A house of cards has more structural integrity than a power generation system that depends on sunshine and breezes. Australia’s unfolding renewable energy debacle is a case in point.
Total daily collapses solar output (aka ‘sunset’) and total collapses in wind power output (aka ‘calm weather’) are at the heart of a power pricing and supply calamity, with daily power rationing the new normal.
The massive subsidies to wind and solar were designed to destroy the profitability of reliable coal-fired generators, which they duly did.
The political brains trust and their apologists in the MSM have been railing against coal-fired power as “dirty” and the personification of “evil” for years now. And yet, when a coal-fired power plant takes one or two of its several generating units off-line for repairs or maintenance, the same mob howls ‘blue murder’, accusing the plant’s owners of an underhand conspiracy aimed at undermining the magical transition to an all wind and sun powered future, by revealing just how dependent we really are on coal-fired power.
Coal-fired generators are being accused of mismanagement and malfeasance for failing to deliver power to the grid by politicos and MSM journalists; the same crowd who – for the last decade or more – have been rabidly demanding that coal-fired generators be put out of business, for good.
It’s a little like the bratty kid who busts the family’s prized Ming vase, then blames the destruction on the (innocent) family cat – which duly cops a number 10 boot from dad – left feeling bewildered at its wholly undeserved punishment.
This is a crowd who, despite all the evidence, simply can’t bring themselves to say anything untoward about wind and solar; who run silent when realists point to the inherent chaos that comes from attempting to rely on sunshine and the weather for power.
The best that they can come back with is mutterings about pie in the sky ‘green’ hydrogen and mythical mega-batteries.
However, slowly but surely, the curtain is being pulled back to reveal a rather naked Emperor, reduced to sitting freezing in the dark.
Claire Lehmann picks up the thread below.
Out in the cold without reliable baseload power
17 June 2022
The Australian Energy Market Operator had to take the extraordinary step this week of suspending the electricity market to preserve supply and prevent blackouts across five states. In response to the power crisis, several figures from business and politics have called for a faster transition to renewable energies, arguing that wind and solar – in concert with battery storage – will solve our energy and climate problems.
While it is true that our coal-fired power plants are old and creaky, renewable energies are unlikely to reduce variability and uncertainty in the market. On the contrary, they are likely to increase uncertainty because their ability to generate energy is dependent on the weather. The more we rely on renewables, the more variability and potential for dysfunction there will be.
Environmentalists and their allies in big business have argued that batteries solve this problem. Battery technology has come a long way, with “mega-batteries” able to store and release power when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Indeed, South Australia is home to one of the biggest lithium batteries in the world, with installation of more big batteries planned for more states and territories.
Yet to build these mega-batteries we need more mining, which in turn releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Batteries for electric cars and renewable energy storage are made out of copper, zinc, aluminium and lithium. According to a report by the ABC, “a wind turbine needs four times more minerals than a coal-fired power station to generate the same amount of electricity”. The irony is that we will need to increase our carbon emissions to reduce them.
And not only does mining produce large amounts of carbon dioxide but mines also can leak toxic materials into waterways. Mines often are opposed by environmental groups for this reason. It can take years for new mines to be approved because of Australia’s high standards of environmental protection regulation.
To complicate things further, the trend in the corporate world is to avoid investment in mining because of environmental, social and governance considerations.
The result is that demand for the minerals that go into batteries is going up while supply is going down, leading to what some analysts have called “greenflation”.
European central banker Isabel Schnabel has argued that greenflation has driven up gas prices worldwide, which is having the second order effect of raising consumer prices for essential goods. Speaking to the ECB earlier this year, she warned: “At present, renewable energy has not yet proven sufficiently scalable to meet rapidly rising demand … The combination of insufficient production capacity of renewable energies in the short run, subdued investments in fossil fuels and rising carbon prices means that we risk facing a possibly protracted transition period during which the energy bill will be rising. Gas prices are a case in point.”
The experience of Germany demonstrates the impact that renewables can have on electricity markets. A 2019 report produced by Deloitte on the German electricity market says newer, more modern coal-fired plants are able to meet the “flexibility challenge” posed by renewables, but older plants cannot.
Despite having the highest share of cheap renewable energy from wind and solar, Germany has the highest electricity prices in Europe. Fossil fuels are locked in as backup power, which has led Germany to become dependent on imported gas from Russia. This is despite spending $743bn on its energy transition.
Some countries, such as France, Sweden and Iceland, do get most of their electricity from low-carbon dioxide sources. But these low-CO2 sources are not wind and solar, which make up only 2 per cent and 1 per cent of global total energy production, they are hydropower and nuclear.
It is unclear what type of investment in reliable baseload power our new government is willing to provide. Energy Minister Chris Bowen recently described the case for nuclear energy as “a complete joke” and moratoriums on gas exploration and extraction remain in place across the country. West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has announced that his state will shut two coal-fired power plants. In addition to the two plants in WA, the Liddell power plant in NSW is scheduled to close next year and Yallourn power station in Victoria is set to shut in 2028.
When the Hazelwood coal-fired plant in Victoria closed in 2017, the closure resulted in higher energy prices that lasted for years. The Australian Energy Regulator reported that in 2018 the closure of Hazelwood led to average electricity spot prices that were 85 per cent higher than the previous year in Victoria, 63 per cent higher in NSW, 53 per cent in Queensland and 32 per cent higher in SA.
Energy imbalances can lead to chaotic conditions in electricity markets, as we have seen this week. While renewables and batteries may be an innovative supplement to our energy mix that ultimately may help reduce carbon emissions, they come with the unintended consequence of injecting variability and uncertainty into our electricity market. And dysfunction in the market cannot be solved without investment in reliable baseload power.
From watching the European experience, we know baseload power can come only from coal, gas or nuclear energy. If our leaders do not manage this situation carefully and learn from other nations, Australians may have to prepare for an energy crisis that never ends.
via STOP THESE THINGS
June 18, 2022 at 02:30AM