Recent articles on renewable power

1. Radical ideas for renewable energy policy

Investment bank UBS came up with this list:

1.  Mandate time of use meter roll out over remaining States in the NEM (NSW, QLD, SA, TAS)

2.  Reinstate the carbon tax with zero exemptions and zero compensation, but start it at a lower level, say  $10/t. This would raise around $5bn of revenue and continue to discourage electricity consumption. It would send a price signal to all carbon producers, however of itself it would not induce much fuel shifting.

3. Encourage the construction of distributed PV solar on any building where the majority of the electricity consumption is during the day or where the costs of being connected to the grid are high. Examples of the former category include many Federal and State Government owned buildings, factories and warehouses. All that flat Western Sydney metal roofing is ideal for solar.

4. We would use some of the funds raised to subsidise the take-up of onsite storage and encourage grid defection and the creation of micro grids, particularly in rural areas. Network investment and pricing models would need to be sharply revised.

5. Networks in general would have their monopoly pricing status revoked. In the world of the “Nu-tility”, the network is no longer a monopoly – it competes with distributed electricity and possibly with other distribution business models. If networks put prices up too much they will face competition of their own.

6. We would incentivise closure of some brown coal fired electricity in Victoria, possibly via means of environmental regulation, but possibly with a capacity closure auction.

7. Likely continue with the current renewables target.

I can’t say I like all of these but they are a starting point for discussion.  The article also had this table comparing renewable and fossil “subsidies”.  (Excluding state subsidies which are quite significant.)

UBS subsidies

2.  Queensland power price goes negative in the middle of the day

Last week, for the first time in memory, the wholesale price of electricity in Queensland fell into negative territory – in the middle of the day.  For several days the price – normally around $40-$50 a megawatt hour – hovered in and around zero. Prices were deflated throughout the week.

There were several reasons for this. A restricted interconnector to NSW added to the volatile trading, as did uncertainty about the carbon price. But the overall softening of prices was primarily the result of the newest and one of the biggest power stations in the state – rooftop solar PV.

There is 1,100MW of it on more than 350,000 buildings in Queensland alone (3,400MW on 1.2 million building across the country), and  it is producing electricity just at the time that coal generators used to make hay (while the sun shines).

The article also had this table showing just how large the grid owners and retailers are costing consumers.

aemc electricity prices

3. Solar fuels exports from the Pilbara

This article argues that the Japan free trade agreement may hasten the production of solar fuels from the Pilbara.  A key argument is based around Japanese fears of LNG supplies being exposed to deteriorating relationships with China (as well as price uncertainty.)

Liquid ammonia is the logical solar fuel for production in the Pilbara.  Renewable ammonia can be produced from renewable power, water and nitrogen from the air.  Theoretical water consumption is 1.6 litres water per kg of ammonia so this shouldn’t be a problem even if desalination is required. (Other solar fuels such as gasoline require a source of CO2)

Liquid ammonia could be transported using LNG facilities.  The big disadvantage of liquid ammonia is that one kg of LNG has the same energy as 2.9 kg of liquid ammonia.   However, to some extent this disadvantage will be off set by the fact that ammonia can be used in fuel cells.

4. Turkey nest dams may be key to pumped storage in Australia

This article argues that “off river pumped storage” using small turkey nest dams overcomes the problems of using pumped storage systems with the dams in river valleys.

Off-river electricity storage has several advantages over typical on-river facilities:

– There are vastly more potential sites

– Sites can be selected that do not clash with environmental and other values

– The upper reservoir can be placed on top of a hill rather than in a valley, allowing the elevation difference to be maximised

– No provision needs to be made for floods (typically a major cost).

A system comprising twin 10ha reservoirs, each 30m deep, with a 750m elevation difference, can deliver about 1000 megawatts for five hours.

Between 20 and 40 of these systems would be enough to stabilise a 100 per cent renewable Australian electricity system.

How much does it cost?

As the reservoirs are tiny (just a few hectares) compared with typical hydro reservoirs, they are a minor component of the cost. Most of the cost is in the power components (pipes, pumps, turbines, transformers and transmission). Initial estimates suggest that the cost of an off-river system at a good site is around $1000 per kilowatt of installed capacity.

One m3/sec of water falling one m will generate 9.807 kW

State of Origin: Blues triumph

Congratulations must go to NSW for their series victory in the second State of Origin. There’s a shorter account at Wikipedia.


The match scores at 6-4 were close. The game statistics showed NSW edging Qld in most categories, except that penalties favoured the Blues 9-5 and missed tackles favoured them 29-13.

Experienced players have said that the series is the toughest they have played in. The injury carnage has been severe, with 15 players going down.

I’m not sure why the referees got the sack, except that it is what the NSW camp called for. I thought some penalties should have been blown early for extra work in the ruck. My maroon eyes saw two NSW high shots that were let go in the first 10 minutes. They probably were not sacked because they got the Thaiday no-try wrong.

