That is the title of an article by Jay Weatherill as we suffered the recent heatwave. He believes that electricity supply is a public good and should be in public hands. However, the article is really a plea to Malcolm Turnbull to keep an emissions intensity scheme (EIS) on the table.
Weatherill says that we do indeed have an impending crisis, with the planned closing of Hazelwood, and another nine coal-fired power stations closing across the country:
When Malcolm Turnbull flagged his intentions to become prime minister of this nation, he said our nation required a style of leadership that respected the people’s intelligence, that explained complex issues, then set out a course of action and made a case for it. He said we needed advocacy, not slogans, and that we needed to respect the intelligence of the Australian people.
Contrast those words with the scenes in federal Parliament last week, as senior federal ministers passed around a lump of coal.
On Monday, we saw a call for an end to the partisan energy politics from the most diverse coalition of interest groups you are likely to see, including the Business Council of Australia, the ACTU and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
These groups are right to call for an end to this toxic debate, which they say has “made energy investments impossibly risky”. All sides of politics must now heed this message and act in the national interest.
The PM is lucky, he says, because the answer is an EIS:
- An EIS places the cost of adjustment on the dirtiest generators, and reinvests it into transitional technologies, such as gas-fired generation, which will enhance competition, provide energy security, with a fuel that is half as carbon polluting. Rarely does a policy achieve three simultaneous policy objectives. (Emphasis added)
Ironically, if you’ve been casually following the debate, just about everyone except Turnbull and his government thinks the EIS is a good idea. By contrast, an EIS seems to be the only concrete plan Labor has in its policy kit.
However, please note that Weatherill has classified gas as ‘clean’.
Richard Dennis has a range of reasons why no-one in their right mind would invest in new gas, and sees batteries as the logical answer, but unfortunately lacking the lobbying power of the gas industry. I think that to promote new gas-fired power stations with a 40-year life is to totally misunderstand the urgency of climate change action. I used to think we should reach zero emissions by 2030, now I think that is too late.
Last December the CSIRO and Energy networks Australia published an Electricity Network Transformation Roadmap which stunned anyone who was paying attention. Giles Parkinson sums up:
- Wind and solar will provide nearly all generation by 2050, with a significant amount – between one-third and one-half – coming from the nation’s rooftops. Battery storage in homes and business, and located on the grid, or at renewable energy installations, will balance the output and provide most network stability services.
On top of this, this scenario will save $100 billion in upfront capital costs over business as usual, and also deliver significant bill savings – of $400 or more a year for “active homes”, those with solar and storage and smart controls, and more than $600 for “passive homes”, those with no interest or no possibility to pursue such technologies.
I think he should have “active” and “passive” homes the other way around, but the big message is batteries.
- Parkinson gives some of the headline numbers discussed in the report. By 2050, more than 10 million customers will own distributed resources like solar, storage, home energy management systems and electric vehicles, which they can use to sell grid support services worth $2.5 billion per year.
Rooftop solar PV will grow six-fold within a decade, and 16-fold by 2050, which is the equivalent of 80GW. Up to half of all electricity generation will be sourced “locally”, mostly on rooftops. Battery storage uptake will be significant, accounting for nearly 100GWh at the local level alone.
Here is the energy profile they saw:
- This [local batteries] will be critical in the shaping of the new grid. This battery storage will play an important role in balancing the grid and providing the network services needed, along with centralised storage, which could be from batteries, pumped hydro, solar thermal, or other.
Presently the industry is sliced vertically into customers, retailers, grids, long haul transmitters and power stations, which are all supposed to be competitive and contestable, except the long-haul transmitters. Then there is the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), who balances supply and demand. I’d suggest consideration might be given to taking the retailers and AEMO out of the system and allowing the grids to interact directly with customers and energy suppliers. The grids would be responsible for finding the power to keep the lights on. Some of the power would be sourced from the customers. Accountability would be clear and direct. Each area only needs one grid, we don’t need contestability and competition in that function.
