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No wind or solar powered aluminium smelter anywhere in the world? Could be a message in that.

Posted By Jo Nova On August 10, 2017 @ 2:38 am In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Matt Howell, the CEO of Tomago Aluminium Smelter, told a few home truths on ABC radio Monday.

To paraphrase in my own words:

1. Aluminium Smelters gobble electrons for breakfast. His smelter uses 10% of  the entire electricity supply of the most populous state in Australia (NSW).

2. If power goes out without warning for more than three hours, the smelter pot lines freeze, permanently. The company goes to the wall.

3. The largest battery in the world would keep their smelter going for all of 8 minutes. There is a good reason there are no solar or wind powered aluminium smelters anywhere in the world.

4. The government can ‘t let the market solve anything whilst it is simultaneously destroying the free market by propping up the market failures at the same time.

5. Electricity pricing has suddenly got very ugly. Their electricity bill may now be subject to price spikes where it could cost them $4 million just to keep one pot line running during that spike. It is as if suddenly gas stations only sold $400 per Litre petrol. (Which would be $1800/per gallon).  What he doesn’t say, but which logically follows from that, is that heavy industry in most of Australia can no longer get reliable electricity at an affordable price, even with forward contracts. Cry, scream, run with your factory.

6. In Australia, if we achieve “zero coal” we will also achieve “zero heavy manufacturing”.

7. If we want heavy industry, we need a HELE Coal plant. There are hundreds being built around the world, and we are selling our coal to them. How crazy are we?

Howell makes some great points. It’s good to see an ABC presenter willing to let the evil capitalists speak. Well done Matt Wordsworth. I found something worth listening to on the ABC this year.


MATT HOWELL: Well, we’re currently taking a constant load of about 970 megawatts. So to put that into simple language, that’s about between 10 and 12 per cent of NSW’s consumption.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So obviously smelting uses an incredible amount of power. But is it also fragile, in the sense it needs secure power?

MATT HOWELL: That’s correct. So our cells can tolerate a power-off window of three hours. Beyond that, they will freeze and they can’t be unfrozen.

Now, that’s a catastrophic outcome and we saw that not so long ago, at Alcoa Portland smelter in Victoria, where they lost some 70 per cent of their cells due to an interruption of high-voltage electricity.

It is fair to say that, if our smelter had have been located in South Australia when they had their system black event, the business would now be closed.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So last summer AGL, your power provider, issued an energy curtailment notice. What does that mean? And why did they do that?

MATT HOWELL: Rather than hitting a button to interrupt the electricity supply, what they’re saying to us is: “You no longer have the contract rate. You will be paying whatever the rate is in the wholesale market if you choose to continue with that load.”

And for us, that’s extremely expensive because, unfortunately, under the NEM (National Energy Market) rules the wholesale power price can get to a high of $14,000 per megawatt hour. And to put that into perspective for a commodity that most people can relate to, let’s say petrol for motor cars: that’s about $400 a litre for fuel.

Now, if we were to continue one potline at $14,000 a megawatt hour, that’s about $4 million we’d be exposed to.

MATT HOWELL: For large base load consumers, such as aluminium smelters, they need base load supply. And practically, that means thermal. It can either be coal or it can be gas.

And whilst we’re not ideologically opposed to renewables, wind and solar – they certainly have their place in many applications – but there is no aluminium smelter anywhere in the world that is powered by wind and solar. We need continuity of supply and that means thermal.

And I think it’s pleasing to see that there’s a growing number of people coming to the realisation that the latest generation of coal-fired power stations – the so-called high-efficiency, low-emission or HELI coal – there are literally hundreds of these being built around the world.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So you don’t have any confidence that a ramp-up of battery storage could be the answer for base load power?

MATT HOWELL: Well, we’re again optimistic that the battery technology will continue to evolve, but it’s fair to say at the moment the largest battery in the world – 100 megawatt hours – would power this smelter for less than eight minutes.

We have got an abundance of coal. We’ve got the technology. We’ve got the know-how …

…read the rest of the interview.

h/t Ian





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