Thursday, May 21, 2009

Geothermal powered data centre proposed for Australia

Geothermal power company, Geodynamics, have announced a Innamincka Data Centre – Feasibility Study. A data centre would be co-located with the demonstration power plant to be built at Innamincka in Queensland. This makes some sort of sense, as data centres can be located just about anywhere there is reliable power and data communications access, they only need a few staff to service them. The data communications cables can be run alongside the power cables from the plant. It is much more efficient to transmit data long distances than power.
One of several options the Company has identified is the concept of the CDP supplying electricity to a co-located data centre, with communications links into the existing national networks.

The engagement of the Strategic Directions Group follows the encouraging results of a prefeasibility study into the concept. The detailed feasibility study will include identifying potential partners and selecting a preferred business model The Company believes the concept of a co-located data centre is feasible due to the following key factors:
  • Data centres are intensive consumers of electricity and the CDP will be ideally placed to provide long term electricity supply contracts at competitive prices;
  • The CDP will be in a position to provide the data centre with a perfect hedge against the volatility of fossil fuel prices and carbon emission prices; and,
  • Communications infrastructure costs (laying underground optical fibre) are considerably lower than high voltage transmission costs
The Strategic Directions Group is a Queensland based information technology consultancy specialising in the development of state of the art data centres. Most recently, they were the design authority for the Polaris Data Centre project in Springfield, Queensland. The Polaris Data Centre is a state of the art Tier 3+ data centre. More information on Polaris and the Strategic Directions Group can be found at: ...

From: Innamincka Data Centre – Feasibility Study, GEODYNAMICS LIMITED, ASX ANNOUNCEMENT, 20 MAY 2009

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

National Broadband Network may increase Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The ACS Victorian Branch conference this year is on the theme "Greening ICT towards Sustainability" 15 to 16 May 2009. I am facilitating a session on The Carbon Footprint and was thinking we might look at the environmental implications of the government's $43B National Broadband Network plan. This will have both negative effects and positive. An example of a negative effect is that higher bandwidth devices use more electricity and will therefore cause more greenhouse gas emissions. Also the digital devices connected to the network tend to use more power than old fashioned analog devices. A positive effect will be if more access to teleconferences results in less business travel.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Evidence-based policy for the Global Financial Crisis

Gary BanksGary Banks, Chairman, Productivity Commission, gave an interesting, informative and very timely Public Lecture in Canberra this evening on "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?". This is timely as a few kilometers away Parliament was debating spending billions of dollars, to address the Global Financial Crisis, with minimal analysis and little evidence to support either side of the debate. On the surface "evidence based policy" seems a tautology: how could you propose policy not based on any evidence? However, Mr. Banks took use through some of the not so obvious issues with the process.

At question time I asked about the use of online systems and cross agency resources to make the process quicker and more efficient. I used the example of the Environment Department, who on Tuesday hosed a meeting of industry on how to reduce energy use. One way I suggested to reduce energy use was to conduct such consultation online so the participants did not need to fly to Canberra.

Given that the Productivity Commission has a mandate to, and considerable expertise in, analysis of government policy, perhaps they could commission an online system for this purpose. Such a system could be initially used by the Commission and then made available for other agencies and state governments. The system could function in a similar way to AusTender, the Australian Government’s online tender system. It could use similar free open source software to GovDex, the Government's online collaboration tool. Agencies could upload draft policies for consultation. The system would automatically alert those who had registered interest in the topic. People could download the draft and upload comments. The system would collate the results automatically. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Data Network could be used to support analytical analysis of policies across agencies.

Providing an online system for policy analysis could considerably cut government costs. I get the impression that much of the resources in policy agencies are not devoted to analysis of policy, but to arranging meetings to discuss the policy. Eliminating most of these meetings would greatly reduce costs. This would also reduce accidental or deliberate bias in the process, where only a small select group is consulted due to time or cost pressures (or because no criticism of the policy is welcome). In the case of something like the response to the Global Financial Crisis, a consultation and analysis could be carried out in a few days.
The concept of ‘evidence-based policy-making’, while not new, has recently become elevated in public discussion. Like motherhood, it has universal appeal, at least in principle. The need for it is manifest in the complexity of the policy challenges confronting Australia, both in the short term (the ‘meltdown’) and the long term (greenhouse, population ageing). But what exactly does evidence-based policy-making entail? How can it contribute to achieving better policy outcomes? What is needed to put it into wider practice? Gary Banks will address each of these questions, drawing some insights and lessons from the experience of the Productivity Commission and its predecessors over the years.

