Cleaning out coal

When Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen stated at the Press Council that no jobs would be lost in coal or gas through Labor’s policy he received a strong challenge from Mike Foley of the SMH and The Age (from about 40:00 on the tape) who pointed out that the Government’s modelling showed coal-fired power reducing from 25GW to 14GW, which was more than can be accounted for by stated station closure timelines. Labor is going harder on renewables and claims that 82% of power generation will be renewables by 2030. Surely this means early closure of coal.

Bowen said stations may close, the market will decide, but there was no causal relationship with the policy, and the small percentage is explained by the fact that if we follow the call to ‘electrify everything’, especially heating and transport, much more power will be needed.

Coincidentally AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) has just produced it’s 2022 Draft ISP Consultation plan which show coal disappearing, evaporating before our eyes.

Here are some links:

Macdonald-Smith summarises:

    Australia’s coal power plants are retiring at least five years faster than anticipated, requiring an acceleration of investment in grid transmission, renewable generation and storage to replace it, including $12.5 billion of urgent transmission projects.

    Almost two-thirds of coal generation capacity is likely to be gone by 2030, the Australian Energy Market Operator said in its draft blueprint for the power grid for the next 30 years, which has been overhauled with the race to net zero emissions, which the electricity sector is now expected to reach well before 2050.

    Power plants that run on brown coal are expected to have all shut down by early next decade.

    Almost all coal power plants will be shut by 2040, with the last perhaps clinging on until 2043, AEMO said, anticipating closures will come much earlier than the official dates given by their owners such as AGL Energy and Alinta Energy.

    That means a nine-fold increase in utility-scale renewable energy generation is needed to help replace coal power and meet higher demand for power as the economy electrifies, AEMO said in its draft 2022 Integrated Systems Plan, which was drawn up after extensive consultation with industry, policymakers, governments and other stakeholders.

    In addition, more than 10,000 kilometres of new transmission lines are needed to connect wind, solar and other new generation plant to consumers. Local networks must be reconfigured to allow two-way flow of power as rooftop solar booms.

    AEMO’s base case outlook is now the “Step Change” scenario rather than the “Central” scenario used in its 2020 blueprint, which has been left behind by the rapid expansion of large-scale renewables and rooftop solar, and the accelerating shift away from coal power.

It is important to note that AEMO is not pushing a barrow, it is simply reflecting what industry stakeholders think will happen and we should be planning for.

Here are some graphs to grasp the scale of what is happening.

First, what the Step Change scenario looks like against the official closure times of coal plants.

Here is the pattern of coal closure by state:

This one shows the stunning increase in renewable energy:

Macdonald-Smith points out that the ISP:

    anticipates the construction of nine times the NEM’s existing large-scale wind and solar generation, from 15 gigawatts to 140 GW.

    On a per capita basis, that means maintaining Australia’s world-beating rate of renewables growth of 2018-19 every year for the next decade to triple capacity by 2030, then almost doubling it again by 2040 and again by 2050.

Coal is a smudge at the bottom which disappears.

Gas, which is currently supplying about 4% of NEM power, maintains its output, but is dwarfed by the growth of renewables.

This graph shows that much of the storage capacity will be decentralised:

None of the above can happen unless a modern grid built to cope with decentralised power generation and consumption is built at an early stage. The ISP calls for more than 10,000 kilometres of new transmission lines. This work is “Urgent and extensive”. AEMO has now released NEM Engineering Framework: Initial Roadmap, December 2021 laying out the technical requirements and strategic design decisions needed.

I suggest the truth is that we do not need to fret about closing down coal. Coal is leaving in a manner that may be disorderly. Our struggle is to optimise the outcome and keep the lights on along the way.

This is a three day intersection showing the daily NEM pattern which has been evident for some time:

NEM power by source Dec 2021

Black coal is being ramped twice a day as solar floods in. Batteries discharging only account for 0.07% of the market at present with gas fired power at 4.2%.

Coal power is not meant to be ramped and it is not good for the plant. The biggest damage, however, is to the price. The following image is a representative day of the spot price in Queensland from a talk by Dr Maia Schwarzer, CEO of CleanCo, I think in July this year:

In the September quarter record levels of renewable energy drove down electricity prices across Australia:

    Prices were zero or negative for 16% of all trading intervals during the quarter, more than double the previous share set during the final three months of 2020 at 7%. (Emphasis added)

Stanwell explains that it costs more to stop and start a coal-fired power station than to suffer negative pricing. I did hear of one instance where a coal power station bought renewable power to fulfill its contract rather than crank up their own boilers.

The AFR reports that prices were at an eight-year low, according to the latest ACCC report. The Government claims credit where it is not due.

Returning to the AEMO ISP they see renewable power share as progressing in this fashion:

In remarkable synchronicity Labor’s Powering Australia sees 82% renewables by 2030.

