Emissions Renewables

OZ-ENERGY-ANALYSIS.ORG – open science for the new millennium

This is an invitation to BNC readers to join in, at an early stage, an Open Science experiment based around systems analysis of renewable energy.

Okay, what’s all this about? Click here (or on the image above) to go directly to the front page, which currently says this:

Once upon a time…

We all wanted to understand renewables. What were the promising technologies? Are they available now? Could they produce enough power? How would the variability be managed? How reliable would a high-grid-penetration renewable energy system be? How much would it cost?

While markets and legislators tussle on aims and rules for 2020 targets, and while some get on with building wind farms, the public analyses on how we integrate increasing levels of renewables into our electricity network struggle to rise above crystal ball gazing. Fairy tales about ‘energy futures’ were interesting for a while, but now we yearn for a more adult plot line.

We need answers to the above questions, and we need to draw these together into realistic plans – not uncosted visions or idle speculation that ‘the market will sort it out’. We need a realistic plan for the implementation of desired goals; one following an evolutionary pathway that integrates with existing systems, is likely to work in the real world (that is, it relies principally on established or demonstrated technologies), and is economically feasible.

We need to work out what is reasonably possible into the medium term so that the actions needed in the short term can be understood and implemented with confidence in their rationality. For these plans to be taken seriously, we must be able to provide the likely cost, and say clearly what sort of support is needed.

And we need always to consider the implications for electricity-grid stability, energy storage requirements, and sustainability into the future.

In short, real-world energy plans have to work in the real world.

This Open Science website is rising to that challenge. Join with us.

(In time, we expect much of this text to go, and instead have a ‘portal’ on the front page which links through to key areas of the website)

Our context and goals are also laid out in the first story, which can be found here.

The scope of the website is greater than the hard material we have developed to date; our initial focus is data collection and the variability of renewable resources, while the site scopes out a broader view. We are hopeful that others will join with us in fleshing out the overall view as is needed by policy makers, and simply for a sophisticated public discourse. At the beginning of this year we had a choice; a choice to either plow on with our limited resources, old and wise enough to know that all we could really do, as an isolated unit, was to produce more-of-the-same, OR, we could be bold and try something different. So, while we have, and will continue to, develop analysis; our big project, our big hope, our big passion even, is to go beyond the limitations of inbred groups, and also to go beyond the blog style that is so 2009.

This is the future; we can bring it on. Yes we can. Join with us!

Okay, okay, that’s the hype, the path we have chosen. Time for some details…


In short, our plan is to examine the broad implications of increasing levels of renewable energy (predominantly wind and solar) into the electricity grid. We come at this with a range of preconceptions – working hypotheses, if you will – ranging from ‘renewable energy technology will never contribute more than 20% of our energy supply’ through to ‘a 100 % renewable energy system is a practical goal’. Any such default position is fine as a starting point, so long as you are willing to respect and listen to others, and evolve your position as understanding of specifics deepens. A range of views can engender the creative passions that drive us to nail down specifics.

Our fundamental aim is to lead by example in being as thoroughly transparent with data, assumptions, models, analysis, interpretation, and so on, as is humanly possible. You can engage or argue at every stage in the process (we encourage it!), and the resolution will be open for all to see. We want for everyone (specialists, decision-makers, the general public; you) to have access to a place where our choices for future electricity supply are discussed in an ideology-free zone. The Open Science model is absolutely key to making this function, and for the resultant work to be credible.

You’ll soon notice that the initial focus is on the state of South Australia. This is for reasons of tractability (and local knowledge); the vision is to scale up this work and apply to all of Australia, and even other countries. Also, the Australian context is ideal for exploring the practicalities, problems and possibilities of high-penetration renewables; Australia, more than just about anywhere else, has (i) low population density, (ii) huge RE resources, (iii) money, (iv) high technology. This is an ideal circumstance to build from… the question is, can it be made to work (and will people buy into it)?

The website, as of today, is in ‘beta-2‘ release (the ‘alpha’ and beta-1 versions have been in development and testing for the last few months, with some regular BNC commenters being involved in the beta-1). During the next few months, our main goals are:

1) To ramp up the Open Science aspect of the site. We want to start with some quality contributors; it is not so much about technical expertise at this point (although this will become critical soon enough); rather, it is about engaging with people (you?) who appreciate what we are starting here. It’s about quality more than quantity; it’s about engaging and contributing intelligently more than making a comment or suggestion and walking away. Can you lend a hand to get this ball rolling?