Gary Banks has been Chairman of the Productivity Commission since its inception and was reappointed in April 2008. In addition to overseeing the Commission’s activities, he has personally headed national inquiries on such topics as National Competition Policy, the National Reform Agenda and the Economic Implications of an Ageing Australia. He also chaired the Australian Government’s Regulation Taskforce in 2006 and is presiding on the Productivity Commission’s gambling inquiry. Gary Banks chairs the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services and was the initial convenor for its report on Indigenous Disadvantage. In 1998 he was a member of the West Review of Higher Education. In 2007 he was made an officer of the Order of Australia for services to the development of public policy in microeconomic reform and regulation.

Presented by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). This lecture is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the lecture.

Speaker/Host: Gary Banks, AO, Chairman, Productivity Commission, Canberra
Venue: The Shine Dome, Gordon Street, Acton
Date: Wednesday, 4 February 2009
Time: 5:30 PM - 7:00 PM

From: "Evidence-based policy: What is it? How do we get it?", The Australian National University.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Australian Clean Energy Research Proposed

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has issued "Energy Technology for Climate Change – Accelerating the Technology Response". This report proposes $6B for clean energy research by 2020. That may sound a lot, but is much less than that committed by government to support the car and finance industries in the last few months. ATSE also proposed an Energy Research Council to administer the funds for research, development and demonstration projects. This would be in addition to the Renewable Energy Fund, Energy Innovation Fund, Australian Solar Institute, National Low Emissions Coal Initiative and Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute.

As the report points out, the incentives of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme's carbon trading will not be able to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG), if there are not technologies to make it happen. However, I am not sure that the ATSE's solution of low-emission technologies for electricity generation on a massive scale is the answer.

Even if clean energy technology is developed, it may not be possible to deploy it by 2020. Measures to make the use of electricity more efficient and so reduce demand are also needed. In many cases these measures depend on small additions to existing technology, changes to software and changing the way people use energy. Rather than requiring new large machines, these techniques require minimal investment in hardware, but large investments in the behaviour of the users of the technology. This is a less glamorous, but important area of engineering research, which the ATSE should support.

An example of the large effects of small scale development, the Climate Change Group has suggested that the use of ICT could reduce carbon emissions by 15% by 2020.

The ATSE report was prepared by Dr John Burgess FTSE and is 55 pages long (674 kbytes of PDF). In addition to the ATSE report there is a media release "Energy research needs $6 billion", 16 January 2009. It will be interesting to see the response to the report. In the late 1990s I was on the steering committee for the ATSE "Discipline Research Strategy on Information technology''. There was a disappointing response to that report's recommendations, although it might be argued that this lead to the creation of NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Centre of Excellence. However the funding may have been diffused too far across Australia, for political reasons, to emulate the Cambridge phenomenon.
  1. Pursue relentless application of cost-effective energy efficiency and conservation strategies so that stationary energy demand growth is less than one per cent a year, over a sustained period.
  2. Form an overarching Energy Research Council to identify and fund necessary RD&D proposals so that no worthy project is denied funding. Use the Council to supervise existing funding in these areas. To encourage early investment by private companies, limit the life of the Council to 10 years.
  3. Continue to support existing Australian programs (including the Renewable Energy Fund, the Energy Innovation Fund (including the creation of an Australian Solar Institute), the National Low Emissions Coal Initiative and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (including demonstration programs for CCS, and the Otway CO2CRC project).
  4. In terms of support for RD&D on the new technologies:
    • provide support for CCS for coal-fired electricity generation with high priority and emphasis on an accelerated program of technology demonstration at the largest possible scale in Australia;
    • provide support for geothermal technologies with high priority, and an emphasis on the demonstration of feasibility at commercial scale in Australia;
    • provide support for solar energy, aimed at increasing the efficiency and lowering the investment costs of solar PV and solar thermal technologies, preferably through participation of Australian researchers in international consortia and Australian demonstration of larger scale facilities.
    • accelerate the deployment of wind generation, where economic, using the best international technology at suitable sites in Australia. Undertake a review to establish the maximum possible future generation of wind power as a function of the number of feasible sites, expected capacity factors and the investment costs per unit of energy obtained. The review should include offshore sites;
    • undertake RD&D to support the introduction of energy storage mechanisms applicable for renewable energy technologies;
    • critically evaluate nuclear energy as a base-load technology option for the longer term; and
    • accelerate the deployment of gas-fired plants for electricity generation, based on coal-seam methane.
  5. Ensure that resources are made available for improvements in electricity transmission technologies and electricity grid infrastructure. Undertake a review of the national energy market to identify strategies that will optimise the market and maximise the capital efficiency of the suite of new technologies deployed.
  6. Allow accelerated depreciation or tax credits on new equipment aimed at greenhouse gas abatement and energy efficiency.
  7. Consider introducing a government guaranteed electricity procurement scheme at favourable prices to encourage investment in the success of new low-carbon technologies.
  8. Ensure that there is adequate provisioning for training of sufficient personnel in the skills that are necessary for the new technologies.
From: Energy Technology for Climate Change – Accelerating the Technology Response, by Dr John Burgess FTSE for the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), December 2008, Released 16 January 2009.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Australian Government Carbon Target Too Low

