National emissions audit shows NSW in some trouble

The Australia Institute has instituted a National Energy Emissions Audit , which Giles Parkinson wrote about at RenewEconomy.

The April-May update tells us:

    • The capacity of large-scale solar generation supplying the National Electricity Market tripled between March and early May.
    • South Australia became a net energy exporter for the first time in March, selling the state’s abundant wind-generated power into Victoria.
    • NSW coal-fired power stations have been consistently at 65% capacity despite three closures and speculation over Liddell, with imports switching from Victoria to Queensland post Hazelwood.

    “Four new wind farms and eight grid-scale solar farms came online between March and early May, with a total capacity of 1,030MW,” said author and energy expert Hugh Saddler.

    “The 500MW of solar generation will almost triple the grid-scale solar capacity of the NEM in just three months.

    “This demonstrates that the cost advantage wind had over solar has been reduced and we can now expect new capacity to be a mix of both technologies.

Here’s the generation by fuel type:

We can see that black coal has made a bit of a comeback since the election of Abbott-Turnbull. The mix between the renewables is better seen here:

Large-scale solar has barely started, but the report suggests that it will figure more prominently in the future. Monitoring the interstate interconnectors is instructive:

South Australia has tipped into becoming a net exporter to Victoria, which is stunning. Victoria and NSW are now in balance, but the flow from Queensland to NSW is significant and increasing. The following graph shows, as I’ve said elsewhere, that gas is being used most in Queensland and SA, and is plays a large role in balancing the grid.

The problem child, however, is NSW where the update notes that coal-fired power stations have been consistently at 65% capacity. The AFR published an article on the weekend – Energy grid in crisis as winter power outages hit.

    Australia’s biggest aluminium smelter was bracing on Friday night for a third power disruption in four days, as a combination of cold weather, planned and unplanned power generation outages created a shortage of supply and sparked fresh calls for reform of national electricity market.

    Potlines at the Tomago aluminium smelter in NSW were taken offline on Tuesday and Thursday because of power shortages, and the smelter’s management was advised by its power provider AGL Energy on Friday of a potential similar squeeze on Friday evening amid warnings from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) of a “lack of reserve”.

This was not meant to happen in winter. Tomago took a potline offline for 45 minutes on Tuesday, and two of its potlines offline for an hour each on Thursday. After that it takes three days to return the molten ore to a thermally stable state.

    The Australian Energy Market Operator said a combination of factors had created the supply squeeze in NSW, which saw 3800 megawatts of generation become unavailable in the network on Thursday and earlier in the week.

    After a busy summer period, some big coal-fired generators were locked in for planned maintenance, with about 1200 MW out of action.

    But another 1300 MW of unplanned shutdowns, combined with reduced capacity from other generators and some players choosing not to bid into the wholesale market, led to the shortfall which caused spot prices to soar.

    At one stage, three out of the four plants at AGL’s Bayswater power station in the Hunter Valley were out of action, while AGL’s ageing Liddell generator, controversially slated for permanent closure in 2022, was operating at a reduced capacity.

Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell is not amused. He wants coal, saying no smelter anywhere in the world runs on wind and solar backed up by batteries. I’m amazed that these people don’t know about pumped hydro or molten salt. A few weeks ago the owners of Victoria’s Portland aluminium smelter said renewables and battery storage would not alone be able to power the smelter when it power contracts come up for renewal in 2021.

Part of Tomago’s problem is that when it signed the agreement with AGL back in 2010 they did not foresee the current state of affairs. They allowed interruptability in the contract to save them from spot prices. However, the current fragility in the market which is in danger of becoming the norm was then rare.

As Giles Parkinson said, the recent troubles have been all about coal, so the Murdoch press did not fire up as it usually does if renewables are involved.

