program has actually been around for more than ten years now, as I discovered when I read the absolutely riveting 2006 GreenPower Annual Compliance Audit (PDF).

I felt obliged to plunge into this sizeable document because, on the face of it, the GreenPower numbers didn't seem to add up.

And the more I learned, the more confusing it became.

The thing that originally puzzled me is that the 25, 50 and 100% GreenPower rates from Jackgreen will cost us $AU1.10, $AU2.20 and $AU4.40 a week, respectively.

That's it.

A flat rate.

Whether your house's total electricity budget comprises two night-lights and a transistor radio, or five thousand marijuana plants thriving under fifty kilowatts of metal halide illumination, you pay a flat rate extra to have all of your electricity "greened".

I know it's a flat rate just by looking at the Jackgreen page that lists all three GreenPower options. The Product Disclosure Statement (PDF) makes perfectly clear that the actual tariffs for each level of GreenPower, not counting the extra weekly fee, are exactly the same!

(I also particularly like the significant "Daily Availability Payments" that apply across the board. Here in Katoomba there's about one brief blackout a week, and at least one longer one a month. "Why, when that happens they must refund the Availability Payment for the affected day," I hear you say! Alas, no.)

The Compliance Audit document tells me that GreenPower can be sold by the kilowatt-hour like normal electricity, or bought to match the amount of electricity you're drawing from some other supplier that (presumably) doesn't subscribe to the GreenPower scheme, or sold as a "consumption based product whereby customers nominate the level of GreenPower purchased according to a nominated percentage of their total electricity consumption".

That last one would appear to be what the schemes we're being offered are. But we're obviously not, in any economically meaningful way, "purchasing" a nominated percentage of GreenPower if we don't pay more, to account for that more-expensively-generated percentage, when we consume more bloody power.

This seems to be the most obvious thing in the world to me, but it nonetheless appears to have sailed right past the Government, who say on the GreenPower site that "you can buy 100% GreenPower for approximately $5.50 extra per week".

Except no you bloody can't, unless you just arbitrarily define "GreenPower" as "NotActuallyGreenInAnyWayPower".

Which, more rooting around in the document eventually made clear to me, seems to be what they've done.

Working my way on through the Compliance Audit, I hit the all-important Rules of the Program, which say that GreenPower providers must "source all generation included in a GreenPower product from GreenPower approved sources" and, as of half way through 2006, "source 100 per cent of accredited GreenPower sales from 'new' GreenPower generation". "New" is defined to mean "any generator built or commissioned after 1 January 1997 that is GreenPower approved".

This is, therefore, pretty straightforward. When you buy 100% GreenPower, you really do have to get 100% GreenPower, not as much GreenPower as your electricity dealer has to sell you, followed by ordinary, um, BrownPower. It doesn't mean that someone's going to send special green electrons to your house from a generator powered by kitten purrs, but if you order 100% GreenPower, however much power you draw really and truly should be sent into the grid, somewhere, by a new and shiny renewable source of some description.

But now we strike a problem.

Apparently nearly eight per cent of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources at the moment, but that's including the old Snowy Mountain hydroelectric system, whose peak capacity is the thick end of four gigawatts but which doesn't run at anything like full capacity most of the time.

Take the Snowy system out of the picture - which you should for GreenPower calculations, since the rules forbid GreenPower providers to just sell that hydroelectric power - and you've got a magnificent 1.5% of our total consumption left over.

That is, at the very most, the sum total achievement of ten freakin' years of this GreenPower initiative. And a significant portion of the 1.5% doesn't qualify as GreenPower anyway, as we'll see in a moment.

At this rate, we might make it to 50% renewable energy in as little as three hundred years!

But right now, it's obvious that if any significant number of people sign up for any significant amount of GreenPower, the amount of genuine two-words-no-capital-letters green power available will be exhausted rapidly.

This was the point where the light dawned upon me, and I theorised that the government must have just shifted the goalposts and, themselves, allowed "GreenPower approved" generators to include a whole lot of... other... sources of electricity.

