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Last month the entire country sweltered under an oppressive heatwave — except the half known as Western Australia.Â As air conditioner power consumption soared on the 25th, 40% of Victoria’s coal generators failedÂ followed byÂ rolling blackouts.Â When faced with this incontrovertible evidence of coal’s unreliability, the government dedicated itself to the rapid phaseout of coal under its “affordable, reliable 24/7 power” program.
Sorry, only kidding.Â What they actually did was offer to pay the debts of new coal power stations that go bust.
While the Coalition is content to fiddle while the world burns, the good news is the days of coal generation are numbered.Â Despite what many politicians seem to believe1, the work of countless dedicated people around the world shows the cost of new renewable energy generation is less than the cost of new coal generation.Â This includes enough storage or dispatchable2 generation to meet demand more reliably than coal. Â When an old coal power station is shut down it won’t be replaced with new coal generation simply because the alternatives are cheaper.
This is wonderful because it means most of the world’s remaining coal deposits will be left in the ground. But existing coal power stations will live on, spewing greenhouse gases and damaging health, for as long as it’s profitable.Â To drive them out of business, electricity from new renewables will have to be cheaper than electricity from old coal. Â Â
Thankfully this has already happened. Â Rooftop solar, by directly reducing consumers’ reliance on grid electricity, out-competes coal power.Â It was a contributing factor in Alinta Energy making the business decision to shut down South Australia’s last coal-guzzler, theÂ Northern Power Station.Â
To rapidly push the nation’s remaining coal stations out of the market, large scale solar and wind farms must produce electricity at a lower cost than coal. Â When this might happen? Well, according to my estimates large scale renewables are on the cusp of being cheaper than black coal generators right now.Â
This won’t make Australia’s coal generators disappear overnight. It will take time to build the required renewable capacity and ensure there’s enough available dispatchable power to meet demand.Â But it does look like coal power will be driven out of Australia far sooner than most expect. Â
The only reason new renewables aren’t already cheaper than coal power is because coal free rides by not paying for its health or environmental costs.Â I hope that soon, Australia’s leaders — or some new leaders who aren’t quite as thick — will make coal pay for at least some of the harm it causes.Â Â
Coal power stations are expensive to build.Â They are huge piles of steel and concrete.Â And not just random piles but very carefully arranged piles.Â Sure, there’s more room for error than when building nuclear piles, but they’re still not something that can be slapped together by amateurs.Â Only the decision on whether they should pay for the harm they cause is left up to amateurs.
Australia’s last coal power station came online 11 years ago. Â Since then the cost of building new coal power stations has only increased.Â Part of this is because expertise in building modern supercritical3 coal plants comes from overseas, with China having the most skill in this area.Â But mostly it’s because financiers no longer see coal power as a reliable investment.Â Instead they see it as a venture with a high risk of forced closure before it’s even paid off thanks to:
Because of the risk they demand a high interest rate, which means it is now cheaper to finance solar power and wind projects than coal.
Generators get paid the wholesale cost of electricity.Â This doesn’t include the costs of long distance transmission, local distribution, or retailing and so is a lot less than what you’re charged on electricity bills.Â It has trended upwards over the past few years as the cluttered looking graph below shows:
The graph shows the average wholesale electricity price forÂ National Electricity Market (NEM) states. I’m afraid Western Australia and the Northern Territory apparently aren’t part of the nation.
Of the 13 coal power station closures 11 were in the NEM and totaled 6,021 megawatts.Â The table below, kindly provided by Simon Holmes a (hovering dash) Court, shows the closures, including two in Western Australia:
The shutdowns have cut coal generating capacity in the NEM by 21%.5Â For Australia as a whole it has declined by 22%.Â At this rate in 27 years there will be no coal capacity left.Â Fortunately, as the cost of renewable electricity falls, the rate of coal closures will increase.
While coal power station closures and the high price of natural gas has increased the average wholesale price of electricity, I have noticed that even when demand is low and coal power is setting the price, it has been higher that I’d expect. This makes me think the cost of generating electricity from coal has increased.Â
An obvious explanation for this would be that as Australian coal power stations age it costs more to maintain them and keep them operating.Â It’s also possible that as long term, low-price contracts came to an end some coal power stations have been forced to pay more for coal, making them less willing to underbid the competition.
One thing that did increase the cost of coal generation in Victoria was the state government raising mining royalties to levels similar to other states.Â This increased the cost of their brown coal generation by around 0.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.Â
Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to roughly estimate the cost of generating electricity from coal.Â I’m only going to consider the cost for power stations using black coal for two reasons:
Rather than start with one of Australia’s old, clapped out6 black coal power stations, I will begin with the newest and most advanced coal generator in the NEM — the 750 megawatt Kogan Creek Power Station in Queensland.
The newest coal generator in Australia is the 416 megawatt Bluewaters Power Station in Western Australia, which came online in 2009.Â But the Kogan Creek Power Station built two years earlier is a more advanced and efficient design.Â It has the following characteristics:
Kogan Creek has a workforce of 75, which is one person per 10 megawatts of capacity.Â This is almost half the workers per megawatt of the 43 year old Gladstone Power Station, which has one for every 5.25 megawatts.
If the workers receive the average Australian pay of $83,000 a year7 then the total payroll for a year will come to $6,225,000.Â If we divide this by the number of kilowatt-hours produced in the 2016-2017 financial year the labour cost per kilowatt-hour will come to 0.12 cents.
In addition to workers there are also the costs of upper management.Â CS Energy, the owner of Kogan Creek, spent a total of $3,420,746 paying the CEO and six other senior executives in 2015-2016 financial year:
However, CS Energy owns 4 power stations and I’m not sure how I should divide this amount between them.Â Because Kogan creek provides around one-third of their generating assets total output I’ll assume Kogan Creek’s share is one-third of the cost of upper management, or $1,140,000.Â This will add 0.02 cents to the cost per kilowatt-hour.
The cost of Australian black coal loaded onto a ship at a coal export terminal is $143 a tonne at the moment:
Because Kogan Creek is 40% efficient and the energy content of Australian black coal is given as 6,667 kilocalories per kilogram — or 27.9 megajoules per kilogram in units that aren’t stupid — it’s easy to work out that 326 grams of coal are required to generate one kilowatt-hour of electricity.Â At a cost of $143 a tonne that’s 4.66 cents worth of coal.
But it’s not quite that simple.Â This graph from the AEMO suggests there is a relationship between the export price of coal and the prices bid by coal generators, but it’s definitely not clear cut:
What power stations pay for coal is often determined by long term contracts.Â However, the actual cost to burn it should reflect its export price.Â If a power station is only paying $40 per tonne for coal thanks to a long term contract with a coal mine, but an exporter is willing to pay them $90 a tonne to send it to South Korea, then that $90 is what they are giving up by deciding to burn it and so that’s what it’s effectively costing them.8
For coal to be exported it has to be taken to a coal export terminal and this is only practical if there is a rail line within a reasonable distance.Â While some mines, such as the Meandu Mine that supplies Tarong Power Station, are a fair distance from tracks with steel backs making their coal difficult to transport, the Kogan Creek mine is close to a rail line.
The nearest coal export terminal is roughly 300 kilometers away in Brisbane.Â The cost of transporting one tonne of coal in Queensland is likely to be under 3 cents per kilometer.Â Assuming it cost 3 cents gives a transport cost of $9 per tonne of coal taken to Brisbane for export.
The export price for coal is high at the moment and so it’s probably not reasonable to base my estimate of the fuel cost on it because it could be considerably lower in a month’s time.Â Instead I’ll use the average export price over the past 10 years.Â After adjusting for inflation it comes to around $116 per tonne.Â After subtracting the estimated $9 cost of rail transport the effective cost of coal for the Kogan Creek Power Station would be around $107 a tonne.Â This would make the fuel cost to generate one kilowatt-hour 3.45 cents.
Capital expenditure is money spent maintaining land, buildings, and equipment.Â It includes replacing items when needed.Â According to the owners of Kogan Creek Power Station, CS Energy, they spent $13 million on capital expenditures in the 2016-2017 financial year.Â They also spent $700,000 on overhauls:
Looking at the three coal power stations owned by CS Energy — Callide B, Callide C, and Kogan Creek — a total of $24.5 million went towards capital expenditures but $37.3 million, over 52% more, was spent on overhauls.Â This suggests on average the yearly cost of overhauls may be considerably greater than capital expenditures.Â I don’t have good information on this, so I’ll simply assume the average yearly cost of overhauls is the same as the capital expenditure of $13 million for a total of $26 million.Â This adds 0.48 cents per kilowatt-hour to the cost of generating electricity.
They come to a total of 4.07 cents.Â Since this is just a rough estimate without the accuracy that two decimal places suggests, I’ll round it off to 4.1 cents per kilowatt-hour.Â This means in order to be worthwhile to keep operating the power station will have to earn an average of at least 4.1 cents per kilowatt-hour generated.
Kogan Creek is the lowest cost black coal generator in the NEM, so the average black coal power station will be more expensive to run.Â The largest generator in Queensland is the 43 year old black coal Gladstone Power Station.Â Some details are:
Because it is owned by so many companies I am simply going to assume its cost of upper management is the same as for Kogan Creek per kilowatt-hour.Â Also, despite its advanced age, I will assume its capital expenditure is almost identical to Kogan Creek and estimate it at 0.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.Â I’ve set its capital expenditure at a low level because when it becomes clear to management it will be unprofitable in the not too distant futureÂ they will skimp on maintenance.
After crunching the numbers, my estimates for the various components of the per kilowatt-hour cost for Gladstone Power Station are:
If older coal power stations have to make an average of at least 5 cents per kilowatt-hour to remain profitable they are in trouble. A Bloomberg report gives the cost of electricity from new solar farms in Australia as starting from 5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour and 5.6 cents for new wind power.
Of course, a cheerful report doesn’t do any bloody good if it doesn’t reflect reality.Â Fortunately, we know it’s pretty accurate because the Stockyard Hill wind farm is under construction and will provide electricity for under 5.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.Â New solar farms should be providing electricity at a similar price before long.Â Even Origin Energy, which owns over 5.7 gigawatts of fossil fuel generating capacity including 2.88 gigawatts of coal power, says new renewables are cheaper than existing coal capacity.Â
If solar and wind farms can make a profit at a point where older, less efficient, black coal power stations become unprofitable then these old power stations will shut down permanently rather than operate at a loss.Â Each time an old coal power plant closes it will boost the wholesale price of electricity, but this will only encourage the construction of more renewable capacity that will lower prices again.Â
A high penetration of renewable energy is particularly dangerous for the economics of existing coal because they are inflexible and can’t easily shut down when prices are too low.Â For example, thanks to high wind output, the wholesale price of electricity in South Australia dropped to 1.255 cents per kilowatt-hour early Tuesday morning:
And later in the day, thanks to a combination of good wind and solar output and the inability to export more clean energy to Victoria, South Australia’s wholesale electricity prices went negative around lunch time:
Victoria’s brown coal generators are very cheap to run because brown coal has no export value, but regular periods of low electricity prices, caused by renewables, will make them unprofitable.Â They are also very old so we can hope they fall apart soon.Â But in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone.Â Exploding pipes, ruptured boilers, and fatal fires aren’t much fun.
Because the output of solar and wind generation is variable it requires sources of dispatchable power to reliably meet demand.Â
Australia has an electricity market, so if you believe in market forces strongly enough then these sources of dispatchable power should just magically appear by themselves.Â Or, if you want to be a little less abstract, people will build them because they will be profitable.Â
But if you think the required dispatchable power should be included in the cost of renewable energy that’s fine.Â Just remember these costs also need to be applied to unreliable coal power.Â Dispatchable sources of power other than coal were required long before there were any solar panels or wind turbines in Australia.Â
The next large power station scheduled to close is the 2,051 megawatt black coal Liddell Power Station in 2022.Â By that time rooftop solar power capacity should have increased by over 50% and new solar and wind farms should be able to supply electricity below 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Shutting down a large power station like Liddell should bump up wholesale electricity prices giving other coal generators a temporary respite, but it won’t last long. Â Lower wholesale electricity prices resulting from more low cost renewables will force coal power to operate at a loss resulting in coal power closures snowballing.Â
At the moment with wholesale electricity prices averaging around 9 cents, coal generators are making large profits. But soon their average return will fall below their cost of generation. Then coal power stations will fall one after the other. AndÂ as renewable capacity continues to grow, each closure will be less effective at temporarily improving the profitability of the surviving dirty generators.
While I expect the cost of coal to fall as demand reduces, the cost of renewable energy will also fall. Once the penetration of solar and wind is high enough, coal power will become unprofitable even if the export value of coal is zero.
Coal power stations will shut down and nothing can be done to prevent it.Â While large power stations technically have to give three years notice before closing down it won’t do any good if they can make the power station fall apart just by not doing adequate maintenance.Â You may as well pass a law requiring ocean liners that smash against icebergs refrain from sinking for three days.
Hopefully, we won’t have to wait years for the oncoming obsolescence of coal power to become apparent.Â If the government priced in even a fraction of the harm coal causes we could start planning a rapid phaseout immediately.Â In a country that cares about the health of its citizens and the future of the planet, coal power is an anachronism.Â
Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.
How many coal fired plants there are in the world today. ? The EU has 468 plants building 27 more for a total of 495 Turkey has 56 plants building 93 more total 149 South Africa has 79 building 24 more total 103 India has 589 building 446 more total 1036 Philippines has 19 building 60 more total 79 South Korea has 58 building 26 more total 84 Japan has 90 building 45 more total 135 AND CHINA has 2363 building 1171 total 3534
Even if the numbers are for units rather than coal plants those numbers seem very high. Coalswarm.org is a good place to check on coal burners.
Fortunately that’s not correct. The number of coal power stations being built is too many, but it’s not that many.
If you want to get an idea of what is happening with coal consumption it is best to look at world production figures since basically everything that is mined gets burned. Coal extraction peaked in 2014 at a little over 8 billion tonnes and in 2017 it was around 7.5 billion tonnes. A 6% decrease. While production doesn’t appear to have declined in 2018, the downward trend will accelerate thanks to the low and falling cost of renewable energy.
Yes, but I guess that stations that are currently under construction are not burning any coal — yet! Also, some builds may be to replace existing stations about to be decommissioned – these will likely be more efficient, requiring less coal to produce the same power output.
But – again a great and thought-provoking article. The only thing I’d say, is that the poor reliability of coal stations you highlight, is probably more a consequence of poor federal energy policy statements resulting in station operators cutting back on timely maintenance, rather than any intrinsic unreliability of coal power – after all, electricity has been produced by coal for eons, all over the World, and with a little redundancy the failure rates have been quite low as far as I am concerned (we haven’t had significant blackouts for many, many years – except the odd occurrence of trees being blown across major transmission lines ).
