Doctor and activist


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Category: Energy

Energy Storage is a large problem- the German Experience 13/12/20

Energy storage is a worse problem in Germany because they have longer cold periods with less sun than Australia. It seems that pumped hydro storage is our best option, but this article is correct that it requires a lot of energy alternatives for when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.


Demand management is also important, which means shifting things like off peak hot water to when the sun shines, but also paying people to switch off. If there is only a peak demand for a few hours a year, it is cheaper to pay people to turn off than to have a power source that is only used a few hours a year.

But articles about the problems in the German grid have been around for a long time and lessons need to be learned.

Those of us who want to move to renewable energy need to be aware of the problems and to address them, or we just look like naive ideologues.

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No Target, No Plan for Carbon-Neutral Economy by 2050: Angus Taylor, Energy Minister

20 May 2020

Angus Taylor, our Energy Minister says we cannot be carbon neutral by 2050- 30 years away! Why not? Well we cannot have a target without a plan. And since we have chosen to have no plan, we cannot have a target.

This sort of circular semantic nonsense is what Angus Taylor is all about. He is now taking the Clean Energy Fund and using for that hoax, carbon capture and storage. The man should be sacked for his rorting and corruption, and his actions as a Minister are totally in the wrong direction for Australia.

Carbon capture is just a fossil industry bad joke. A lot of carbon dioxide comes out with natural gas, and is already separated, because of course it would stop the gas burning as well if it went in the gas pipes. So if it is already separated from natural gas. What happens then? It is released to the atmosphere; Obviously- the cheapest solution! Privatise the profits and externalise the costs. So there is lots of carbon dioxide to store or sequester. Is this possible? Perhaps at great cost. If so, it should be part of the cost of selling gas. How economic would gas be then?

But it goes on. Coal is concentrated carbon. When it combines with oxygen it releases a lot of energy in a process commonly known as burning. And instead of a compact little bit of carbon that can be passed around a Parliament there is huge amount of gas that has to be captured from the atmosphere, and stored somewhere, presumably under a lot of pressure and presumably forever. This is quite a problem, will be difficult to do and will cost a lot of energy, perhaps as much as burning it released. You could call it it a difficult scientific problem. Or you could call it a very silly thing to do. Create a problem, then spend a lot of money and time to try to find a way to fix it.

But the fossil fuel lobby wants to get at the clean energy money to try. This has two advantages. One is called ‘opportunity cost’, which the economists’ way of saying that if you have spent your money on A, you do not have that money to spend on B. You spend your clean energy money researching an unlikely solution to a problem that you have created by burning, and you do not have that money to spend on something like pumped hydro, which would allow the problem of energy storage of renewables to be addressed. So real progress towards renewable energy can be slowed. Also you can pretend that capturing the huge amounts of carbon dioxide is a scientifically feasible option with just a bit more government funded research. All this suits the fossils fuel industry who can continue to burn as usual. The parallels with the tobacco industry denying the obvious health effects and profiting from delayed definitive action is striking.

Angus Taylor came from a grazing family, went to Kings School, St Andrew’s College at Sydney Uni and Oxford. He studied Economics and Law and worked with investment bankers and was in a group that tried to buy Cubbie Station.

He may or may not know any science, but his track record of using taxpayers money for the interests of his connections are already the stuff of scandal and have led to calls for his resignation. This last lot of nonsense simply adds to that imperative.

www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/19/angus-taylor-says-it-is-not-australian-government-policy-to-achieve-net-zero-emissions-by-2050?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_News_Feed

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Australia as a Compliant Colony getting Fracked.

21 May 2020

Here is an old but relevant article of how a British gas company got approval to sell gas to China, and pay no tax.

It happened at exactly the time that Rudd was rolled for asking for a resources rent tax.

The CEO, Catherine Tanna was given a seat on the Board of the Reserve Bank.

I wrote to her in disgust on another matter, when I left EnergyAustralia, the Chinese consortium who bought the privatised Sydney County Council electricity customers, because they pay no tax. To my surprise, she wrote back saying that she was looking after her shareholders, (naturally not mentioning that they are all on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange).

Here is an excellently researched article from the Michael West Website on how Prince Andrew as a UK Trade Ambassador, the Qld Liberal Government of Campbell Newman, and the Federal Labor Government, with Wayne Swan as Treasurer all dudded the Australian people. Now we have Qld Labor, and LNP Federally, but it makes no difference. Tanna is still on the Reserve Bank board, fracking still goes ahead, these folk still pay no tax and Australian gas prices are still sky high.

