With Energy, Don't Get Duped by 'Averages'

Peter Smith18 Aug, 2023 3 Min Read
A modeling scam, inside a "renewables" scam, inside a global-boiling scam.

Take an equal collection of men from Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Average height 5 feet 9 inches. If you were told that the same number of men were shorter as were taller than the average you might suspect that the height of the subjects conformed to a normal distribution. You would be quite wrong of course. Averages can be deceptive. If only those pushing wind and solar energy knew that. Or, more pointedly, knew it and applied it rigorously to their modelling.

I referred in my last Pipeline piece to a finding by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in its latest “GenCost” study, that wind and solar are the cheapest way of generating electricity from 2030 onwards. A foreseeable, indeed predictable finding. Finding otherwise would be mortifying. So, how to get to this “right” result? First, assume that all planned renewable infrastructure is in place by 2030 -- transmission lines, pumped hydro, gas firming, grid-scale batteries -- when clearly it won’t be. Second, regard the enormous prospective cost of this infrastructure as “sunk” (unrecoverable) by 2030 and therefore not attributable to wind and solar installations post 2030. It gets worse.

On the one hand...

My friend Bob King has the energy to write submissions. He pointed out to the CSIRO that the average capacity factor of wind in 2022 in Australia across the National Electricity Market was 29 percent, not the 35 to 44 percent assumed in the GenCost study. He also drew attention to the inflated capacity factor of solar in the study. This was among other fudges. For example, no account being taken of increasing transmission losses as wind and solar turbines are progressively located further afield. The understating of battery storage costs. The lack of appreciation of the vulnerability of the system as the penetration of wind and solar generation increases. “This is difficult for me to express diplomatically,” he wrote, “I think the report is biased and contains too many straw men.” You can say that again, Bob.

I’ll be less diplomatic. It’s apparent that those behind these renewable energy studies, every one of them, everywhere, configure their computer models to spit out the desired results. It’s a modeling scam, inside the renewable-energy scam, inside the global-boiling scam.

Let’s say wind turbines provide 33 percent of their plated capacity. A well-maintained coal power station has a capacity factor approaching and sometimes exceeding 90 percent. This doesn’t mean it is down 10 percent of the time. It means that periodically one turbine among, say, three or four, is down for maintenance. Energy Australia, when it’s not burnishing its green credentials, runs Yallourn coal power station in the state of Victoria. As its blurb says, it “operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” Redundancy is an essential part of any power system but when coal is the power source, redundancy is proportional and its calling into play fairly predictable. Contrast this with wind.

On the other hand...

First, to get to a capacity factor of 90 percent wind has to be overbuilt by a factor of 2.7. Now, at this point, on average, wind can provide the same amount of power as a coal-power station. "On average" is the operative phrase. Sometimes its provision of power is Brobdingnagian but, often enough, it is Lilliputian. Hence, the required redundancy is effectively 100 percent. One whole dispatchable power system of equal size to be kept up to speed waiting in the wings.

It can’t be said too often: while wind and solar make up a relatively modest part of any power system, coal, oil or gas can fill the breach when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. There is a tipping point. Once the degree of dependency on unreliable renewables exceeds the redundancy in traditional power sources, which are rapidly being decommissioned and, in Australia, blown up, the jig is up. Batteries might last for a few minutes, before the lights go out. The “experts” at the CSIRO must know this; at least with the left side of their brains. Evidently the emotional right side predominates. Understandable, I suppose. Cool-headedness doesn’t sit easily with the planet’s imminent fiery destruction.

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 “With Energy, Don't Get Duped by 'Averages'”

  1. Supporting the key points in Mr Smith's article"
    Wind and solar can DISPLACE coal power but they can't REPLACE it.
    And we are approaching a tipping point in Australia, as noted, when the capacity of reliable power, mostly coal, is no longer enough to supply the demand, then we need wind and solar power but on windless nights they provide nothing.

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