Archive for the ‘Energy use’ Category

Blowin’ in the Wind

June 22, 2022

The energy crisis seems to be ongoing- the new normal apparently.  Is it the fault of old, rundown coal fired power stations with breakdowns?  Is it the fault of greedy, profit hungry energy suppliers gaming the system?  Is it the fault of the Ukraine war pushing up coal and gas prices?  Is it the fault of the previous coalition government for not having the correct climate policy, resulting in not enough investment in renewables?  Or all of the above?

Nope.

Breakdowns last week in under-funded power stations didn’t help, nor a shortage of high priced coal and gas.  And you can’t blame companies wanting to keep their income above their costs. 

But no amount of climate ambition, and no possible amount of renewable capacity, could have averted the problems we’ve had last week and are likely to continue to have.

Figure 1 shows our electricity consumption for the two weeks from 3rd to 17th June. 

Figure 1:  All NEM electricity consumption 3- 17 June

Coal is the heavy lifter.

Figure 2 shows the main energy sources as a percentage of the total usage.

Figure 2:  All sources as a percentage of NEM electricity consumption 3- 17 June

Note again it is coal followed by daylight- and I don’t mean solar!  Note also that coal’s relative contribution increased despite breakdowns and supply difficulties.

The next plot shows the percentage contribution of fossil fuels and all non-fossil sources- batteries, hydro, wind and solar.  I’ve also included the negative contribution of pumped hydro, when dams are refilled using excess electricity- except on 13th and 14th when it was too expensive.

Figure 3:  Fossil and non-fossil generation as a percentage of consumption

Renewable energy advocates like averages- they hide a multitude of sins.  Here are the averages of all sources for each 30 minutes of the day for the last two weeks:

Figure 4:  Average 30 minute NEM electricity consumption 3- 17 June

Coal varies between 12,000 and 16,000 MW per half hour as it responds to the twice daily peaks in demand, and the daily peak in solar output.  Solar is useless for meeting baseload around 4:00 a.m., or either of the daily peaks.  Wind averages a touch over 4,000 MW all day so is also no help with extra demand.  Battery discharge at peak times can barely be seen.  Gas and hydro vary at similar rates to meet demand when needed, though gas output remains higher throughout the night.

How reliable was wind generation, which averaged over 4,000 MW per half hour?  Here is a plot of actual wind generation at 30 minute intervals from 3 June to 17 June:

Figure 5:  Actual wind generation 3- 17 June for each half hour

“Fickle” is not an adequate description.

Of course renewables can provide 18,000 MW at maximum capacity- but at the wrong time of the day.  When the need was greatest, they could provide only 6,880 MW- and 90% of that was hydro.

Our entire electricity generation, including fossil generation, depends on the reliability or otherwise of renewable generation.

Our energy crisis last week was not caused by breakdowns, fossil fuel prices, greedy power companies, coalition governments, or lack of investment in renewables.

It was caused by a lack of wind.

Figure 6:  Actual wind generation 3- 17 June

We are hostages to the weather.  Bob Dylan was right.  The answer is blowin’ in the wind.

(Source: OpenNEM)

The Gap

June 18, 2022

Here is a simple plot to demonstrate the challenge facing our new government, and all future governments, if they want to transition to a zero carbon economy.

This is the gap between all non-fossil fuel generated electricity- solar, wind, and hydro- and total consumption in eastern Australia over the past two weeks (3rd to 17th of June) for every 30 minutes of the day.

That gap- 12,000 to 16,000 MW for base load and 16,000 to 30,000 MW for peak load- is now filled by gas and coal.  Snowy 2.0 will only provide an extra 2,000 MW of storage.

That’s just for electricity- don’t forget electric vehicles and hydrogen!

(Source: OpenNEM)

The Real Cost of Renewables

June 13, 2022

Electricity prices are increasing, we know.  Here is a plot of electricity prices across the eastern states in the National Electricity Market.

Fig. 1:  NEM Prices 2009-2022

There is a shortage of available coal and gas generation, resulting in record prices.

Fig. 2:  NEM Coal & Gas Prices 2009-2022

Of course wind and solar are much cheaper:

Fig. 3:  NEM Wind & Solar Prices 2009-2022

See?  Renewables are cheaper.

Not so fast.

Figure 4 shows electricity consumption for the eastern states last week (Friday 3 June to Friday 10 June).

Fig. 4:  NEM Total Consumption 3 June – 10 June

Note the daily cycle between baseload and peak load.  Figure 5 is a plot of consumption for each 30 minutes of the day:

Fig. 5:  NEM Total Consumption by Time of Day

The baseload- the minimum amount of electricity to meet the needs of streetlights, hospitals, smelters, and households- occurs every day between about 3.30 a.m. and 5.00 a.m., and last week was from 20,600 to 22,300 MW.

