Archive for the ‘Electricity’ Category

The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 3

January 16, 2022

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.

The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 2

January 13, 2022

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

I also said that the wastage can only get worse.  Here’s how.

In Part 1, I only looked at historical electricity generation.  What of the future according to the major political parties? (The Greens don’t count because they can’t count.)

The major parties are committed to Net Zero emissions by 2050, which will require massive changes to our energy use.

I use data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021, the National Energy Market website, and the report of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2021).

To replace 2020 fossil fuel electricity with renewable electricity will require an extra 200.6 TeraWattHours:

Figure 1:  Total Electricity Generation

That’s an extra 22,884 MegaWatts of renewable capacity at 100% capacity factor.  Remember, wind’s capacity factor is about 32%, and solar is about 15%.  At $1.8 million per MW, that will cost somewhere between 129 and 275 billion dollars. 

That is of course entirely achievable.  Costly, but achievable.

However, electricity makes up only a small part of Australia’s total energy use.  Transport alone uses much more.  That is why there is a push for more electric vehicles: the ALP wants 89% of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030.

Australia’s 2020 energy consumption was 5,568.59 PetaJoules, a decrease of 5.25% on 2019.  One PetaJoule is the equivalent of 0.278 TeraWattHours, or 277,778 MegaWattHours, which is the power generated by 31.7 MW over one year.

Figure 2:  Total Energy Consumption in Australia

Renewables of all sorts accounted for just 8% of energy consumed in Australia in 2020.  Include hydro and that rises to 10.4%.  Figure 2 shows the amount for each.

Figure 3:  Energy Consumption by Type

Note the complete absence of nuclear energy.

If Australia is to be completely fossil fuel free (with no increase on 2020 consumption, which was reduced because of Covid), renewables will have to produce an extra 4,990.9 PetaJoules.  Our consumption will look like this:

Figure 4:  Energy Consumption without Fossil Fuels

4,990.9 PJ is 1.387 billion MegaWattHours, which will need 158,152 MW generation (at 100% capacity)- only 27.8 times 2020 generation.

If this is to be supplied by wind alone, we will need an additional 494,225 MW of installed capacity in wind farms- 52 times 2020 wind capacity- at 24 Hectares per MW.  An extra 118,600 square kilometres of suitable land for wind farms will be difficult to find.

Solar at 2-3 Hectares per MW would probably be a better proposition.  If the extra generation is to come from solar, we will need an extra 1,054,357 MW- 60 times 2020 solar capacity.

Therefore the cost of meeting our current energy consumption- transport, domestic, commercial, and industrial- with no allowance for growth, and ignoring the cost of converting our entire domestic, commercial, industrial, mining, and air transport capacity to some form of electric vehicles, would be between:-

$ 889.6 BILLION  (if all wind)

and

$1.898 TRILLION (if all solar).

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

That’s up to $73,700 for every man, woman, and child in Australia.

Figure 5 shows the comparison between Australian GDP and the cost of solar generation needed.

Figure 5:  Cost of extra solar generation compared with the whole of the economy

How much of that investment would be in wasted capacity? Between 68% and 85%-from $605 Billion to $1.613 Trillion.

Moreover, the life of a wind turbine is 20 to 25 years, and 25 years for solar panels, so we can look forward to more expense in decommissioning and replacement in the future.

(By the way- do you think that “future technology and innovation” will be any cheaper?)

That’s just what would be the result of the major parties’ commitment to Net Zero.

But wait- there’s more. Stand by for Part 3.

The Challenge Ahead For Renewables: Part 1

January 11, 2022

As we are committed by all major parties to the goal of Net Zero emissions by 2050 perhaps we need to reflect on the scale of the challenge ahead.

I shall first deal with electricity, as that is the only thing that renewables such as wind and solar can produce (except perhaps for a warm inner glow in those who love them.)

Being less of a romantic, I prefer facts and figures.  In this post I use data from the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2021, the National Energy Market website, and by tracking down opening and closing dates for various facilities.

Figure 1 shows the total generating capacity for coal, wind, and solar electrical generation for the last 20 years.  (Gas is excluded as it makes up less than 8% of generation over a year.)  This is the maximum possible output if all plants are operating at 100% of their rated capacity.

Figure 1: Generating Capacity 2021 – 2020

Note how coal fired electrical capacity fell below 25,000 MegaWatts (MW) with the closure of power stations in SA, WA, and Victoria.  Meanwhile from a very low base wind capacity rose steadily and accelerated from 2018.  Solar generating capacity has exceeded wind since 2012 and really took off in 2019 and 2020.  Wind and solar combined now exceed coal generating capacity.

