Complexity has a price, and a renewables grid is a bit like a 240 volt moving Rubiks cube. Here we see an unnecessary project hit by a random factor that in turn will affect all the others, blowing out other costs and schedules.
Australia’s breakneck energy transition, driven like a crash test dummy by government subsidies, depends on finishing the massive pumped hydro scheme called Snowy 2.0. However it has hit another delay no one apparently saw coming.
“Australia’s biggest renewable energy project” is the $6 – 10 billion plan to pump water uphill so it can run back down again to generate electricity every time the windmills and solar panels suffer a catastrophic failure, which is nearly every day. The entire project is superfluous in a grid with coal power — as we know from the last fifty years when we didn’t need it.
Unfortunately a 2,400 ton Tunnel Boring Machine called Florence is quite stuck under a cave-in. According to the ABC she started ten months ago, and is supposed to be digging her way through 15 kilometres (10 miles) of mountain. The stuck bore can’t go forwards, but she can’t go back the way she came in either. The team has installed concrete reinforcing behind Florence as she moved and the concrete reinforcing effectively locks her in. It’s meant to be a one way trip.
So we have the irony of a machine designed to carve through miles of rock trapped inside a pile of sand. But it gets worse.
Last month, the Snowy Hydro Corporation said it was monitoring a “surface depression” above the boring machine. So a local man decided to go looking for the hole. As he says “technically, [Florence] should be 9 kilometers in but I thought I’d start about 3 kilometers out and start walking my way back in,” Mr Anderson said.
He spent four days looking for the hole only to find it, wow, barely 150 meters from the entrance.
His big shock was not the hole, but that the tunnel borer had barely achieved anything at all. These machines are designed to travel 30 to 50 meters a day, so this short tunnel is effectively one week’s work. The Snowy 2.0 scheme is supposed to be finished by December 2026, (just revised a week ago to Dec 2027) but at the current rate of 60 centimeters (2ft) a day it will take about 70 years to finish.
Looks like we will need those old coal plants for a bit longer. This delay could affect the rollout of new renewables.
Future options include jacking it up (described as “a huge task”) or disassembling Florence — all 143 meters and 2,400 tons — and extracting the machine in pieces. But if they do that, they will have to start the whole tunnel again. Still they hadn’t got very far…
You’d never know Australia was a top mining nation, eh?
Pumped Hydro is giant appliance that sucks electricity and gives you back some later. In a system with reliable baseload generators it is superfluous, redundant, and entirely unnecessary. It is an expense we don’t have to have, didn’t need, and don’t want to pay for. It can only make things more expensive than the system we used to have. Not only do we have to pay for the giant infrastructure, every day it operates we also throw away 20 – 30% of the electrons (so to speak) that go through it.
The mammoth pumped Hydro scheme is a $10 billion dollar disaster that will never pay for itself, is already being superseded by battery technology, and will scar the land, infect pristine alpine lakes, risk critically endangered species, damage fishing grounds, and breach the Biosecurity Act in a National park. (Where are the environmentalists, Tim Flannery? Does anyone care?)
h/t David B
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February 13, 2023 at 02:01PM