The energy wars continue in 2018

Josh Frydenberg has just written an opinion piece in the AFR about Why we can’t do without the power of Snowy 2.0.

Can’t do without it, that’s what he said. To impress us he said:

    With only 2 per cent of construction visible above ground, the scheme involved 16 major dams, seven power stations, a pumping station and 225 kilometres of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts.

He says that it will create up to 5000 jobs, produce enough power for 500,000 homes and store enough energy to run for seven consecutive days at its maximum output.

And it would cost a mere $3.8 to $4.5 billion compared to the equivalent in Tesla batteries which would cost $180 billion.

He says that 97% of the world’s energy storage is done through pumped hydro. What he doesn’t say is how much bang you would get from spending $4.5 billion to subsidise smaller pumped hydro schemes on a decentralised basis instead of drilling 27 kilometres through very unfriendly rock. In costing this one, the cost of even connecting it to the grid has not been calculated, let alone transmittimg power to where it is needed to support renewables.

Bruce Mountain has said he can’t see the numbers stacking up, so we should worry. What it does do is give Malcolm Turnbull photo opportunities, which are supposed to convince him, us, and his less than completely loyal party room that he is forging an appropriate energy future:

In an article published under the title Power mess still needs to be fixed on the front page of the AFR, Ben Potter says AEMO boss Audrey Zibelman has challenged other energy agencies to deliver AEMO the tools it needs to build a “strategic reserve” to protect the power system from blackouts this year and next summer.

    AEMO has raised 1150 megawatts of “demand response” capacity to help prevent blackouts this summer, but the mechanism the agency had used to ensure enough supply called the Reliability and Reserve Trader or RERT, won’t be available for the summer of 2018-19.

    The rule-making body, the Australian Energy Market Commission, has changed the rules governing the RERT so that from 2018 the mechanism can only be used on short notice, leaving the market operator to lobby for a strategic reserve in its place.

I’m really not sure what is going on here, so Giles Parkinson will no doubt tell us when he gets back from the break. Zibelman sees demand response as like a big power station, and indeed as a strategic reserve.

John Pierce, Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) chair seems to do what he likes and what he likes is to make it hard for innovators in the market. Kerry Schott, the new Energy Security Board chair is paid the big bucks to sort this kind of thing out.

    AEMO has contracted with 14 companies – including Alcoa Portland Aluminium, Agrekko Diesel Generators, SA and Victorian distributors SA Power Networks and CitiPower/Powercor, and Australian Steel Company’s Laverton mill – to deliver demand response capacity under the RERT this summer.

Apparently Zibelman can’t simply roll this over next summer because Pierce thinks a ‘strategic reserve’ needs to be actual electricity.

Perhaps they should all visit Queensland where this kind of thing has been done since 2006. Will Queensland be allowed to keep doing it?

Zibelman said the other trick tried in Queensland of remotely turning customers’ pool pumps and air conditioners up and down could potentially lower demand by 800 MW. It’s called PeakSmart. Will Energex be allowed to keep doing it? My guess is that they won’t ask.

Richard Dennis says that there is nothing in the constitution that obliges politicians to use evidence in making policy. It is perfectly open to them to use feelings, so that is what many do. Dennis says:

    During last February’s heat wave fossil fuel-based power stations failed in NSW, SA and Queensland, and most of these failures were heat-related. In NSW 20 per cent of coal and gas generation (2438 MW) failed on February 10 during the peak demand period.

Nevertheless many politicians feel that coal is cheap and reliable, so they act as though it were. Even so, surely they can only maintain these positive feelings if they don’t actually live near any such facilities. Here is a vision of keeping old coal alive, which seems to be a central purpose of current policies:

Meanwhile A month in, Tesla’s SA battery is surpassing expectations. It can provide contingency services within 6 seconds when there is a drop in power supplied. However, it also provides frequency regulation services to smooth frequency achieved through control signals sent by AEMO at a 4-second intervals.

