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We can lower Australian CO2 emissions by… (wait for it) building new coal plants!

Posted By Joanne Nova On August 3, 2011 @ 1:47 am In Renewable | Comments Disabled

A joint writing project: Jo Nova & Tony Cox,

based on an idea and research by Anton Lang (who writes as TonyfromOz at PAPundits)

Hazelwood coal power, environment, CO2, carbon tax,

It’s the paradox that will torture the Greens. What if the best way to achieve their environmental aims as well as providing jobs and power was to build more coal fired power stations? Imagine if we could reduce CO2 emissions by more than 5%, supply 24 hour baseload electricity, create jobs, and save thousands of square kilometres of Australian bush from industrial domination. Imagine if “New Coal” turned out to be the lowest cost alternative as well? Anton Lang has researched it, and Tony Cox has confirmed that the big numbers make sense with an Australian electricity company (who shall not be named). Selling the Carbon Tax in Neverland is already a public debate that’s pretzel tied in impossible contradictions, so what’s one  more unlikely twist? Possibly, just enough to get us out of a knot, or at least enough to expose the real aims of the carbon reduction plan. Old existing large scale coal fired power plants in Australia are all twenty to forty years old. Major advances have been made in coal-powered technology, and new coal plants are, incredibly, much more efficient, so much more efficient that they produce up to 30% less CO2. Who would have thought there was such a bonanza-cherry there, ripe for the picking?

“New large scale coal fired plants have generators that can produce considerably larger amounts of power, they use better turbines to drive the generator, have better boilers to make the steam to drive the turbine, and have better furnaces to make the heat to make that steam, and most importantly in this case, they burn less coal, do that more efficiently, and in the process emit less CO2.

They are already using these new coal fired plants, especially in China, where large scale plants of this nature are being brought on line delivering power for consumers at the rate of one new plant a week.

So, if those older plants here in Australia were to be replaced with these new plants, there will be an overall reduction in the current emissions of CO2, and the most surprising thing in all of this is that those reductions could be in the vicinity of 25 to 30%.”

Those who want to reduce CO2, could have their low-carbon cake mix, and the electricity to cook it with too. You can see here that a new coal fired plant produces about 30% lower emissions than a conventional one, it costs $4-$5 billion to set up (instead of $20 billion… or $200 billion!) and uses less coal to run. Comparatively, wind costs something like 2- 5 times as much and solar, a budget breaking, hock-the-nation 5 to 20 times as much (or worse). Not only that but solar and wind occupy vast areas, and don’t produce base-load reliable power. (See here for the lower best case estimates of renewables costs from the Victorian Auditor General.)

Comparing the cost of different power generation plants. Cost “A” is the initial capital outlay, Cost “B” is the lifetime cost. TWH: TeraWatt Hours.

For the notes (see the end of the post), and for more info on the table: See Climate Sceptics.

Why aim for 5% when you could get 13%?

The Greens would accept a 5% reduction in Australian emissions by 2020 (and due to our high immigration rates that’s harder than it looks). Because coal produces about 40% of our emissions, so a reduction of 30% of those emissions from all our major coal fired stations would give us a total national reduction in emissions of 13%. It’s possibly achievable by 2020 with proven technology). According to Tony Cox, the word from the local industry is that an upgrade costs about $2 b, and a new modern station about $4 billion.

This single idea solves all the ineluctable paradoxes of Neverland Economics at once

The First Paradox of the Neverland economy, is to use less fossil fuels, reduce coal emissions, and guarantee that “coal workers will have a bright future”. Obviously that doesn’t make any sense. The Second Paradox is that nuclear power is “clean and functional” but no go, and wind and solar — the perpetually nascent renewables — will save us. The plan is to put $10 billion into developing them (not to mention subsidizing them by charging artificially high prices for their competitors). If coal is the source of all evil then wind and solar are the Peter Pan and Tinker Bell of energy; they never grow up. Roger Pielke Jnr studied the Australian energy situation and found that we could meet our 5%, 2020-target if  we used just 35 nuclear power plants or 8000 solar ones.