All this came just after the energy bosses clashed with Josh Frydenberg on intervention. Ausgrid, Transgrid, online retailer Powershop and others have been complaining about intervention by government and regulators. It’s the scrapping of the Limited Merits Review, Snowy 2.0, threats of asset write-downs, and threats by the ACCC. Taken as a whole, they say, these interventions will inhibit investment, limit supply and in the long run drive up prices.

Sounds like business as usual, with leadership form government either lacking or wrong-headed.

37 thoughts on “National emissions audit shows NSW in some trouble”

  1. Brian,

    The AFR published an article on the weekend – Energy grid in crisis as winter power outages hit.

    The SMH also published a similar article in Saturday’s paper edition, online article headlined Tomago Aluminium warns of ‘energy crisis’ as power supply falters, link here.

    Perhaps governments need to heed Professor Andrew Blakers message (21 Feb 2018 Committee Hansard transcript, on page 53, bold text my emphasis):

    The key point that I would like to get across is that the game is up— wind and solar photovoltaics [PV] have won the race. It is a lay-down misere. … The reason for this is that PV and wind are decisively cheaper than coal, even when one adds the additional costs to stabilise a variable renewable energy supply, such as storage, primarily in the forms of batteries and pumped hydro; stronger interconnection; and some spillage of wind and PV. That is the basic message I have. If you want cheap electricity you push renewables as hard as you can.

    From Friday week ago through to last Wednesday, I phoned:
    Andrew Gee MP office (Fed. Member for Calare);
    Paul Toole MP office (NSW Member for Bathurst);
    all the 12 NSW Senators‘ offices;
    Josh Frydenberg MP – Fed. Minister for Environment & Energy office;
    Mark Butler MP – Fed. Shadow Minister for Climate Change & Energy office;
    Adam Bandt MP – Fed. Greens spokesperson on energy office;
    Prime Minister‘s Office;
    Bill Shorten MP – Fed. Opposition Leader’s office;
    Senator Richard Di Natale – Fed. Greens Leader office

    to highlight Professor Blakers testimony and YouTube video 2017 CURF Annual Forum – Andrew Blakers keynote. I hope some of them get the message and act on it.

    I urge you all to draw your political representatives’ attentions to this message also. Can you risk not to do it?

  2. Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell is not amused. He wants coal, saying no smelter anywhere in the world runs on wind and solar backed up by batteries. I’m amazed that these people don’t know about pumped hydro or molten salt. A few weeks ago the owners of Victoria’s Portland aluminium smelter said renewables and battery storage would not alone be able to power the smelter when it power contracts come up for renewal in 2021.

    I can understand why Matt Howell wants to stay in a comfortable past where it was OK to run aluminium smelters on power made from fossil carbon and his smelter got cheap power because it had steady demand. However, it may be more productive for Matt to realize that the really cheap power of the future will go to major users who can handle variable supply and to start thinking about how to adapt to this.
    This may mean that Al smelters may run flat out in the middle of the day while using solar thermal with molten salt energy storage to stop the pots freezing during the night (but not running flat chat unless wind power is going strong.
    On the downside these changes may mean that the relative cost of Australian aluminium will increase and that aluminium will be replaced by other materials.

  3. John Davidson (Re: JUNE 12, 2018 AT 1:07 PM):

    I can understand why Matt Howell wants to stay in a comfortable past where it was OK to run aluminium smelters on power made from fossil carbon and his smelter got cheap power because it had steady demand.

    I think Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell demonstrates his ignorance and lack of imagination.

    Those people who recognize the new opportunities and exploit them are likely to survive. Those who stick firmly to the past in a changing world paradigm are at risk of becoming extinct – like the dinosaurs.

  4. GM: I find statements like

    I think Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell demonstrates his ignorance and lack of imagination.

    ignorant and showing a lack of the imagination required to understand what the problems that the CEO of an established aluminium plant faces.
    Al smelters will maximize their profits by finding a very low cost source of steady power that is available 24/7.
    What Matt is facing is a changing world where there will be a source of very very low cost power for some parts of the day, in the form of direct solar PV and/or wind, but other times in the day when the cost of power will be too high for competitive Al smelting or simply not there at all.
    Battery storage is not the answer because, in terms of Al smelting, the cost is too high for the hours per day required.
    It may be that the problem might be solved by adding pumped storage to the system and/or solar thermal with molten salt heat storage. However, I haven’t got costs for these options but suspect that they too will cost too much for competitve Al smelting.
    Apart from get another job have you got any bright ideas to offer Matt?