I was led to believe that there was some straightforward old fashioned lyin' coming up by the delightful discovery in section 2.1.4 of the 2006 Compliance Audit that "GreenPower providers are required to reduce emissions ... to 5 per cent below 1990 per capita emission levels, equivalent to 7.27 tonnes per capita by 2007" (emphasis mine).

Well, here we are at the end of 2007, and Australia as a whole hasn't quite done that.

What Australia's actually done - and yes, we should be very proud - is top the world in per capita power generation carbon emissions, with a magnificent 226 million tons emitted this year, about 10.7 tonnes per capita.

This is hardly surprising, since Australia is as crazy for air conditioning and plasma TVs as the USA (who are currently managing a mere 9.2 or so tons per capita), but we don't have any nuclear power at all.

Now, GreenPower's approved providers presumably do emit relatively little carbon per customer. But since there isn't nearly enough genuinely green power to sell to customers - as we'll see - I wouldn't be at all surprised if the actual per capita electricity-related CO2 output of GreenPower customers was only a hair below the national average. There's no way it's actually lower than 1990 levels.

So I was thinking that if they don't mind about that particular huge miss, they wouldn't mind a similarly bold declaration that GreenPower and BlackPower could be the same thing... from a certain point of view.

But in section 2.1.5, they define a "green" electricity generator as "an electricity generator that results in a greenhouse gas emission reduction and net environmental benefits; is based primarily on a renewable energy resource; and complies with the guidelines in the National GreenPower Program Accreditation Document".

Which would appear to rule out the source of 93-odd per cent of Australia's power. You just can't use that definition and simultaneously allow GreenPower purchasers to actually be sent regular power.

Flick on through to section 2.4, and you find that total GreenPower sales for 2006 add up to 802,417 megawatt-hours.

That sounds like a lot. And it is - you'd have to run a thousand-horsepower engine for 123 years to make that much energy.

But Australia's total electricity consumption is up around 200,000 gigawatt-hours per year.

So total GreenPower sales for 2006 were about 0.4% of Australia's total electricity budget.

Or one two hundred and fiftieth, if you prefer.

The Compliance Audit says there were 391,403 customers - 373925 residential, 17478 commercial. If you assume they're all on 100% GreenPower and they all get an equal share of the available power, that's a grand total of 2.15 megawatt-hours per customer per year.

This actually distorts the situation - a graph in section 2.6 of the Compliance Audit makes clear that sales to commercial customers were far higher per customer, as you'd expect. But let's run with the straight average for a moment.

An average US or Australian household is likely to consume around eight to twelve megawatt-hours per year. So the total current GreenPower sales are only enough to supply the current customer base for, oh, two or three months of the year they've paid for.

This is reflected in the fact that section 2.4, before it tells you that 802,417MWh of GreenPower were sold in 2006, tells you that 3,889,200MWh of GreenPower were purchased.

This threw me for something of a loop. I've read over it several times. I'm doing my best to figure out what it means. If anybody knows better, do please fill me in (or just post a comment below).

The sold/purchased discrepancy is an unusual situation. Not often do the books of a business - well, of an honest business, anyway - tell you that 4.8 times as many Acme Widgets were purchased by customers as were sold by Acme.

But here in the world of GreenPower, "product providers" certainly can buy way more power than they actually sell.

There's some sort of certificate system involved too, but it's not related to any actual consumer reality, because of that weird connected-to-nothing tiny flat rate I mentioned way up at the top of this post. I presume there are government subsidies involved as well - so, in the end, everybody's paying for this scheme whether they pay the flat fee or not - but fat chance of finding any mention of those on the GreenPower Web site.

Aaaaaanyway, the factor-of-4.8 difference between GreenPower purchased and GreenPower sold quite neatly increases the 2.15 megawatt-hours per customer to about 10.4MWh. That lines up much better with a plausible figure for actual average demand from all of those GreenPower "users". If everybody was on a 100% GreenPower contract then it'd be too low to account for the electricity-hungry commercial customers, but I'm sure there are lots of 25% and 50% contracts in there pulling down the average order size.