Also – you acknowledged some time ago that we often have to deal with excessively high line voltages. I have measured this, to find we have to pay for increased parasitic and standby power at these higher voltages (30 watts on my TV and amplifier alone) – and this extra power dissipation causes higher temperatures in electronic equipment, plugpacks, CFL & LED lighting, etc., resulting in decreased lifespans (we’d typically get <500 hours use out of a CFL, rather than the 8,000 hrs advertised – making them well uneconomic). Plus, inverter throttling decreases our potential FiT returns. I believe these higher voltages are a direct result of rooftop PV – simply because a network designed for voltage drops down the line, will not handle distributed injection of power very well. In the reversed flow of power during periods of high solar production, the voltage drops work in the opposite direction – the "end-of-the-line" becomes high voltage, rather than low. I've heard people criticise Vic and NSW for higher power prices caused by "gold plating" of their network – but I believe increasing the capacity of a network (lowering its impedance, by using increased copper cross-sections) is necessary to prevent these excessive voltage swings – and this should be at least partly considered an "externality" cost of rooftop PV (the others being due to increase airconditioner installs and use, and to suburban "infill" – replacing a single dwelling with a triplex, allowing for improved insulation properties, will probably near double the power requirements – maybe more.
So, I believe high voltages at night must be because the Utility sets the Sub-station transformer tapping high enough – to ensure all the people running their heavy airconditioner loads at the “end-of-the-line” don’t go below the required minimum voltage (to avoid the extreme currents drawn with brown-out). Then. when all these loads are shut down, the voltages near the sub-station become excessively high. Even out Utility Engineer agreed with this cause – Kirchhoff’s circuit laws are not rocket science.
From my own observation – the highest voltages at our house CONSISTENTLY occurd on one phase late morning, and on another phase early-mid afternoon – unless the sky is cloudy, when this does not happen. In our case, the excessive voltages were very clearly correlated with solar PV production – and I do not for as moment believe we are an isolated case.
But I agree the details are involved. However – whatever the specifics – as renewables permeate, they will have to pick up the tab for network maintenance – and I still believe upgrades as well.
Solar power, is 1/200th of the price per kWh, that it was in the 1970âs, the Swanson graph, then if the trend line continued, in 2030, itâd be 1/8th of the current price per kWh. Electric vehicles, will be 2/3 full, at least most of the time, especially with them charging at work or home, during the cheap daytime solar power hours. Battery price per kWh, is falling faster than solar power prices, itâll probably be 1/12th of itâs price per kWh, in 2030, naturally unit numbers will soar. Like photovoltaic screens and lithium batteries in the information technology and communications industries, when was the last time we saw a cathode ray tube, or a nickel cadmium battery.
Storage is moving into the field, Snowy Mountains 2, Tasmanian battery of the nation, hydrogen is only 30% (major input cost, is electricity eg. Solar, 8X cheaper in 2030,) more expensive than natural gas, electric vehicles batteries 66% full, household batteries. Good sensors, coupled with 5G mobile communications networks, will manage the flow of electricity far better than in the past. The sensors will be cheap, the 5G, will be cheap, itâs designed for 4K UHD video, a few figures at 1/100,000 times less bandwidth, will not be difficult. Thatâs my 10 cents, on the matter.
If Arthur’s figures are correct or even nearly correct then us worrying about how soon we can close Liddell and others to replace with windmills and rooftop solar are obviously neither here nor there from a world pollution perspective. Makes no difference if they are cutting edge clean or not owing to their sheer number and still growing. If this is the modus operandi of the rest of the world for the around 40 yr life of these stations then sorry I am only interested in who can supply me here with the cheapest power whatever it’s source. Would be nice if it was clean for our local benefit but I now don’t care.
Planned coal power capacity in pre-construction status has declined from 1,090GW in 2015 to 364GW in July 2018.
Arthur Palmer, No, your numbers appear totally bogus. Where have you sourced the numbers you show, or have you just made them up, Arthur?
CoalSwarmâs Global Coal Plant Tracker (GCPT) is an online database that identifies, maps, describes, and categorises every known coal-fired generating unit and every new unit proposed since 01 January 2010 (30 MW and larger). The tracker uses footnoted wiki pages to document each plant and is updated biannually. See: https://endcoal.org/global-coal-plant-tracker/
Numbers of coal-fired generator units (GUs), not âplantsâ, as at Jan 2019 for selected countries/regions (plus global total) are: â¢ EU28: _ _ _ _ _ _ _627 GUs operating, _ _8 GUs under construction, and 11 GUs planned; â¢ Non-EU Europe: _ 116 GUs operating, _ _4 GUs under construction, and 68 GUs planned; â¢ Turkey: _ _ _ _ _ _ _71 GUs operating, _ _4 GUs under construction, and 47 GUs planned; â¢ South Africa: _ _ _ 117 GUs operating, _ _8 GUs under construction, and 13 GUs planned; â¢ India: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 866 GUs operating, _ 63 GUs under construction, and 84 GUs planned; â¢ Philippines: _ _ _ _ _45 GUs operating, _13 GUs under construction, and 25 GUs planned; â¢ South Korea: _ _ _ _ 78 GUs operating, _ 7 GUs under construction, and 2 GUs planned; â¢ Japan: _ _ _ _ _ _ _136 GUs operating, _17 GUs under construction, and 12 GUs planned; â¢ China: _ _ _ _ _ _2,927 GUs operating, 263 GUs under construction, and 201 GUs planned; â¢ Australia: _ _ _ _ _ _ 60 GUs operating, _ 0 GUs under construction, and 0 GUs planned; â¢ GLOBAL TOTAL: 6,732 GUs operating, 491 GUs under construction, and 729 GUs planned.
Total global capacity planned (i.e. Announced + Pre-permit + Permitted) at January 2017 was 569,601 MW. Total global capacity planned at January 2018 was 446,624 MW. Total global capacity planned at July 2018 was 365,049 MW. Total global capacity planned at January 2019 was 340,471 MW.
This represents a loss of 24,578 MW (6.7%) planned capacity over the last 6 months, a loss of 106,153 MW (23.8%) over the last 12 months, and a loss of 229,130 MW (40.2%) over the last 2 years. The coal capacity planning pipeline continues to shrink. See also: https://www.carbonbrief.org/guest-post-peak-coal-is-getting-closer-latest-figures-show
Total global coal-fired power capacity continues to inch up, increasing by a further 21,315 MW in the last 6 months to 2,023,935 MW (at Jan 2019), but a peak is on the horizon.
These coal-fired generator assets are likely to become âstrandedâ soon now that new renewables are cheaper than new coal-fired technology and becoming cheaper than fully-depreciated existing coal-fired technology. See: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/electricity-taylor-constitution-mb0944/#comment-373777
Geoff it was a question.See two ?? top & bottom? Still your figures are very little different?? Yours China: 2,927 GUs operating, 263 GUs under construction, and 201 GUs planned; 3,391
Chinaâs December coal output climbed 2.1 percent from the year before, government data showed, hitting the highest level in over three years as major miners ramped up production amid robust winter demand and after the country started up new mines. –Reuters, 21 January 2019
China financed more than a quarter of all coal plants announced outside the country last year according to a new report, putting its clean energy image at risk as Chinese institutions fund coal-fired projects in emerging markets. As development banks scale back or completely halt their investment in coal-backed energy projects, China has emerged as a chief lender for such power plants. –Emily Feng, Financial Times, 22 January 2019
Arthur Palmer, I asked you: “Where have you sourced the numbers you show…?” and you still haven’t nominated a source – you just say “other source”. Have you something to hide, Arthur? Please state your source, like I have (i.e. CoalSwarm’s Global Coal Plant Tracker (GCPT)).
Your example of China “has 2363” is significantly different from GCPT’s “2,927 GUs operating”. But your claim that China was “building 1171” is nearly 4.5 times the GCPT figure of “263 GUs under construction”. There’s no guarantee that the “201 GUs planned” will be built – some may be cancelled. The other factor I suspect you are not considering is that less efficient power generators may soon be retired, replaced by new, more efficient units. An article headlined “40% Of Chinaâs Coal Plants Are Losing Money, Reports Carbon Tracker”, dated 12 Oct 2018, suggests that could perhaps happen. See: https://cleantechnica.com/2018/10/12/40-of-chinas-coal-plants-are-losing-money-reports-carbon-tracker/
The risk is increasing that these coal-fired generator assets are likely to become âstrandedâ soon now that new renewables are cheaper than new coal-fired technology and becoming cheaper than fully-depreciated existing coal-fired technology. The economics is against coal.
You; China: 2,927 GUs operating, 263 GUs under construction, and 201 GUs planned; 3,391 other CHINA has 2363 building 1171 total 3534
Does that reprobate in Canberra still have the piece of (suitably sealed with clear paint) Coal on his desk?
What wonderful news. That means the taxpayer can immediately stop paying those wind and solar subsidies
It certainly would be more logical to make coal pay for for its externalities — its health costs and the cost of removing the CO2 it emits from the atmosphere and sequestering it — than it is to subsidize renewables. Making coal pay for its externalities is likely to add at least 7 cents per kilowatt-hour to the cost of coal power.
Well as the article says, solar plus storage, is already cheaper than coal fired power, if we were to remove coal subsidies, such as sub market price coal, to nearby coal fired power plants, rail subsidies, diesel fuel tax non payment. Then the coal fired power, would disappear even faster, one million workers in solar power production in China, 2 million households in Australia, with solar power on their rooftops. Solar subsidies are going down, on solar power production and up, on coal power production, precisely because coal canât compete. Let alone the trillions of dollars in lung cancer costs China would save, if it moved to Clean Disruption, even faster. Half of all buses made in China, last year, were electric, Shenzhen buses are almost 100% electric, of course coal has had its day, the subsidies companies would demand, to build a coal fired power plant, would be huge, as theyâre so uncompetitive.
220 million people use wind power in China, that will double in the next 5 years, not possible? China went to high speed railways in 12 years, 2007-19, will change the global Belt Road, to high speed railways in the next 12 years 2019-31. Gothard Swiss Alps Railway tunnel, Chunnel French British rail tunnels impossible, until they built them, then theyâre not impossible, theyâre boring normality !!! Just like high speed railways in Japan, Europe, China, Taiwan, South Korea, carbon fibre aircraft, LED photovoltaic screens and lighting, the beginning of construction, of the Japanese magnetic levitation railway tunnel network, nothing special. So too solar power, driverless electric vehicles, high rise agriculture, in the 2030âs, why would you do things any other way, itâs more expensive theyâll say.
If only it was that easy. Solar and wind will never provide reliable (ie 24/7) power. If we don’t use coal or gas then there will have to be some massive storage. Forget batteries- good for short term grid stabilization and avoid those ridiculous spot prices. The only real option at the moment is pumped hydro. In QLD we have Splityard Creek which doesn’t do much (cheaper to burn coal) and the Kidston project which should be finished in 3 years or so. Both are quite small in the scheme of things- 500MW , 5,000MWh and 250MW, 2,000MWh respectively. So how about building some more? Many people don’t like dams especially when the higher resovoir would most likely have to be built in the great dividing range. You only have to look at the furore over the Traveston Grossing Dam 10 years or so ago. Snowy 2 horrendously expensive and lots of other problems. Everyone wants a simple cheap solution- sorry, there isn’t one.
A simple cheap solution? Well, there’s a stack of second hand gas turbines at Hallet Cove Power Station. That sort of thing is pretty cheap.
75 employees. I think many of them would be control room staff so I think your $83K figure would be well and truly blown out of the water.
Throw in shift loadings and $150K for a control room operator wouldn’t be far off. I’m guessing a few mechanical and electrical engineers too.
I expect you’re right about that. But I would prefer my estimate be too low rather than too high. It’ll give some room for the price of coal to fall.
We have gone from the cheapest electricity in the world with almost all coal generation, to some of the most expensive in the world, in a country rich with natural resources. And the loss of coal mining royalties would be a very big loss, thankfully many other countries still want cheap electricity, so the demand will stay strong.
âAnd the loss of coal mining royalties would be a very big loss, thankfully many other countries still want cheap electricity, so the demand will stay strong.â
Coal is no longer cheap â âfirmedâ renewables are now cheaper. Thus, demand for coal is highly unlikely to stay strong.
Lazardâs Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis â Version 12.0, published November 2018, one of the major global industry benchmarks, infers that an inflection point has been reached where, in some cases, it is more cost effective to build and operate new alternative energy projects than to maintain existing conventional generation plants. Lazardâs figures are based on US data and US conditions but provides an insight into global trends. See: https://reneweconomy.com.au/lazard-hails-inflection-point-as-wind-solar-costs-beat-new-and-old-fossils-72497/
CoalSwarmâs Global Coal Plant Tracker (GCPT) has updated its data to Jan 2019. See: https://endcoal.org/global-coal-plant-tracker/
The GCPT data table titled âChanges from January 2018 to January 2019 (MW)â shows global coal-fired capacity of: a. _30,141 MW started construction; b. _52,686 MW resumed construction (from 2017); c. _50,265 MW started operations (added to the existing operating fleet); d. _30,890 MW were retired (from the operating fleet); and e. 119,427 MW of projects were cancelled.
It appears retirements (i.e. item d.) are beginning to exceed new start constructions (i.e. item a.). If trends continue, with the coal capacity planning pipeline also continuing to shrink (from 1,090 GW in 2015 to 340 GW to Jan 2019, a loss of more than two-thirds), global coal-fired power should peak within a few years, and then begin a sustained decline. With a decline in the global coal-fired power generator fleet likely to begin soon, then global coal demand will also decline with it.
Any new coal mines (like Adaniâs Carmichael coal mine) will add more competition to a likely shrinking market. Any new coal mines are likely to take jobs away from existing operating mines in the Queenslandâs Bowen and Surat basins, and from NSWâs coalfields. See: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-06/galilee-basin-mining-project-will-reduce-coal-output:-research/8682164 Also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/15/developing-new-galilee-basin-coalmines-will-cost-12500-jobs-analysis-shows
The loss of coal mining royalties is inevitable. Nations/states need to plan for this inevitability and find alternative revenue streams. Ignoring this issue is not a responsible option.
Whilst you mention that coal is unreliable, it does have the ability to provide power 24/7. So if you build x amount of them, statistics dictate that most will be operating at any point in a 24 hour period even if some are not.
Solar can’t operate over a 24 hour period and hence needs some type of storage to allow it to do so. Wind can operate 24/7, however you rely on the weather so it’s not like a switch you can turn off and on.
I’d be interested to see your cost analysis when adding on the cost of storage to make solar and/or wind available to offer supply 24/7 like coal can. I don’t see this as a far comparison without it
Please note that the rising and falling of the tides could easily provide power only limited by distribution technology on a 24/7 basis….. and regulated according to need by a simple stop-cock. As mentioned long ago The Rip on Port Phillip Bay could be utilised to advantage ; ditto Westernport Bay~ and in the North we have tides of nearly FORTY foot! –> Imagine installing turbines HERE!