Victoria is going for a big battery at Stawell, and there will be an even bigger one at the Kaban Green Power Hub, 80 kilometres south-west of Cairns in Queensland. That one will be topped by a 150-megawatt lithium-ion unit Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems is building in Ulsan near the south-east coast of South Korea, which will go live in a few months.

Battery prices have almost halved since 2014.

Batteries have set a new standard for backup power as Snowy Hydro found to its sorrow. Seems Snowy does more than hydro, as it is buying solar from Tailem Bend in SA. When it wanted to relocate some of its fast-start diesel generators from the Hunter Valley approval was declined by the SA authorities with advice from AEMO. The requirements for dynamic voltage control capability and fault-ride could not be met without expensive upgrades, made more uneconomic because the connection charges were more than six times higher than charged for an equivalent project in Queensland.

This morning Richard Di Natale was on the airwaves calling for leadership on climate change policy. At present it looks like another year in the wilderness venturing up dry gullies. The Energy Security Board is preoccupied with trying to square the circle in working out the details of the National Energy Guarantee, considered by people like Finkel as the third best option available.

We aspire to mediocrity.

13 thoughts on “The energy wars continue in 2018”

  1. Speaking of batteries, my interest has been a little distracted but not lost. New “ground-breaking” technologies are announced every week but even years later we don’t see them being used. The last big breakthrough was the lithium ion battery and that has been amazing despite its limitations.
    The Li-ion battery was developed by John Goodenough. Now 95 y.o. you’ll find him at the University of Texas and he is still developing rechargeable batteries. He is not the only one researching for the Holy Grail battery, but his history affords him some credibility when he discusses his latest research.

    It is possible he has broken through the limitations of Li-ion batteries – flammability, longevity, cost, re-charge time and at least the same energy density as lithium. Goodenough also believes his new batteries will scale up to grid size.

    Bloomberg published a Q & A in November 2017 and it is worth a look:
    Another article where many questions are answered at:

    If he is right, the new battery technology will change so many things. An electric car that recharges in minutes and with a ten year+ battery life is game-changing in itself.

    As I said above though, new technologies are announced regularly and often, and most seem to fail (or they are buried according to conspiracy theorists). This one looks quite promising.

  2. nothing in the Constitution that obliges politicians to use evidence in making policy.

    That’s a cheap shot, Richard Dennis.
    Think it through.

    Litigant A brings a case to the High Court claiming Minister B didn’t use evidence in deciding C. Minister says she did. HC asks for evidence that she did. “Cabinet in confidence”, she replies. HC sets up an independent Inquiry akin to a Royal Commission. It runs for 19 months, issues a Public Report for their Honours the HC Judges. HC decides the case. Govt ignores the finding.

    Litigant A goes broke but writes to this blog announcing complete vindication and victory!!

    “Aspiring to mediocrity” indeed.

  3. Does the Government costing of the Snowy pumped storage allow for the extra transmission required? I would have thought the extra transmission costs for batteries located near renewable energy sources would be a lot less proportionately than for the Snowy. Multiple batteries dispersed around the grid plus small pumped hydro ditto sounds likely to be both cheaper & increase system resilience.

  4. Brian,

    Meanwhile, in Thursday’s paper edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, headlined:
    1. Gigantic solar power plant given green light for South Australian outback, reports that the construction of 150 MW Aurora solar thermal plant will begin this year; and
    2. Future without coal is inevitable, an op-ed by Peter Martin, who says: “The more we move away from coal, the more secure our power becomes”.

    When is the energy sink ‘Snowy 2.0’ going to be operational? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s at least 6 years away – that’s in year-2024. The South Australian Aurora project, a primary energy with 8-hour storage, ‘dispatchable’, “spinning inertia” generator is scheduled to be operational in 2020 – a few years sooner.

    And what energy sources will be used to pump the water up to the top reservoirs when ‘Snowy 2.0’ does become operational? Coal-fired power generators supplied 88% of NSW’s electricity supplies in 2016/17. ‘Snowy 2.0’ will increase electricity demand, and highly likely increase CO2 emissions.