So it seems to me that this really is the deal. The government goes through all of this rigmarole of officially approving GreenPower suppliers, tra la, and allows customers to sign up for the suspiciously-cheap "100% GreenPower" and receive faithful assurances that this means their electricity supplier is "purchasing" exactly as much GreenPower as the customer uses.

And then in their official audit report they just whiz right over the trivial detail that 79% of the item being purchased does not, if you want to be boringly picky about it, exist.

And then in section 2.7, you can hear them giggling as they give every single GreenPower provider the maximum five-star rating for honesty in every kind of marketing they conduct!

Awesome marketing rating

Step right up, folks! Everyone wins a prize!

Any new GreenPower drive that causes market growth to exceed the growth of the actual GreenPower generation capacity will, of course, only make the ratio of power purchased to power sold even worse. And it's not as if all of those extra customers will be bringing billions of dollars with them that'll make GreenPower more real than it currently is. Each new customer, wanting ten-odd megawatt-hours of environmentally friendly power a year, will be (directly) paying at most $AU286 to help make that happen.

You could realistically expect a big old 1.5-megawatt wind turbine to be able to produce about 4000 megawatt-hours of power per year. It'd be more than 13,000MWh if the thing ran at full power all the time, but the capacity factor of wind generators - the fraction of the time, on average, that they can operate at their rated power - is lousy, down around 30%.

But 4000MWh in a year, ignoring storage and distribution, is still enough to run 400 ten-megawatt-hour-per-year households.

If all you're getting from those households is 400 times $AU286 per year, though - $AU114,400 - it'll be a bit of a while before you can afford that turbine. A 1.5MW turbine will set you back at least a couple of million US dollars, and its upkeep ain't free either.

So, if the extra GreenPower rate is all you have to spend, it'll be twenty years before you can even buy that one darn turbine. And then it's probably going to wear out in thirty years, tops - whereupon, given what you paid to run it in the meantime, you may just about be able to afford a replacement. Whoopee.

Page 3-2 of the Compliance Audit finally dropped a tantalising hint about what is to be done if "there is a shortfall of valid claims for new GreenPower purchases to satisfy new generation requirements for sales of a GreenPower product", and directed me to the even more fascinating National GreenPower Accreditation Program Accreditation Document (PDF).

Therein, I found the straight-faced statement that purchases and sales are required, as they would be in a sane system, to be equalised after some reasonable period of time.

In the staggering situation that this turns out to be impossible - as, I'm willing to bet, it has been for pretty much the entire existence of the GreenPower program - GreenPower Providers are directed to make up the difference with non-"new" GreenPower sources (of which there are nowhere near enough), and are then allowed a five per cent "shortfall" on energy sales (still not nearly enough to fill the gap), and are then directed to "rectify the shortfall via credits/rebates to affected GreenPower Customers".

And if they don't do that, they can have their oh-so-precious GreenPower accreditation revoked.

I can find no evidence that any credits or rebates have ever been given to anyone, or that any GreenPower providers have been taken to task about it. Since their job is self-evidently impossible, I suppose it'd be a bit unfair to make them give back the money that's supposed, however feebly, to be priming the renewable energy pump. But this still seems to make an absolute nonsense of all these po-faced rules by which everybody says they're abiding.

As it stands, the GreenPower system seems to me to be a facade. At a glance, it looks great - but if you pay a bit more attention, the green-ness turns out to be only skin deep.

I suppose we should be grateful that there are at least (apparently) honest numbers in the public documents, and it's not all a total cover-up. But that doesn't excuse the fact that the whole scheme is basically a sham. And it certainly doesn't make it OK for a genuinely progressive environmentalist political party like The Greens to just go along with the pretense, using GreenPower as a political playing card along with all of the other issues-that-mean-the-opposite-of-what-they-seem-to.

I can't help feeling that I must have missed something very serious, here. But it's not just a couple of numbers in the Compliance Audit that touched this all off - it's the small flat rate, the well-known lack of any serious new renewable energy generation capacity in the country, and the glib insistence from all of the electricity resellers that you can just tick the box, pay the few bucks a week, and be carbon-neutral just like that.

Has anybody else noticed this? Is there something more to it that I've failed to understand?