If we do not change, the luck will run out. We cannot trust our politicians. We need Swiss style Direct Democracy Now, with referenda able to be initiated by anyone, and a part-time, advisory Parliament with no career politicians. Yes, it will need major constitutional change, but tinkering with the Lib/Lab duo will not make a difference. A bigger change is needed, so we had better get on with it.

www.michaelwest.com.au/the-second-british-invasion-how-royal-cronies-and-the-gas-debacle-took-australia-for-billions/

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Government Steals Clean Energy Finance for Fossil Fuel Development

4 May 2020 Angus Taylor, the Energy Minister has announced a $300 million new hydrogen project, but has not specified that it be powered by renewable energy and he wants to use gas to produce the hydrogen. There is fine rhetoric about trying to get the cost of hydrogen to $2 a kg, but the […]

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Angus Taylor Must Resign

30 April 2020The Energy Minister Angus Taylor must resign. He told Parliament that he had downloaded Clover Moore’s travel expenses from the Sydney City Council website, but NSW Police have stated that they have looked at the metadata and this is not possible.  He claimed that Council international travel expenses were $15 million, but they […]

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Libs Energy Scheme October 2017 Analysis 21/10/17

The Liberal/National Energy Plan is simply a lifeline to non-renewable energy that will keep electricity prices high.
It is getting praise from the Guardian, perhaps because it is a policy at all, and from Bloomberg , presumably because it is a solution that empowers retailers and gives a financial solution to a technical problems that leaves lots of fat for the key players, lots of bills for the consumer and slowed progress on climate change.
Why Have Prices Been so High?
The existing dysfunctional system is responsible for the current high prices due principally to:
1. The regulator permitted agencies to ‘gold plate’ the network of poles and wires so that electricity could be transmitted anywhere on the national grid. They were able to borrow money and build, which is what engineers like to do. The most likely trend with renewables was towards having more ‘embedded generation’ where electricity came from more diversified and smaller sources with fewer large power plants. So resource allocation to the network effectively favoured big existing generators and gobbled up the resources that could have been used for smaller more flexible generation. It also raised prices.
2. A National Electricity Market was created where bids were put in to supply power to the grid at 5 minute intervals, the assumption being that a market would drive prices down. In fact, vertically integrated big companies gamed the system, withholding power so that the price went up at key periods. The system was made ‘fair’ for that every suppliers was paid the latest (highest) price, and suppliers who had put in low bids earlier were not disadvantaged! The public and businesses consuming the power were gouged.
What is the New Scheme?
The new scheme mandates that electricity comes from a variety of sources, ‘reliable’ fossil fuel power, and renewables, which are assumed to be unreliable. The mix of sources changes over time, hence there can be a move to renewables as they as defined as more ‘reliable’. The scheme was devised by the existing companies, particularly the thermal players, which is probably why it has so few critics. But it will lock in the cost and pricing structures which are the cause of the problem.
The problem is that the government has confused reliability and despatchability (?deliberately). Reliability is measure of whether a power source will be working over a specified time period. Despatchability is whether power can be put into the system. Coal fired power is reliable as ‘base load’ in that it can have a relatively constant output. But it is slow to vary that output, so it cannot despatch power quickly in response to a fall elsewhere, and as such is not ‘reliable’ when needed to despatch a greater quantity quickly. Coal is much more expensive than renewables and the plants have to be kept going at a minimum of about 35% capacity to be able to increase, which does not happen quickly anyway. Keeping the coal plants as a ‘system spinning reserve’ effectively puts a base price on energy of about $85 per MWh, i.e. the typical wholesale price of power from a thermal plant. This makes this plan a government mandated, long term price fixing agreement.
Characteristics of Renewables
Renewable energy power systems and hydro have different characteristics. Hydro is despatchable if you have sufficient water. Australia’s lack of water means that all of our large hydro stations do not operate continuously. They are mainly used to handle short and medium length load peaks as they can respond quickly to load changes. Naturally if the water is pumped up when there is spare power they act as batteries. Hence the interest in ‘Pumped Hydro’, which just needs 2 reservoirs, one higher than the other.
Wind and Photo-Voltaic (PV) systems are not fully despatchable as their output is dependent on wind strength and sunlight. They can respond quickly to load changes. With a grid and a lot of different sites wind can be reasonably reliable overall.
A solar thermal plant uses a heliostat field of several hundred hectares of reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto a boiler mounted in a tower to heat a transfer medium, typically sodium carbonate to about 400 deg.C. The molten salt is pumped into a storage tank and then pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam which drives a steam turbine. One such plant is planned for the head of Spencers Gulf in SA. Here the energy is stored as heat and the molten salt can be drawn from the hot tank to generate steam on demand i.e. the plant’s capacity is despatchable.
The availability of renewables in Australia is much better than the Liberals would have us believe and the ability to forecast wind in the medium term is now very good. Hence their availability is quite high.
Relative Costs
In terms of the economics, a wind farm costs about M$2.00 per MW to install. A 1MW unit running at 40% capacity factor, which is less than most wind sites can achieve, will generate about 3,500MWh pa at $85 per MWh this will be $300,000. Assuming capital costs of approximately $85,000 with service and maintenance of $84,000 this leaves a surplus of $207,000- a very good financial result especially when you compare this to a thermal plant which will cost about M$30 per MW to build and take 10 years in the building compared to about 3 years for a wind farm.
So what is the politics of this plan?
Because the electricity price will be set by the needs of the old fossil fuel plants the coal owners happy will be happy. It will also keep the renewable generators happy as the high price will give them a massive profit margin. It will keep Labor happy, as they can make a magnanimous gesture of bipartisanship in the short term and when they come in there will be lots of renewables built to get the huge profit levels that have been there for the taking.
The people who will not be happy will be the industries that will go broke because unnecessarily high power prices made them uncompetitive, and the long-suffering domestic consumers.
Alternatives
The alternative, a national bold move to all renewable power has been suggested by the research group, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). They have pointed out that Australia has a huge natural advantage in renewable energy because of this abundance of both solar and wind, but as the whole world moves to solar, we can only get the advantage of cheap power and the experience and equipment to export if we move quickly and decisively, which is exactly what we are not doing and what this expensive plan actively retards.
Need for Action
It seems that just as the US cannot go forward because of its gun lobby, Australia is in the same position with its coal industry. We need to demand action now, before this plan is implemented.
The South Australian Blackout
As a post script it is worth looking at the cause of the South Australian blackout. SA was getting about 40% of its electricity from wind, which had been very reliable. It was supplemented by two cables from the East, one of which was down for maintenance. The other source was a French-owned gas plant, which had a ‘pay whether you use it or not contract’ for natural gas. One of the gas exporters from SA had independently sold more gas than they could produce and were in a situation that they needed gas. As the wind was so reliable, the gas plant not generating but was taking gas it could not use and losing money. The solution for the gas plant was to sell the gas to the distressed exporter. Thus when the wind blew too hard, the link to the East blew over at the time the gas plant has no gas and the wind turbines had shut down as the wind was too strong. This was an unfortunate set of coincidences, but hardly a reason to return to coal. But it has been used to talk up unreliability of renewables and get this plan up. Politics!