Bruce Mountain suggests that power be given back to the states, which would be in synch with my suggestion. He points out that in 1999 when we started this adventure of contestability, competition and privatisation, Australians were paying some of the lowest electricity prices in the world. Now they are among the highest. Time to call the experiment a dud.
He points out that in similar political systems like Canada, the USA and Germany the states have responsibility for power.
Meanwhile the industry seems to be moving to renewables with storage in any case.
Australian company Lyon plans to build a “minimum” 100MW of solar PV paired with 100MWh of battery storage in South Australia. That is the very amount the state was short of in the recent blackout. The company plans for more than 1GW of grid-connected PV and 500MWh of battery storage by 2020.
Then EnergyAustralia outlines plans for a 100MW pumped hydro plant on the Eyre Peninsula near the sea in SA. This one plans to use off-peak grid power.
There are several more pumped storage projects in NSW and Queensland.
Last November ARENA announced the provision of $449,000 in funding for the Australian National University to map potential short-term off-river pumped hydro energy storage sites around Australia.
Kane Thornton of the Clean Energy Council in today’s AFR says there is an:
- unprecedented level of investment in renewable energy occurring around the country. The wind and solar projects that will go to construction this year add up to more than $5.6 billion of investment, almost 3150 direct jobs and more than 2500 MW of new power capacity. It represents the biggest program of works for renewables since the end of the Snowy hydro scheme more than 50 years ago. This is “Jobs and Growth” writ large.
There are no concrete coal or gas projects I’ve heard about. Renewables are winning the race for energy investment.
There is a spoiler to home batteries. Queensland regulators, thought to be anticipating Standards Australia, want battery storage out of homes, garages.
- “A BESS (battery energy storage system) should be installed outdoors in weatherproof enclosures away from any living areas, laundries and garages. The enclosure should restrict access by untrained people, children, pets or vermin,” the Electrical Safety Office writes on its website.
That’s all batteries, not just lithium-ion. At that rate you couldn’t park an electric vehicle in your garage.
Will Malcolm Turnbull and the other thousands already installed have to comply?
We seem to find new way of making geese of ourselves!
Elsewhere Malcolm Turnbull’s scare campaign on electricity prices doesn’t seem to be working with the voters. This week the Guardian Essential Report asked lots of questions about electricity and climate change. The whole report is at that site, or Michelle Grattan has a handy summary in Government losing the argument on energy, according to poll.
A total of 65% of people agree with Labor’s target of 50% renewable energy by 2030, including 55% of LNP voters. Only 16% think the blackouts were caused by too much reliance in renewable energy.
64% of people think renewable energy is the solution to our future energy needs while 14% see it as a threat. Only 12% of people think the federal government is doing enough to ensure affordable, reliable and clean energy for Australian households and businesses.
Time to give up the scare campaign, Malcolm, and start a conversation that respects the intelligence of the Australian people.
Finally, Labor’s policy was deemed a fail by some in the media, because they declined to promise a legislated mandatory Renewable Energy Target in capital letters. Their policy was a plan for a plan, much like Alan Finkel is engaged in now, with only an EIS as a nominated feature. The detail of some things are best left until you are in government, but I do think they could tell their story better. Much better.
And an ANU study has come up with an uncomfortable fact – SA power bills rose less in the past decade than the coal-dependent states.
Update: John D has linked to an excellent article by Hugh Saddler – Australia’s electricity market is not agile and innovative enough to keep up.
- The research puts the Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) of a new ultra-supercritical coal-fired power station in Australia at $A134-203/MWh; significantly higher than the LCOE of new-build wind at $A61-118/MWh), solar $A78-140/MWh or combined-cycle gas at $A74-90/MWh.
The problem with new gas is that it can’t be allowed to live out it’s natural life. It will need to close within about 10 years for a good chance of a safe climate.
The problem with CCS is that it’s expensive off the chart.