Doctor and activist


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Category: Environment

Electricity Pricing in Crisis Situations

27 February 2021

Texas just had a major problem with electricity supply caused by an extreme weather event and the fact that their grid was not connected to the rest of the USA to allow them to import power to the state.  But Australia has a similar market-driven model where generators bid to put electricity into the grid. The price is set by the last bid to get to the quantity that is needed.  This allows the gaming of prices by collusion between generators, which is probably the reason that prices have remained high- the competition that is supposed to lower prices is ‘imperfect’. Interestingly, no one gives this as a reason.

Most Australian retailers buy power, average the wholesale prices and sell to the consumer.  Wholesale prices on the National Energy Market vary widely and can be watched for free in real time on apps such as NEM Data. 

When a massive weather event occurred in Texas the wholesale price went through the roof.  Would our bills be similarly affected?  Possibly, as when South Australia had a similar problem their connection to the national grid was blown down.

A few electricity retailers in Australia merely sell at the wholesale price and take a fixed supply fee, which is cheaper unless huge price spikes come due to unforeseen events.

One aspect that has been neglected in public discussion in Australia is Demand Management, which involves cutting demand, rather than increasing supply.  It would be possible, for example, to have customers notified that prices were very high and have them shut off unnecessary power, such as air-conditioning.  This could be refined to be more selective, turning off the cooler but not the fan intermittently.  It could even be done remotely and houses could have circuits that could be cut off if power was short, and circuits that were considered vital, like lights and frigs.

It would be possible to get an SMS us to tell us that power was very expensive and to turn off whatever was possible.  This assumes the customer is on wholesale prices- otherwise it is the retailer’s problem.  But the issue and some technological and behavioural options need to be discussed. 

In the meantime I am on wholesale pricing and am writing to my retailer about SMSs.

https://theconversation.com/texas-was-a-warning-australia-needs-to-rethink-the-design-of-its-electricity-market-155856?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201874518280&utm_content=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%201874518280+CID_4970c3abdf247db828ca44fdfbdfbc9a&utm_source=campaign_monitor&utm_term=Texas%20was%20a%20warning%20Australia%20needs%20to%20rethink%20the%20design%20of%20its%20electricity%20market
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Mental Health and Cheating

20 February 2021

I like to think that my credentials as a mental health advocate are pretty good.  I was responsible for the NSW Parliamentary Select Committee of Inquiry into Mental Health in December 2001 which reported in 2003.  The result of this inquiry was an increase in the mental health budget in the following year of $320 million, a new accounting system so that the money could not be transferred by hospital administrations to other areas, and publicity which led to a similar Senate Inquiry in Canberra.  This reported in 2006 and led to psychologists being put on Medicare.  (Not that my contribution was noticed by the Parliamentary press gallery).

One of the elements of recognising mental health is having it treated the same as physical health.

But I am also a tennis fan, not a tragic, but a fan.  In the quarter finals of the Australian Open, Ash Barty, Australia’s favourite and No 1 seed was eliminated by Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.  This might not be remarkable were it not for the fact that the game had Barty winning easily until Muchova took a 10 minute medical timeout.  After this, the game and momentum swung totally Muchova’s way and she won.  Muchova admitted that she wasn’t injured, she just took time off to get her head together.  Obviously she did that, and Barty was sufficiently disconcerted to lose the match. The public waited the 10 minutes and the TV filled the break as usual.

Barty was magnanimous in defeat, saying that Muchova had the right to take a medical break, but one has to ask whether taking a 10 minute break to compose one’s head if one is not doing well in a match will become the new norm  Hey, there is no rule against it, and now a precedent for it!

It will be hard for a tournament referee to say to a player, ‘I do not accept you injury, get back on and play’, but what is the alternative?  This is a bad precedent. This is not mental illness.  Any suggestions how it should be dealt with?

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Federal Auditor-General Defunded- Government cuts teeth of watchdog

20 February 2021

What else would a PR driven government do to lessen criticism of its rorts?

Here is an SMH article today by Katina Curtis entitled:

Cuts Mean Government Agencies will avoid scrutiny’.

The watchdog in charge of keeping the government accountable for its use of taxpayer money says his budget has fallen so much, some agencies might only face scrutiny once every 20 years and auditors are tolerating ‘‘uncomfortable’’ risks in financial statements.Auditor-General Grant Hehir says over the next four years he has to cut the number of performance audits his office does, which in the past year has uncovered the sports rorts scandal and the $30 million paid for the Leppington Triangle land valued within a year at just $3 million.The cut will reduce the number of audits by a quarter, from a historical average of 48 a year to 36, the lowest number this century, bar 2016 when the double dissolution of Parliament meant fewer sitting weeks to deliver his reports.‘‘In effect, I am unable to provide the Parliament to the same extent with the evidence it has used to hold executive government to account, thereby reducing accountability and transparency,’’ Mr Hehir yesterday told a parliamentary committee reviewing the Australian National Audit Office.Over the past two years, the performance audit section has lost 20 staff, equivalent to the capacity for eight audits. ANAO funding as a proportion of government spending is now half what it was 10 years ago.‘‘Should it be going up proportionately? I’m not arguing that, but I think it shouldn’t be going down,’’ Mr Hehir said.Since 2013, the Australian National Audit Office’s budget has been cut by nearly $6.3 million – or more than 22 per cent in real terms – although Mr Hehir told the committee ‘‘we probably wouldn’t use the word cut, it’s fallen’’.While the budget has shrunk, the number and complexity of financial statement audits the office must do has grown. Mr Hehir said the budget squeeze meant he’d had to increase the risk tolerance of these audits to a point where he was ‘‘uncomfortable’’.As well as a reduced number of audits, their scope will be narrower, and they will focus on higher-risk activities in large entities such as the Tax Office and the Defence Department.‘‘Many smaller agencies may not be audited for extended periods of time, potentially over 20 years,’’ Mr Hehir told the committee.

