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 modeling, 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 modeling 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 - getting to grips with the brave new world of climate and energy; notes from a Promethean environmentalist
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