23 Responses to “GreenPower funny numbers”

  1. Jaymis Says:

    Oooh goody. I've been noticing this kind of stuff, along with the "Carbon Offset" purchase stuff popping up all over the place, and had this vague feeling that it was a kind of homeopathy for power poles, but never had a chance to look any deeper.
    "Green Energy" seems to be an industry ripe for cultivation by enterprising scammers.

  2. Stark Says:

    Yes, you are missing something. It's not actually about being green. It's only about the appearance of being green. The reason nobody's bothered to lie about the numbers in the documents is that there has, to date, been precisely one human who has the capacity to actaully wade through them, understand what they've read, and care about it by the time they got to the end. That person is you, and while you have a fairly large voice it won't be enough to get anything done about it - except maybe add some lies to next years documents. After all, it's not about being green (which is a money losing proposition compared to the current setup) but about politicians being able to say "Look at me! I'm environmentally friendly!!"

    But maybe I'm just a cynic.

  3. mookers Says:

    I would love to see The Age or the SMH use this post as a starting point for an editorial on this stuff. I always thought it was a bit too easy how I could just "tick the box" and be Green, just like that.

  4. UncySpam Says:

    I didn't know this flat rate thing existed! My local provider (ACTewagl) seems to actually offer a proper pay for use plan -->

    My understanding from my discussion with the non-mormon who signed us up was that if energy couldnt be provided from renewable sources, then it was acceptable to substitute with non-renewable only if that non-renewable was buying carbon credits to offset... Which sounds a bit soft to me, but it seems better than what you have come up with - I hope she was right!

  5. Daniel Rutter Says:

    The carbon credit idea is a great one, but it does not magically reduce emissions all by itself. Unless you just hand credits out like popcorn - in which case they do nothing, because everybody has more than enough and nobody wants to buy any - the only place that spare carbon credits come from is businesses that have demonstrably reduced their emissions, or emit less than nothing by planting trees or something.

    Since, in Australia, that isn't really happening, the system cannot work.

    If nine-tenths of your power comes from coal stations that all exceed the number of carbon credits allocated to them by the government - which, if you want the system to stimulate the development of renewable energy, has to be the case - then an amount of carbon emission exactly equal to the amount by which the coal stations over-run has to be avoided somewhere else to create those spare credits.

    We know that only a trivial amount of renewable generation, or avoidance of other carbon emissions, is taking place in Australia (or in most of the rest of the world - the net world direction is still very much the wrong way). We also know that any meaningful reductions forced on a country via a "cap-and-trade" system would cause the price of those credits on the free market to streak into the stratosphere, which would force electricity prices to also go through the roof (which could cause a recession, if not a depression, all by itself), or just make it uneconomical to generate electricity by the currently popular means at all.

    That latter situation sure would stimulate alternative generation schemes, but since society would have fallen apart and we'd all be wearing leathers and feathers and cruising the highways in un-carbon-offset V8 interceptors, there probably wouldn't be a very concerted push towards major capital works any more.

    Realistically, neither the $10-a-kilowatt-hour or all-the-lights-going-out scenarios will ever happen; the government will just make exceptions and allowances and special cases to keep everything chugging along much as it is, if carbon credits look as if they may actually have teeth. I'm sure this is the case for most of the rest of the world, too.

    (Well, actually, most of the world thinks emissions caps are a First World conspiracy to keep everyone else down. China's still cheerfully adding a whole United Kingdom worth of CO2 emission to its output every year.)

    Carbon trading in Australia also has just two further minor flaws. One, Australia does not have a cap-and-trade system, and two, Australia does not have a cap-and-trade system. Now I realise that, technically speaking, that's only one flaw, but I thought it was such a big one it was worth mentioning twice.

    Here in New South Wales we've got the catchily named New South Wales Greenhouse gas Abatement Certificates or NGACs, which at least in theory do cause carbon abatement for every one you buy. But nobody is required to buy them; it's basically just an indirect way of paying people to plant trees.