Wrong? Yes, wrong.

From former referee and referee boss Bill Harrigan:

“On the Sam Thaiday incident, well … it’s a try,” Harrigan told Triple M on Friday night.

“I know people are saying he (Hayne) didn’t play at the ball — of course he played at the ball.

“He knocked it out of Thaiday’s hand. It means the ball is ‘live’, it’s not a knock-on, not a loose carry.

“If he didn’t touch the ball, Sam has it in his (arm) and he scores a try.”

Mal Meninga:

“I thought Sam’s was a try, seriously,” he said.

“He was stripped and here we go, whether he knocked the ball on … it was a strip.

“In Origin that can make a difference but we won’t offer any excuses.”

If Thaiday scores NSW have to score twice. Unlikely. They scored once, courtesy of us with poor discipline giving them five consecutive sets at the line.

The dead tree version of the Courier mail showed Hayne dislodging the ball from Thaiday’s grasp with a clenched fist punch as he threw his arm around.

Them’s the breaks and we have to suck it up.

The press gives the impression that the players hate each other, but there seems to be a lot of respect, as Reynolds showed when he told Thurston “I look up to you, man.”

Channel 9 won the night which was a ratings record.

For the third it should be a dry track so with the help of the referees we can hope for a bit more football.

Climate sensitivity and the myth of ‘burnable carbon’

The ink is scarcely dry in the IPCC’s fifth report when it has become clear that they have badly underestimated the risks in two key areas – sea level rise and climate sensitivity. With respect to the latter, David Spratt at Climate Code Red comes to the conclusion that there is no carbon budget left, no ‘burnable carbon’ if we are looking for a safe climate.

As I said in Climate clippings 97 the fourth IPCC report in 2007 estimated that the planet will warm between 2 and 4.5°C warming in response to a doubling of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, with a best estimate of 3°C. This estimate was followed by a number of studies suggesting a lower sensitivity, leading the IPCC’s fifth report to extend the range to 1.5°C at the lower end and omit a best estimate entirely.

Back in May Dana Nuccitelli reported on a study by Kummer & Dessler which showed that recent studies suggesting an insensitive climate are flawed. They eliminate the lower part of the range but still converge on a value around 3°C.

Spratt now reports:

a recent paper by Sherwood, Bony et al looking at clouds and atmospheric convective mixing finds that on “the basis of the available data… the new understanding presented here pushes the likely long-term global warming towards the upper end of model ranges.” Taking “the available observations at face value,” they write, “implies a most likely climate sensitivity of about 4°C, with a lower limit of about 3°C.”

Problem is that these estimates are based on short-term feedbacks only, or what is known as Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS). Spratt says:

Paleoclimatology (study of past climates) suggests that if longer-term feedbacks of “slow” factors are taken into account, such as the decay of large ice sheets, changes in the carbon cycle (changed efficiency of carbon sinks such as permafrost and methane clathrate stores, as well as biosphere stores such as peatlands and forests), and changes in vegetation coverage and reflectivity (albedo), then the Earth’s sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 could itself be double that of the “fast” climate sensitivity predicted by most climate models, or around 6°C.

A measure of these effects for a doubling of CO2 is known as Earth System Sensitivity (ESS).

He says that “ESS is generally considered to come into play over periods from centuries to several millennia.”

If that’s how the earth system operates, that’s how we must operate.

Now in February 2013, new research on Russian cave formations measuring historic melting rates gives rise to a warning that a +1.5°C global rise in temperature compared to pre-industrial is enough to start a general permafrost melt.

Other research indicates that thaw and decay of permafrost carbon, once seriously started, is irreversible.

Rather than 2°C as a guardrail to avoid dangerous climate change, we must expect danger to occur at 1.5°C.

We are pushing the climate harder than it has been pushed in the last 65 million years. In this post I asked what does 4°C mean?

Professor John Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, provides a stark assessment of the difference between a rise of two and four degrees. ‘The difference,’ he says, ‘is human civilisation. A 4°C temperature increase probably means a global [population] carrying capacity below 1 billion people’.

For a safe climate as we saw in The game is up, again quoting David Spratt:

We have to come to terms with two key facts: practically speaking, there is no longer a “carbon budget” for burning fossil fuels while still achieving a two-degree Celsius (2°C) future; and the 2°C cap is now known to be dangerously too high.

I hate to say this, but at the leading edge people are catching up with what James Hansen was saying back in 2008. Here’s a table from page 17 of the 2011 paper Earth’s Energy Imbalance and Implications where he gives four categories of climate sensitivity:

Climate sensitivity_cropped_600

The fourth doesn’t bear thinking about. Clearly he’s a dangerous man and needs to be locked up.