2) ‘Beta test’ the website and its material, to facilitate a steady improvement in content, structure and appearance. The goal being to solicit feedback from real users/participants on what works, what doesn’t, and what we may wish to add/modify/remove.

Actually, it’s more than just this. While the development of the site is now settling into an evolutionary mode, the beta-2 phase is an opportunity to identify mistakes and seek the BIG opportunities. This is a sort of intellectual ‘extreme sport’ — we need good people to help us. We understand that some of you will look at the website, maybe make a comment, but not feel drawn to engage. In this case, please try and think of someone, one person (or a small number), that you know who might be more aligned or engaged with what we are doing here, and please forward them this invitation with a short note from yourself. For this we are most grateful in advance.

We’re looking for candid engagement, which you can either email to us personally, at or (ideally) post as a specific comment on a page on the website. Don’t hold back. A guide to our current concept of good etiquette for commenting on the website can be found here. More about The Team (the site curators and managers, as well as the ‘grunt’ researchers) can be found here.

Although not yet fully functional, we are working hard to develop a sophisticated commenting system, which will permit (i) easy formatting of comments and (ii) editing of comments that you’ve already submitted (to fix typos, miscalculations, etc.). While most pages can be contributed to, for general discussion please use the forum.

We hope you find this venture well worth a modest investment of your time, and look forward to working together with you on this exciting Open Science project. It’s time to crunch the hard numbers to match the grand ideas!


Finally, some things to look out for on the OzEA website, and general points to note:

— There is a link on the front page to a ‘What’s New‘ page, which is a kind of mini-blog that we’ll update regularly to indicate the things — new data, analysis, models, stories — that we’ve been up to recently. Soon, we’ll also have a ‘comments feed’, similar to the one on the right-hand sidebar on BNC, that allows you to quickly see which pages have had the most recent, active discussion.

— On the front page there is a subscription box, where you can enter your email. Subscribing to this what’s new email allows us to send you a short message every few days with a wrap up of recent developments on the site. It keeps you in the loop without having to check the site every day, and it helps us develop the community we are building this site for.

— This site is definitely not meant to be just for ‘tech geeks’ — you know, the folks (like me) who love to crunch the numbers, do modelling, stats and extrapolation, plot data etc. Of course this is a major focus of the work, but there is also a huge scope for more ‘artsy’ souls to make important contributions. For instance, how to you think an Open Science (community) model of research should work — what should its philosophical and intellectual underpinnings be? Also, let’s think about The Stories — you may, for instance, like to write (or suggest) a vision that in some useful way follows on from what we have now. Particular topics of interest include: (i) how the grid is managed, (ii) a short history of electricity in Australia, and (iii) the possibilities for CSP in Australia. Note that while stories may include a little data and analysis, they are not research pieces; stories give the context and meaning from which analysis springs.

— Here on BNC we talk mostly about climate change and nuclear power (and often, the synergies between these two topics). As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a strong advocate for nuclear energy as a  (perhaps THE) major low-carbon energy solution for the 21st century. There is also a large body of posts on BNC that ask critical questions about the capacity of renewable energy to meet the fossil-fuel-energy replacement challenge in time, and in a cost competitive way. BNC remains the place to talk about these issues; this is not a focus of the OzEA site. You really do need to read this to understand and accept this point.

On the OzEA website, by contrast with BNC, we’re making the presumption (call it a ‘working hypothesis’) is that it really might be feasible to take the ‘all renewables’ route to energy futures, but (and this is a big but…) the system configuration, and costs of doing this, are largely unknown and unquantified. As such, we’re interested in OzEA on the three components that would be essential to making renewables work — supply, storage and demand management. We’re interested in looking at ‘limit analyses’ and multi-technology contributions of wind, solar, hydro and so on. You can’t ignore any of these, and so the analyses and modelling will not really be about taking the current system and pushing renewables on top of it until it breaks (although that’s an interesting early question). It’ll ultimately be about defining what would be required to build a new system, and in exploring and optimising the evolutionary pathways that would take you there.