    Australia's belated signing of the almost-meaningless-but-at-least-we-bloody-signed-it Kyoto Accords takes effect in March 2008. Perhaps we'll have blundered our way into some sort of cap-and-trade, or a plain carbon tax, before 2010. Once that happens, our big CO2 emitters can get down to the important business of just saying they're emitting less carbon, but not actually doing anything. A political donation here, an Astroturf PR campaign there; everything'll be fine. Gunns will probably napalm the whole of Tasmania just to show off.

    And on it'll go, until everything goes to hell.

    It is generally true that if you're fucking up, eventually you will find out.

    But not if you die, in ignorance, first.

    I can pretty much guarantee you that this is what the world's entire political and corporate elite will do before their countries all dry up and blow away.

  6. Ash Says:

    Great post, thoughtfully written. A flat-rate levy for "green" power is absurd. Here in WA the state utility has the same stepped 25-100% options, but the surcharge is an variable increase on the per-unit rate. Works out about the same, but this also leaves incentive for improvement in end-user efficiency.

    A question though: surely the point of those 400 households paying for 100% GreenPoweR means that their entire bill goes toward the aforementioned wind turbine, not just the $5.50/week surcharge? Assuming a power bill of $15/week/house, that's more like $420,000/annum for the 400 households.

    I'm not sure of the economics, but that seems a far more reasonable income to install and operate a several-million-dollar wind turbine over ten years or so (assuming an equipment lifespan of 25-30 years). Especially if the government is providing the odd tax incentive.

  7. Daniel Rutter Says:

    surely the point of those 400 households paying for 100% GreenPower means that their entire bill goes toward the aforementioned wind turbine

    It would if someone kindly provided them with electricity for free in the meantime, but nobody will.

    I think it is reasonable to presume that the people who provide the power in the interim are paid as much for it as they otherwise would be, so at best there's the levy plus some of the profit that'd otherwise be made going towards renewables, and at worst it's the levy by itself.

  8. Garett Smith Says:

    The company I work for had CO2 Australia (, plant a whole bunch of Mallee eucalypts to offset the C02 it is planning to emit from its new LNG plant. I noticed they offer retail offsets and thought I would have a look at how much it cost to offset my emissions. Using their calculator I was informed that by paying them ~$150 I could offset a good part of my carbon emissions. It looked as though I was getting away easy though with only car / electricity / flights so I looked up the per capital emissions for Australia ( - which suspiciously decline from 2001 - but regardless, to sink 20 tonnes of carbon a year it will cost me $319.89, less than my car registration. I am thinking this might be the best way to go about becoming carbon neutral and the cost looks a little more realistic.

  9. Garett Smith Says:

    Interestingly now I look a bit harder at it, the equivalent for twelve megawatt-hours of electricity per household, which according to their calculator equates to 11.9 tpa of C02 (generated in dirty ol' WA) is $190.46, ~$38 less than the $4.40 a week in the above example.

    Perhaps they offset the emissions of non green electricity and call it green? I suppose taking per capita usage figure is a lot easier than a pro-rata system for the monkeys to understand and a reasonable way to attack the problem..

  10. Daniel Rutter Says:

    If we're emitting about 1.3 tons of CO2 per fossil-fueled megawatt-hour at the moment (which seems to be the case, if you assume non-fossil-fuel generation to be CO2-free so all 200-million-plus tons of CO2 comes from the 90-odd per cent of power that's from fossil fuels), then the 3,086,783 megawatt-hour (3,889,200 minus 802,417) shortfall reported for the GreenPower system in 2006 would have produced 4012818 tons of CO2, less a maximum of about 8% for whatever proportion of that was hydroelectric. That probably wasn't all that much - the Snowy system is pretty much spoken for anyway - so let's say four million.

    Temperate to tropical carbon sequestration per tree apparently ranges from about 7 to about 22 kilograms per year.

    To offset four million tons of CO2 with even a bunch of twenty-kilogram-per-year tropical trees (maybe planted in northern Queensland, probably planted on our behalf in some equatorial nation) would require two hundred million trees.

    That's a lot of friggin' trees.

    7700 copies of New York's Central Park.

    If you've only got lousy 8kg/year temperate trees, you'd need half a billion of them.

