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Guest post by Rafe Champion. Will it work to press on with more wind and solar power with existing storage technology?

PS: From Jo. Rafe Champion has been posting at the lost Catallaxy site for years so I offered him a home to try to fill the vacuum on Australian blogs for discussion on energy issues.

The dilemma Australia faces is that if we keep stuffing subsidized unreliable energy into the system we will force stable fuels out, and be carbon free, but we will also be free of 50Hz cycles, 24 hour power, aluminium plants, and manufacturing jobs. Policy-dreamers are using magical words like “battery” and “pumped hydro” as if Australia is a scaled up Mechano Truck run on Monopoly-money and we can expect reliable rain for the first time in 2 billion years.

Snowy Hydro Cartoon by Steve Hunter

by Steve Hunter

The Energy Security Board, chaired by Kerry Schott, has at last delivered a report to the Federal Government with proposals for market reforms to resolve a looming crisis in the national power supply or at least the NEM, the National Energy Market that covers the south-eastern states, excluding WA. The crisis is twofold – increasing grid instability and the threat of supply if coal plants are forced out of business prematurely. Both of those issues arise from the rapid escalation of intermittent inputs of wind and solar power because Australia has the gold medal for the rate of increase in installed RE capacity.

Kerry Schott, the chair of the ESB, has signalled that the ‘simple’ plan to move towards net zero emissions is to get in as much renewable energy and hydro as we can and back it up with pumped hydro and batteries.

The fundamental problem is the gap in RE supply on windless nights when the supply is zero. No amount of installed capacity is helpful in the absence of wind and sun, in the way that a chain is only as strong as the weakest link and a flood protection wall is only as good as the lowest point regardless of the high parts or the average height.

How much can we expect from pumped hydro and batteries?

The Snowy 2.0 project will probably cost north of $10 Billion and it will take years to complete. It is expected to deliver as much power as a big coal power station like Bayswater for about six months. So to replicate Bayswater we need a second Snowy 2.0 but where can that be located? And even then, the two Snowys (and associated wind farms) only replace 2GW out of some 20GW of coal capacity that we have at present.

Moving on to batteries. Some people in the industry will tell you they are not supposed to deal with wind droughts, they just deliver instantaneous inputs of power to stabilize the grid in the face of fluctuations of wind and solar input. But still there is talk about putting batteries at Liddell and Yallourn to cover the gap when they close. The problem is the difference in scale between the power that you can get from the battery (after it is charged) compared with the power delivered by the coal plant.  The pathetic scale of big batteries is explained here.

Many of the problems in the green energy transition are covered in the briefing papers from the Energy Realists and  you can see them all here.


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