Is there any renewable solution that provides constant 24/7 reliable power without batteries or some type of storage mechanism? If there isn’t, then the power has to be stored or transferred in the case of hydro etc. That cost should be taken into account when comparing.
Come on Kev! That’s the beauty of it! I’ll bet any competent engineer could come with a simple way of running the turbines in reverse. ie. power being generated whilst the bay (read dam) is being filled and more generated as the full dam rushes back to sea as the tide falls. ………as long, of course, we don’t destroy the moon by mining it for briquettes or uranium ð
Come on Kackson – Kev’s talking about the period when the tide is neither coming in, nor running out.
As far as I am aware – ALL tidal systems run the turbines both ways – but separate, expensive stored hydro is needed unless you have other generators available to “fill the gaps”
Ian ~ I see no reply button on your comment, so:- The tide is ALWAYS coming in or running out ~ SOMEWHERE. When ‘slack water’ is experienced in one location the tides are running elsewhere. I’ve never gone to the bother of looking it up, but might hazard the guess that when the tides are slack in the north-west they’re running in/around Bass Strait. All that gets down to the distribution network.
Moreover, I suspect there’s some way of filling, say, a bay with a greater VOLUME than the turbines actually require ~ albeit at the ‘regular’ height. Therefore at slack tide outside of the bay/dam there’d still be water retained in the bay ~ at a height greater than that ‘outside’.
All this stuff is very variable given that tides/etc. aren’t run by clockwork. But the reality is that the sun and the moon cause tidal ‘bulges’ as the orbits continue, and a bulge on one side MUST have a corresponding ‘dip’ (?) opposite that. I’m no engineer, but I can demonstrate that if I tilt a bucket of water one side is deeper (therefore has more volume of water than the other. Tilt it the other way and the numbers are reversed. The only ‘slack water’ is the moment when the bucket is perfectly upright.
Not only do all tidal power systems generate power coming and going, and not only is tidal rise and fall a wave which follows the moon and its antipodes continuously, but it is a simple matter to feed some of the generated power to pumped hydro to provide infill during slack water, twice per day. So, yes, with either chemical batteries or the aforementioned gravity battery, tidal power _is_ 24/7/999999999999 renewable, powered by green cheese.
As for the coal apologists delusional fallacies about Latrobe Valley air, many of the frail, elderly, and breathing impaired evacuated a couple of years ago because of the high levels of toxic carbon monoxide, smoke, and ash which covered cars and washing. The state health officers were roundly criticised for downplaying the health risks during the many month long episode. BUT, I will grant that the air is much cleaner now that the power station and mine have closed down. It will take time to close down the rest, not least because it will take time to build renewable replacement generation and cleaner safer workplaces. Our grandchildren will not believe the grotty Dickensian anacronism that was power generation in the early 21st century. And by then, the Luddites will have followed the planet-burners into oblivion.
1. Turbines need some “head” across them, in order for the flow to generate power (P=HxQ, so no head, or no flow, equals no power). To turn the head from one direction, to the other, requires maybe a few hours, twice a day (typically). 2. Your concept of transmission lines sufficient to effectively connect, say Bass Strait to the North West to cover the “gaps”, at a sufficiently high power rating, will likely cost more than the turbines – and they are not cheap.
I’m not saying that the concept is impossible – just that better minds than mine will have already looked at tidal power options – but all I’m aware of are very small capacity research prototypes.
We Tasmanians, use 90% hydro power and for a profit, weâll let you mainlanders, in on the sweetness, use your cheap desert solar power, to pump up the dams, we wonât even have to use up our reserves, for electricity. Half an hours drive from me, is Great Lake, it looks about the size, of Warigamba Dam to me. Here in Tasweigia, electricity prices have been going down, not up, but with cheap solar, thatâll become the National trend.
Er, how can the price of electricity go negative? Even paying for someone to take wind energy makes no sense as there’s wear & tear and depreciation. Feathering the props ought to balance whizziness against load, keeping the revs in range for free.
Out on the farm we don’t shoot hares. They have no burrows, and I figure it’s tough enough being a herbivore with no more shelter than a couple of tufts of grass. There’s not much opportunity cost in letting the hares graze – the kangaroos and wombats get the rest of what there is. (We’re destocked.)
Electricity prices go negative when there is too much power being fed into the grid. Negative prices help in two ways. First, they encourage large users of electricity to draw more power. Since they being paid to use electricity they have an incentive to do so. Second, it provides a monetary incentive for generators to supply less power.
Well, I have read some wonderful responses to Ronalds article. Trouble is that you seem to not realise that we cannot keep punting pollution into the atmosphere. Coal & Gas are only temporary solutions (as has been shown by the unreliability of coal power this summer: the heat caused failures. The answer is to have distributed generation. This was modelled years ago (Sorry cannot remember the reference, but it was a university research) that said it was possible to go 100% renewable with current technology, & that was about 8 years ago. Technology has moved on, but unfortunately our pollies have gone backwards. The reality is that if the wind is not blowing in one area, it is blowing in another. Same with Solar: clouds are not everywhere at once. Yes, there will need to be storage projects that are not batteries (but batteries supply reliable short term power, & grid stability: check the use of the Tesla battery in South Australia). Pumped Hydro is the easiest current solution, & we do not need huge centralised solutions:”a number of smaller projects would reduce transmission losses, & give some protection against dry times. There are also technologies being developed now: Ammonia which can be used in turbines (generated by excess solar & wind generation), Wave harvesting (good prospects & reliable consistent Base load power!). English scientists are also investigating pressurising the sandstone substrate, which apparently is a viable form of storing energy. So, if you go back to last centuries Ho-Hum coal & Gas powered generation, you will likely have difficulty with pollution (ie carbon, & the other pollutants currently ignored). If we move forward & develop many different forms of storage & generation, we can utilise renewable energy, still have a modern lifestyle as well as making the planet more liveable. Now to transportation: We need to greatly increase our renewable generation. This power can be used to power transportation of the future. By moving our vehicles, farm equipment, & manufacturing processes to renewable base, we can greatly reduce our importation of fossil fuels. None (to my knowledge) of this fuel is processed in Australia, so a huge saving to our balance of payments is available. (Farms can generate their own power, & sell excess to the grid: a win-win solution). Australia is already developing exporting renewable energy to SE Asia (from a tiny 70Km x 40Km Solar/Wind farm on the Pilbara.) We can develop more projects like this so we can export power as Ammonia, which can be used in fertiliser, as well as burnt in existing technology power plants.
I feel all we need is a progressive Federal Government that carefully assists the transition. I feel the first step is to gradually wind back Fossil fuel subsidies, & assist the adoption of Renewable power to Industry, Transport & Building infrastructure. Charging infrastructure is required, that initially will require some government assistance. This is needed to stop the range anxiety particularly in rural areas.
Remember you gets who you vote for (in the coming election). Ask the candidates who is progressive enough to move in the direction required, then keep them honest!
With all due respect – I disagree with your 2nd sentence. I believe we all agree we can’t keep “punting” pollution into the atmosphere. The issues are a matter of transition, timing, and cost. As Ronald states, Market Forces should cause a natural transition – if externality costs are correctly factored into the equation – which they are not at the moment because COAL is not penalised for the health inpacts, and Renewables have market-distorting subsidies instead.
Again with respect, all your ideas are wonderful like a lot of others – but most have not been proven economically viable yet – just ideas – otherwise they would be in serious service, not just demonstration prototypes (if that).
Ronald once mentioned that the impact of Australia “sinking beneath the waves” would be 3% – in terms of CO2 contribution (pollution). Having travelled the World and seen jus how BIG the World is, my ears pricked up at this – I suspect he was talking about the total contribution – rather than just that from fossil fuel burning only, as figures I’ve found suggest significantly less than half this figure. The scale of our impact is small.
My biggest concern is that Australia’s high energy costs are preventing us from being competitive – in terms of exporting products to the World. We seem to be “selling the farm”. By this I mean, we are mining iron ore and selling it overseas, exporting hugh amounts of coal and natural gas overseas – for others to burn and pollute the atmosphere – and even exporting uranium for others to use. None of these are renewable and sustainable – so what do we do once our reserves (eventually) run out. How is this reducing our (small) CO2 footprint in any significant way? We also sell meat and grain overseas – but I guess this could be considered “carbon neutral”, as other humans eat this and exhale CO2 that will be captured in the next crop (so long as we have fertilizer and water – and that becomes questionable). But there is a time delay here – as population increases, so does the production of CO2 exhalation.
So why are we sitting in our ivory towers, getting subsidised to install renewables, buying solar panels from China (probably using our finite reserves of aluminium and copper ore to make frames and cables), but producing no nett benefit to use except a (temporary) confortable lifestyle.
No – we need cheap energy at high power NOW – not in some hazy rose-tinted future – and I believe this will just have to come – at least in the relatively short term as we transition to renewables – from things like Nuclear, Natural Gas, and perhaps even COAL (that we hold back from exported burning, so no change in nett CO2 production) – although I don’t like this latter option. We CANNOT transition overnight.
Come on, CU – do your research…! There were about 99 commercial Nuclear reactors in the USA a few years back (covering nearly 60% of of their emission-free generation) – this in a country about the size of Australia, but with about 10 times the population – I feel sure we should be able to find space to fit 10 or so (density of 1:100)!
I cannot believe you would suggest we keep using coal power until a transition to fully renewables has been implemented – with all the minesite and public health-related fatalities that would entail – after all, that would be simply feeble-minded.
Surely you are not suggesting that renewables implementation can be achieved overnight – after all, solar PV has had MASSIVE inducements for about 10 years ago (starting with a 60 c/kwh FiT in Victoria, 46 c/kwh in WA, then in my case a 50% rebate on cost) – and renewables still have a long way to go before implementation? We have to be realistic about this – the SAS had a great acronym 7P’s & ALOHA – Prior Planning & Preparation Prevents a P*ss Poor Performance & A Lot Of Heart Ache – I think it very important we plan for the transition, not just spout a lot of “thought bubbles” – something successive Governments haven’t proven very good at.
Do you seriously think the UK authorities who authorised – and are still going ahead with – the building of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, and of other countries also with many plants under construction (China, India, UAE, Russia, Korea – the list goes on), ALL have less understanding of the issues than you?
Sure – I agree the lead time on all of these is great – which possibly only indicates our Government(s) should have made the decision much earlier. Hinkley C is starting above-ground work mid-2019, with production sheduled for 2025 – do you think we will have 100% retired coal by then – my investigations suggest we might only have achieved 50%?http://theconversation.com/at-its-current-rate-australia-is-on-track-for-50-renewable-electricity-in-2025-102903
Let me say – you might want to be a little careful about the figures promoted by the Renewables apologists – they like to quote Installed Power, or Number of Panels – because these look like big numbers – whereas to avoid being misleading, they really should be quoting Energy. For example, my PV system has a nominal INSTALLED capacity of 6.24 kW, but only a 5 kW inverter – with 8,760 hours in a year, you might mistakenly think this corresponds to 6.24 x 8760 = 43.8 MWh/year, whereas my production measures at only 10 MWh/year (~23% of the “inferred” figures) – and our zone location and configuration is pretty good, so others proably achieve less.
Also beware the “Henney Penny / Chicken Little” dogma and mantras of the greenies and far left – you know “Nuclear takes too long, its too dangerous”. I simply feel we cannot simply “sit on out todds” hoping for some magical technical solution to show up – we should not be throwing out Nuclear hands-down, unless adequate analysis is done.
Having said all that – my calculations suggest the actual cost to produce rooftop Solar PV over a 20 year lifespan – if that can be achieved – is about 5c/kwh (this ignores repairs, maintenance, inverter or panel replacement, any needed storage, and any contribution to infrastructure) – so not bad, but not great either. I think our priorities should be, at least, to allow our technical and financial experts to investigate all forms of technology that are known and proven to work – be they hydro, tidal, solar, wind, natural gas, or nuclear. These have all proven viable at various locations around the World – and the challenge is to see how they “fit” into Austraila’s geology, etc. For example, there a great Tidal locations in the NW of WA – but great expenses to build there, and to build the necessary transmission lines to centres of population – these costs may make this technical option uneconomic. Same for Hydro – especially in WA. Let us not simply speculate and hope a “new” technology becomes feasible in time – we need something NOW – or else Coal is simply going to soldier on (or, State-wide blackouts?)
I would have like to have seen the debate on Nuclear Power to know what the emerging technologies are but it would be impossible to find a site in Australia to build one.
I have done my reasearch, that is why I was supprised that PV and wind power can’t be built rapidly enough but you suggest that nucelar can be.
And “Do you seriously think the UK authorities who authorised â and are still going ahead with â the building of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, and of other countries also with many plants under construction (China, India, UAE, Russia, Korea â the list goes on), ALL have less understanding of the issues than you?”
Ian, I am one of the Greenies you berate. But I also think you might be putting your head in the sand. The reality of Nuclear in Australia is that it would take years to plan & implement, & cost MUCH more than other competing technologies. It also would not pass the massive demonstrations that would happen… You are entirely wrong about the economics of moving power from WA. There is a huge wind/solar project happening now in the Pilbara. It will sell power to SE Asia: Malaysia & Singapore. So if the investors there see it as viable, it must be. Rooftop solar will only be one of the generating systems, & it did need some incentives to get the system moving. Of course, in retrospect, the subsidies were too high, which is why I have advocated caution in the future. We do need to wind back Fossil fuel subsidies to create the level play field though.(albeit remove these subsidies slowly or the farmers will complain!) If we want to be sustainable, there is a need to look at the total energy picture: Assist retrofitting buildings to be more efficient, & move away from Gas heating. Increase insulation to reduce heat gain/loss, assist industry to use new technologies to reduce fossil fuel use, reduce fossil fuel use in Agriculture & transport. This is all possible with current technology.
It seems CU is a World Expert in all things nuclear – and has decided that this technology should not even be considered as a starter when trying to work out how we transition to renewables – my “BS” antenna makes me think he may have absolutely no idea how long this is all going to take – and how much longer we will be forced to burn coal as a consequence, if we don’t plan for the future. Maybe he is Gen Y, seeking instant gratification…
Look – I’m not sold on Nuclear – but I do think it has to be considered. CU is the Expert, but at least I have studied Nuclear Engineering, as part of a Thermodynamics course many, many years ago – and so know at least something about the technology. Established nuclear power plants (after the Capital costs have been recovered – these plants have a very long life) have operating costs as low as 3 US cents/kWh LCOE – now, that is attractive. South Korea has been building Pressurised Water Reactors (older technology) continuously over the last 30 years – and has a LCOE (Levelised Cost Of Energy) about half that of the USA and UK, who are only are only just restarting their new-build programs.
