The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 3

In Part 1 I showed how the low Capacity Factors of wind and solar mean enormous wastage of resources and money has been incurred over the past 20 years. 

In part 2, I showed the impact of the policies of the major parties, with the costs of replacing fossil fuels in electricity generation, and the enormous cost of using renewables for all our energy use.

However, Net Zero is the goal of the whole developed world, not just Australia.  There are many, and not just the Greens, who say that replacing fossil fuel for all energy is not enough.  We must also ban all exports of coal and gas.

We produce far more energy than we consume- mainly coal (cue wailing and gnashing of teeth).  Most is exported.

According to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2021) total energy production (for domestic consumption plus exports of coal and gas) in 2019-2020 was 20,055 PetaJoules. 

Figure 1:  Australian energy production 2019-2020

All renewables and hydroelectricity amounted to a little over 2% of energy produced in Australia.

Figure 2:  Relative share of energy production

Therefore if we are to maintain our role as an energy exporter (of electricity or hydrogen), and thus our standard of living, then just to keep up with our 2019-2020 production, renewables will have to produce 48 times current production- an EXTRA 19,636 PJ. 

Figure 3: All renewables compared with energy consumption and production

Can this be achieved?

19,636 PJ is 5.45 billion MegaWattHours, which will need 622,227 MW generation (at 100% capacity).

If the extra generation is to come from solar (wind would require far too much land- over 6% of Australia’s land area), we will need an extra 4.149 million MW- 290 times 2020 solar capacity.

Therefore the cost would be at least

$7.47 TRILLION (if all solar).

And that figure doesn’t include storage, extra infrastructure like transmission lines and substations, charging points for vehicles, building hydrogen plants, and losses involved in electrolysis of water, conversion to ammonia and back again, and conversion of hydrogen to motive power.  Neither does it include the costs of decommissioning and replacement, safe burial of non-recyclable solar panels, turbine blades, and used batteries, nor the human costs of child labour in Congolese mines supplying cobalt for batteries.

(Australia’s nominal GDP will be around $2.1 trillion in 2022.)

Figure 4 shows the comparison between Australian GDP and the cost of solar generation needed.

Figure 4:  Cost of extra solar generation needed for Net Zero compared with the whole of the economy

So can it really be achieved?

In the minds of some, yes.

The report from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) containing the Draft 2022 Integrated System Plan (ISP) makes interesting (and scary) reading.  The favoured scenario is called “Step Change” which involves a rapid transformation of the Australian energy industry (rather than “Slow Change” or “Progressive Change”), which relates more to my analysis in Part 2.

However the scenario called “Hydrogen Superpower” received 17% of stakeholder panellists’ votes in November 2021 and must be considered a possible political goal.

Here is a summary of the Step Change and Hydrogen Superpower scenarios:

• Step Change – Rapid consumer-led transformation of the energy sector and co-ordinated economy-wide action. Step Change moves much faster initially to fulfilling Australia’s net zero policy commitments that would further help to limit global temperature rise to below 2° compared to pre-industrial levels. Rather than building momentum as Progressive Change does, Step Change sees a consistently fast-paced transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy in the NEM. On top of the Progressive Change assumptions, there is also a step change in global policy commitments, supported by rapidly falling costs of energy production, including consumer devices. Increased digitalisation helps both demand management and grid flexibility, and energy efficiency is as important as electrification. By 2050, most consumers rely on electricity for heating and transport, and the global manufacture of internal-combustion vehicles has all but ceased. Some domestic hydrogen production supports the transport sector and as a blended pipeline gas, with some industrial applications after 2040.

• Hydrogen Superpower – strong global action and significant technological breakthroughs. While the two previous scenarios assume the same doubling of demand for electricity to support industry decarbonisation, Hydrogen Superpower nearly quadruples NEM energy consumption to support a hydrogen export industry. The technology transforms transport and domestic manufacturing, and renewable energy exports become a significant Australian export, retaining Australia’s place as a global energy resource. As well, households with gas connections progressively switch to a hydrogen-gas blend, before appliance upgrades achieve 100% hydrogen use.

Household gas switching to 100% hydrogen? What could possibly go wrong?

Here are the AEMO projections:

“The ISP forecasts the need for ~122 GW of additional VRE by 2050 in Step Change, to meet demand as coal-fired generation withdraws (see Section 5.1). This means maintaining the current record rate of VRE development every year for the decade to treble the existing 15 GW of VRE by 2030 – and then double that capacity by 2040, and again by 2050.”  (VRE= Variable Renewable Energy)

 “In Hydrogen Superpower, the scale of development can only be described as monumental. To enable Australia to become a renewable energy superpower as assumed in this scenario, the NEM would need approximately 256 GW of wind and approximately 300 GW of solar – 37 times its current capacity of VRE. This would expand the total generation capacity of the NEM 10-fold (rather than over three-fold for the more likely Step Change and Progressive Change scenarios). Australia has long been in the top five of energy exporting nations. It is now in the very fortunate position of being able to remain an energy superpower, if it chooses, but in entirely new forms of energy. “ (p.36)

Figure 5:  Projections of different renewable needs from the draft report

And capacity factors have not been considered!

And here are the “future technology and innovation” ideas for reducing emissions:

Figure 6: How to achieve emissions reductions

I’m glad I won’t be around to see this play out.

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2 Responses to “The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 3”

  1. John in Oz Says:

    “Step Change – Rapid consumer-led transformation” – by diktat

  2. ngard2016 Says:

    Thanks for your efforts Ken and I also don’t want to be around as we waste trillions of $ for decades and no change to the climate or temp by 2050 or 2100 at all.
    Boris and Biden have heaps of problems as they are opposed by the more sensible parts of their parties and hopefully Biden+ DEMs will suffer badly after the mid terms in Nov 2022.

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