Wind and solar turn — hundreds of square kilometers of land into industrial factories

The failings of renewables are manifest. Here’s another one: Energy Density. Coal, gas and the even more “evil” nuclear, are energy dense: their energy is concentrated; their  power plants can be measured in acres. But the ephemeral energy of wind and solar is literally blowing in the wind, or sparkling in sunbeams; they take a lot of room to be to be captured. (Magic is like that.) The price for low energy density is the sacrifice of vast kilometers of wilderness. A new solar farm proposed in California, poetically named Brightsource, will cover 5.6 square miles, or 9 square kilometres, for a theoretical “Installed capacity” of 370 MW. But the much lauded “installed capacity”  is not what these farms supply, which is more like 20% of that and sometimes is as low as  5%. These depressingly low numbers are known as the capacity factor.  That promising 370MW from Brightsource only turns out to equal 74MW. By comparison a medium sized, evil coal power plant like Bayswater, which along with Liddell supplies about 40% of NSW’s electricity, will deliver 2640MW; because it works day and night, wind, hail or rain, it’s capacity factor and installed capacity are one and the same. Bayswater therefore delivers about 35 times as much power as Brightsource, which will henceforth be known as Dimsource. To make a top notch, technologically up-to-date equivalent to the Bayswater Coal Power Station would cover 315 square kilometres. Not surprisingly Green activists are objecting to Dimsource because of its size. Those cute solar panels blot out the even cuter nature; ditto for those big windmills. Those trees, birds and furry mammals were after all, living off the sunshine, and Dimsource is stealing it from them.

Could it be that we have a choice, we can burn coal and keep the wilderness,

or keep the coal and burn the wilderness…

And worse — the more wind and solar we use the more CO2 we emit;  the intermittent nature of wind and solar mean they have to be backed up by evil coal and gas. The fossils are kept running to back-up the power spikes and troughs. It’s inefficient to power these stations up and down and that increases emissions of CO2more than if W&S were not used.

Solar power, a chance to incinerate money with rays from the sun

solar power, costs, renewable energy comparisons

Is it cheaper to just burn money?

According to Anton Lang, once you account for the actual output of proposed solar plants, and the hours they work for, there are few better industrial projects for vaporising cash that modern solar power. He has estimates Bayswater could be upgraded for $1billion. Who knows, Tony Cox heard $2billion. Even so, coal wins every way you can look at it.

“The Government recently announced that they have approved a new Concentrating Solar Plant, the Solar Dawn project at Chinchilla in Queensland. That plant will cost $1.2 Billion, half of that in subsidies from the Federal and State Governments. Solar Dawn will deliver 550GWH of power each year, and that is at the theoretical best case maximum. So let’s then go with the solar plants absolute maximum of 550GWH and Bayswater expansion minimum of 14,000GWH For less money than what the solar plant will cost, Bayswater expansion will deliver nearly 13 – 26 times the total power. Bayswater will deliver that power 24/7/365. Solar Dawn might deliver its power for 6 hours a day. So, to even equal what Bayswater expansion will deliver, you would need to construct 26 projects similar to Solar Dawn at a cost of $31.2 Billion, and you still only get power for 6 hours a day. Solar Dawn will have a life span of 25 years. Bayswater … another 50 and 75 years. There just is no comparison.”

How much money can we waste?

We could replace Bayswater with a new more efficient power plant which costs a lot, or we could hock ourselves for a generation and spend 5 times to 16 times as much to replace it with solar or wind. For all the extra money we’d lose wilderness, and get unreliable, intermittent not-so-base-load power. Who could be this dumb? Oh yeah… The bible for enthusiasts of renewables is Beyond Zero Emissions Stationary Plan which argues that we can replace coal and gas in Australia by 2020 [I queried this, it sounds as likely as adding a second moon, but it is true]. It has “only” two problems. We have to use 50% less energy per capita and it will cost somewhere between $855 and $4191 billion.

As a matter of interest, if Beyond Zero made a global plan it would only cost $76 trillion.(!&%^) That is NeverLand stuff. Back in the real world Russell Skelton, CEO of Maquarie Generation which owns Bayswater and Liddell power stations, has dragged himself away from the perpetual litigation against his company by Rising Tide, to do the sums on the carbon tax. Basically the tax will cost MacGen about $580 million, per year, about three times its annual profit. MacGen will not be compensated and while there are no plans to close it down like its Victorian equivalent, Hazelwood, what business could survive under conditions like that?