The Climate Council has renewed its call for 75% reduction in emissions by 2030 with “so much at stake”. At the same time it has, with other organisations, issued a statement saying that renewable energy transmission lines are essential to reducing pollution, protecting climate and preserving nature. The scale of what is needed is shown in this image from the AEMO ISP:

When asked by Laura Tingle at the Press Council what the main drivers were in Labor’s emissions reduction plans Chris Bowen deferred to the Reputex modelling which mathematically gives it to the SafeGuard Mechanism, then “”>Rewiring the Nation.

The truth is that both are essential, and then some. However, pushing coal out the door is not the immediate problem. It is leaving and we have to deal with the consequences.

It is a fair bet, I think, that Bowen was not surprised by the AEMO draft ISP. As to what goes on in Angus Taylor’s mind, no-one knows. I think not even himself. That constitutes a problem while he has access to the levers of power.

11 thoughts on “Cleaning out coal”

  1. Brian: Not sure what is going to happen with metallurgical coal. (If met coal needs remain unchanged some thermal coal will be produced as a byproduct and may to continue being used for power production.) However:
    1. Green hydrogen may fully or partially replace metallurgical coal for steel production.
    2. Technologies are available for using thermal coal to produce steel thus reducing the need for metallurgical coal

  2. John, in this post I was only looking at coal in the electricity system, but your comments are interesting.

    Gas is another matter.

    If we really want to be depressed, try Alan Kohler: Politicians are failing us on climate change. They must do this instead.

    As a pedant I can find fault in many places, but basically the story he tells is right, except the situation is worse than he appears to understand.

    The truth is that there is no budget of burnable carbon for a safe climate. The Greens and Climate Council target may be impossible, but there is a fair chance it would be too late.

    It rather depends on tipping points and we may have smashed one:

    When the glacier shatters it will be too late to stop it. The heat is in the ocean.

    Science and politics would then change complexion, one would think.

  3. Brian: “If Thwaites were to break up entirely and release all its water into the ocean, sea levels worldwide would rise by more than 2 feet (65 centimeters), said ITGC lead coordinator Ted Scambos, one of the presenters at AGU and a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).
    “And it could lead to even more sea-level rise, up to 10 feet [3 m], if it draws the surrounding glaciers with it,” Scambos said in a statement, referring to the weakening effect one ice shelf collapse can have on other nearby glaciers.”
    Bugger. 65 cm may be enough to cover the road that leads to our place!! Time to plan a move?

  4. War footing anyone?
    What found in my career is that you often get better answers if you set big challenges instead of small ones. For example: “improve by 5% in the next 5 yrs” is likely to produce suggestions for minor changes.
    “Improve by 50% over the next 12 months” is more likley to produce radical proposals. (OK some suggestions may be less than 50% or take a bit longer but the big challenge gets people thinking big.)
    What Glasgow produced was the minor challenge. A minor challenge that will allow the Morrisons of the world procrastinate and leave any action to their successors.
    Perhaps we need some real challenges. For example: “What would we do if we we had to stop producing and importing thermal coal by Dec 2022?”
    Perhaps better still: “What would we have to do if we had to stop extracting and importing fossil carbon by Dec 2022?”
    We may be surprised by what could be done if we were given no choice or we might find that things to is desirable to do first need a bit more time that one year.
    I promise to write a post with a hit list of doable things and desirable research.

  5. John, there was an article from Nine news that emphasised Queensland cities, for reasons that are not clear to me, because it referred to Coastal Risk Maps for Australia. If you click around you will find Ballina, and it is not pretty.

    These are official IPCC maps, based on a low-ball forecast of a possible 84 cm rise by 2100.

    What the new research is saying is that the IPCC numbers are out of date.

    The real problem is the difference between geologic time and human time and risk. What is happening is that we have a geologic event which is similar to the asteroid strike 65 million years ago. ‘Instant’ in geologic time can be anywhere between days/months/years and millennia.

    There was a very sharp SLR incident towards the end of the Eocene, which saw 3 metres in a very short human time. My old brain can’t remember whether it was months, years or decades.

    I know where the information was, and will try to look it up, but my life does not have a lot of space in it at present.

  6. I’ve had a couple of days out of action. Along the way got a COVID third jab and had my computer upgraded.

    I tried to post a link to RenewEconomy link here, and the damn thing came up with ‘Internal server error’ which it is still doing, only now faster.

  7. The Parkinson article – All signs point to a quick transition to renewables. But can we connect them? says that the biggest bugbears for any developer are grid connection and no Commonwealth policy.

    Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton says grid connection has emerged as the single greatest challenge for renewable energy projects since at least 2019, and the issue is acting as a stop to the enormous capital flows that should be flowing into the Australian economy through clean energy projects.

    Here’s the link.

  8. Merry Christmas Brian and John, thank you for your continuous efforts and valuable insights throughout the year. Wish you a healthy and happy new year.
    Cheers Ootz

  9. Thankyou Ootz. Merry Christmas to you and all.

    Our Christmas has been a bit merrier than we bargained for with a household member coming back here from ‘virus central’, that is from Sydney.

    The matter is being investigated and you will know the truth as soon as we do, or shortly thereafter.

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