Peak load rose to 35,386 MW.

Figure 6 shows how wind and solar performed last week:

Fig. 6:  NEM Wind & Solar Consumption 3 June – 10 June

The bleeding obvious is that while solar provided more than 10,000 MW for 30 minutes on Saturday 4 June, it produced absolutely zero every night.  Wind never reached 7,000 MW.

That’s the reason we need storage.  If we can store the excess from solar, we could use it to supplement wind when needed.  Much money has been invested in large scale batteries.  However, batteries provided a maximum output of 324 MW last week- pathetic really.

We do have hydro-electricity, mainly in Tasmania and the Snowy Mountains.  Figure 7 shows how hydro contributed last week:

Fig. 7:  NEM Hydro Consumption 3 June – 10 June

Hydro helped twice a day at peak times, and also provided a substantial supply in daylight hours- over 2,000 MW on 8 June.  The previous week- at 6 p.m. on Thursday 2 June- wind could manage only 3% of the NEM load, and hydro provided 19.33%, or 5,382 MW.  Last Thursday 9 June at 6 p.m. hydro provided 5,519 MW.

That’s why we need more storage.  Forget batteries- the only realistic storage is pumped hydro, where excess off-peak electricity is used to pump water to storage dams.  Wivenhoe Dam in Queensland has been doing this for 40 years.

So the politicians dreamed up Snowy 2.0.  This scheme, whose timeline for completion has blown out to the end of 2026 according to Chris Bowen (Weekend Australian June 11-12), will cost 4.5 billion dollars to build, plus another $1.5 billion to $2 billion for extra transmission lines.

 “Snowy 2.0 will provide an additional 2,000 megawatts of dispatchable, on-demand generating capacity and approximately 350,000 megawatt hours of large-scale storage to the National Electricity Market. To provide context, this is enough energy storage to power three million homes over the course of a week.”

That’s a cost of $3.25 million per MW.

That’s the “good” news.  Now for the interesting news.

As we saw above, baseload last week was 20,000 to 22,000 MW- and winter has only just started.  If fossil fuels are removed eventually, baseload at 4 a.m. must be met by some combination of wind and hydro as there is no sun at that time of day. 

The current hydro capacity is 9,285 MW.  Snowy 2.0 will provide an extra 2,000 MW.

The current installed capacity of wind generation is 9,202 MW- and that is going full bore day and night, with optimum wind conditions and no stops for maintenance.  32% of capacity is the average reached.

The total installed capacity of wind, current hydro, and Snowy 2.0 is 20,487 MW.  That is still short of baseload with winter to come, and peak load last week was 35,386 MW.  That doesn’t allow for population increase or economic growth either.  Where will the extra 15,000 MW of wind powered and pumped hydro electricity come from?  It’s an impossible dream.

But wait, there’s more.

Here’s the bad news:  Hydro electricity is the most expensive electricity in Australia- more expensive than either coal or gas.  In May 2022 it reached $315.91 per MW.

Because it is rapidly despatchable it is sold at times of very high demand, so the operators get top dollar.  Much more than coal or gas.

Figure 8 shows the average price of hydro for each month to May 2022.

Fig. 8:  NEM Hydro Prices 2009-2022

The real cost of renewables will include the cost of storage and emergency supply.

Don’t hold your breath hoping for electricity prices to come down.

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. 

Will Covid-19 Affect Carbon Dioxide Levels?

May 2, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic has already caused a huge downturn in many industries world-wide- especially tourism, manufacturing, and transport.  Prices of oil and thermal coal have fallen dramatically.  The first impact was on China, as this plot from the World Economic Forum shows:

Fig. 1:  Industrial production in China

Industrial production has fallen by 13.5% in January and February, and exports have dropped by 17%.  While China may be recovering from the virus, the rest of the world is not and knock-on effects from low Chinese production of essential inputs will hold back recovery in other countries.

So the question is: if atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are largely a product of fossil fuel emissions, and if fossil fuel emissions decrease, will we see a reduction in the rate of increase of CO2, and if so, how much?

This is the biggest real life experiment we are ever (I hope) likely to see.

Background:

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing, as in Figure 2.

Fig. 2:  CO2 measurements at Mauna Loa

Cape Grim in Tasmania samples the atmosphere above the Southern Ocean and shows a similar trend, with much smaller seasonal fluctuations:

Fig. 3:  CO2 measurements at Cape Grim

But what we are vitally interested in, is how much we may expect CO2 concentration to change.  We can show change, and remove the seasonal signal, by plotting the 12 month differences, i.e., March 2020 minus March 2019.  Thus we can see how much real variation there is even without an economic downturn.  And it is huge.