    On a recent ABC Q&A programme, PM Turnbull predicted a long future for fossil fuels, and repeated the usual fear-mongering about wind and solar. ‘Snowy 2.0’ may delay/impede further growth in renewable generation, which it seems may serve the objectives of the right wing in Australia’s politics and media.

  5. GM: Six years for Snowy 2? Probably, perhaps more if you estimate 2 years for the feasibility to be sorted into a plan so that the build can begin, A cynical view is that the longer it takes, the less likely it will happen and that coal will continue on life support. There is a fair chance that there will be a change of government in that time. Labor has said it is fine with the concept but is concerned at the possible cost increases ( InDaily Dec 21 2017). Sounds like NBN shaping up.

    How to pump the water? Well you would look to using renewables to be sensible, and they can be provided within the six year period. That’s how pumped hydro wins from a sustainability view. That’s how the Queensland Kidston project is planned.

    In any event, A number of sites distributed along the populated areas seems a far better and more readily achievable solution.
    A number of sites is also less vulnerable to failure for whatever reason.

    Turnbull may be right about a long future for fossil fuels and that may be unavoidable. The more important part of that is that the use of fossil fuels is reduced by orders of magnitude.
    Promising battery advances should see all cars as electric and even that will diminish if the driver-less car concept gets up. Tesla now has an electric truck and that too will benefit from the new technologies. That leaves shipping with its ~52,000 merchant ships, and around 39,000 ‘planes including military
    I’m guessing ships could be made more efficient if better fuel was used. Planes are harder not just for their emissions but also their con trails. Con trails can be mitigated – see:

  6. Hope I haven’t caught the Trump Affliction , but, as soon as a politician starts talking about Jobs!, I assume he is lying – as soon as he mentions Construction, I smell corruption and very dodgy accounting.

    What about a serious effort to reduce energy consumption?

    Low-energy compact fluoro lightbulbs, for example? Or, thermally efficient houses instead of the energy-gobbling muck-mansions the finance sector inflicts on house seekers? Or, radical designs for aircraft, ones that would worry the major share-holders in Boeing and Airbus? Video-conferencing instead of travel? The list goes on and on ….

  7. GM GM above Interesting set of data GM. Among other things, it shows just how much standby power we need to cover a few hrs per yr of heatwaves and how ridiculous using unreliable spot prices to encourage people to invest in the capacity needed to cover these peaks.

  8. We need to keep in mind that the different energy storage options are technically different and can perform different services. What should not be happening is a simplistic cost based comparison of alternatives.
    For example, the Tesla battery can provide a very rapid response to changes in the network that can be used to do things like stabilize frequencies as well as reduce the impact of rapid changes in supply and demand.
    On the other hand, pumped storage is going to provide a much slower response than batteries and be unable to perform some of the tasks the battery is able to perform. However, in the right location, the cost per mWh stored may be much lower. There is a logic that says we need batteries for the rapid response combined with slower reacting forms of storage with lower costs per mWh and/or back up generation.
    My problem with the Snowy proposal is that it provides brilliant photo ops for a politician seeking a monument or desperate to demonstrate that re-election is deserved.

  9. John D has made a couple of interesting comments that have been sitting in moderation for some hours.

    John, I think it was Geoff H you referred to!

  10. Sorry John, when I clicked on your link at January 16, 2018 at 1:36 pm the first time it took me to Geoff H’s comment. I don’t know why the thing misfires at times, but it was obviously the link Geoff M had made that was your target.

    My bad!

  11. Brian,

    I heard this on the radio (broadcast on 2LT syndicated from 2GB) on Tuesday (Jan 16) night as I came home. Note that the temporary host, Luke Grant, is anti-renewables, pro-coal, and pro-nuclear. Robert Parker, the former President of the Australian Nuclear Association, gets a free ride to promote nuclear energy.