  5. John

    I take it there are very good reasons why Al smelters run continuously?

    Closely related to the physical properties of aluminium oxides and hydroxides? Thermal properties?

  6. Ambi: Not an Al smelter expert but the pots contain a molten salt that includes fluorides. I assume that there are operating problems if the pots freeze but I don’t know how long this takes or how difficult the restart is.
    There is of course the issue of lost production.

  7. I think I posted this on the earlier thread. Howell has called shutting a potline a $100 million decision:

    “If a potline is shut down for longer than an hour it can quickly turn to custard, literally,” Mr Howell said.

    If a potline is shut down for longer than an hour it can quickly turn to custard, literally.

    After 75 minutes without power an aluminium smelter’s potlines start to “freeze”. After three hours without power they are damaged beyond repair. The replacement bill is $100 million per potline, and the risk of shutting even one down is a “$100 million decision”.

    When Portland shut down through unforeseen power failure the cost of repairs was reckoned at $240 million.

    Here’s the story of Tomago in February 2017.

    I don’t know how much flexibility there is with aluminium smelters. I suspect not much. They probably should have the same sort of priority as hospitals and fire stations.

  8. Brian, John

    It sounds as if aluminium smelters are extremely vulnerable to power supply interruption, however brief.

    BTW Portland Al smelter was considered an important industrial asset for Victoria; it had a very long term and concessional power supply contract with the State Electricity Commission and its successors.

    I think its high tension supply lines were built especially for the smelter. A dedicated spur line, anyway. No doubt that infrastructure assisted other parts of south western Victoria too.

  9. In the AFR today Howell has said that when the electricity spot price hits $14,700 they lose $5 million per hour. So they shut down for short periods because that way the lose less.

  10. Ambi, my impression is that Portland is not a good place from an electricity POV. Too easily isolated.

  11. Brian: Sounds like there is a lot of bluster coming out of the Al industry which makes it harder to sort out what should be done and if it is worth continuing to support the Al industry if it is unable to take advantage of the very cheap surplus power coming from renewables.
    A few questions:
    Can potlines be shut down safely for long periods by draining most of the metal and molten salt out of the potline.
    Can the power going to a potline be ramped down? How much can it be ramped down for long periods without putting the potline at risk?
    If a potline is shut down for an hour how long does it take to get back to normal operating temperature? (What % of time can a potline be turned off without running into cooling problems?)
    My guess is that there is some scope for short/partial shutdowns of Al smelters as part of demand management policies but we will have to wade through a lot of bluster to understand how much is avaialble.
    Hard to avoid the conclusion that Australian smelters that have depended on cheap baseload dirty power are not going to compete unless they work out how to take advantage of the very very cheap surplus power coming from renewables.

  12. But aluminium is such a useful metal…..

    and there was all that bauxite, just up the coast at Weipa….

  13. Ambi: There are plenty of overseas smelters that operate on renewable hydro-power or other renewable power sources. We used to use Tas hydro-power to make aluminium and ferro-manganese.

  14. John Davidson (Re: JUNE 12, 2018 AT 9:37 PM):

    GM: I find statements like

    I think Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell demonstrates his ignorance and lack of imagination.

    ignorant and showing a lack of the imagination required to understand what the problems that the CEO of an established aluminium plant faces.

    So why has UK “green steel” billionaire Sanjeev Gupta made a landmark agreement to provide cheap solar power to five major South Australian companies, promising to slash their electricity costs by up to 50 per cent? Why doesn’t Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell have the imagination to do/attract something similar for his business?