Now let’s look at how much electricity was actually produced

Figure 2: Coal Capacity and Generation 2021 – 2020

Note how coal generation is falling steadily.  The gap between generation and capacity may be regarded as wasted resources (and money).  This has remained fairly constant over the years.

Figure 3: Wind Capacity and Generation 2021 – 2020

Despite the large increase in capacity, generation is not increasing as fast.  The gap is widening.

Figure 4: Solar Capacity and Generation 2021 – 2020

Again, the gap (i.e. waste) is increasing even faster.  More on this later.

Here’s another way of looking at this problem, for solar.

Figure 5: Solar Generation as a Factor of Installed Capacity 2021 – 2020

Over the last 20 years there has been a fairly constant and close relationship between the amount of electricity generated and the installed capacity it is produced from.  This illustrates the low capacity factor of renewables.  Capacity factor is average actual generation divided by the nameplate capacity, usually expressed as a percentage. 

Figure 6: Capacity Factor 2021 – 2020

Coal has a capacity factor of between 65% and 80%.  Hydro depends on rainfall and has averaged 21% over the last 10 years.  Wind averaged 32% over the last 10 years, but solar struggles to get above 15%- mainly because it sits idle at night, there are large losses in conversion from DC to AC, and also because it produces more than the grid can handle in the middle of the day so supply is curtailed. 

Investors take heed: for every MegaWatt of solar electricity you may wish to generate, you will need to install 6.7 MW.  Every 1 MW of wind electricity needs 3.125 MW installed.  But wind takes up about 24 Hectares of land per Megawatt as against 2-3 Hectares for solar.

Figure 7 shows how much investment has been wasted over the years.

Figure 7: Wasted Capacity

Waste costs money.  In the case of wind and solar, $1.8 MILLION per MW.

I hate waste- but it can only get worse. 

An Impossibility of Windmills

September 9, 2020

There are many strange collective nouns for groups of animals, people, and things. For example, a parliament of owls, a murder of crows, a convocation of eagles, an intrusion of cockroaches, an audience of squid are for groups from the animal kingdom.

A company of archers, an eloquence of lawyers, and a poverty of pipers describe some groups of people.

What about things? A distraction of smartphones, a smug of Priuses, a Hilary of pantsuits I have heard of.

But Jan Smelik from the Netherlands has sent me a link to his Youtube video and we now have collective noun for a group of windmills.

No, not the old windmills for pumping water and grinding grain we know from paintings and tourist brochures- the modern variety which will save the world from global warming.

Very appropriately, an impossibility of windmills.

Here’s his video:

Even more so for Australia!

More on Energy Consumption

July 20, 2019

In my previous post was this plot showing relative penetration of renewable energy of all types (including geo-thermal, bio-fuel, and bio-waste) in world economies in 2018.

Fig. 1: Renewable energy as a percentage of total energy consumption

Renewable cons %

Many European countries have relatively large renewables penetration. (New Zealand’s position is due to geo-thermal energy providing up to 17% of its electricity.)  Australia at 5% is ahead of several very large economies, including China, the USA, and India.

However, Figure 2 shows absolute figures for renewable energy.  (All comparisons are in million tonnes of oil equivalent, taken from the 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy).

Fig. 2: Actual renewable energy consumption

Renewable cons MTOE

China is by far the largest consumer at about 20 times Australia’s consumption- and almost equalling Australia’s total energy consumption with renewables alone.

But China’s renewable consumption is dwarfed by fossil fuels.  China leads the world in fossil fuel consumption.

Fig. 3: Fossil fuel energy consumption

Fossil cons MTOE

Australia is a minnow.  China consumes 21 times as much fossil fuel as Australia- and New Zealand is far smaller.

Figure 4 shows each country’s fossil fuel consumption as a percentage of its total.

Fig. 4: Fossil fuel energy as a percentage of total energy consumption

Fossil cons %

A long list of countries obtain more than 95% of their total energy needs from fossil fuels.  Australia is in a group (including India) with fossil fuel accounting for 90 to 95% of energy needs.  I have made lists of countries in Figure 4 with 80 to 90%, 70 to 80%, and 60 to 70%.  France, Finland, and some former Soviet states use more than 50% fossil fuel.  Only three countries- Switzerland (47.5%), Sweden (32.6%), and Norway (31.9%)- have fossil fuel consumption less than 50%.  In all but these three, fossil fuels rule.

I now turn to nuclear energy.

Fig. 5: Nuclear energy as a percentage of total energy consumption

Nuclear cons %jpg

France leads the world with emission-free nuclear power at 38.5%, followed by Sweden at 29%.  Ukraine and Switzerland are above 20%.  China and India are well down the list.  Australia, despite enormous uranium reserves, is not in the nuclear club.