Would you believe the fatality rate per terrawatt-hour of electricity produced is 161 deaths for coal, 1.4 for Hydro, and 0.04 for nuclear. Solar is 2 orders of magnitude higher, at 0.4 deaths per terrawatt-hour of electricity produced, and wind somewhat less at 0.15. These figures include the impacts of Chernobyl – which was a simple and cheap design to co-produce weapons-grade plutonium, and Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.
Knowledge and designs have improved over the years, with Gen III+ reactors at near-term deployment and offering improved economics, and Gen IV reactors intended from 2030, that are highly economical, have reactors that are intrinsically safe (e.g. non-pressurised, do not need off-site power, etc.), produce minimal waste (by being able to “burn” existing waste, and make their own fuel out what would have been previously waste), and are proliferation resistant (not suitable for making weapons-grade plutonium).
The Sodium Fast Reactors are being commercialised at the present time. Molten Salt Reactors allow the steam (Brayton) cycle to achieve 45% thermal-power efficiency, up quite a bit compared with the 33% of older plant. The USA, Russia, South Africa, Japan, and the UK have all built experimental High Temperature Gas Reactors – and China in March 2018 was close to completing two High-Temperature Reactor – Pebble Modules. It is envisaged that new HTR-PM units will replace current coal plants – to drive the same superheated steam cycle to quickly reduce China’s pollution problems.
Some manufacturers of the new breed of reactors, are miniaturising them and making them modular – they will be build in a factory – with all the scalable benefits this will provide – and some are sized to suit the power requirements of a moderately sized town. Great for WA’s dispersed population centres.
I think I would agree – it is extremely unlikely that a site will be found in SA – but I do suspect WA may be more receptive – great for minesites, etc. But who knows – Doug suggests we may have to deal with rolling blackouts – which I feel are going to prove simply unacceptable to business (or, they are going to have to install diesel generators as back-up, and pass on the costs to the consumer), in order that they can continue to work, and perishables are not all spoiled. In the fullness of time, we amy find that alternative techologies are suddenly not so unacceptable.
I was around already in early 60:ties when Thorium reactors and even fusion reactors where “just around the corner”. They are still “just around the corner.
Ian, I never said anything about rolling blackouts. But they could be an issue if the system is not designed correctly. I am a firm believer in distributed generation & storage. Distributed generation & Storage (G&S) are likely to be more secure because there are so many more to either attack, or to fail. Any Industrial syatem is open to hacking now, so distributed G&S is less likely to fail even on statistical grounds. Ditto failures due to climate conditions, As far as Nuclear reactors go, I do worry about the prospect of Terrorism (& I am not usually concerned with terrorists!). There is also the issue of waste. Australia has a huge problem in the Lucas Heights which was quite remote when built, is now surrounded by housing. This creates a potential safety issue. Nuclear is discussed in this article:
As I have stated before, I feel there is a need for an open mind, & the most important thing is to actually start moving towards a sustainable future, that is as non-polluting as possible to ensure the future viability of our world. Hopefully, the government YOU elect (in May?) will assist in this process. The Australian economy will thank them for it!
Doug – I did not intend to “berate” all greenies – but certainly some. Was just trying to make a cautionary note about some extremely misleading or plain outright fake statements that I have read. I did start out my career tutoring and lecturing at UWA after I got back from National Service – but only for a couple of years, so don’t consider myself an academic either – but I have worked as an R&D engineer for many, many years – several working in the USA – and have managed multi-million dollar projects, so I know something of planning.
I’m not sure that I’m ENTIRELY wrong about the proposed $20 billion Pilbara project – after all, Port Hedland is much closer to Jakarta, than it is to Melbourne – less than half the distance in fact (the discussion was about Tidal – our NW to Bas Strait…!). Again, things can be misleading – the total generation capacity will be 9 GW – which if it were Coal or Nuclear would suggest an annual generation of maybe 67 TWh/year (allowing for only 85% availabilty – nuclear is normally greater than this). Yet the actual will only be 33 TWH/yr, if all goes well – about 50% – but still of course a lot of energy. 9% of that will be lost in transmission to Asia. So, 30 nett TWh/yr for a cost of $20 billion – about $0.67cents / kWh of true capacity – you’d hope everything would last for at least 20-25 years or more to make this truly competitive (I haven’t added anything back for wind turbine gearbox servicing, etc.). There is an expected 700 MW variability in power output during the day – so they may have to also add very large batteries to keep the “juice” flowing to Asia and the Pilbara – or else use the excess to make hydrogen for sale to Asia (as they say they intend). Construction might start in 2023 – and may form part of some projections that we will are on target to reach 50% renewables by 2025 (although – a lot of this power is going to Asia).
So – good – but my original discussion was about Tidal Power – which I suspect is “dead-in-the-water” for any near-term implementation – although I accept your observation that shipping PV and Wind across borders is not too expensive. But just remember that NSW generated twice the annual power of the $20 billion Pilbara proposal in 2013 (declining a little since) – and the transmission losses might double – so you might have to spend more than $40 billion extra in each state, to have the “what if” capacity to feed an adjacent state if it were to become becalmed and heavily overcast (or dark).
You make a point that seems to escape many people. We do not have a choice between fossil and renewables. We have a choice of which method of avoiding climate change is available to keep us going until we master fusion power. The end result of this might be a huge increase in storage in advanced cheap (heavy is not a problem) batteries, pumped hydro, solid masses storing potential energy generated by gravity, tidal, wave, compressed air. We might even find out we can’t do it. Fossil fuels are not an alternative so we then control demand. Still not enough? Then we have to restrict electricity use. The best science we have available at the moment says fossil fuels are not an option if we want a world with 14 billion people. We might have blackouts. Many countries are familiar with this its just the spoiled brats in the “developed” World who think that aircon to 16 degrees is essential. It’s a luxury that we all enjoy if its available. Maybe we all sleep in smaller cool rooms rather than cool the whole house. Maybe we have to back-off from a lot of “essential luxuries.” Maybe as a good democracy we will just continue voting for any party who promises to put off the end to luxury until the end of their current term. Democracies are all ruled by the biggest liars.
If you want a market based system then you might not be happy with a system that maximises the profit of a few companies that own the system. If you want best for the community then you had better be prepared to suffer some central decision making and subsidy.
Fusion power, cheap enough in the 2050âs, 60âs; solar power, using solar fusion, cheap enough now.
We never had dispachable fusion power available in the 2050’s, 60’s – only fission power – and plenty of it.
Surprised at your comment “cheap enough now” – cheap enough is not good enough – we need cheapest, if it can be made available – the cheaper the better, so long as it doesn’t involve carbon emissions.
I hope you are right about population leveling off – but to me, the Planet will be grossly overloaded even at 9 million souls. China has removed its 1 child policy, but I don’t think we’ll see the impact of this for 1 generation.
Arenât you a strange time traveler, as I remember it in my universe, fission power was far too expensive, the roaring twenty twenties, delivered 100 trillion dollars each to energy, transportation and high rise agriculture, all up a quadrillion dollars worth. Governments went from 60 trillion in deficit, to 60 trillion in surplus and spent a lot more money, of course in the 2030âs market saturation hit and we had the Grand Depression and the introduction of the basic minimum income.
Then in the 2050âs and 60âs thermonuclear fusion, became economical, but wasnât as big a revolution, as desert solar power, driverless electric vehicles and high rise agriculture. I think that you need to adjust your Heisenberg uncertainty damper, nuclear fission becoming cheaper, is an outrider probability, get some help from Dr Who, HG Wells got me my uncertainty damper, but heâs not selling them any more, the doctor is the one you want to go to.
Population, will level off at 9 billion people, mostly from African increase, Asians and Latin America, education and wealth, are acting as powerful contraceptives.
Yes, your universe does seem somewhat distorted – from what I’ve seen, and calculated, nuclear fission is cheaper than nuclear fusion via solar rooftop PV at least – the LCOE figures support this. You may be of the misunderstanding that large subsidies for solar are sustainable – but with greater rooftop PV, more and more people will be helping pay off the systems installed by the more well-healed. Ultimately, increased taxes and subsidies will mean one and the same thing, and all will have to pay full cost.
I believe Ronald may be a little misguided when he says Solar PV is now cheaper than coal – although I do agree that coal should have a penalty cost that would THEN possibly make it more expensive than rooftop PV – maybe. The reason I say this, is that Ronald is trying to compare oranges with apples – you can’t directly compare coal and PV as they don’t have the same functionality – PV is intermittent, and needs storage (e.g. batteries, pumped hydro, etc.) to make it functionally equivalent (i.e. baseload). Therefore, the comparison should be between coal-with-penalties, and nuclear, or PV-with-storage – although I do agree that PV can be used without storage, as a kind of PEAKING source around midday peak demand. Wind power is similar (in its intermittency). I’ve read recent reports suggesting some of WA’s major coal stations are operating at less than 25% load, when solar is at full power – and this is leading to thermal cycling fatigue damage of turbines, etc. There’s talk of heavy investment in synchronous condensers and batteries, etc. You will say “goody, a little more solar and they will have to shut down”. I say, what do we do then at night? Do we go black, like SA did a little while ago? Like Ronald and Finn have said, buying batteries is a good way to lose money at the present time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t get away from coal – but I am saying that no matter how you look at it we are going to have to endure some financial pain to reduce carbon emissions – and I just can’t see how power will cost us less, when we are using more expensive technologies to produce it.
Ian, One thing I think you have missed is that wind blows 24/7, somewhere! I agree that storage is required, & both Battery, & longer term storage. atm, that is Hydro, but in the future I feel there will be developments in other forms of despatchable power, & I feel this could be Hydrogen in the form of Ammonia. This can be burnt in Fuel cells, or run Turbines, etc. It can even run IC Engines for generation (with Ceramic coatings!) One thing is that technology is moving fast. Some of these developments are only modifications of existing technology, so can be adopted quickly. One thing we all agree on is that coal is in its final days.
Just as a flywheel stores energy between the intermittent pulses of an internal combustion engine, pumped hydro, molten salt, and chemical batteries are in the process of becoming key energy network elements. It’s a done deal, the train has left the station.
Just one billion dollar lithium refinery, under construction in WA, will supply as much as 1/3 of last year’s world consumption of lithium hydroxide, and another plant half that size is to follow:
Even when the world is dotted with batteries the size of the Empire State Building, work will continue on pumped hydro, and Australia has the sites for all the energy storage needed in the immediate future, distributed across the country. Some power lines will be needed, in addition to the billions of dollars of turbines and pumps. It’ll be good for GDP, and good for employment. And it’ll certainly take a bit off the edge of the increasing number of multi-billion dollar climatic “natural” disasters we’re seeing annually now, as the small end of climate change hints at what’s coming. (We’ve reached 1 deg. warming, and 2 deg. is locked in. Avoiding the 3 to 5 deg. options will cost hundreds of trillions, but is the cheaper option.)
Quibbling about relative cost of already amortised coal power plants vs new build PV is futile. The cost of the rooftop PV on 2 million Aussie homes is irrelevant, as it’s bought for self-consumption, and surplus generation has zero cost. Commercial PV farms are helping to replace destructive coal, and the market will sort that out.
Fearing nighttime darkness is unrealistic. While that has been the case out on our farm for decades – no power after generator shutdown mid evening, city folk wouldn’t stand for it. Storage is in the pipeline, chemical, thermal, and potential energy stores (pumped hydro). This very sudden shift to survivable energy supply will take decades, but cities must be kept illuminated, even if that means rising oceans lapping at their feet, and Australia not necessarily feeding itself every year. (Any bets on 2050?)
Ian, you say weâre locked into burning, coal for the next 20 years, not true the price of solar is going down still very fast, thereâs a lot of deserts out there, solar 1/200th of the price per kWh in the 1970âs. Will be 1/8th of itâs current price in 2030, therefore, just as in the last roaring twenties, horseless carriages replaced horse and buggy. So in this roaring twenties, solar replaces coal, just as photovoltaic screens have replaced, cathode ray tube screens in the last 12 years. High speed railways have replaced normal railways in China and expanding through the Belt Road, unconventional hydrocarbons, have stopped the United States, importing net oil. Trend, precedent, future.
You may as well say “the sun shines 24/7, somewhere”. The fact is, your statement in all practical terms is incorrect – why don’t you try googling “wind drought”, to see that the UK has far more renewables this year than last, but is being forced to use more dirty power this year – resulting in higher CO2 emissions. The reason – a wind drought that often leaves wind turbines stationary for significant periods – and has resulted in considerably less wind generation. And, this problem is periodic. Now, I realise Australia is a much bigger country, but another researcher has totalled the wind generation, hour-by-hour in 2013, for virtually all of Western Europe – and the graphs showed a distinct lull (for 3 months, as I recall) in wind speed over (their) summer – when very little power could be produced from the wind. Other researchers found that this effect was by no means a “one-off”. I travelled across in Europe in about 2010 – and saw many, many wind farms – but wondered why NONE of the turbines were turning on such hot days. Have since found they were experiencing a wisespread and long lasting wind drought – that caused Germany to re-commission 4 of their very large coal-fired stations. A positive spin on this – generally (though not universally) there was greater insolation, so in the daytime, at least, solar could pick up some of the slack. Didn’t help much after dark however – hence the reason for the German action. But to make your statement less erroneous, I do agree we could run full-capacity transmission lines from Darwin to Melbourne, Brisbane to Sydney, Adelaid to Perth, and duplicate all the renewable generation infrastructure several times over at each site – then, if we are lucky, no two connected locations would experience a wind drought at the same time. But at what incredible cost? Highly expensive infrastructure lying idle for most of the time, for a “just in case” (but likely) scenario? Already, the AEMO is curtailing renewable energy 26% of the time in SA (from what I’ve read) – and I know Vic and WA are about to do the same – they have stated as such. All I’m saying, is that intermittent renewables are not the same a baseload power generators – and need additional expensive support (storage, be it batteries, pumped hydro, or what ever) to make them able to stand alone without baseload generation. So – the solution is going to be extremely expensive for users of power. I agree that coal has to go. Nuclear fusion is several decades away, if it is ever able to achieve its objectives. With repect – I think you need to take off your heavily rose-tinted glasses for a bit, and put on a pair of Polaroids to see through the glare of the BS artists. I worked on developing ICE fuel systems in my younger days, and was aware then, that truck engine researchers were trying to use ceramics to improve engine efficiencies. In an ICE, the only about 1/3 of the energy in the fuel goes to produce useful power – another ~ 1/3 goes out as exhaust heat, and the remaining ~ 1/3 is lost through the walls of the combustion chamber and cylinder walls, to th cooling water. The objective was to insulate the combustion surfaces, so that less heat would be lost to water cooling, to allow more to produce useful power. Unless something has changed in the meantime, the unfortunate result was that most of the “saved” energy went instead to making the exhaust gasses hotter – the improvement in power was very modest at most, and not worth the additional cost of manufacture. Then, we’ve now had the well publicised failure of Carnegie to demonstrate wave power in Albany on WA’s south coast – the WA Government pulled the pin on their funding, when they failed to reach their first milestone – but I’ve read not until after they had burned through $70M of taxpayer-funded grants and the like (and paid their Executives $14M per year while doing so). Others have said that Hydrogen is not an efficient way to go. Yes – technology is running fast – but like the 737 MAX 8, there are failures.