The Australian Government released its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper today (15 December 2008). Buried down in the detail is a CO2 reduction target of only 5 to 15 per cent below 2000 levels by the end 2020. This is much less than the 25% needed to address climate change and is not an acceptable target, in my view. A reduction of 15% could be made just through Green ICT initiatives alone, using the techniques I will be teaching, in an ACS course starting 18 January 2009. This is without the need to make major changes to industry or lifestyle.

Use of the Internet is integral to the trading scheme proposed by the government, but I could find no mention of how ICT could be used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:
Policy position 7.22
The Scheme regulator will publish emissions obligations under the Scheme, the types of estimation methodologies used and any uncertainty estimates reported by liable entities on the internet as soon as is feasible after reports are submitted. ...

Green Paper position
As soon as feasible after reports are submitted, the Government would publish on the internet emissions obligations under the scheme, the types of assessment methodologies used and any uncertainty estimates reported by liable entities. ...

Administrative costs

More frequent auctions involve a higher administrative cost for the regulator, and potentially for bidders. However, the capacity to hold auctions on the internet means that costs are unlikely to be an important factor in determining auction frequency. ...

Internet auction platform

Auctions will be conducted using an internet platform. The internet platform will encourage more entrants and greater competition because it is low cost and readily accessible. ...

From:Volume 1 Full Report, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper , Australian Government, 15 December 2008 (emphasis added).
Many Australian companies have expressed interest in participating in the CDM, but are unfamiliar with the processes and rules. Designated operational entities are best placed to advise project participants on the likelihood of a project achieving registration and generating CERs. However, the Department of Climate Change will provide background information to potential investors and project developers on the CDM project cycle and requirements. It will also help participants access other useful information via the internet. ...

The Kyoto Protocol also requires the national registry to make certain information publicly available, and to provide a publicly accessible user interface through the internet that allows people to query and view the information. Publicly available information will include:
  • the holder of each account
  • the type of each account (holding, cancellation or retirement)
  • the commitment period with which a cancellation or retirement account is associated
  • the representatives of account holders
  • the full name, mailing address, phone number, fax number and email address of each account holder representative. ...
The Department of Climate Change compiles Australia’s greenhouse gas inventory using the Australian Greenhouse Emissions Information System (AGEIS). The AGEIS centralises emissions estimation, inventory compilation, reporting and data storage processes into a single system. It has been used to consolidate Australia’s emissions estimation methodologies and fully integrated quality control procedures into the compilation process. The AGEIS provides high transparency levels for the inventory—emissions data from the AGEIS database for the set of national inventory accounts are publicly accessible through a dynamic web interface. ...

From: Volume 2 Full Report, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme White Paper , Australian Government, 15 December 2008 (emphasis added).
The summary is provided as a well formatted HTML page. The detailed content of the report is in PDF and Ms-word. The Ms-Word version seems superfluous and a HTML version of the report would be far more useful (as was done with the Garnaut Climate Change Review Final Report). There is some odd wording which says that "The PDF version is the only legal version of the print version.". This may make some sense to a lawyer, but not to anyone else. In contrast to this the actual content of the report is very readable.

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