Energy Crisis or Ideology Crisis?  The Rubber hits the Road

Australia faces an energy crisis as electricity prices escalate, as we were told by the media last week.  Last Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. the spot price for electricity hit $4,335 per Megawatt Hour.  Blame was immediately cast on our aging fleet of coal fired power stations.  Several were operating well under capacity through planned maintenance or unexpected failures.  Gas powered stations ramped up, but gas costs an arm and a leg because of the Ukraine war.  The weather had turned very cold in southern states and the wind had dropped. 

What shall we do?

Well, firstly, don’t panic.

Secondly, don’t depend on renewables.

Thirdly, enjoy the abundance of fossil fuel powered electricity- don’t restrict it.

And finally, if you must insist on Net Zero by 2050, go nuclear.

Here’s why.

Don’t panic:

Despite our apparently aging, decrepit, obsolete fleet of coal fired power stations operating at only 58% of capacity for the last seven days (10:30 a.m. Tuesday 31 May to Tuesday 7 June) the lights stayed on- just.  Gas and hydro came to the rescue.  With better maintenance and planning, there would have been no problem at all, and no need for cutbacks to industrial production such as aluminium.  So there’s no need to panic- we have ample energy supply.

Figure 1 shows electricity generation for the seven days to Sunday 5 June (p.m.) from OpenNEM.

The vertical line shows 6:00 p.m. Thursday night when the spot price peaked at $4,335.  It was after sundown so no solar, and there was little wind.  The plot shows how gas and hydro ramped up.  Also note the peaks on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were higher, and on the weekend demand was lower, so excess electricity could be used to pump water for hydro.

Don’t depend on renewables:

Figure 2 shows the same data as Figure 1 but not stacked, so comparison is easier.

Figure 2: All generation 29 May to 5 June (2:30 p.m.)

Coal of course stands out- nothing comes near.  Note that daylight hours are easy to see from the solar peaks.  Wind varies up and down as weather systems move across.  To fill the gaps on either side of solar, hydro and gas peak together in early mornings and evenings.  And finally you can barely see the contribution of batteries and diesel generators.

Figure 3 shows the relative contributions to the total of fossil fuels and renewables.

Figure 3:  Fossil fuels and wind, solar, and hydro:

The total generation has a daily cycle to match demand, but never dropped below 18,600 MW at night.  That is the minimum that the eastern Australian network must supply at this time of year.  The total rose to a touch under 31,300 MW in the early evening of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, with excess power used to pump water for hydro, reducing to about 30,000 on Thursday and Friday as industries and commerce cut back, and much lower peaks on the weekend.  Note that renewables fluctuate much more than coal and gas.

Figure 4 looks at the percentage contribution of the “old” generation- coal, gas, and hydro- compared with the new- wind and solar.

Figure 4:  Old and new as a percentage of total generation:

Wind plus solar only exceed 50% on sunny, windy days.  Because they get preferential treatment coal stations must cut back at these times.  When wind or solar- or both- cannot meet demand, fossil fuels and hydro must quickly ramp up.  On Thursday night wind and solar contributed just 3% of electricity.

That’s why we cannot depend on renewables.

Enjoy the abundance of fossil fuels:

Coal capacity is 23,049MW.

Gas capacity is 10,967MW.

Together that is 8 percent more than the maximum of all generation on any day of the last week.  Coal alone could easily meet night-time needs.

Hydro-electricity averaged another 9% (peaking at 19.4%).

With proper planning and maintenance that should be a decent buffer for unexpected breakdowns.

Of course gas is very expensive because of global demand.  With more coal generation (HELE power stations) we could have a reliable and cheaper electricity network, without any need for solar or wind power except in remote or special locations.

If you must insist on Net Zero by 2050, go nuclear:

There is no other realistic choice.

34,000 Megawatts of fossil fuelled electricity can be phased out, but on last week’s figures we MUST have at least 31,000 MW or we will have cut backs in industry, commerce, services, and domestic supply.  And last week, at one stage only 665 MW was being generated by wind turbines, and each night there is zero from all the rooftop and solar farm capacity in the country.   Hydro?  We have frequent droughts, so that cannot be relied upon in the long term.

Even in the sunniest continent on earth, and with the usually strong winds across southern Australia, renewables cannot be relied on when needed.  If there is to be limited fossil fuel use, the only alternative is nuclear energy.

I look forward to watching the Greens and Labor squirm over the next few years.

I have included as an Appendix a sample of the major electricity facilities so you can see how their generation varied over the last week.

Appendix:  Electricity generation from a sample of coal, gas, hydro, wind and solar facilities last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday

Coal can ramp up and down as needed- but is hard to do and harder on the equipment.

Gas can quickly fill the gap but is expensive- and sits idle for a long time too.

Hydro is quick to ramp up and down but dams have to have enough water.

Wind is free but doesn’t always blow!

Likewise, sunshine is free but not always there!

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2 Responses to “Energy Crisis or Ideology Crisis?  The Rubber hits the Road”

  1. tonyryan43 Says:

    Call me simple, but I would rather use the windmills to crucify politicians and greens, open more coal mines, create energy with mercury-filtered coal generators, and refuse to buy foreign timber or palm oil, and thereby cease to play a part in deforestation.

    Then I would like to build a great big high speed bus under which we can throw AGW alarmists, gender affirmation high priests and big four bank executives.

    Oh yes, and anybody at all who suggests we have our own Fukushimas.

  2. Stuart Says:

    Nice analysis Ken! It perfectly illustrates the self-damage of shutting down coal power in favour of renewables.

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