The point I’m making, is that with PV and Wind we seem to be running headlong towards a crisis of power continuity, high costs, and infrastructure cutailment. Sure, we must shut down coal-fired stations – but I believe we need to be planning ahead – even if just a little – to provide timely building and commissioning of baseload supplies that do not produce CO2.
And these need to be based on things that already have a track record of working, not some “pie-in-the-sky” hair-brained schemes that might work in the distance future, but might also fail miserably. The only things I can think of, are Hydro (not a great oportunity in WA’s major population centres), or Nuclear. Of course with a whole heap of PV and Wind and batteries – even though Finn tells us these will cost us more than the benefit they provide.
Solar plus storage, is cheaper than coal, electric vehicles, will have large amounts of spare power, nuclear is from 3 to 5 times more expensive than renewables. The price of solar plus storage, is rapidly falling, itâs 200 times cheaper than in the 1970âs, itâll be 1/8th of the current price in 2030, leading to an economic boom, generating a quadrillion dollars, in a decade. Project the math, using precedent and you get a second roaring twenties, Clean Disruption, third industrial revolution.
Cheap high lobbying power, no subsidy solar power, electric vehicles, liquid hydrogen fueled aircraft, high speed railways, vertical agriculture.
I don’t know where you are getting your data from – but I think you are generally incorrect – your premise about solar and storage, and nuclear doesn’t stack up.
I’d prefer we shut down ALL Coal stations tomorrow – but we can’t, as things would go BLACK at night and at other times. I didn’t see anything in the Budget concerning Energy Policy, nor any indication that funding has been included in the Budget to allow commencement of building multiple pumped hydro schemes throughout Australia (probably because the budget would then go into the RED). It will take 10-20 years once funding is approved, before we see these infrastructures built and operational – so COAL goes on.
I will say this – if what you say is correct (about solar + storage being cheaper than coal) – then just why is it, that we look like being locked into coal burning for the for the next 20 years – at least?
Solar IS being subsidised – SO are batteries in some areas. This is not really a sustainable situation. I think your extrapolation of the reducing cost of solar is based on false math – the price will fall, slightly, but will become asymptotic as time goes on – the law of diminishing returns – the fixed cost of labour will not reduce, and will most likely increase.
At the moment the 6,414 megawatts being consumed in Queensland is 5,712 megawatts coal, 506 megawatts gas, 153 megawatts hydro, and 43 megawatts “other”:
OLD Baseload demand will occur at around 3:30 am and is predicted to be around 5,770 megawatts and will mostly be supplied by coal power.
Sorry, We all realise that Coal supplies most of our power now. This will be the reality for some time yet. However, it is unlikely that NEW Coal or gas plants would be built now. We will be in for some hiccups over the next few years, but the reality is that power from renewables is cheaper to build & run. There was a time about 120 years ago, where horses were used. One of the issues with horses was horse excrement. ICE vehicles quickly replaced horses (but horses were still used for a long time, such as the Ice cart I remember in Mentone in the 1950s). The pollution caused by fossil powered power cannot be continued or we are doomed. When I went to China in the 1980Å it was a clean place, air wise. It is now really polluted, & the Chinese govt is trying to clean it up. (This is why you see so many wearing surgical masks). Please do not apologise or promote the continuation of Fossil power. That time has passed, but unfortunately, powerful people who are frightened of stranded assets are promoting its continuation. (Remember to think who you vote for!). There will be time for transition, but we need to start moving towards a more sustainable future. In 50 years our children will look back & wonder why we were so slow implementing change. There are more jobs in Sustainable energy than in Fossil fueled generation. There will be some retraining required for Australian workers, but that is manageable. Infrastructure building uses much the same skills whether the new infrastructure is Sustainable energy, or Fossil powered.
Water is at present AustraliaÂ´s most precious asset. Even though we have had record floods in some areas, the Murray-Darling is in crisis. Mining exacerbates the water issue. Adani it seems have been given an unlimited access to water. Why? Its time to develop other forms of energy export based on sustainability. Or Grandchildren will thank us for it.
You state “but the reality is that power from renewables is cheaper to build & run.”. Can you please show me the basis of this?
You say “We will be in for some hiccups over the next few years” – my investigation suggest we might possibly reach 50% renewables by 2025, and it has taken us 10 years to get to where we are today – how long do you define “a few years”, how long to 100%? Do you feel we should continue to burn coal, until our 100% target is reached? Don’t you think some transition planning is in order? Won’t this require the use of some temporary, interim, available, possibly non-renewable power sources? If not gas, then what would you propose?
In your previous post, you state “clouds are not everywhere at once”, same for wind – yet I know wind and weather patterns are often State-wide – are you suggesting we build such a massively expensive transmission system, and massive over-capacity of all generation sources – such that during times when a particular State is becalmed and possibly also without wind – however seldom that might happen – that they can import their entire power requirements from across th border?
Ian, I am not an academic, so do not have the figures to hand. However it is stated very often that Renewables are now cheaper to build & run, so I believe the experts. Also you must consider the sheer cost of building a new non-renewable plant. There are all the infrastructure costs, then the ongoing fuel costs. Personally, I feel that the costs will drive he market. The more costly plants will be pensioned off quickly, & investment will be made to supply the required power, be it private or public. There is also the need to allow for electric vehicles which WILL very quickly replace fossil powered vehicles (due to the market forces: fossil powered vehicles will become more expensive as development costs are amortized over fewer vehicles, & EVs will become cheaper because more are being sold, so the economies of scale will reduce their cost. In fact (except at present in Australia) EVs are now apparently cheaper in the TCO than ICE vehicles. So, there will be a need to upgrade the electric infrastructure to carry the extra load. I have read studies (but no links, sorry) that have stated that the actual generation will not greatly need to increase due to EVs, but the peak power might due to fast charging trucks for instance. My feeling is that the increased power requirement will be met by farmers having power generation on farm. This technology is already available, & the high fuel cost will drive agriculture (& mining already) to use sustainable power. Excess generation from farms can then feed the grid. (btw I see farmers having robotised tractors much smaller than current machinery, but if for instance 4 tractors replace one big one, you can interleave the charging, & the units can work 24/7 because you will not require a driver. This technology is already in train. (But why no development in Australia??) Back to the possibilities: Once we have excess solar & wind generation (which will happen, & as long as the connection infrastructure is there, it is quick to build a solar farm for instance.) , so we can store the excess in ways to use the power quickly (as gas turbines are used at present). My feeling is that Ammonia can be one form of storage. Ammonia is a very versatile gas: it can make fertiliser, as well as be burnt directly (in turbines & generators using current technology albeit with modifications) or can be easily cracked into hydrogen. (Hydrogen is difficult to store, whereas Ammonia is easy) This is a CSIRO development. So, my crystal ball says we need numerous smaller power generation facilities, with some form of storage for peak power requirements. All achievable, but we need the Government to assist, or at least get out of the way! The stasis of the generation under the current government is debilitating for the industry. That alone has caused power prices to peak. Having the more distributed generation will reduce the transmission losses. So, my crystal ball again, If we were to generate Hydrogen with excess power in smaller installations, then convert it to Ammonia, this can be used as a source of power, but if there is an excess, it can be sold (a win-win). There would be no need to transport fuels, except for the excess, so reducing costs. So let the market decide but gradually reduce Fossil fuel subsidies that currently distort the market. Not too quickly because farmers will need to adapt to new technology (the Nationals voters…) but give some carefully placed subsidies to assist with the change, but not enough to cause the greedy to rort the system (as happened with the insulation fiasco) So, build the generation & storage using market drivers which will use a mixture of existing & new techniques, let the expensive options gradually die out but most importantly, design any system upgrades to be flexible to adapt to the needs of the market in the future. Look to Europe because Europe is already well down this path. As an aside, it is even really difficult for a farmer in Australia to get approval to build a bio-digester. This needs to change so innovation can drive the market. btw, if we let the current govt sign a contract for a coal-burning plant, we will be saddled with that cost & pollution for perhaps 30-50 years. I do feel we need to exit coal in 15 years, 20 at the maximum (ditto gas…) That is about the life expectancy of the plant in Queensland, so it is realistic.
In 50 years time, theyâll be saying why didnât they project the math and see that it would only take a decade, like the replacement of horses, with horseless carriages, 1915-25. Solar (one million workers in China,) driverless electric vehicles (half of all buses purchased, in China last year, were electric,) high rise agriculture, liquid hydrogen fueled aircraft, high speed railways (already happening through Chinaâs belt road.) Roaring twenties, Clean Disruption, the third industrial revolution, here we come.
The 153 Mw hydro is limited as Kareeya and Barron are seasonal depending on rain to be run at MCR. As for gas I dont know how much you can expand that as a lot of gas comes from fracking and that technology is both new and the long term effects are unknown. Besides we have sold most of our gas overseas. Gas is a finite quantity and should only be used in combined cycle plants on a continuous basis and the open cycle plants only for emergency. We are now back to pump storage but as I have said before this is very expensive to build and the private sector will want a lot greater return than that available for solar. Large spinning generators with their kinetic energy provide system stability which is not available with solar nor wind but is via large expensive batteries strategically placed around the country. We will have interesting times ahead.
The economics of batteries are good: The Tesla battery has paid for itself in 12 months, has reduced the peak cost of power, & stabilised the grid. Cost, compared to a new Fossil powered generator is tiny, & the batteries can be spread to better stabilise the grid. (Many small batteries, compared to one, centralised fossilised coal power station.
I’m only going on this document that give an horrendous cost of batteries. As for SA paying off the $90M battery that is fine as no way can you run a system like that. Use it today as the price is high and tomorrow there is less cheap renewable’s to recharge is so you wait until the price is right then you refill it. And in the meantime you can hook into the neighbors network or run an extremely wasteful gas power station.
The Batteries currently being deployed are really used for peak shifting &/or frequency control. The charge cost matters less then. Usually the batteries will be charging & discharging for the control. There will also be times when the batteries reduces the peaks, which can reduce the system losses with distributed batteries. The batteries will be bulk charged when the system has excess power available. (eg in summer, the batteries will discharge probably late in the afternoon, then recharge overnight when demand is low.) The cost to charge matters less when the peaks during the day at maximum demand, with all the big generators playing the market, so the battery power sale cost is high. Even still the Tesla battery has made a big effect in SA peak power costs over the last 12months + that it has been installed. The long term storage will be a mixture of batteries, perhaps capacitors, pumped hydro, energy storage in renewable transformable storage (such as Ammonia, Biomass, Phase change heat storage in salts, etc.) The main thing is to start the long term process of retiring fossil fuel power. Saying X is expensive now is not an argument, because there is an option Y that would be achievable. As Technology offers more low cost solutions, the market will move to those options. In the future there will be many different generation & storage models. Our grid will be powered by this combination. It will always be a reality that the most expensive options will become uneconomic, so become obsolete.
Much as I’m an advocate for alternative power (especially 24/7 productive tidal energy), I take exception to the brainless mantras being chucked around without regard for the facts.
Fact……Despite coal generation/gross ‘pollution’ for several centuries (since the Iindustrial Revolution) the billions of people in today’s world enjoy a MUCH higher standard of health and vastly longer life-times than was the case before coal-fired power generation.
(And coincidentally it could be noted that ‘domestic violence’ and the divorce-rate has gone through the roof since ‘the man of the house’ has become ‘girlified’. )
Fact…….In the 20-odd years I lived in the LaTrobe Valley ~ the home of Victoria’s massive coal-fired power-production facilities, which incidentally sent power to other states, the air quality was consistently better/much better than that of Melbourne.
Fact……By far the greatest source of environmental pollution/destruction isn’t coal it’s the unrestrained ~ and strongly-advocated by the god-of- your-choice overproduction of homo-sapiens, on a scale that makes viagra-chomping rabbits look like sissies.
If you must use the word at least provide a reference. And please nothing from Jo Nova or Stop these things, where it appears you spend a LOT of your free time.
But to set your mind at ease:- Sorry, I’ve never even heard of the references you cite. (But YOU obviously have.) The ‘Fact’ is that I lived in the LaTrobe Valley for nearly 20 years and kept abreast of the published (monthly) figures because I have long-standing emphysema and heart/arterial consequences of that. Apart from periodic medical tests, I can assure you that, Factually, I have more trouble with anything breathing-related here in Melbourne that in LaTrobe. ( eg. the distance I’m able to walk without stopping to catch my breath.)
Moreover, the FACTS relating to the life-spans and pollution-caused illnesses in different times and places is easily established anywhere.
As a species we’re living on ‘average’ almost twice as long as we were pre-Industrial Revolution (see Google et al.) ~ and this is particularly so in industrialised countries (eg. Great Britain) ~ the home of coal-mines and coal-fired industry. And the stats tell us that urban- dwellers outlive rural residents ~ in general terms. (And on a lighter note one could point out that the most populous nations also burn the most coal these days: India and China.)
Lung-cancer rates have not fallen dramatically ~ but the stats all conclude that is due to the huge increase in smoking ~ specifically the chemicals in processed tobacco. Coal-fired pollution doesn’t get a mention.
I need to go and do other things, but if you need authoritative ‘references’ I suggest you spend a couple of hours in Google ~ and then tell me I’m wrong.
You are the one making the spurious cliams. Back up your “facts” with references or leave the word fact out of your posts.
I do not totally disagree with you. But do you really think we can continue burning our grandchildrenÂ´s resources? Mining will always be necessary. We always need raw materials. Coal will be used to make steel (as a form of carbon in the process, unless we invent a way to use CO2!!) All resources are finite, & we always mine the cheapest & easiest to access. We really are wasting coal by mining it now. In the future, new technologies will extract resources much more safely, for both the miners & the planet. I totally agree with you about population: The population of the world has ballooned in my lifetime. However, we cannot put the genie back in the bottle, so now there is a need to live cleaner so we do not make life really unsustainable. W do not want to go backwards, so there is a need to make sustainable, low polluting energy in a way that does not deplete resources. This is achievable, even with current technology. If you look Solar panels have gone from about 12% efficiency, to a current best of about 22%, with 20% being common. This is in 25 odd years. Technology will innovate to fill in the required gaps: batteries will get cheaper, with more sustainable methods & sources of manufacture, & developments in power plants such as wave technology will happen. WE have I guess 25 years to transition out of Fossil power. Another factor that has not been mentioned is the Â´gamingÂ´ of the energy market this summer in Australia. Smaller, distributed power generation (that will not have monopolised ownership as at present) will reduce power cost even if we do not go to 5min sale on the NEM market. This is because there will be no huge generators that can perform Â´maintenanceÂ´ during periods of high power usage, & even if it happened, smaller generators will not have the same effect on the market. (Perhaps Ronald could do an article on how numerous smaller generators will help the Wholesale cost in peak times…)
The idea of saving “our grandchildren’s resources” is a non-sequitur, since you’re actually suggesting coal-burning is a good thing so long as we leave enough for others. Let’s also not nuke each other so that our grandkids have more weapons to play with. In any case, it’s a whole different question from the efficiency/availability/pollution one.