Fig. 6: Nuclear energy consumption

Nuclear cons MTOE

In absolute consumption, the USA is way in front, with twice as much consumption as its nearest rival, France.

The other major emission-free energy source is hydroelectricity.  Countries with high mountains and large rivers (and little opposition from environmentalists) can make good use of hydroelectricity.

Fig. 7: Hydro electric energy consumption

Hydro cons MTOE

China consumes nearly three times as much as Brazil or Canada.  Australia has very little potential for more than the small amount we now consume.

Fig. 8: Hydro electric energy consumption as a percentage of total energy

Hydro cons %

Norway gets 67.8% of its total consumption from hydro energy.  Switzerland and Sweden both have above 27% from hydro.

Generally speaking, large countries, even those blessed with hydro and nuclear resources, use more fossil fuels for transport.  Very small countries (Singapore, Hong Kong) have no room for nuclear, hydro or renewable facilities and so must rely on fossil fuels and imported electricity.  Countries with abundant oil and gas reserves naturally use more fossil fuels.

Finally, electricity generation.

Figure 9 shows the percentage of total electricity generation by each fuel type, ordered from least to most fossil fuel use.

Fig. 9: Electricity generation by fuel type

Electricity by fuel %

Note that fossil fuels dominate.  Brazil is the only major country where electricity generated by renewables exceeds that by fossil fuels, and then only because hydroelectricity provides 66% of all generation.  Hydro and nuclear generation are the real and proven alternatives to fossil fuels.  Only the UK and Germany have more than 30% renewable electricity, still less than fossil fuels.  As electricity generation accounts for 43.4% of energy consumption globally, and considering Figure 1, it is obvious that renewable electricity is only a small part of the energy mix.

Currently only nuclear and hydro are viable emission-free alternatives.  Solar panels and windmills cannot hope to replace fossil fuels for electricity generation, let alone for the wider economy.  It is time governments showed some leadership and acknowledged this truth.

One Example of Domestic Electricity Costs

October 25, 2018

During a clean up I found a package of old electricity bills, going back to 2006.  I entered the data into Excel to see what has happened to our costs over the last 13 years.

We live in regional Queensland where the sole provider is Ergon Energy.  Ergon provides on each bill a handy comparison chart showing our electricity usage is very similar to that of other households like ours.  In 2012 we moved to Rockhampton, which is hotter and drier than Mackay, and the house has a different energy use pattern, but electricity prices are the same in both areas.

While our usage has actually declined by about 5.8 kWhrs per quarter over 13 years as we have become more careful, our annual electricity bill has increased by 138%.  We are being good global citizens, so why are we being punished?  The reasons are as shown in the following figures.

Figure 1:  Nett cost per kWhr of electricity

Nett price

The average annual price of electricity delivered (free of other charges) has increased by about 129%.  This was achieved mainly by a series of ever larger increases on an annual basis to 2014 (113% over 8 years), followed by a drop of about 16% over two years, then another increase of 22% over three years.

However the total cost of electricity supply (all charges divided by kWhrs consumed) has increased by 170%.

Figure 2:  Cost of electricity plus other charges per kWhr

Total price

Note the quarterly costs are very close to the trend line, with larger variation from about 2014.  How can this be achieved?  By increasing daily service fees and quarterly metre reading charges.

Figure 3:  Daily service fees and quarterly metre reading charges

Other costs

The average annual costs of these other charges has increased by 544%!

The unintended consequence is that if we use more electricity, the average price per kWhr decreases.  This is actually a disincentive to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, and an incentive to consume more electricity, and in effect, consumers who use less electricity are subsidising those who use more.

So what is driving these steep increases?

According to the Queensland Times on 20 February 2018,

“Energy Queensland – Energex and Ergon – returned a profit of $881 million in 2017, a decrease of $61 million, due to increased borrowings and transmission charges.”

However, “Queensland’s government-owned energy corporations posted a massive $1.9 billion profit last year.

That was a 45 per cent increase on the $1.3 billion in profits recorded in 2016.”

This was mainly from the power generating corporations CS Energy and Stanwell selling to the National Energy Market.

This embarrassment of riches has led the Queensland government to return $50 each to consumers this year, with another $50 next year- taking with one hand and giving back with the other.  This is very little help to business, industry, and agriculture.

So our retail supplier Ergon buys electricity from the wholesalers on the National Energy Market, with our local generator Stanwell selling to this market at the highest price they can get.  Ergon has to return dividends to the state government.  Their only way to ease the squeeze is to increase the return from consumers.

What is happening in capital cities and other states?  How do others compare?  I have no idea.

I will be interested to see whether the Federal government’s promise of lower power prices really eventuates.