    Mind you, commercial tree plantations are pretty big. I don't know whether these hundreds of millions of trees are an impossible number or not. I'm pretty bloody sure that nobody's coming anywhere near it at the moment, though.

    The big problem with tree sequestration is that trees don't grow and then conveniently turn into indestructible petrified forests that lock up the carbon forever. You have to make sure the trees don't catch fire (which, for Third World plantations, means you have to post guards to stop people cutting trees down for firewood...), and that they don't die and rot. Either of these things returns the CO2 to the atmosphere, leaving you having paid your money to just briefly delay the carbon emissions.

    And the tree-planting carbon offset industry seems to me, on the basis of a brief survey, to be as much of a fraud as the "GreenPower" business. There doesn't seem to be much more pressure on the tree-offset industry to actually do what it says than there is on GreenPower.

  11. Bern Says:

    Damn, now I'm all depressed.

    I thought there might have actually been *some* investment in renewables going on as a result of those schemes...

    There are still some sizeable investments in renewables being considered, though - I know of a few large-ish (800-1000MW rated power) wind farms being investigated.

    I was recently looking into the idea of buying a photovoltaic system to stick on the roof, to supply lots of green(ish) power. Curiously, while they happily say they'll reduce your power bill by the tariff rate for every kWh you produce while you're not home to use it, there's absolutely zero mention of them actually sending you a cheque if you happen to use less than you generated for the whole frikkin' quarter.

    Was going to ring 'em and ask 'em bout that, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

  12. jaypeabey Says:

    As you've pointed out Dan, carbon offset programs are more correctly described as carbon timeshift programs. They do bugger all but give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

    And the way I see it, the certificate trading scheme isn't much better. I dunno who audits that Joe Average who took some free lightglobes in a shopping centre one day actually installed the things, or that he wasn't already using CFLs (so his nett reduction in carbon reduction via lower power consumption would be nil). I'm willing to bet no-one does. I view the things as signing a petition to allow companies to pollute all they like.

    And now GreenPower isn't. Shocked I am, shocked.

    Don't all these schemes boil down to the same thing - that the consumer pays for the sins of the production? I've found it curious that you can choose not to participate in the Green Power scheme (even if it did work). If the idea is really to get some funds to kick-start investment in renewable electricity production, then why let people opt-out? How many aluminium smelters do you reckon sign up to pay a few cents extra per kilowatt consumed? And why go to all the trouble and expense of putting together and running an add-on scheme, when a simple renewables surcharge applied up-front would suffice? When politicians concoct crap like this, you can be sure they've got something to hide.

    And what's with all this "per capita" targets rubbish. It's not much good if the "capita" part of the equation is rising too - you need the total emissions to go down, no matter how many people there are. Or does the atmosphere somehow compensate for how many people there are?

    I would have thought the answer was kinda simple:
    1. Move away from polluting electricity generation to non-polluting electricity generation, perhaps with a "less=polluting" step in between.
    2. Move away from polluting forms of transport to non-polluting forms of transport, perhaps with a "less-polluting" step in-between.
    3. Find some way to pay for it, which would boil down to some combination of "making people pay more to buy it" and "reducing the profit of people who sell it".

    Surely we should be arguing about point 3, not points 1 and 2.

  13. retsil Says:

    I think that the power generation companies are really looking forward to the rise of green power. They can offer a more confusing range of products, so their customers are less likely to shop around.

    I'm not so pessimistic about the scheme. The GreenPower scheme will be scrapped when it becomes apparent that input != output. I can personally vouch that the guys running the show just wanted something which appeared green and didn't look nuclear. I just hope that the Federal Govt attracts some more serious minds to the problem.

  14. abaddon Says:

    Oh Dan,
    I did that whole greenpower thing 10 years ago when there weren't any wind generators. Who knows what fantasy generation plant my electrickery was coming from.

    I gave it up when I found out I own a forest. Sounds like that one isn't green enough either.

    Next thing you know somebody will be telling me that my biodiesel comes from plantation canola and is destroying rainforests. I just can't get it right.

    Ha ha.