But resources ARE finite, and the various methodologies/efficiencies/possibilities/etc. are more than anything akin to the band playing ‘Nearer My God To Thee’ as the Titanic slides under the waves.
The ‘ballooning population’ IS the problem (and at the root of almost EVERY major problem in the world today), but fortunately it IS, absolutely, possible to ‘put the Genie back in the bottle’ ~ the Chinese showed us how in recent years: Make reproduction socially unacceptable and legally restrict it until the Evolutionary wheel turns a little further and the Natural Selection cycles of four billion-year rebalance themselves…… with or without our species. As always, the Natural Order WILL assert its rule in due course. (?Perhaps breed kids who need less food so that we can carry more of them? :)) As it stands now our species could be seen by a pragmatic observer as a vigorous, overwhelming, unnatural resource-consuming cancerous growth ~ perhaps the result of a single bad mutation ~ which will sooner rather than later destroy the body in which it grows: Earth. (and take everything else with it!) It’s well and truly time to pick up the scalpel!
Thanks for the article with comments which generated more light than reading the biased Fairfax and News Corp papers though amazingly the ABC on Landline did a program on the big issue of upgrading all the transmission lines to take all the renewables energy which are generally in far flung places but sadly ended it with a sandwich lady saying wind turbines were better than the smoke coming out of coal fired power stations (I think its steam but I’m happy to be corrected). But a good discussion which must mean its far from certain that renewables can do the job today but will at some point in the future. When that point will be is unclear but the planning must include all sources and its not an overnight switch (pardon the pun). How about a dam or 2???
Stacks nowdays are clean of visible emission due to, precipitators and bag filters however the NOX is visible where it meets the air.
Hi One thing not discussed is the need to shed load. I am a volunteer energy coach with Enova Energy (a Community owned electricity reseller on NC, NSW). I recently did an audit on a big domestic user: domestic water pressure pump, Aerated Septic system & Halogen lights. I advised them how to save about 5mw+ per year. (Gravity feed water with solar powered transfer pump, change aerator pump on septic, change about 25 Halogen lamps to LED) My assessment is most domestic users can easily reduce bills & load, but usually require help to achieve it. If this went across the market, there is a huge saving on generation available. (In the last 6 years, our house has reduced by about 10KwH/day. We use about 30 Kw/h per day for 7 people, including 10Kw/h/day for our electric (Imiev) car!) So not only do we need to increase generation & storage, there is a need to reduce load. This could also be assisted.
My apologies – I read in one of the blogs that stated “there will likely be a number of hiccups during transition” – or the like – and “rolling black-outs” – and inadvertently attributed this to you. But you did state “Renewables are now cheaper to build & run” – and I found this statement potentially misleading. I recall Ronald stating Solar PV was “nearly there”, which is not the same thing. I think it depends very much on your definitions – if you are relying on and not considering the massive rebates, then the statement is clearly false. If, however you consider the rebate a “proxy” for a carbon tax on coal, then perhaps some renewables are cheaper than coal – however being cheaper than coal burdened with a carbon tax, does not immediately ensure that renewables are then also cheaper than other alternatives. You also suggested farmers have 4 autonomous battery tractors, instead of one large diesel tractor. We need to think this through – if we say 2 tractors are charging, while 2 are in use, does this mean the farmer also has to buy two combine harvesters, two seed drills, two cultivators, and build twice as many sheds to house these? Seems to be an extraordinary expensive way to go – maybe cheaper to simply buy his product from overseas. And, making his existing, big diesel tractor autonomous also would save him some labour cost.
Some of the “reply” buttons have gone – I suspect due to the depth of the “nesting” of responses – so I’d like to make a comment here.
Firstly, I am also a renewables apologist – and always have been – and that has been for a long, long time. Just not a “devout”, “touch the forelock” full-blown greenie – more a pragmatist.
CU apears to think PV and Wind can alone save the day – but I don’t think this is at all the most cost-effective way forward. If he has considered this at all, I suspect CU thinks Hydro and Tidal can be achieved overnight – whereas the Snowy Mountain Scheme took 25 years to build, but then only once proposals, designs, funding, and approval to start had been achieved. There are only a few tidal power stations in the World, all of relatively low power – Australia had only reached the stage (Sept 2017) of part-funding a $5.85M Project to start assessing and mapping tidal energy resources in Australia. So don’t hold your breath on this one.
My greatest concern, is that without forward planning, people of CU ilk will commit Australia to be forced to keep using “unreliable” dirty coal power for many, many more years than it needs to. I don’t want us to go that way.
I am not a nuclear advocate – but do think we need to consider nuclear within the “mix” of generating options – at least for the medium-term – rather than bury our collective heads in the sand and hope for a miracle. I agree with CU that the lead times are long, and that Gen IV technology might not be available in time – a pity, since these designs offer “proliferation resistance” – that is, the industry is cognisant of the issue, and the designs do not generate weapons plutonium. As of February 2019, there are ~ 450 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, provided 2506 billion kWh of electricity in 2017, which was 10% of the World’s electricity. China has 11 nuclear reactors under construction, India 7, Russia 6, South Korea 5, UAE 4, then any number of countries with 2 and 1 – total ~ 53, as far as I can see not including numerous plants having their reactor generation capacity uprated significantly. Many existing plant have had their operating lifetime approved to be extended from 40, to 60 years. Biofuel has a fatality rate, measured in deaths per terrawatt-hour of electricity produced, about 300 times that of nuclear – Hydro about 35 times. Tidal is not mentioned, perhaps because so little is in use anywhere in the world.
By the way – I think describing Coal Power as “unreliable” is disingenuous – and brings general renewable apologists into disrepute. Saying it all broke down when the weather got hot is a spurious statement – even the most modern of transport aircraft have occassional turbine problems causing delayed departures, takeoff aborts, or return to origin outcomes – and they usually have 2 or 3 complete “spare” engines to get them home. Conspiracy theorists saying they choose to do maintenance at peak times is also probably fake – yes, I’ve read it here – if a ship’s engineer noticed a bearing running hot whilst running at full power, they will inevitably advise the Captain to reduce power, or even stop to effect repairs. Obviously – if Coal stations do not have spare capacity – even when all rooftop PV and Wind is running at full tilt – then a mechanical or electrical fault may force them to shut down that unit for repair – with no hope of using a “spare”. This is more likely to occur if the Coal station is nearing the end of it’s life (or beyond), and maintenance is not being optimised due to concerns about over-capitalising a possible near-future stranded asset – a situation that has been brought about, perhaps by us.
I mention these things – as it does our credibility as a group of (at least partially) like-minded renewable apologists – no good at all to “bend” the truth to suit our own agenda – others can see through this tactic. Let’s try to keep this professional, please.
Finally – the reason I write about Planning – is that I don’t want us to get to a point perhaps 10 or 20 years from now – only to find our productivity and profitability as a Nation is being being compromised by either the extremely high cost of energy due to the need to spend massive amounts on batteries – or we are being held to ransom – or for whatever other reason – and we suddenly wish we had properly planned for the future, but it is now too late to implement anything. This might force us to take coal stations out of mothballs – what a simply stupid possible outcome!
So I say again, let’s consider only immediately feasible options to cover ourselves for the near-future – even if we include non-renewable (but no, or low emissions technologies) – and do sufficient analysis and planning to try for an optimum mix, both during transition, and beyond. To not include nuclear within this mix, is, to me, extremely short-sighted. Our Chief Scientist acknowledges this. If nuclear does not get a guernsey, so be it – at least then, we have hopefully identified the best way forward.
I’m only posting this as an example as to how little most people know. My grandaugher is doing a science degree at uni and between me and Centrelink I have been supporting her there. She sent me an email she wants to changing banks (as I deposit monthly money into it) to one that doesn’t give money to Fossil fuel PS, live animal exports and tobacco. I worked in Coal fired power stations for over 30 yrs did she have a problem, no she said I thought it was natural gas. We got talking on the phone talking about all forms of energy and I said the only large scale storage of power was pump storage which she knew nothing about. I said there is a plan to build a 2000 MW plant in the Snowy but it could have difficulties due to geology. One of her friends is a civil engineer in the coal industry and he said it will be around in 100 yrs she asked my my opinion on this and I said most of the coal exported for Queensland in Metallurgical coal that is used for making steel something she didn’t know.
All fine up to this point but she then said to me a 2000 MW power station would that power a big town? I said no it would power almost half of Queensland of at 3 am in the morning.
Just re-read your article – and quote “But existing coal power stations will live on, spewing greenhouse gases and damaging health, for as long as itâs profitable.”
You’ll be pleased to know – China are going to replace the superheated steam generating components of (some of, I guess) their existing coal plants, with nuclear thermal instead of coal boilers. Keeping existing steam turbines, alternators, and condensors. Their objective is to reduce their huge atmospheric pollution problems.
So – we will eventually lose our coal exports – so our coal can stay in the ground – but we can export our uranium ore to them instead. Two birds with one stone!
Every coal power station that is shut down and replaced with a low emission source of power is wonderful. But I am willing to bet a considerable sum the number of coal power stations that get converted to nuclear will be zero. The Chinese nuclear program using conventional reactors has slowed down so I don’t think they will be in any hurry to prototype, test, redesign, build and deploy a new pebble bed reactor design the plan calls for. It’s really a lot of work.
Ok – but if you read some sites about “reactors under construction” there are 2 x pebble bed reactors shown for China?
Looking into it, I see China is building a demonstration pebble bed reactor that is supposed to switch on soon. Its capacity is 250 megawatts thermal. For a typical nuclear power station that would be round 75 megawatts of electrical power. It’s very interesting, but still well short of a being replace heat generation in a large supercritical coal power station.
If you google HTR-PM, in Wikipedia you will see the new build is based on an HTR-10 prototype, and the plan is to use 2 of the modular HTR-PM reactors to drive 1 turbine with 210 MWe output. Still not of the scale of big plant, I agee. I don’t exactly know why they are expected to be ~40% more efficient than you have indicated, but HTR stands for “High Temperature Reactor”. I have read the steam output temperature may be 567Â°C, which is considerably more than the 374Â°C critical point temperature for water – although the pressure may be a little low to make the process super-critical. So maybe your bet remains safe… What I think are very interesting points: 1. This is a high temperature gas-cooled design – cooling gas is not prone to becoming contaminated. 2. The design may be the first commercial use of GenIV technology – with all the benefits of passive safety, less waste, proliferation resistance, lower costs etc. 3. They will use the waste heat for process heating – furthet improving efficiency. 4. They installed the pressure head on the 1st reactor last year – implying all internal construction has been completed – should come on-line soon.
Being of modular design, it should benefit from the benefits of scale – which should significantly lower construction costs as the design matures.
Re Nuclear power: Sorry, I just cannot feel this is necessary in Australia. We have sufficient Solar, wind & alternative power sources to supply our power in a sustainable way. There will be one or 2 reactors in Australia for Medical & scientific reasons (to replace the outdated reactor at Lucas Heights), & these reactors might generate power with excess energy, but other than that, I cannot see a need. As I have said before, we need to assist users to more sustainable loading on the network (particularly with EVs coming: We do not want everyone plugging in at 18:00: there will need to be load management there! Solar & Wind will need storage, both short term & long (at present Batteries for managing peak demand, & pumped hydro for longer term storage. There will also be developments that need to be considered when they become available, including energy from the sea (tidal & wave power), & other technologies such as sustainable Hydrogen, possibly stored as Ammonia. There is a need for Governments to assist this transition, with my feelings being that the subsidies on Fossil fuel should be gradually wound back, & the transition managed by some very careful Govt investments in the changes required, whether that be assistance for retraining & retooling rural service agents for EVs (so rural customers do not need to travel unreasonable distances to have new EVs serviced), to assisting communities to live more sustainably, with new buildings requiring more efficiency & energy generation. I feel that the transition to more distributed generation & storage will have many advantages: The manipulation of the energy market will be easier, the systems will be more difficult to hack, There will be more chance to have integrated energy systems (such as waste heat use which is common in Europe). Note that I have only suggested existing technology. Of course, new storage & generation technology will be used, but it is possible to be 100% renewable with existing technology: but we need to move more quickly than has happened under the current government, who it seems cannot even agree on a relatively conservative model of energy transition. Personally, I think there is a future in Ammonia, both as a feedstock for fertiliser, but also as a renewable power source storage. Also Supercapacitors will be able to assist battery storage, as a high current source for flattening the peak consumption, until other sustainable sources can start to supply. I have read comments about the cost of power to charge storage. The reality is the market will help this processl Once we have an excess of power available from wind & solar, there will be spare power available to store. Perhaps the Energy market will be tweaked, so sale of power to storage will be covered as well. This is all possible. All that is required is incentivisation!
You have an overinflated reliance of âthe marketâ which is what has caused our problems. When governments owned the assets they were very sensitive to availability and price. The assets being owned by private enterprises is only interested in profits for their shareholders and CEOâs.
To blame the current governments for their tardiness would be a valid argument but the opposition could be similar as they represent unions and unions representing coal mining are quite powerful even with the outrageous demands of one of the minor parties.
You may be correct, Doug – but I suspect many would like us to get out of coal quicker than the Market seems to be providing. I agree that 100% renewables is possible right now – with batteries for storage – however if households will lose money now even with taxpayers subsidising 50% of PV costs, and subsidised batteries – then I’d think this would imply an Austraia-wide system would need to increase import tariffs very significantly – or further increase taxes – to break even. Most hydro power is located in NSW & Tassy – as far as I’m aware, we don’t have any significant hydro in WA, nor SA & Qld – nor a full capacity backup transmission line and interconnector to allow us to “suck” power from the across the border to SA – and I’m not aware that SA’s interconnector could hold the full capacity load anyway, even since upgrades following their “State-black” recent experience. Hell, our existing network doesn’t even extend to the Pilbara (it’s a long, long way from Perth – the major population centre – and they use diesel engines there (maybe wind and solar later). Should our Government pick up the tab – with a power surcharge on our taxes? Yes, I’m sure demand management will be mandatory – but should not be too difficult to get in, as we already have water restrictions. I think the main problem with Nuclear, is that plant are designed to produce prodigious amounts of energy 24/7 – so don’t fit the intermittent demand scenario very well – CCGT using natural gas – for transition purposes – would work well. Although, even our Chief Scientist thinks nuclear may form part of the mix.