Fig.4:  12 month change in CO2 concentration- Mauna Loa

Fig. 5:  12 month change in CO2 concentration- Cape Grim

Not very much smaller at Cape Grim.

However, the Mauna Loa record is the one commonly referred to.  Figure 6 shows the 12 month changes since 2015.

Fig.6:  12 month change in CO2 concentration since 2015- Mauna Loa

We will keenly watch the values for the remaining months of 2020, and then 2021.

My expectation?

I will be very surprised if there is much visible difference from previous years at all, as the following plots show.  Figure 7 shows the time series of annual global CO2 emissions and scaled up atmospheric concentration from 1965 to 2018 (the most recent data from the World Bank):

Fig. 7:  Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Concentration to 2018

Fig. 8:  Carbon Dioxide Emissions as a Function of Energy Consumption to 2018

There is a very close match between emissions and energy consumption of all types- including nuclear, hydro, and renewables.

Fig. 9:  CO2 Concentration as a Function of Carbon Dioxide Emissions to 2018

Again, it is close, they are both increasing, but with some interesting little hiccups….

So what is the relationship between change in atmospheric concentration and change in emissions?

Fig. 10:  Percentage Change in CO2 Concentration as a Function of Percentage Change in Carbon Dioxide Emissions to 2018

Not very good correlation: 0.01.

Fig. 11:  Percentage Change in Energy Use, GDP, and Carbon Dioxide Emissions to 2018

GDP fluctuates much more than energy or emissions, which are very close, and if anything tends to follow them.

Figure 12 is a time series of annual percentage change in energy and emissions and absolute change in CO2 concentration.

Fig. 12:  Percentage Change in Energy Use and Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Absolute CO2 Change to 2018

You will note that during the three occasions (1974, 1980-82, and 2008-09) when global emissions growth went negative (as much as minus two percent), CO2 concentration barely moved, and still remained positive, and on two occasions when CO2 concentration increased by 3 ppm or more (1998 and 2016), emissions increase was much reduced. 

Ah-ha, but that’s because the volume of the atmosphere is so huge compared with the amount of greenhouse gases being pumped out- according to the Global Warming Enthusiasts.

In Figure 10 I showed that there was little relationship between annual change in CO2 emissions and atmospheric concentration.  Figure 13 shows what appears to have a much greater influence on CO2 concentrations: ocean surface temperature. 

Fig. 13:  Annual Change in CO2 Concentration as a Function of Change in Sea Surface Temperature (lagged 1 year)

Remember the correlation of CO2 with emissions in Figure 10 was 0.01.  The correlation between CO2 and lagged SSTs is 0.59.  That’s a pretty devastating comparison.

Figure 14 shows how in most years SST change precedes CO2 change throughout the entire CO2 record.

Fig. 14:  Annual Change in CO2 Concentration and Sea Surface Temperatures

There is little evidence for CO2 increase causing SST increase, while there is evidence that SST change (or something closely associated with it) leads to CO2 change.   The largest changes coincide with large ENSO events.

Conclusion:

Therefore, I expect there may be a small decrease in the rate of CO2 concentration increase, but it won’t be much, and I will be surprised if it turns negative.  A large La Nina later this year will lead to a CO2 increase a few months later, in which case there will be a larger downturn in annual CO2 change in 2021.

However, if the major cause of CO2 increase is fossil fuel consumption, there will be an extra large decrease in CO2 change in 2020 and 2021- and a noticeable jump if the global economy rebounds.

As I said, a very large real life experiment. So watch this space!

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.

The Renewable Energy Transition

July 11, 2019

The Australian Greens’ number one aim in their Climate Change and Energy Policy is:

“Net zero or net negative Australian greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2040.”

And the Lowy Institute believes that Australia can set an example for the rest of the world.  In their article ‘An Australian model for the renewable-energy transition’ published on 11 March 2019, they assert that across the world “A very rapid transition to renewables is in process” and that “Most countries can follow the Australian path and transition rapidly to renewables with consequent large avoidance of future greenhouse emissions.”

Time for a reality check.

In this assessment I use energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions data from the 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

First of all, greenhouse gas emissions.  In the BP Review,

…carbon emissions … reflect only those through consumption of oil, gas and coal for combustion related activities, and are based on ‘Default CO2 Emissions Factors for Combustion’ listed by the IPCC in its Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories (2006).  This does not allow for any carbon that is sequestered, for other sources of carbon emissions, or for emissions of other greenhouse gases. Our data is therefore not comparable to official national emissions data.

Excluded sources would include for example cement production and land clearing.  However, given that we are focussing on the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewables, that is not a problem.

Figure 1 shows the growth in carbon dioxide emissions (from fossil fuels) since 1965.