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A Response to the Libs’ Energy Plan

19 October 2017

The energy plan proposed by the Lib/Nat government has several major flaws based on either their poor understanding of how an electrical network works or wilful misrepresentation.  It is a government sanctioned, long term price fixing agreement.

The current plan is to force energy retailers to buy a minimum amount of energy from “reliable” thermal plant to ensure reliability by reducing the input from “unreliable” renewables. The plan is not a surprise as the thermal plant owners had a big input into it. This effectively puts a base price on energy of about $85 per MWh i.e. the typical wholesale price of power from at thermal plant.

The government confuses reliability with despatchability.

Reliability is a measure of whether a power source will be working over some specified time interval.  A better metric is availability i.e. the time period over which the power source is performing within acceptable parameters.

Modern well maintained thermal power stations have availabilities in excess of 95%.  But for example if Liddell which has 4×500 MW turbo generators has only been able to keep 3 running consistently its total availability would be 95%x0.75 =70% i.e for 70% of the time over the last few years it has been able to despatch, supply when needed 4×500 MW. Its capacity to despatch 3 x500MW has been 95%. Actually Liddell’s performance has been much worse than this.

Base load is the Coalition’s other favourite subject. It takes about 8 hours to start up a large thermal power station and about 12 hours till it comes up to full capacity. These times are dictated by differential expansion of its components. Hence normal practice is to keep these units running continuously. They also exhibit stability problems when run at less than 30% capacity. At night when the demand for electrical energy drops, continuously running operations like steel mills, aluminium refineries, cement works etc. took up this load generally this was not enough to keep the load above 30% hence the low off peak rates offered for water heating.