Ian, with batteries, I feel you are only considering the domestic situation. I agree that atm they are not economical, but that is quickly changing. The other need is industry, & transportation. Our rail network should be electrified (at least the shorter runs or between capital cities). there is also a need for farmers to move towards more sustainable energy solutions ( diesel replacement). re Hydro, there has been a study that found about 5000 sites suitable in Australia. Of course that is not considering nimby… There are also tidal resources available, & waves. I also see they have achieved 29% conversion with solar panels, so the technology is moving fast. (The turn around from research to commercial is now less than 10 years, so these panels will probably be used commercially quite soon). To consider Gas & Coal power, I am not too worried. Commercially, as cheaper alternatives are available (& built), the economics will close coal down, as long as subsidies & incentives are removed for fossil fuels. Gas is similar. (Fracking is the tool of the devil, so Gas use needs to be discouraged!) Water is far more important than gas…. So, my thoughts: -Move to Electric/renewable powered transportation (EVs & other forms) This might require some initiatives by government. (the US has $7500 EV auto incentive in some states) -Start enabling storage: battery, pumped hydro & other storage forms. -assist householders & industry to reduce consumption. -Assist rural users & miners to move away from ICE powered vehicles & equipment to more renewable energy sources. (Turn-key Power generation already available). Research in sustainable farming techniques including equipment should be an Australian govt iniative perhaps using CSIRO. -Remove subsidies from Fossil fuels (gradually for farmers, even over 10-15 years) -redesign the electricity network to encompass future needs. Perhaps interlink WA & East states, as well as more interconnects to cover future loading. But try to also allow islanding which is possible with storage & distributed generation for use in emergencies.
Well, re- batteries I was in fact considering the bigger picture – just used domestic as a “for instance”. Perth already had electrified suburban rail – but I suspect our long distances to other centres of population would make electrification very, very expensive – and likely very uneconomic. But I do agree with much, if not most of what you say – my only concern is cost, and timeframe. I doubt that Perth and a vast surrounding area has either the geology, or the quantity of water, to provide for hydro, or pumped hydro. We have 2 desalination plants – but they cannot tolerate intermittent power. Our gas comes from wells, not fracking to the best of my knowledge. Plus, building hydro, tidal, and very long transmission lines takes a long time – we still do not have NBN, at our near-city suburban location, and all this really concerns is burying fibre to nodes (ok, a bit more than that). Are you thinking of more than a 100-year timeframe to phase out coal?
Ian, re coal: I think 25 years at the most. Distributed technology is installed much more quickly than a megalithic coal fired plant (or Reactor). I am hoping coal goes with the last power plant. The last commissioned was at Kogan Ck, Qld in 2007. 30 years would be 2037. Hopefully that will be the last plant standing. Re Electrification of rail lines, if it is not done, the trains will need some form of renewable power source (perhaps Ammonia?). It would be possible to start & stop trains with overhead power, then you would only reguire enough power to continue between the points. It can be done, but we need to look outside the box. I think the future (particularly in cities) will have far more shared resources. (Who needs to own a car when you can call a robot car with your phone, cheaper than one you can own?) Some young people now do not even learn to drive. Rural might be different, time will tell. You have questioned the cost: if it is economical to build a renewable power plant in the Pilbara to sell power to SE Asia, it is possible & economical now.
You asked about Hydro storage: there is at least one local Hydro station in the N Rivers, NSW that is being considered for pumped hydro (decommissioned in the 1990s). It could give 250-500Kw of generation as a pumped hydro site. Not all that expensive to commission either. There are numerous sites like that.
25 years, huh? That’s how long it took to build the Snowy Scheme – after all the reviews, funds raising, design work, and final approvals had already been done. For only one scheme. Admittedly modern equipment should reduce this time – but when will we get the designs done, funding, environmental approvals, and approval to build? I think you are dreaming.
Re- Pilbara plant – I’m sure it is technically possible, but not sure yet that it is economic. Of the $20 billion project, I’ve read that the average export to Java will be only 2GW via the subsea cables – more energy will be transported as manufactured hydrogen that is then transported to Indonesia. They hope to commence the build in 2023 if all goes well – but I don’t know how long the construction will take. As it happens, the distance to Java from Port Hedland is 1650 km, about the same as it is from Port Hedland to Perth – and Esperance is a further 714 km on. But 2GW is about only half the amount of generation needing backup in WA aline, and anyway, would it be sensible to back up an intermittent source, with another source that is also intermittent? I discovered we do have hydro power – again a long, long way from WA’s major population centres – the 30 MW Ord River Scheme. Fantastic. I think your N Rivers hydro capacity is relatively trivial in the overall scheme of things – only about 0.01% of the proposed future 9GW capacity Pilbara project alone. Are you joking? And, what is WA suposed to do?
Ian, You are so wrong. You are still looking at single sources. There is a need to talk about combined sources. The idea of storage is to fill the gaps. The tiny resources (such as I mentioned) when combined make a valuable resource, & in many cases the infrastructure is existing. I have the feeling you are looking from a very negative point of view. I feel there is a need to approach this from the positive: at least start, then use the technology available as it comes on line. Building another huge power station not only takes a long time to design & build, it is also not economically viable. Many smaller generation & storage solutions are economically viable though.(The battery in SA was built in less than 12 months! …& it is working, reducing costs in SA.) There is a need for the Federal Government to get out of the way: I see that approval has not been granted to even investigate an ocean wind farm off the Gippsland coast. This government needs to realise that putting stops to Alternative energy projects will not make a coal generation facility viable. The government will change before that ever happens. (Even if the Government does not change in May, the time is running out based on the average life of a party in power anyway)
You’d need 10,000 of your “distributed” N River style hydro, to only partially backup the proposed Pilbara solar/wind project alone. Twice this, or considerably more, to back up WA alone. What about economies of scale?
In my opinion, you have come nowhere near grasping the SCALE of the issues – tinpot, half-baked thought bubbles, and heavy reliance on as-yet unproven concepts will not cut it – no matter how rose-tinted your glasses are.
On the contrary – I believe we CAN go to a low-carbon power solution in the medium-term – but probably at great cost, and not all renewables in the first instance.
Ian, I do beg to differ. When we have distributed generation, there will be no need to have 100% backup at all times. Batteries & supercapacitors can supply big amounts of power for short periods, then longer term storage such as Pumped hydro & other forms will fill for longer periods. last summer (just passed) we had Coal fired plants fail, yet the system coped. Notably the failures were in Victoria, not SA. I think you need to go back to the drawing board. Also the small projects, together will do the job in the future.
Well, I do not have any government affiliations – misleading for you to imply this – and I don’t think SA survived on only renewables and the Big Battery.
As stated, our share of the Big Battery is primarily for FCAS – at full required output, it only provides 8 minutes and 20 seconds of backup power. The owners make money by arbitrage – buy cheap, sell with a mark up.
I don’t believe your premises are at all realistic. I don’t believe you have a good understanding of build costs, maintenance costs, capacity limits, and energy losses in transmission lines.
Did SA have any fossil fuel generation today? Did they draw fossil fuel sourced power from across the inter-state interconnector (or did they only import renewable power, leaving the fossil-sourced energy for others?)?
Maybe the obvious solution is for all homes and businesses to build large battery and supercapacitor systems, and perhaps also perpetual motion machines, in their basements – the ultimate in distributed sourcing (only joking – just trying to point out that economies of scale provide lower costs)!
The ‘economies of scale’ line of argument does at times have a serious flaw. It mostly ignores ‘costs’ which can’t always be accurately measured in solely monetary terms.
As just one example, it’s unwise for any nation to put such total trust in global or regional peace continuing forever, that it fails completely to recognize the possibility of a war occurring at some time in the future. There’s already mounting evidence of a global ‘cyber-war’, targeting large-scale infra-structure that provides essential services to millions.
Overall, there seems to be a very good case for every home and business in Australia to be at least partially self-sufficient so far as ‘energy’ in the form of electricity is concerned, and we now have ‘renewable’ technology that somewhat enables that. Society as we know it, can still largely adapt if some extreme event (regardless of its nature) occurs that affects large numbers of the population.
So for various reasons.. micro-grids, the roofs of homes, businesses, factories, hospitals, shopping centres etc covered with solar panels, (numbering millions in total), seems a far more sensible strategy to me at present, rather than spending $billions on sundry ‘tempting target’ electricity generating behemoths.
I agree with you – but it’s all a matter of degree. Quite a few years ago I visited and was shown over a large hydro station in NZ – I had already driven over the dam wall, and parked next to the fence of the building holding the high voltage dc inverter supplying power via submarine cable to the North Island. All easy for a terrorist to breach. Asked about the low level of security (there was almost none), and was told it was all a matter of risk – they did not see themselves as a significant “target”. NZ has numerous quite large hydro stations – so I guess losing one for any readon whatever, would not be the end of the world. The Pilbara project is expected to cost $23 billion or so, for maybe 11 GW of installed capacity (the figures vary a little – depending on what source you read. We are going to require quite a few of this level of generation capacity to meet the whole of Australia’s fossil fuel replacement needs. If we were instead to provide this 11 GW capacity, with 1.763 million x 6.24 kW domestic systems, I was surprised to calculate this would cost (using the total price for my system a couple of years ago, not counting the subsidy) only $17.6 billion – somewhat less than the $24 billion! I guess there are added costs for the location, wind turbines, and building the 1,650 km of 2 x submarine cables and transmission lines. However, the smaller systems would only produce 17.63 TWh/year – about HALF that projected for the Pilbara system (33 TWh/yr). I think this demonstrates one aspect of economies of scale – home systems using PV, will never even approach the efficacy of larger systems – the above indicates a little over 50%. Small wind turbines don’t come anywhere close to the the efficiency of large turbines – and due to noise are less desirable for universal domestic application. But, even with more efficient larger systems, because we will need many of these, it is still possible to maintain the system security you speak of.
My understanding of the Pilbara project is that when completed it will occupy some 6,400 to 7000 sq kilometres of land. It was originally intended to supply electricity to Java, the most populous island in Indonesia, through 2 high voltage direct current cables laid on the ocean floor.
However, the project scope just seems to keep growing in size, and now its proposed to expand the project by some 50% in order to supply power locally to mining companies and other industries, which leads to an anticipated all-up cost of around $20 to $23 billion using today’s $.
According to a May 2018 article in the ‘West Australian’ newspaper I found at https//thewest.com.au/business/energy/20b-pilbara-solar-wind-farm-backers-eye-local-market-ng-b88821073z –
“The hubâs backers, wind farm investor CWP Energy Asia, privately owned Intercontinental Energy, and Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas, are targeting a final investment decision in 2020 or 2021.”
Its not at all clear to me who actually ends up owning the completed project, the land it will stand on, and how much of it has actually been built to date. There are as well, issues relating to what compensation should be paid to the the traditional indigenous owners who hold native title.
Another thing which puzzles me is this: According to the the WA state agricultural and food agency, ( https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/climate-pilbara-region-western-australia ) the Pilbara region has the following weather characteristics :
“most sunshine hours a day in Australia (more than 10 hours a day)” “the most cyclone-prone area along the Australian coastline.”
As well: “Tropical cyclones cause the most extreme rainfall events and generate 25â34% of the total annual rainfall near the Pilbara coast and as much as 21% up to 450km inland. Tropical cyclones contribute from 0 to 86% of summer rainfall in the north-west.
Historically, tropical cyclones have caused considerable damage and loss of life in the Pilbara, and as a result modern design regulations ensure that buildings and other infrastructure are now far less susceptible to damaging winds. Even the threat of a tropical cyclone can cause substantial economic losses to the mining and offshore oil and gas industries through halted production or disruptions to shipping activities. … rainfall intensity and number of rain days have also increased in the central and eastern parts and decreased in the west”
On the face of it,erecting wind turbines (which could reach an overall height in excess of 320 feet with spinning blades that stretch some 115 feet in both directions giving a horizontal span of around 200 feet), in one of the most cyclone prone regions in Australia does not seem to my non-engineering eye to be a smart thing to do. More so, when the whole set-up is in a part of the world that gets more sunshine than just about anywhere else.
Further, tall steel structures reaching high into the sky, possibly even into the low clouds which are common at times of severe storms, may well be attractive to the numerous lightning bolts often around at such periods.
You’ve done some excellent research. No, I don’t think wind turbines are flimsy – but they just seem that way, when you’ve experienced a cyclone – a tree or house blowing into the blades would almost certainly cause significant damage – more later…
Yes, there are numerous types of vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) – the Darrius (or Darrieus) works on the principles of aerodynamic lift – like a horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT) – whereas the Savonius used aerodynamic drag. All wind turbines work by extracting some of the kinetic energy in a flow of wind – that energy depending on the density of the air, the cross-sectional area of the flow involved (size over the device), and the square of the wind velocity (double the wind speed provides 4 times the energy). Due to drag from the earth’s surface, buildings, trees, etc., wind speeds are higher at higher altitudes. There is a principle that sets limits on the maximum power that can be extracted from the energy in any given wind flow – this is Betz’s Law, derived in the 1920’s, which is still accepted today – this determines that a maximum of only 59.3% of the actual wind energy can be extracted from the flow (I’ve seen this equation derived from first principles – and udetstand the engineering principles) – most commercial turbines only achieve a little more than half of this maximum.
Both VAWT and HAWT have their advantages and disadvantages depending on application. VAWT tend to do better in wildly fluctuating wind directions, and have their gearboxes and alternators low down – but are necessarily heavier for a given power, and less able to survive excessive wind speeds. HAWT are more efficient, but VAWT are more cost effective – especially in small sizes. It has been found that HAWT gain efficiency with size – but the shear length of parts limits their transport onshore – not so offshore. Small HAWT seldom have blades with continuously adjusting blade pitch, so have a limited range of wind speeds for maximum efficiency – VAWT usually don’t have adjustments for wind speed as far as I can see, so also have a more limited range of wind speed for efficient operation. I don’t think large HAWT are a result of dated thinking – which would explain why they have become dominant world-wide for large-scale power production – but I take your point that for small applications small VAWT might prove more cost-effective (although probably not reach the nett efficiency of large HAWT). I’ve also read serious studies about wind turbines slowing wind speeds over large areas – on a wind farm causing their own efficiency to drop to 20%. To develop power, ALL wind turbines are required to slow and disburse wind speed – that is how they work. I doubt that the size of the turbine is the problem – more the area over which they are distributed – if 100 x 10 kW turbines were used in the same area as 1 x 1MW turbine, the outcome should be the same – according to how Betz’s Law works. Even a highly dispributed array of small turbines will reduce wind speeds – it’s just that they will ha e less impact on each other (until they are everywhere).