Fig. 1: Global CO2 emissions in millions of Tonnes

CO2 emissions global

The big hitters are China, the USA, and India, who together account for more than half of the world total.

Fig. 2: CO2 emissions by the Big Three and the rest

CO2 emissions top3 rest

Note that America’s emissions peaked in 2007 and have since declined.  China’s emissions rose rapidly from 2002 to 2013.  From a low base, India’s emissions growth rate is practically exponential.

Figure 3 shows how Australia “compares”.

Fig. 3: CO2 emissions by the Big Three and Australia

CO2 emissions top3 Oz

Australia’s emissions from fossil fuels peaked in 2008.

The BP Review’s CO2 emissions data are based on fossil fuel combustion, so I now look at energy consumption since 1965.  Energy units are million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE), from the BP Review, “Converted on the basis of thermal equivalence assuming 38% conversion efficiency in a modern thermal power station.”

Fig. 4: Global energy consumption by fuel type in millions of tonnes of oil equivalent

World energy cons 65 to 18

(Note:

Apart from 2009 (the GFC) gas has risen steadily, especially the last five years.

Since the oil shocks of the seventies and early eighties and apart from the GFC, oil has mostly enjoyed a steady rise.

Coal consumption increased rapidly from 2002 to 2013 (mostly due to Chinese expansion) followed by a small decrease to 2016.

Hydro power has seen a steady increase.

Nuclear power peaked in 2006 and declined slightly before increasing over the last six years.

Wind and Solar are in the bottom right hand corner.  Both are increasing rapidly but are dwarfed by other forms of energy.)

How close are we to the renewable energy transition?  Figures 5 to 9 show 1965 – 2018 energy consumption for conventional sources (fossil fuels plus hydro and nuclear) and the total.  The gap between conventional and total energy use is filled by renewables OF ALL TYPES- solar, wind, geothermal, bio-waste (e.g. sugar cane bagasse), and bio-mass used for electricity production, (but excluding firewood, charcoal, and dung).  I have highlighted the gaps with a little green arrow.

Fig. 5: Total and conventional energy consumption in millions of tonnes of oil equivalent

World energy cons 65 to 18 fossil hydro nuclear

In 2018, renewables of all types accounted for just 4.05% of the world’s energy, fossil fuels 83.7%.  So much for rapid transition to renewables.

The next three plots show energy consumption of the big emitters.

Fig. 6: Total and conventional energy consumption- China

CO2 emissions China

4.38% of Chinese energy came from renewables in 2018.  Nuclear and hydro power have increased enormously over the past 15 years and make up 10.35% of usage but fossil fuels (mostly coal) make up 85.3% of energy consumption.

Fig. 7: Total and conventional energy consumption- USA

CO2 emissions USA

Renewables accounted for 4.51% of US energy.  Fossil fuel and total energy consumption peaked in 2007 but has recently started increasing mostly due to gas and oil use.   (Coal has slipped from more than a quarter of the fossil fuel total in 2007 to less than a sixth in 2018.)  Fossil fuels make up 84.3% of energy use.

Fig. 8: Total and conventional energy consumption- India

CO2 emissions India

Only 3.4% of India’s energy comes from renewables.  India’s energy consumption is growing very rapidly, and 91.6% of consumption is from fossil fuels.

What of Australia, supposedly setting an example for the rest of the world to follow?

Fig. 9: Total and conventional energy consumption- Australia

CO2 emissions Australia

After years of building solar and wind farms, and at enormous expense, renewable energy of all types accounts for just 5% of Australia’s energy use- and the Greens aim to have zero net emissions in 21 years from now.

In the past 10 years, renewable consumption has increased by 5.5 million tonnes of oil equivalent- but fossil fuels have increased by 6.4 million tonnes.  While coal use has dropped by 12 million tonnes, this has been more than replaced by 18.4 million tonnes of oil and gas.  That’s not much of a rapid transition.

Figure 10 shows in order renewables consumption in all countries.  Remember, this includes all types including geothermal energy and bio-mass.

Fig. 10: Comparative penetration of renewables

Renewable cons %

Australia at 5 % renewable consumption is 19th and ahead of the big emitters, the USA, China, and India.

Perhaps the Extinction Rebellion activists who are unhappy with lack of action against climate change in Germany, the UK, and Australia, could glue themselves to the roadways in China, India, or Russia.

There is no rapid renewable energy transition.   Oil, coal, and gas are cheap and readily available and are powering growth in developing economies.  At some time in the future there will not be enough accessible fossil fuel to sustain the world’s economies alone; uranium too will one day be in short supply.  However, necessity and technological innovation, not legislation, will drive the adoption of alternative fuels.

Rumours of the imminent death of fossil fuels appear to be greatly exaggerated (with apologies to Mark Twain).