Technology Tease: On The Cruel Promise of a Renewables/Hydrogen Fuelled Future

Gormless PM struggles to grasp his only solution to RE crisis.

 

The wind and solar industries were built on lies, run on myth and are fuelled by subsidies, so the only way forward is more of the very same.

It took politicians and punters around a decade to cotton on to the hopeless unreliability and chaotic intermittency of solar and wind power.  Which required an altogether new approach from the rent seekers’ spin doctors.

Over the last year or two, mythical mega-batteries have been pitched as the perfect answer.

But the economics clearly don’t stack up: the biggest battery in the world – that cost taxpayers a cool $150,000,000 – sits in a sheep paddock near Jamestown in South Australia’s mid-North and would power that purportedly wind and solar ‘powered’ state for all of four minutes when the sun sets and calm weather sets in.

Hardly bang for buck, particularly when South Australia’s last coal-fired power plant (able to run 24×365) could have kept chugging away for decades for a measly $25 million – the amount its operator sought from the then Weatherill Labor government.  Instead, Jay Weatherill snubbed the owners of the plant and danced a jig when it was dynamited three years ago.  Economics was never his strongest point.

Of late, though, the propagandists have turned their attention to the notion that we’ll soon be turning sunshine and breezes into an endless supply of practically free hydrogen gas.  As we’ve pointed out once or twice before, it is a perfect nonsense.

The economics are all against it – which means begging bowls are out for the endless subsidies that rent seekers crave. And so are the laws of physics and thermodynamics.  The stuff is very difficult to store and highly corrosive of metal pipes and vessels. Oh, and it goes with a ‘bang’, too:

Notwithstanding, the PM, Scott Morrison has been waxing lyrical about hydrogen being at the heart of his “net-zero” carbon dioxide gas emissions target, and the opposition Labor Party appears to be just as out of touch with earthly reality.

However, one of their number, former Federal Labor MP and union boss, Jennie George has joined the ranks of a growing number of ALP dissenters, keen to arrest the decline of Australia’s manufacturing and mineral processing industries.  All brought about by an obsession with heavily subsidised wind and solar and the rocketing power prices that result, as night follows day.

Jennie provides a helpful reality check for those believing that there’s a wind, solar and hydrogen fuelled Nirvana just over the horizon.

The false promises of green-tech energy
The Australian
Jennie George
4 February 2021

In the lead-up to the next federal election, voters will weigh up the competing policies for moving to carbon neutrality. The how and when will be critical.

Spinning that the cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action will no longer cut the mustard. Neither will promoting figures without assumptions, costings or specific jobs data.

Figures recently quoted by new opposition climate change and energy spokesman Chris Bowen are an example of relying on sweeping generalisations. According to Deloitte, the transition to net-zero emissions will create 250,000 jobs, while 880,000 would be lost through inaction.

The 100,000 “carbon workers” in Australia in coalmining, gas and oil extraction, fossil fuel generation and integrated steelmaking (from ore to product) deserve better. The impacts are felt by them, their families, the people employed indirectly and often whole regional economies underpinned by these industries.

Take BlueScope Steel operations at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, an area I represented in parliament from 2001 to 2010. If BlueScope is to survive as an essential industry it is going to require greater government support. In recent times it has been burdened with minimal concessions as a trade-exposed industry, it had to shut down one of its blast furn­aces, it had to shed staff to survive, it competed with dumped cheap steel and it was not even used in the building of the new grandstand in Wollongong.

Promises of import-replacement strategies and mandated procurement policies to shore up the domestic supply chain came to nothing. So, too, the cogeneration proposal that would have fed surplus electricity into the grid.

Steelmaking produces huge quantities of waste-flammable gases that are flared into the atmosphere. An integrated cogeneration scheme would capture these to generate steam that would be used industrially as well as to generate electricity.

That is a project still worthy of support. It has the potential to be one of the nation’s largest emission-reduction projects, as well as feeding surplus electricity into the grid.

But instead of immediate practical solutions to ensure ongoing viability of an essential industry, we are hearing of a magical transition to “green steel”.

The Grattan Institute, in an endeavour to give a practical focus to emerging technologies, first raised the possibility of “green steel” in relation to Australia. Grattan sees its potential for exports and job creation in regional Australia. It would use hydrogen, produced from renewable energy, to replace metallurgical coal.

It was interesting to hear Scott Morrison embrace the mantra of green steel this week. The problem is that while it could provide opportunities for electric arc furnaces in mini-mills, it is not suited to blast-furnace steelmaking at Port Kembla. Again, it’s important not to raise false expectations.

It is a pity advocates of such technologies don’t tell the community the whole truth: that there are no proven and commercially viable technologies to replace coal/coke in the blast furnace steelmaking process at BlueScope in the Illawarra. Is it a just transition to see integrated steelmaking lost to the nation? Try convincing the thousands of workers and their families that this is the price they will have to pay.

Likewise, NSW’s Hunter region provides thousands of jobs in mining and coal-fired power generation. It will be particularly susceptible to proposed moves to carbon neutrality.

The Tomago aluminium smelter near Newcastle is a major employer whose future is problematic. The newly formed Hunter Jobs Alliance, led by the Australian Metal Workers Union and the Labor Environment Action Network, falsely raises expectations that the smelter could be powered by renewables in future.

It operates 24 hours a day, directly employs 950 people and produces 25 per cent of Australia’s aluminium. It is called on to reduce operations to avoid widespread blackouts when there is a system security risk.

Renewables are not commercially viable, nor can they guarantee the required reliability for the smelter’s continued operation. The largest South Australian battery today would power that smelter for less than 15 minutes.

Labor’s talk of a jobs and emissions compact and the government’s technology roadmap will be critical to the community’s evaluation of future plans. False technology solutions are as inexcusable as the rhetoric of a “just transition”, without the real economic costs and employment impacts of moving to carbon neutrality.
The Australian

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February 7, 2021 at 12:31AM

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