What might a workable all-renewables system really look like? What form would a 40-year transition from a fossil to renewables energy system take? Critically — how much would it all cost (and ultimately, how effective would it be at reducing carbon emissions), when capital infrastructure, overbuilding, storage, smart grids, geographically spread networks, etc. are all figured out? These are huge questions for which I want robust answers — and yet, I’m not satisfied that, to date, they’ve ever been tackled on anything more than a superficial level. Time to change all that, and let the numbers and science speak. Openly, transparently, and objectively. Welcome to

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

121 replies on “OZ-ENERGY-ANALYSIS.ORG – open science for the new millennium”

on zirconium, I have a distinct but not clear enough memory of barry indicating that zirconium was actually a by product of breeder reactors. (I had asked about zirconium)

In the relevant quantities to render supply issues moot, he didn’t say.


Between 2002 and 2005, zircon demand exceeded supply. The shortage of zircon in the market would have continued into 2006 had it not been for the emergence of Indonesia as a major new supplier of zircon, resulting in the market entering a period of oversupply in 2006.

Several new zircon-producing mineral sands projects have come on line the impact of these is that the oversupply will continue and could reach more than 400kt in 2010.

In other words: what peak?


I see the Chinese nuclear industry looks to Australian zircon as a raw material for making zirconium metal. Source.

That company Iluka plans to ship about 25% of the world’s zircon production through Ceduna SA with some locals concerned about slightly radioactive minerals and grain shipments through the same port. I understand the zircon is further processed in WA to extract monazite a source of thorium and rare earths. Huge amounts of thorium and rare earths are also in the tailings at Olympic Dam about 350km inland from Ceduna.

As former PM Malcolm Fraser put it the problem with the Australian mining industry is not tax rates but lack of value adding. In my opinion we are flogging our irreplaceable resources without getting maximum value for them.



A new call to arms! Want to get involved in the Open Science method of the OzEA website? Here’s the first really tractable opportunity, for those who want to get stuck into playing around with some real data. We call it The Broome to Cooktown challenge and it’s focused on using meteorological station data (wind speed and direction) to forecast wind farm performance.

[7 June 2010] There has been significant interest in analysis of Wind data, and we agree that characterisation of the wind resource will be very interesting. This work is not immediately critical to the OzEA core project, and we have some time to do an Open Science experiment – The Broome to Cooktown Challenge (below). We have provided a draft list of 30 BoM Stations that have wind data for 2009 (as below). When this list has been suitably refined we will assemble the data from these stations in order that we (i.e. you and us) can perform a synoptic level examination of the Australian wind resource.

Some details: From Broome to Cooktown

[first included here 9th June 2010]
Here is an Open Science, group project proposal; it will fly if you make it fly.

In short we construct a hypothetical network of wind farms from Broome to Cooktown (or thereabouts), and examine how the system as a whole behaves as synoptic scale weather patterns pass through. This is spatial smoothing on a big scale. This project is envisaged as an Australian version of this US work:

Willett Kemptona, Felipe M. Pimenta, Dana E. Veron, and Brian A. Colle. Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection PNAS, April 20, 2010, 107(16), pp 7240-7245

If successful we can write a paper that might be an Australian version of the above paper (but better!)

I would be happy to be one of many authors (and not necessarily the first if someone else steps up to the role). But, please, leave authorship discussions until we have broken the back of the problem, by which point the relevant parties to that discussion will be apparent.

So, let’s get started…Read on here:


UPDATE: The first Open Science experiment, the Broome to Cooktown Challenge, takes shape on OzEA. Time for YOU to make a difference:

This is the first group project, and is expected to lead to a publication authored by all serious contributors. Who wants to be an Open Science pioneer?

In short we construct a hypothetical network of wind farms from Broome to Cooktown (or thereabouts), and examine how the system as a whole behaves as synoptic scale weather patterns pass over the continent. This is spatial smoothing on a big scale.

The work is envisaged as an Australian variation on this US work:

Willett Kemptona, Felipe M. Pimenta, Dana E. Veron, and Brian A. Colle. Electric power from offshore wind via synoptic-scale interconnection. PNAS, April 20, 2010, 107(16), pp 7240-7245

While the overall concept of building Wind Farms and a Transmission Network from Broome to Cooktown is not a serious proposal as such, the exercise serves many serious aims and goals.

Currently the startup work and discussion is occurring in the Data / Wind area. Once a preliminary cut of the necessary data has been decided (by all who involve themselves), this will be obtained and collated (by Francis and Alex), and then characterised in the Open Science way. As this coalesces we will start the necessary analysis work (in the Analysis area), and proceed to also do the requisite modelling and literature work in those respective areas.

General discussion on this project belongs here at this stage (will add tomorrow). Once the data analysis gets going we will open a Discussion page for more focused discussion and manuscript building.

Join with us.


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