    I would suggest it’s 19th century thinking for Howell.

  15. I would suggest it’s 19th century thinking for Howell.

    Not so GM, for example the first Aluminium production in Europe was done by Alusuisse which built a plant next to Switzerland’s mightiest waterfall at Neuhausen back in 1888, using its hydro power capacity.

    It is the ‘quick and lazy money’short term corporate thinking which is Howells problem, it is endemic and paints a bleak future for Australian Aluminium production and manufacturing of the same ilk.

  16. Howell appears to be one of these obstinate and destructive morons who don’t hesitate to kill off a major industry in this country for purely ideological purpose while having been on a gravy train for decades.

    Almost twenty years ago, the Australia Institute produced a report Subsidies to the Aluminium Industry and Climate Change.

    “The smelting industry employed around 5350 people in 1995-96…. the subsidy to aluminium smelting in Australia is A$840 million per annum or $157,000 per employee.”

    He really seems to actually believe what he is quoted as saying, here from the horses mouth.

  17. He really has a hide too or too bloated when you consider

    The large subsidies received by aluminium smelters in Australia are almost certainly contrary to the provisions of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, especially as 79% of the product is exported. It seems likely that the Australian subsidies have not been challenged in the WTO because the same companies that dominate the Australian smelting industry also dominate the industries in the other producing countries. Thus a challenge would be a challenge by these companies against themselves, upsetting the global system of public subsidies the industry has managed to put in place. If the Australian Government were to mount a challenge on behalf of taxpayers and electricity consumers in Australia, a favourable ruling may provide legal grounds for State governments to escape from their onerous contracts with the smelters.

    From Subsidies to the Aluminium Industry and Climate Change by Clive Hamilton and Hal Turton

    While expert advise has it that Tomago is missing the boat

    Tomago was missing an opportunity because other heavy industry, such as Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty OneSteel and Korean company Sun Metals’ Townsville zinc plant, are looking to solar and wind power, and batteries, gas peaking plants and pumped hydro storage to cut their energy costs.

    Seriously Australian corporate leadership need to get up to speed with technological and social developments or face a Kodak moment.

  18. That’s some seriously important information, Ootz.

    (Some Aussies are wont to believe that hydro power began with our post-War project up in the Snowy Mountains….)

    Cheers

  19. Corporate Australia has become almost totally reliant on subsidies to be profitable, or even just viable.
    That’s why Canberra is dripping with lobbyists.
    The Government loves this for market control reasons.

    #endallsubsidies

    (* I just made that # up. If it already exists it’s a coincidence)
    (** don’t know anything about twatting either 🙂 )

  20. tweeting
    Mr J.
    Please, show some disrespect!

    *Australia Needs More Disrespect*

    [Be Alert
    Australia Needs More Lerts!]

    … or as an inner Melbourne slogan had it many years ago:

    Keep Warm This Winter.
    Make Trouble!

  21. Hear hear Jump (into my car), I cherish this rare moment of agreement. It’s is not just subsidies, but the tax avoidance enabling and royalty rorts, as well as rampant ecological and social irresponsibilities. Politically and economically we are led by self-serving ideological crooks. There is nothing wrong with lobbyists and corporate enterprise nor governing regulations, as long it is done on a sustainable and responsible basis – nation building not destroying.

    Stuff ‘growth’ if it resembles cancer.

  22. That’s excellent work Ootz. I was aware that the Australian industryhad been heavily subsidised and was struggling in relation to overseas competition, but didn’t know the details.

    To pull out a couple of points:

    Australia’s smelters are in the bottom 25% of global competitiveness.

    On varying power usage:

    “If a potline is shut down for longer than an hour it can quickly turn to custard, literally,” Mr Howell said.

    But once again, Mr Howell seems unaware of innovation in his own industry like that being pilot-tested at one of German producer Trimet’s smelters.