  15. mochumbo Says:

    Great article Dan,

    Could the flat rate charged be a reflection of the fact that electricity suppliers have no hope in hell at actually generating 100% of your needs from new renewable sources? They could add a surcharge per kWh – for renewable energy, but as you have illustrated, you wouldn’t actually get renewable energy for every kWh you consume. So rather they charge you a flat rate – they have xMW of renewable capacity and y consumers signed up for green power, the y consumers chew up way more than xMW so they split the cost of generating xMW amongst the y green power consumers equally… To the small tune of around $AU4.40 a week (hey they don’t have that much renewable generation capacity to spread around). If this theory held true, the flat rate would change with the number of people signed up for the program and with alterations to the generation capacity of renewable energy.

    The crux for the problem, still remains. The average Joe thinks he has purchased 100% green power… They are of course are not receiving 100% green power, but rather a tiny slither (depending of course, on your power consumption… If you are way below the average, you will have a higher percentage of green power than someone running 3 8800GTSs and a split-system airconditioner to keep them cool). However, I would hazard a guess that they are still getting around $4.40 worth of renewable energy a month.

    Now slightly off topic: The government should step out and augment all our existing coal power plants with solar thermal technology. This technology would be used to preheat the water before coal is used to superheat the steam. Well at least they are working on it – they are building a prototype Compact Linear Fresnel Reflector at the Liddell power station ( Generation costs at $AU0.07 per kWh, which sound pretty cheap, but personally I am waiting out for EROEI( numbers to see if it is actually worthwhile. But to me this seems like a sensible way to hit an interim target, assuming the EROEI numbers for a CLFR come in half respectable.

    But long term renewable energy supplies with a positive EROEI? I think we need a new millennium snowy hydro scale scheme. A tidal system near Derby to take advantage of their 11 metre tides… A man made horizontal falls ( would do the trick. The vast body of energy required to build the tidal system would be digging the system – which in theory wouldn’t wear out / rust like other systems (but it would take a long time to repay). The turbines and generators would still wear out, but the output from the turbines would quickly repay the energy invested in their construction. The problems with this concept of course are transmission costs – it would cost a fortune to build and transport the electricity to the south east, and the incredible construction costs of the project itself…. Only a commonwealth government could afford such a project.

  16. dabrett Says:

    I had a guy from a power company come around to offer me a 3% discount on my power bills if I switched to them- or I could forgo the discount and get "Green Power". When I pointed out that there was no way that they could guarantee that the power I used was actually generated from renewable sources, given that a relatively low takeup rate of such an offer would exhaust the extremely low supply of renewable energy, the guy just looked confused and repeated his line that it would be "Green Energy"
    I took the discount instead.
    I also happily took up my original power company's offer of a 6% discount for switching back.
    At least a 3% cost indicates that the cost should be proportionate to the amount of power consumed, but if it all it took to switch all of our power generation over to renewable energy was a 3% increase in the cost of electricity we would have solved the climate problem a long time ago.

  17. pappes Says:

    I don't know exactly how this figures inot your post above but you assume that all the power has to be generated in Australia.

    This ia a flawed assumption

    see here for a decription of how this can work

  18. Daniel Rutter Says:

    The GreenPower system is specifically devoted to "new sustainable energy projects in Australia". Yes, it would be theoretically possible for green power credits to be traded worldwide, but (a) they aren't by anyone, as far as I know, and (b) the rest of the world has no more spare renewable generation capacity than Australia.

    So if any of our "green" power was actually being "imported" (economically rather than literally speaking), that would be at the cost of it now being "unavailable" to be purchased by the residents of some other country.

    (Though, if an international trading system were put in place, it would surprise me not at all if the same power was sold multiple times to customers in different countries...)

  19. scott Says:

    Very interesting critique Dan. Thanks for a good read.

    The big problem with tree sequestration is that trees don’t grow and then conveniently turn into indestructible petrified forests that lock up the carbon forever. You have to make sure the trees don’t catch fire (which, for Third World plantations, means you have to post guards to stop people cutting trees down for firewood…), and that they don’t die and rot. Either of these things returns the CO2 to the atmosphere, leaving you having paid your money to just briefly delay the carbon emissions.