The problems of differential expansion also mean that thermal plant cannot respond quickly to changes in load especially load increases.

The above limitations meant that in a system dominated by thermal plant you have to keep enough older plant running at low load so that it could take up the power of the largest unit in your system should that unit be forced to shut down in an emergency i.e. trip. This is system spinning reserve.  So the price will be set by the needs of the old fossil fuel plants. This will keep the coal owners happy. It will also keep the renewable generators happy as the high price will give them a massive profit margin. It will keep Labor happy, as thye can make a magnanimous gesture of bipartisanship and when they come in there will be lots of renewables built to get the huge profit levels that have been there for the taking. 

The people who will not be happy will be the industries that will go broke because unnecessarily high power prices made them uncompetitive, and the long-suffering homeowner.

Renewable energy power systems and hydro have different characteristics. Hydro is despatchable if you have sufficient water. Australia’s lack of water means that all of our large hydro stations do not operate continuously. They are mainly used to handle short and medium length load peaks as they can respond quickly to load changes. Naturally if the water were pumped up when there was spare power they would act as batteries.

Wind and PV systems are not fully despatchable as their output is dependent on wind strength and sunlight.  They can respond quickly to load changes.

Their availability here in Australia is much, much better than the Liberals would have us believe and our ability to forecast wind in the medium term is now very good.  Hence their availability is quite high.  We can also use concentrated solar thermal plant. Here a heliostat field of several hundred hectares is used to concentrate sunlight onto a boiler mounted in a tower to heat a transfer medium, typically sodium carbonate to about 400 deg.C. The molten salt is pumped into a storage tank and then pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam which drives a steam turbine. One such plant is planned for the head of Spencers Gulf in SA. Here the energy is stored as heat and the molten salt can be drawn from the hot tank to generate steam on demand i.e. the plant’s capacity is despatchable.

For example a wind farm costs about M$2.00 per MW to install. A 1MW unit running at 40% capacity factor, most wind sites do better, will then generate about 3,500MWh pa at $85 per MWh this will be $300,000. Assuming capital costs of say $85,000 and service and maintenance of $84,000 this leaves a surplus of $207,000 a very good financial result especially when you compare this to a thermal plant which will cost about M$30 per MW to build and take 10 years in the building compared to about 3 years for a wind farm.

Older thermal stations like Liddell are worn out especially their boilers which from a large part of the capital cost the boiler tubes suffer from stress fatigue and start developing fractures. Coal and ash handling plant starts to wear out and even the turbine blades erode due to the aggressive operating temperatures. Eventually the combination of wear and loss of availability makes them uneconomic. Try keeping a 40 year old car road worthy if you use it as a taxi.

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Energy Plan- why it is bad, and why there is not much protest.

19 October 2017

No one quite understands the new energy policy, (National Energy Guarantee -NEG) which is why there is not much protest. But I suspect it is very silly. Here is why.

The National Electricity Market worked because suppliers put in bids for a price on 5min supplies. But big producers could withhold creating a shortage, then put in a late bid at a high price. That segment would then go out at that highest price with every supplier getting the higher price. Logically then,the cheaper producers simply made more money. I have heard that a wind turbine in a good location could be paid off in 18 months, and that the price will settle at about $87 a megawatt hr.

The new plan puts big stress on reliability, so the solar and wind people are disadvantaged, but can still make a lot of money. The coal technology is still not much use, as they cannot compete with renewables when the sun shines and the wind blows, and they cannot ramp up supply quickly. They are, as everyone keeps saying, better for base (=constant) load. Added to this they are obsolete as the pipes in the boilers get stress fractures after a certain time and maintenance becomes uneconomic.

Gas is good at turning on and off quickly, but as we know, gas contracts for export has left us short, so Malcolm will create some problems there.

So a system that has been rorted by a few inside players who get supernormal profits will be given a licence to continue. The price of electricity will not fall much, and the consumer will continue to be gouged, with vulnerable industries simply going broke to allow the energy players to get profits that they really should not have. But there is not much protest because either people do not understand what is happening, or they are beneficiaries of a little understood rort that will continue because they have cleverly used fear of blackouts to get a cushy system.

And I suspect Labor will support it, as it has support from the energy industry, and they can claim bipartisanship, and they have been too lazy to get a better plan.

See also the Post ‘A Response to the Libs’ Energy Plan 19/10/17′

www.abc.net.au/news/2017-10-17/explainer-energy-policy-what-is-the-coalitions-new-plan/9057158

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