    There’s no mention of limited global supplies of high-grade uranium ores. Energy Watch Group’s Fossil and Nuclear Fuels – the Supply Outlook March 2013 report shows in Figure 113: Historic and possible future development of uranium production and demand, that global uranium supplies that can be produced at costs below US$260/kgU (Reasonably Assured Resources + Inferred Resources) would likely be exhausted by about year-2100. Figure 110 outlines the reasonably assured and inferred resources and cumulative uranium production of the most important countries.

    Additional demand from Australia and other countries intending to expand their nuclear industries will by necessity deplete remaining reserves sooner, exacerbate existing strains on providing adequate nuclear fuel for current demands and probably increase fuel prices further.

    There’s no mention that the average age of the (circa 435 operational, 370 MW net electrical capacity) global fleet of nuclear power plants is more than 25 years. Only around 10% of the net electrical capacity is below 20 years. France is always touted as having low cost electricity, but that is because the generators have been operational for decades.

    There’s no mention of actual cost figures for new nuclear generation, only the words “low cost”. There’s no mention of estimated cost comparisons with other new energy generation technologies. Lazard’s Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis – Version 10.0 (2016) provides in its Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison table (page 2) that includes:
    Nuclear generation costs range US$97-136/MWh;
    Solar-PV – crystalline utility-scale generation costs range US$49-56/MWh without storage, and around US$92/MWh illustrative case with battery storage;
    Solar thermal tower with storage generation costs range US119-182/MWh with low end for 18-hour storage capacity and high end with 10-hour storage capacity;
    Wind generation costs range US32-62/MWh without storage, and around US$118/MWh illustrative case for offshore

    There’s an interesting comment about the time taken to build UAE’s new four reactors (5.6 GW total) – less than 10 years to build is implied – but it was stated that they were “started in 2009/2010”, were “getting nearing completion”, and “just about to get the first one of those firing up”. It would be interesting to see the actual project milestones and scheduled/actual operation dates, rather than what appears to be vague figures. Large-scale nuclear reactors usually take a minimum of 10 years to build (according to some other credible sources). If the building of the UAE reactors has been rushed, particularly in relation to the primary containment and primary coolant loop systems exposed to the radioactive coolant, I would be concerned about its operational longevity – I hope that there have been no corners cut. We’ll see. In my opinion, you can’t afford to skimp on nuclear energy – do it right to the highest standard, or don’t do it at all – it’s not worth the risk.

    And there’s no mention of where the nuclear waste would be stored. Lucas Heights research reactor site and other temporary storage for nuclear medicine at hospital sites and industry around Australia are running out of room to store increasing amounts of nuclear waste, which will necessitate a permanent solution soon. Any new nuclear waste sites/repositories proposed by the Federal Government as potential sites attract considerable local opposition – e.g. The low and medium nuclear waste repository proposal at Hill End, NSW in 2016. And this is only for currently relatively small volumes. Any new power reactors would add considerably more waste.

    Large-scale nuclear fission power is ‘baseload’, but it’s not ‘dispatchable’. With more renewables entering Australia’s energy supply mix, it will be harder for large-scale nuclear reactors to be compatible.

    There’s currently minimal nuclear power generation technical and engineering expertise within Australia. An extensive recruitment programme would be required to establish a completely new, highly complex industry – specialist scientists, engineers, technicians, trades-people, etc.

    I can’t see Australian politicians having the courage anytime soon to change the 2 pieces of federal legislation (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 & Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency Act 1998) currently prohibiting nuclear energy generation, and introducing a new legal and regulatory framework to enable a nuclear power industry to be established here in Australia. I don’t see the Australian public being enthusiastic either.

    I can’t see nuclear fission stationary energy being operational in Australia when proposals for 100% renewable stationary energy (like BZE’s, or UTS) can be built faster and without the long-term high-level nuclear waste disposal problems.

    The energy wars continue.

  12. Correction to this sentence:

    There’s no mention that the average age of the (circa 435 operational, 370 MW net electrical capacity) global fleet of nuclear power plants is more than 25 years.

    It should be 370 GW.

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