    “EnPot” technology allows a smelter to modulate its power use by up to 25 percent at the flick of a switch, according to Geoff Matthews of Energia Potior, which makes the kit.

    That not only opens up the potential for smelters to help manage electric grid flows, changing usage according to price and availability, but breaks one of the industry’s great technical constraints of having to run at 100% capacity all the time.

    Your last link was from a Ben Potter article in the AFR yesterday, based on commentary by Dr Bruce Mountain:

    “I think his board should be asking him why he is not contracting wind and solar,” Dr Mountain told The Australian Financial Review after the launch of the Victorian Energy Policy Centre at Victoria University.

    Dr Mountain said that even with the cost of back-up power from the NEM or under new firming contracts designed to back up wind and solar supply, Tomago should be able to save money on its energy bills by doing this.

    “He will have a contract with a retailer, he can buy the shortfall from the retailer but if he can source the whole lot of his production for 10 or 15 years at $40 or $50/MWh why wouldn’t he?”

    The AFR article was on page 6 of the printed version. Hopefully Mr Howell or someone associated with him would have read it.

  23. Please correct me if I have this wrong about the state of NSW electricity generation.

    It was a succession of NSW Governments, through tax-payer funds, that built and operated NSW coal-fired power stations – Liddell, Wallerawang, Vales Point B, Eraring, Bayswater, and Mt Piper. Yes?

    The NSW Parliament Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the Economics of Electricity Generation, in 2012, was warned by Delta Electricity in its Submission (#10) that Liddell would likely retire in 2021/22, Wallerawang in 2027/28, Vales Point in 2029, Eraring in 2033/34, Bayswater in 2036/37, and Mt Piper in 2042/43. The submission included the following statement:

    “This roll-off of capacity and energy production will require significant investment in new base-load plant.”

    The inquiry’s Final Report, tabled in November 2012, included these recommendations:

    Recommendation 1:
    That the NSW Government continue to support the National Electricity Market to operate freely, subject to appropriate regulation. The NSW Government should not seek to invest further in electricity generation.

    Recommendation 5:
    That the NSW Government expedite the sale of remaining electricity generation assets.

    So what did the then NSW Coalition Government do? It sold-off all the NSW coal-fired electricity generators, with the blessing of the then Federal Rudd II (27 Jun 2013 – 18 Sep 2013) and Abbott (18 Sep 2013 – 15 Sep 2015) Governments.

    Wallerawang and Mt Piper were sold together to EnergyAustralia for $160 million in July 2013.

    Eraring was sold to Origin Energy for reportedly $50 million in August 2013.

    Liddell was reportedly sold for a token $1 to AGL in September 2014, as part of the deal to include Bayswater.

    Vales Point B was sold for a reported $1 million in November 2015 – the average price of a Sydney home.

    EnergyAustralia announced in November 2014 that it would close Wallerawang power station in 2015. Were there any objections from the Abbott government? None! Were there any objections from the right wing commentators? Not a peep as far as I can tell.

    AGL announced in 2015 that they intended to close Liddell in 2022. Were there any objections by the Abbott government? None! Were there any objections from the right wing commentators? Not a peep as far as I can tell.

    Then the “system black” event occurred in South Australia occurred in 2016, together with the announced closure of Hazelwood, and the rhetoric changed.

    AGL has repeatedly reiterated that it will close Liddell in 2022.

    Now Abbott and his cohorts want the Federal Government to compulsorily re-acquire Liddell, when Abbott and his government had no objections a few years ago for the NSW Government selling it off to a commercial entity. Go figure!

  24. BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018 (67th edition) was released on June 13, link here. It’s a snapshot of world energy reserves, production, consumption, trading, primary energy mix, etc. in calendar year 2017.

  25. Ootz (Re: JUNE 15, 2018 AT 2:52 PM):

    It is the ‘quick and lazy money’short term corporate thinking which is Howells problem, it is endemic and paints a bleak future for Australian Aluminium production and manufacturing of the same ilk.