    There are a few chemical engineering solutions to this problem.

    Of course, converting forest biomass to either char or lignite via these processes adds a little to the cost, but as thermodynamics is working in our favour for both pyrolysis and hydrothermal carbonisation, the only real obstacles to deploying such technologies are the same as those confronting large scale renewable rollouts: inadequate commercial incentives.

    The hope is that before it's too late, the commercial incentives will be made attractive enough, say through a national emissions cap and trade system. Obviously, the harsher the cap, the more likely we are to see this happen.

    It seems that with the new government, the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that reported on the design of such a scheme this year has taken most of the documents it had down from it's site on that policy. Here's hoping the ALP can improve on what the coaliation started...

    Of course, forests may not be the best source of biomass when it comes to hijacking some of the planent's remarkable net primary production for atmospheric (re?)engineering purposes. Plants that use the more photosynthetically efficient C4 metabolism may do a much better job than trees. There are also some looking at using algae, say fertilised by human effluent, for the task.

    ...and hopefully, we won't be clearing more endangered forest ecosystems and our food prices don't go the way our electricity bills soon will.

  20. scott Says:

    Actually, maybe those documents were just moved

  21. A late arrival Says:

    Hi Dan,

    You might be glad to know that your post caused a certain amount of consternation at work when I raised it with colleagues. Electricity companies claiming that you're paying for renewable energy, when you're actually paying more for the same non-renewable energy as everybody else, would be a Very Bad Thing, from our point of view.

    I called somebody who knows more about the electricity industry, and he assured me that, while the report can easily be read to produce the conclusions you reached (and my office reached when we read it), the numbers are backwards.

    During 2006, there was significantly more renewable energy available to this scheme than there was demand for it. Hence the funny economics of being able to pay a flat rate no matter how much you used. He mentioned that many consumers were put on plans which allocated 20% of the electricity they used to renewables for little or no cost, and that, compared to your average household energy budget, even the flat rate for 100% green energy is going to add 20-25% to the total cost, which was not something consumers were interested in.

    The whole 5-star honesty, everybody wins phenomenon and the slow rate of growth in renewable energy over the last 10 years are things I can't comment on, but, at least during 2006, the GreenPower program appears not to have been an enormous sham, and the Greens might not have been misleading their followers.

    Where things get will interesting, for a given value of interesting, is when the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets (MRET) scheme starts to bite, the corporate customers buy up all the available renewable energy and the price of consumer renewable (and most other types of) energy goes up in response. But that's a discussion for another day and, happily for me, not my department :)


    PS I'd like to think I'm as cynical as the next netizen when some random claims the authority to say that Everything Is Actually All Right. I'm not doing this on behalf of my employer, and I think the sort of conversation that has happened in the comments is valuable. This is mainly for Dan's benefit, because he asked.

  22. Daniel Rutter Says:

    I've been talking with an ABC journalist about this, and she also thought that there's something wrong with my numbers, but she also agreed that there's still something very fishy going on. I should check back with her and see what she concluded; it's been a while now.

    I note that Australia's total wind power capacity as of 2006 was apparently about 817 megawatts. Taking into account a roughly 33% capacity factor that gives about 272 megawatts of effective constant generating capacity, that over the course of a year gives almost 2,400GW/h, which is about 61% of the 3,889,200MW/h figure which you say was the amount actually generated, not ordered and largely not supplied.

    So I suppose it's possible that we actually did generate that much, though I'm not sure where the other 39% comes from.

    Australia's total electricity consumption remains in the 200,000 gigawatt-hours per year range, though, and it's only rising. So even if we really are making 3900GW/h per year from new renewable sources at the moment, that still adds up to less than two per cent of our total power budget. Maybe 10%, including the old hydroelectric scheme. Allowing people to sign up for green power for a low flat rate therefore remains ridiculous; those offers have been so widespread through 2007 that demand surely must by now greatly exceed supply.

  23. reverb Says:

    Dan, any update on this? It's still something I think about with some regularity, given the desire to save the planet but not waste cash wholesale.

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