So – large HAWT have aerodynamic blades that are “twisted” like an aircraft propeller – necessary for efficiency, as due to the rotation the relative direction of the “apparent wind” changes (less tangential speed near the hub, so greater angle of twist). The exact shape of the blade, and the amount of it’s twist, depends on the wind speed it is optimised for – which depends of geological location, and required duty. Just like most larger propeller aircraft, Turbines adjust the pitch on the blades to achieve best efficieny – this allows them to operate efficiently over a much broader range of wind speeds. As I mentioned previously, when excessive wind speeds are expected, they can “feather” the the blades. This means the blade pitch is changed to cause the edges of the blade to face the wind – so that the torque is reduced to zero and the bladez may be braked to a stop – this is done to minimise air drag during high winds. Just for information, commercial turbines are usually rated to “survive” wind speeds ranging from 144 km/h to 260 km/h – although some have achieved a rating of 290 km/h. Cyclone Olivia in 1996 had a windspeed of 408 km/h recorded offshore at Barrow Island – a world record – not all that far from the Pilbara – that speed would probably wipe out the entire farm. Whilst the highest onshore speed recorded was 267 km/h (Vance 1999), several Cat 5 cyclones have crossed the Pilbara coast, with windspeeds determined by other means exceeding 280 km/h – which have not been recorded due to the recording equipment being blown away. Whilst I had advised Pilbara mining company locomotive operating temperatures to the manufacturers, they did not believe me – they were absolutely STUNNED when they measured an air intake temperature exceeding 55Â°C themselves. I do hope the turbine manufacturers take note…!
Regarding the Piezo system you mention (I have used piezo devices – but more to measure forces, and transmit and receive ultrasonic signals), the effect is rather small. I have to mention “there are no free lunches” (perpetual motion breaches the laws of thermodynamics – we always lose out to entropy). To recover energy from a road surface, a piezo device has to “steal” that energy from the vehicle – that is, the vehicle would have to have some of it’s energy lost – so the recovered energy really comes from the vehicle’s engine.
You comment about the “choke point” for large-scale renewables (concerning the distribution network – e.g. the size of the transmission lines) is well made. I’ve been trying to get this message across (that it is almost certainly not the most efficient means to provide full system backup and significant load shifting, by criss-crossing our entire continent with massively sized transmission lines), but no-one seems to “get” the magnitude of the problem (and cost). One half-wit seemed to think we could go full PV and wind, with just a couple of pumped hydro facilities and a few transmission lines – and no batteries (except for FCAS) – no idea.
I won’t hold my breath – from some of the outlandish solutions I’ve seen put forward – and total lack of understanding of the issues – I’d expect I will have been “pushing up daisies” for a long, long time, before any sensible position is reached.
Well, I am an engineer – and having experienced a cyclone further north while working at an iron-ore mine in our NW, I too would question the decision to build such large flimsy-looking wind turbines in such a cyclone-prone area. Maybe when the blades are feathered (therefore producing less wind drag, but no power either), the turbine towers and blades have been specified to weather the storm (I’d hope so). This then begs the question – with no wind power, and also no solar power (the sky turns dark during a cyclone – apart from a short time if the “eye” passes overhead) – what do the mines, and Indonesia do for emergency electrical power? Suffer the black-out, or start their diesel generators? Will the solar farm survive? I would expect they will all have lightning protection features – which should work most of the time.
Des, you make some extremely good points – apart from Ronald’s integrity concerning batteries not yet being ready economically (for domestic use), this must be the first time I’ve EVER heard concerns stated by renewables advocates about ANY renewable concepts or proposals – it’s all been one-way, regardless of the realities. Great call.
Re- Pilbara, yes, I too wondered about a possible long-term rental fee overing the land – we know domestic PV land cost is essentially “free” – not so usually for utility-scale solar and wind farm foot-prints, which must be either purchased or leased – but no mention has been made of this. I also wondered if the funding was heavily subsidised by government (read – our taxes) – but haven’t found any evidence of this. I understand construction is not due to even start until about 2023 – after funding arrangements have been closed.
You would think environmental impact studies would need to be done – and design specifications framed to take account of the extreme local weather conditions.
Large wind turbines aren’t exactly ‘flimsy’- of necessity, they have to use very high grade components to minimise maintenance. Also, the ‘practice’ in the industry seems to be that the moment a ‘possible cyclone’ weather alert is given, they shut down pretty much straight away, and don’t recommence until its patently clear the bad weather has cleared enough.
There is research here: https://phys.org/news/2016-11-large-scale-energy-turbine-efficiencies.html which seems to prove that not only are wind turbines ‘inefficient’ compared to other renewable alternatives ( at best they seem capable of extracting only 1 watt of energy per sq metre of land, and typically only .5 watt on average) but the law of diminishing returns sets in quite rapidly for large wind farms. ie. each turbine extracts ‘energy’ from the air thus lowering the wind speed, and as a result there is then less energy available to be extracted by other surrounding turbines.
I am not totally opposed to ‘wind power’, but from my reading, large scale wind power using the stock-standard propeller design is somewhat ‘dated’, although it does have the advantage of being around a long time.
Wind driven turbines come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of different designs – you can find some of the main ones here: http://www.reuk.co.uk/wordpress/wind/darrieus-wind-turbines/
Some of those designs translate down quite well into ‘micro scale’ versions – this Italian one here: https://www.enessere.com/en/ offers a lot of features, and has a rated 3 kw capacity. It would fit easily in a small area, located between tall buildings (which then provide ‘channeling’ of any prevailing wind).
On a personal level micro-wind turbines can be quite useful. Sea-going yachts often use a combination of solar panels, a wind turbine, and natural gas to meet their electricity needs for cooking, lighting, battery recharging for navigational equipment, or even propelling the boat if there is no wind. Mountaineers sometimes use a portable light-weight wind turbine to provide tent lighting and communications equipment battery recharging.
So to me, ‘large-scale’ wind turbine farms seem at best a somewhat problematic renewable alternative, and even more so if one factors in some of their adverse environmental effects.
Unfortunately, here in Australia we seem to be stuck in the mindset that ‘big is better’ with an associated false conclusion that ‘ its always cheaper too’.
That narrow mindset serves to restrict the debate to ‘giant coal clunkers’ versus ‘huge monopoly owned solar and wind farms occupying vast areas of agriculturally useful land and sea resources’ types of debate, which very much suits the existing monopolies. They’ve been handling those types of debates (ie big is ALWAYS better than small’) for decades, and invariably the government has to at some stage intervene for one reason or another.
Meanwhile, other countries have moved on – they are busy planning and going ahead with such things as: covering highways with solar panels, developing road and pavement surfaces that can generate electricity from passing traffic, even recharge electric vehicles and researching other piezoelectric possibilities. (Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials (such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA and various proteins) in response to applied mechanical stress.)
I can recall reading some time ago an example where a largish warehouse operation covered its entry and exit lanes and driveways with a piezo electric material, and generated enough power during the day from the vehicles entering and leaving to completely cover its electricity bill for night-time security lighting. So.. all day and every day, every vehicle that drives in – staff, customers, delivery vehicles, salesmen etc – is contributing towards the electricity costs of the facility.
The big ‘choke point’ for large-scale renewable projects is the distribution network. That doesn’t seem capable of handling the added power that’s going to be generated by the plethora of major large-scale solar and wind farms that are in the pipeline.
China has the same problem. It’s built wind-farms in remote areas, only to find that there’s no way to get all the power that can be produced distributed to where its needed. . Back in 2017 it was reported that:
‘The Gansu wind farm sits along the Gobi desert where there are extremely high winds. However, this location is about a thousand miles from Chinaâs high density port cities that would serve as the biggest consumer of this energy. There is a lack of enough infrastructure and transmission lines that would allow the energy to flow into the cities. There is still also little demand for wind power in China compared to coal. Although Chinaâs central government is actively trying to reduce its emissions and build its clean energy sector, the local governments still push coal on their local industries because it creates more economic output and because the coal is mined locally, which helps local coal companies’.
Although the Chinese government did act to fix that, at present the plant seems to be operating consistently at only 10% of its capacity.
So.. Ian, I wouldn’t hold my breath ‘waiting’ for both a resolution of the coal vs renewable debate and as well the emergence of sensible energy policy regarding transition to renewables (which in itself seems unlikely), that doesn’t get reversed or significantly modified each election.
If you want to assign probabilities my guess would be that there’s only a 10% chance of the coal vs renewable debate getting sorted out before 2030, and even it is, only another 10% chance that what also emerges as a ‘renewables’ policy will be sensible.
Or .. to put that another way, a 1% chance that anything sensible will ever emerge during my remaining life expectancy.
This is getting nowhere partly because I think you do not have an understanding of what & why the Tesla Battery was built in SA. You are correct, in that the battery buys cheap & sells more expensively, but it is also contracted as a Frequency moderator. The battery was never meant to be wholly for blackout protection, but as a smoothing agent. What the battery has done is to reduce the peak power costs, by smoothing them. The Interconnectors are also doing their job to smooth demand.
For the rest, I am sure as long as Govt does not create unreal expectations (such as proposing a coal fired power plant) that the market will fill the requirements. I notice you have ignored EVs which will also have an effect. One thing I do agree with is we will have a bumpy ride until the power market stabilises. When the demand (& returns) are there investment will happen. There is a need to ensure the infrastructure adapts to the changing needs (obvious), but I can think of one project that was killed because the power feed was not available: Hot rock generation in SA. If we looked outside the box (again) we could possibly run our interconnector past potential projects like that so we had a win-win situation. (The hot rocks would e a base-load generator too) I have worked in Industrial electronics all my working life, so I do have an understanding of the issues. I just see the advantages of many smaller projects rather than big centralised ones. I repeat: it is possible!
You really should not make statements devaluing my competence to draw conclusions, that have no basis in fact.
1. In my last post, I specifically mention FCAS as the primary purpose for our share of the Big Battery. Did you not know that FCAS stands for “Frequency Control Auxiliary Services”? 2. I have certainly not ignored EV’s – in fact the only reason I have not purchased one myself (I did do a test drive), was that the only one with sufficient range (we have a regular trip, and I did not wish to triple the travel time to allow for charging stops), was that it was just far too expensive. My idea was to charge it at home, from our large excess PV, with only our 7 cents per kWh FiT. I realise range, cost, and battery exchange issues will improve in the fullness of time. 3. At no time have I ever said it is not possible – only that it needs to be managed properly, and that will be extremely expensive if the wrong mix (and selection) of technologies is utilised. 4. Distributed systems go well beyond electrical – what about food chains, water, etc.?
I apologise Ian, I was coming from the POV that you seemed negative (which in my estimation is the biggest problem with the current Federal Govt). Only part (10%?) of the battery is FCAS (have you looked at the weekly blog on this site? Still does the required job. 2: understand range anxiety: W bought an Imiev about 6 years & 85K Kms ago. My wife drives it to work (70Ks round trip up hills) We love it! But it has huge limitations, but it is a prehistoric (in EV terms) design. The new Hyundais look good on paper, & more realistic cost. On that note, as EVs are accepted (overseas atm), the cost will reduce, particularly with advances in batteries. Conversely, the ICE vehicles must rise in price because the amortised development costs are over fewer sold vehicles. My crystal ball says perhaps 5 years till price parity. (already, overseas the TCO is cheaper for EVs) 3: The market will sort out the cost & technologies. The expensive options will be dropped, & the valid ones will be used. Govt intervention notwithstanding… 4: Totally agree. In the driest country in the world, we are wasting water on crops that might be cost effective, but over-use water. Also mining can cause huge problems (eg Adani, with the loss in the floods of the stored polluted water. Heavy metal salts are a huge problem for agriculture ditto CSG) Please note I have never saidÂ´No MiningÂ´: I am a realist that realises mining is necessary for modern life, but there is a need to ensure the extraction does not pollute the landscape (even accidentally) Also water must be wisely used. (We are currently fighting a Water mine in Alstonville, NSW. The water table on the plateau has dropped appreciably in the last 25 years already).
Diesel-engined vehicles have been extremely popular in Europe and the UK (not so much in the USA) – but are now starting to be banned in those countries.
Yes, our small share of the Big Battery is for FCAS (power) – the owner used the large balance of the battery for arbitrage (energy).
Hi Ron, A question on Coal Fired Power. At what capacity factor does coal become uneconomic? I can’t find any useful research on it. Theoretically it’s simple (the minimum capacity required for gross margin to cover fixed costs), but increased wear and tear on plant from ramping up and down (for which the older generators were not designed) may well make the function non-linear. Any view?
Ron, fundamentally scheduled generators will be saved by negative prices and a capability to make use of high wholesale prices. Semi-scheduled W&S can never make use of high wholesale prices. This price is low because they are available and then the price is high because they are not. The fundamental advantage of an available supplier in a market.
Eventually home-solar will be saturated. few people realise that the cost to supply two identical consumers one with solar and one without is the same. 80-85% of the cost is supply is to the premise without that consumer consuming a single kW of power. Yet household billing is based on 80-85% consumption and only 15% supply costs. thanks to an old regulated tariff system Deregulate the tariffs so households have a $2.50-$3 per day supply charge and say 15-20ckWh to reflect the true cost of supply and I doubt there would be too many accountants saying run off and buy home-solar.
First, from an earlier comment: C4CE is Coalition for Community Energy. They have held a bi-ennial conference, but I think economics may have delayed the next. (Google for info) I usually volunteer there to get subsidised entry.
To answer Rods last comment, if the Grid cost changes there is a risk of wholesale grid disconnections. This would tilt the grid costs even more. I feel we should remain on the grid, but be paid a reasonable price for the generated power (I currently get 16c/Kwh for up to 10Kw/day, then 9c after, which will pay for my system quickly.) One problem coming is the supply for EVs. There will need to be a way to control the draw during peak demand times. I feel consumers need to be rewarded for controlling their demand during peak periods, as well as for controlling their maximum demand. This can be accomplished easily with a well-designed Battery system. We do need a mechanism in Australia to regulate domestic demand, which could be incorporated in new house installations fairly easily.
An interesting idea. Applied to petrol a family would have to pay around $1,200 a year for permission to buy petrol and around 40+ cents per liter. This is assuming we divide the fuel excise proportionately between the fixed and marginal costs.
This would result in some, perhaps many, lower income families giving up on driving and car ownership while many people who pay the fixed cost will increase the amount they drive because the marginal cost will be less.
Perhaps this graph may be helpful:http://ieefa.org/ieefa-asia-coal-pipeline-shrinking-stranded-asset-risk-ballooning-renewables-ever-cheaper/screen-shot-2019-07-03-at-9-20-27-am/
The graph (from period 2000 to 2018) shows global coal-fired plant capacity (in GW) is approaching a peak while utilisation rate is declining, approaching 55%. I would suggest the graph is not a definitive answer – there are probably numerous factors – but it may be indicative of general trends.
The graph is included within an IEEFA web article, dated Jul 3:http://ieefa.org/ieefa-asia-coal-pipeline-shrinking-stranded-asset-risk-ballooning-renewables-ever-cheaper/
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