More Energy Pipedreams Down Under

Peter Smith17 Nov, 2023 5 Min Read
Spoiler alert...

We had a "climate-change" hiatus in Australia for months leading up to a referendum on October 14. Anthony Albanese, the prime minister, put everything on hold while he tried to foist a racially-divisive change to the constitution onto the Australian population. The proposal, known as the “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice” -- or, simply, the Voice --  would have created a third (advisory) chamber of parliament to "better represent" the country's indigenous population, a people who make up only 3 percent of the population and who, for the most part, are much more of European than they are of aboriginal descent.

All the big boys in town were vocal supporters: major corporations, sporting codes, universities, churches, "celebrities," legal eagles, inner-urban latte sippers who’ve never met an Aborigine. And polling initially suggested that Australians favored it by a 2-to-1 margin. How could it possibly fail? Well, a large majority of adults might show some degree of sense, that's one possibility. And that's what actually happened -- more than 60 percent voted down this foolishness. I mention it, because it gives hope which goes beyond this particular referendum. Good sense is out there, if it is allowed a say.

But no vote on "Net-Zero," of course.

Significantly, among the states and territories, only the Australian Capital Territory, where federal public servants work and live, voted for the Voice. Sense is scarcer in that neck of the woods, as it is in those other capital territories Washington, D.C., and London. Unfortunately, that’s where climate-change policy is made. If the minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, has any momentary doubts about blowing up coal-power stationsor suffers spasms of realism, his advisors will steer him back on track.

Remarkably, while a change to the constitution must be put to the people, destroying Australia’s cheap and reliable energy system can be cooked up by politicians and public servants, without so much as a by-your-leave. I reckon those same sensible sixty-odd percent of the population who voted down the Voice would vote down net-zero, if they were given half a chance. Those in charge are not silly enough to give them half a chance. And so the fantasy of net-zero continues apace.

Among the plethora of government climate-change bodies, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is the pacesetter. AEMO produces the biennial Integrated System Plan, which maps Australia’s green energy future. It recently warned of potential energy shortages. Don’t think for a minute that this dampens the ardor of its CEO, Daniel Westerman. Here he is in July at a so-called "summit" talking about what he euphemistically calls the first of three “tensions” in the transition to renewable energy:

The first tension – between today and tomorrow – requires our industry to redesign and rebuild the aeroplane while we’re flying it. We need urgent and sustained investment in renewable energy, firming generation and transmission. And we have to keep the lights on and the gas flowing today, while we assemble the new system of tomorrow, as the system of yesterday gradually gives way.

Rebuild the aeroplane while we are flying in it? A scary metaphor for those who think reliable power underpins our civilization. It gets worse. According to Westerman, the amount of grid-scale solar and wind power needs to triple by 2030, and triple again by 2050, from 16 gigawatts today to 141 GW by 2050, while storage needs to expand by a factor of thirty during that time. This simply won’t happen.

Tempus fugacious.

But even if it did, it is worth noting that he and others like him deal deceptively in gigawatts, while the real world deals in gigawatt-hours. That's not so much of a difference when you’re talking about coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear power. But it's all the difference in the world when you’re talking about intermittent-unreliable power generation and fugacious battery power. These climate cultists just don’t get dunkelflautes (the technical term for periods when the wind doesn't blow and sun doesn't shine). They just wish them away.

Westerman attended another summit on October 9. Mere seminars or conferences are passé; things like wrecking the world's energy systems must be dealt with at the highest levels. For variety, he talked not about tensions but about “challenges” and, separately, about “hurdles.” Tensions, challenges, and hurdles. What next? I’d like to suggest insurmountable obstacles.

It’s not as if Westerman doesn’t appreciate the difficulties: “Our own modelling suggests almost two-thirds of existing coal generation will be gone [by 2033]. That’s a big deal, given that coal counts for 62 percent of today’s electricity fuel mix [and when] demand for electricity is growing.” It is indeed a big deal, particularly when at times coal delivers much more than 62 percent of power; when the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow. And so to his three challenges:

There’s an urgent need for replacement generation. That’s the first challenge. Second, as firmed renewables are the cheapest [?] form of replacement energy, they are, understandably, built in places where wind, solar and hydro resources are strong. And that’s often in dispersed locations… So that’s the second challenge, building transmission lines to these new areas of generation and firming… thirdly, we need to make sure that Australian’s love of rooftop solar can continue to flourish.

Don't worry, technology will save us.

The critical thing apparently to meet these challenges is to get “the substantial pipeline of proposed generation projects from spreadsheets… into real assets that generate, store and transmit electricity.” And the hurdles? Getting business cases over the line and overcoming increasing costs and skilled labor shortages.

It is at the hurdling stage that Westerman hits the nail on the head. Going from spreadsheets, i.e., pipedreams, to actually building things which supply base-load power. Neither wind turbines nor solar panels nor batteries can supply nearly enough continuous power on cloudy still days and nights. Game over. It won’t work no matter how many spreadsheets are constructed in back offices.

But Australia’s true believers, from the prime minister down, will simply not let realism, or democracy, get in their way. Westerman concludes: “All of us are judged by history… When the next generation looks back in 25 years’ time, I hope they’ll see we collectively rose to the challenge and created an energy system fit for Australia’s net-zero future.” Starry, starry eyes.

After a career in economics, banking and payment-systems management, Peter Smith now blogs on the topics of the day. He writes for Quadrant, Australia’s leading conservative online site and magazine. He has written Bad Economics, of which, he notes, there is much.


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One comment on “More Energy Pipedreams Down Under”

  1. Neither wind turbines nor solar panels nor batteries can supply nearly enough continuous power on cloudy still days and nights. Game over. It won’t work no matter how many spreadsheets are constructed in back offices.
    Yes Peter, it is as simple as ABC (the iron triangle was to hard for people so I have simplified)
    A: Input to the grid must continuously match the demand.
    B: The continuity of wind and solar input is broken when there is little or no wind overnight.
    C: At present there is no feasible or affordable large-scale storage to bridge the gaps.
    Consequently it is suicidal to depend on wind and solar power unless the peak demand can be met by conventional power that is kept on line, or power can be sourced from some other grid.
    Just as The Energy Realists of Australia have been saying for years. Visit our site and find out for yourself!

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