So, with existing coal power facing the chop and wind and solar not up to the job are power shortages the price we have to have? Carbon capture is not an option; Dr Brown has ruled it out and it is both a dud idea and an indictment of the coal industry’s cowardice in not arguing against the ideology and pro-global warming science directed against it. Clearly, if we have to reduce CO2 (we don’t), we need to copy China and upgrade our coal power. China is developing vastly more efficient coal powered turbines. These turbines burn around 30% much less coal to achieve equivalent power to the old generation plants. Thus, Australia’s most sensible shot at meeting our 5% CO2 reduction by 2020 is by using new coal technology.

Anton Lang also makes the killer point that the contracts for running the coal fired stations have already been signed and for far into the future. The cost of choosing “renewables” means paying compensation to coal to produce less electricity and accept lower profits. Now all we need is a commonsense-policy. Back to Never Land, eh?

PS: Of course, we all know that the Greens won’t rush to take up this “pollution” reducing opportunity, because, it’s not really about pollution is it?


Notes for Table 1. [Source]

Note 1. These plants will consume around 4 million tons of coal each year, hence 16 million tons, and at the average 2.86 multiplier, will emit 46 million tons of CO2, so the saving on emissions from current plants will be around 40% of that original 80 Million tons. Cost A is just the up front construction cost. Cost B includes one refurbishment to take it out from 50 years to 60 years, site clean up, and also 60 years of coal supply of thermal coal at $60 per ton, which is almost double the existing cost of $30 per ton.

Note 2. Refuelling takes place every 18 months, so expired rods can be replaced with new rods. Expired rods are stored on site for the life of the plant, in cooling pools for a further 2 years, and then in dry storage, again, all inside the main reactor concrete bunker which contains the Containment Vessel. If there was a nuclear reprocessing facility, those cooled and dried depleted rods could be sent to that reprocessing facility after those 2 years. Cost A is the up front construction cost, and Cost B included one refurbishment from 50 out to 60 years and site clean up. It also includes the cost of the fuel for that 60 years.

Note 3. As you can see, the enormous up front construction cost is because to supply that 69 TWH you will need 210 of these plants at that $1.4 Billion. Cost B is the equivalent for Coal and Nuclear which have a life span out to 60 years while these Solar Plants have a life of only 20 years, hence you will need three times as many over that 60 years.

Note 4. This is at the 150MW firm basis, hence only 62 of these plants are required, at that $1.4 Billion. The trade off here is the on site Natural Gas fired part of the plant so it can provide that firm 150MW for the full 24 hours. This means an effective emission of just on 350 tons of CO2 per plant per day, hence 128,000 tons of CO2 per annum, and with 62 plants, there will be an emission of 8 million tons of CO2. Cost A is just the construction cost for those 62 plants. Cost B is also an extrapolation out to that 60 years as these plants also have a life span of 20 years. Cost B here will also have added to that figure the cost for the Natural Gas, a significant cost that I HAVE NOT included here, as I don’t have that information, as to the cost of that Natural Gas, but a plant of this type would consume around 5,700 mcf of Natural Gas each day. (mcf is 1000 cubic feet of Natural Gas)

Note 5. This is for the construction of plants that will supply that 69 TWH, although it will only supply that at that 25% Capacity Factor, on average 6 hours a day. Cost B again takes it out to 60 years because these also only have a life span of 20 years.

Note 6. This is for the Nameplate Capacity equivalent, but again, I stress it will not supply that full 69 TWH replacement power, and will only deliver 20 TWH. Cost A is for construction only, and Cost B takes it out to that 60 years equivalent with new coal and Nuclear power.

Anton Lang writes as TonyfromOz at PAPundits

He deserves a big thank-you for researching and crunching many of these numbers.

More of  my posts on renewable energy

Hazelwood Image: Original Simpsons fan 66.

The Greens would accept a 5% reduction in Australian emissions by 2020 (and due to our high immigration rates that’s harder than it looks). Because coal produces about <a href=”http://joannenova.com.au/2010/09/australia-can-meet-its-2020-targets-with-just-35-nuclear-power-plants-or-8000-solar-ones/”>40% of our emissions</a>, so a reduction of 30% of those emissions from all our major coal fired stations would give us a total national reduction in emissions of 13%. It’s possibly achievable by 2020 (at least the technology is already proven). According to Tony Cox, the word from the local industry is that an upgrade costs about $2b, and a new modern station about $4b.
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