    I agree. Ian Dunlop has been ‘banging on’ about this subject for more than a decade, see here.

    Not so GM, for example the first Aluminium production in Europe was done by Alusuisse which built a plant next to Switzerland’s mightiest waterfall at Neuhausen back in 1888, using its hydro power capacity.

    Thanks for the reference. The Swiss seem to demonstrate repeatedly that they are forward thinkers. Howell seems ignorant that Aluminium production can be achieved utilizing renewable energy. As I said earlier:

    I think Tomago Aluminium CEO Matt Howell demonstrates his ignorance and lack of imagination.

    I think you, Ootz, and John D, haven’t provided any compelling arguments to the contrary.

  26. Renewables all have their down times.
    Not sunny? Not windy? Hasn’t rained for months? Not the right tide time? No big swell coming across the Pacific?

    And fossil fuels have their down times: boiler repair, regular maintenance, fire in the open cut, oil tankers didn’t arrive, oil refinery fire, Bass Strait on shore gas terminal fire, gas pipeline punctured.

    Etc.

  27. Tidal has a down time of less than 80 mins every 24 hours.
    Every aspect of tidal output can be predicted decades in advance.
    Short of human or mechanical failure it’s the most reliable source there is.

  28. I was merely pointing out that down time is not unique to ‘renewable’ power sources.

    How’s your planning for generating tidal power on a moored boat?

  29. Slow 🙁
    My Sons and I are all flat out with work to get experimenting.

    My basic idea is a helical prop in a tube with collision and blockage protection, direction reversible and as simple as possible.

    After that, investigate a scaled up version that can accomodate multiple generators. Sort of like how an automatic transmission on a car works, under low flow ( ends of the tide ) a single motor is engaged and during full flow multiples are actively generating.

    Lots of math and physics that middle Son is better at. I’ll do most of the sweating work. 🙂

  30. Ah, the old “division of labour”. Son does calculations, father does grunt work. But why helical? Why not a screw shape like a wind turbine or a boat propellor?

    Genuine question.
    No entrapment intended.

    France 0 : Australia 0

  31. Jump: The original propeller driven boats apparently had helical screw propellers. Then one of them lost part of the helical propeller and performance suddenly jumped. Ships have been screwed ever since.
    However, Archimedes screws are used for low lift agriculture pumping so maybe a screw would work. These helical screws are sloped with water only sitting in the bottom part of the screw. Wait you full report with interest.
    BTW: Tidal power can run 24/7 because tide times change as you move up rivers or around the coast. All you need is more than one generator. If you think about it you can also do things with more than one weir and generators on each weir.

  32. Archimedes was a top bloke and maths genius. Obviously also what we we now call a “physicist and engineer”.

    Love the stories of his crane to lift an enemy war boat until it capsized, and small parabolic metal mirrors to set an enemy sail ablaze. All defensive weapons against invaders.

    (The bath incident is best passed over in silence.)
    🙂

    Thank Zeus he took my advice, closed his souvlaki stall, and devoted himself full time to maths!

  33. Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.

    + + +

    By the way, his short booklet “The Sand Reckoner” is well worth reading, in translation. Basically, he is inventing a way of writing (and conceiving) enormous numbers. We would now use ‘powers of ten’ for precisely the same purpose.

    What a mind: from agricultural low volume pumps, to astronomical numbers, to detailed mechanical and geometrical volume/area calculations, foreshadowing limit arguments and calculus (step out of the shadows, Leibniz and Newton).

  34. An addition to my comment (at JUNE 16, 2018 AT 10:39 AM):

    Yesterday, I attended as an observer the scheduled public hearing at the NSW Parliament for the Select Committee inquiry on Electricity Supply, Demand and Prices in NSW. I trust that the transcript of this hearing appears soon on the inquiry website, as there was some interesting revelations heard.

    I think the NSW tax-payers were right royally screwed on the sale of state-owned generator assets. But isn’t that always the case: Privatize the profits and socialize the losses?

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