THE City of Sydney this month begins the process of taking energy generation back to its origins as it sends out final tender documents for a network of tri-generation plants that will reduce the need for council buildings to rely on coal-fired power generation and could, ultimately, take the entire CBD off grid.
Tri-generation plants generate electricity usually through a gas-fired turbine (although it can be biomass or other sources) and uses the excess heat for heating and airconditioning.
Their use has grown as more companies seek six-star green ratings on their buildings. But Allan Jones, who is overseeing the project for the City of Sydney, wants to move beyond the "boiler in the basement" mentality and create a more substantial network of cheap, efficient and less polluting energy.
The city project will establish tri-generation plants in seven locations around the CBD at Town Hall, Customs House and its five aquatic centres. The plan is to create a network of such plants providing up to 325MW over a 15-year period, which could connect to neighbouring buildings and the entire CBD.
Jones, who took the English city of Woking off the grid and implemented similar plans for London, is now the council's chief development officer for energy and climate change. He says there are numerous advantages to the plan. It will cut emissions by about 70 per cent, reduce and possibly eliminate the need for new coal-fired baseload generators and eliminate losses from transmission.
The City of Sydney is the first in Australia to undertake such an ambitious project, but the concept is not new. The very first power station built in Manhattan in 1882 by Thomas Edison was a co-generation plant and the island has been largely powered by a network of co-generation and tri-generation plants ever since. Jones says Edison was a great believer in decentralised energy and hated the idea of wasting excess heat. Sadly, the systems that came to dominate most national grids focused on a centralised business model, ignoring the waste heat.
But now it's back to the future -- just like the car industry, which seems destined to return to the electric vehicle, which was only supplanted by the internal combustion engine because it was easier to create a network of fuel pumps than charging stations at the time. For the City of Sydney to achieve its ambitions, however, it will require modifications to regulations that would allow it to generate energy and trade within its own network of council buildings and to third-party buildings.
In the same article Giles reports the geothermal power industry has encountered another setback:
There have already been numerous delays to the grand vision of the geothermal industry to provide up to 2000MW of capacity by 2020, caused by well blowouts, flooding in the Cooper basin, the slow release of government funds for drilling programs, and the difficulty in obtaining matching equity -- a situation made worse by a slump in the value of most listed geothermal groups.
Indeed, the industry seems to be in the midst of a crisis of faith, heightened by the shock decision last week of energy major AGL Energy to decline an option to help fund the development of the Parachilna hot-rock geothermal play in South Australia.
Parachilna, owned by Torrens Energy, had been considered one of the more prospective hot-rock plays because it was next to the grid. But AGL has decided the sums don't add up for hot rocks yet. It seems more interested in the shallower hot sedimentary aquifers and in large-scale solar photovoltaic technology, with chief executive Michael Fraser convinced that solar PV costs are on a rapid decline.