City of Sydney demands Trigeneration rules be relaxed

By Julian Bajkowski

The City of Sydney is again ramping up its promotion of trigeneration as a viable alternative means of producing energy in the heart of the city.

Having parked a wider electricity overhaul critics claimed would cost up to $5 billion, the CBD council is now pushing the New South Wales Parliament to overhaul what it describes as outdated electricity regulations that prevent the installation of so-called Tri-gen systems.

The NSW Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee into trigeneration has been told by the City of Sydney’s Chief Development Officer Energy and Climate Change, Allan Jones, that major business groups are keen to get more efficient energy systems to Australia as well as reducing carbon emissions.

Tri-gen systems are typically gas-fired and can be located underground to generate electricity locally that can then be fed back into the grid during times of peak demand.

The advantage of the systems is that they use temperature inversion technology on their exhaust systems to run chiller units for cooling that would otherwise require electricity.

Tri-gen plants are increasingly common in data centres and heavy industry because they are usually far more efficient at generating energy when and as required at a lower cost.

But while the plants are economical for some buildings, the City of Sydney has issues with restrictions in terms of sharing electricity output and potentially bypassing the main coal fired grid.

“While the current regulations allow installation of a trigeneration plant in a single building, they make it very difficult to install bigger, more efficient plants which could supply electricity to a cluster of neighbouring buildings because of the prohibitive cost of transporting electricity at short distances,” Mr Jones said.

“The way the regulations work now, the network charges to move electricity across the road can be as large as bringing electricity on the network all the way down from the Hunter Valley.”

Mr Jones said that regulations overseas meant trigeneration plants were more economically viable and that this had led to the installation of “thousands of megawatts of trigeneration power and significantly slashed carbon emissions.”

Many of those countries, like Australia, have access to relatively cheap and plentiful supplies of gas. They include the United States, Britian, Russia, China, Germany, India and Japan.

In Germany, which is keenly developing tri-gen technology for export, the more localised solution is shaping up to the nation’s increasingly mothballed nuclear industry.

According to the City of Sydney, the Parliamentary committee received 44 submissions from “major groups including Property Council of Australia, Clean Energy Council, Energy Efficiency Council and Sydney Airport supporting calls for changes to the regulations to encourage the installation of trigeneration that is more than twice as energy efficient as the coal-fired power currently producing the majority of Sydney’s electricity.”

While that may be the case, the sleeper issue in the tri-gen debate is securing affordable gas supply and issues surrounding its provenance.

The O’Farrell state government has recently been forced to walk a political tightrope over the highly controversial expansion of Coal Seam Gas (CSG) extraction in the state.

Farmers and conservationists have attacked extraction methods which they say has the potential to permanently degrade valuable underground water supplies because of the way CSG and related products are pumped to the surface.

A further complication is disagreement over how much methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gasses, is coincidently released into the atmosphere and not captured during extraction.

There are also differences in opinion between the gas production industry, energy customers farmers and environmental advocates as to whether or not there will be a gas glut if full scale extraction goes ahead in NSW.

Even with the differences, Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore is adamant the time is now right for tri-gen to put a dent into carbon emmissions.

“We are at a critical moment in efforts to tackle climate change. Action to create lower-carbon electricity is essential and we will continue to demonstrate leadership on this important issue by arguing a case with our state and federal governments to bring clean energy options to our cities,” Ms Moore said.

“We believe that with the right regulatory environment which is now in place in countries such as the UK, trigeneration will be able to supply 70 per cent of power needs in our local government area by 2030 with the other 30 per cent coming from solar and wind.”

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