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Health Effects of Coal

14 February 2021

Here is Dr Peter Sainsbury, Prof of Public Health. writing about the health effects of coal. Many of the deaths related to the polluting effects are not in Australia, which is not a very reason for us not to be concerned about it.

Some years ago, as we tried to stop the subsidy to Tobacco Growers in Australia, the number of deaths of tobacco-caused disease was compared to the number of jobs in the tobacco industry, which was orders of magnitude lower.

Sainsbury says it will be about 6 deaths per year per job in the coal industry, which is yet another good reason to transfer to renewable energy.

The practice of looking at the number of deaths caused versus the number of jobs created seems a sound basis for looking at the cost benefit of industries. The ‘defence’ industry needs to be looked at in a similar way.

The other interesting fact in this article is that he estimates that Electric Vehicles will be the same price as petrol ones in about 3 years because of the falling price of batteries. Presumably the Morrison government cannot retard progress forever.

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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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Global Dimming- another climate problem 5/12/20

Global dimming is the reduction in the amount of sun energy hitting the surface of the Earth. Research shows that the amount of sun energy reaching the surface of the earth has fallen 9% in Antarctica, 10% in the USA, 16% in the UK, 22% in Israel and 30% in Russia since the 1950s.  Water evaporates correspondingly more slowly. The results are from long term studies and data, and two relatively rapid studies, the change in temperature differences during the day when planes were all grounded in the USA after 9/11 in 2001 and a study comparing sun energy received in the north and south of the Maldives.

It seem that the particles in the air allow smaller water particles to be suspended on them as clouds, and these reflect more heat and light back out into space, hence shielding the earth.  This affects evaporation of ocean water and may have caused the droughts and famines in North Africa.

There has been a real effort to lessen air pollution particularly in Europe which may have helped African monsoonal rainfall, but if the dimming lessens and more sunlight comes into the atmosphere, it will mean that the greenhouse effect will worsen.

Revised calculations show that global warming may be 10 degrees Celsius in a  century, because the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of oceanic methane, which is 14x worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas will make the global warming phenomenon irreversible.

The answer is that we have to stop burning fossil fuels. We need electric cars, renewable energy, and to replace planes with trains as much as possible.  It a shame we have a Liberal Government!

This 49 minute video is from the BBC Horizon program.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=57D2ii5HKxA&list=PLe6EP38qqR0af4fPQGy1LzbR6-8gY8KgA&index=11&fbclid=IwAR2eKLs9Jx2jgksiFy4rkgTaS1jRG2ZgU3Pvs7cGB5Ot9CdyDGLmqtvkyVc&t=0s

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Happenings in Turkey, no sillier than NSW mining policy 11/7/20

A friend has sent me this to illustrate how life is in Turkey these days under President Erdogan, who fancies himself the new Kemal Attaturk.  Ataturk however was the victorious general at Gallipoli and the founder of the modern Turkish state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after WW1.  He wanted a modern, democratic, secular state an instituted a new western-style alphabet. 

Erdogan has undermined democracy and concentrated power in his own hands.  He claims to be Muslim and been a very divisive figure, playing to the less educated eastern side of the country against the more educated secular western side.  He had fantasies of leading the Muslim world while building the country with borrowed money, principally in real estate investment.  The quality of these high-rise buildings in earthquake -prone Istanbul will no doubt be tested in time.  The economy is not doing well, particularly in the COVID19 crisis.  This little story about digging up a glacial lake is a micro illustration of his capricious rule, which has involved things like emptying the prisons and locking up journalists and academics who oppose him.

Such stupidity does not only occur in Turkey.  If it is foolish to undermine a little lake and dig a hole that cannot be filled underneath it, how much sillier is it to allow long wall mining under the catchment of a large, growing capital city that is prone to drought.  Cracks will go from the surface to the mine depth and then the water will run out to sea.  We should ask ourselves why we tolerate the NSW government, and Peabody, a US owned mine.

www.quora.com/What-happens-only-in-Turkey/answer/Simge-Topaloğlu?ch=1&share=02eab1a8&srid=zByA

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Electric Vehicles: How helpful are they for Climate Change? 5/6/20

There are claims and counter claims for how much electric vehicles (EVs) improve the greenhouse gas situation. The production of batteries is quite energy-intensive, so a large battery car takes about twice as much energy to produce as a normal Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car.

The ‘payback’ time for that extra energy is about 2 years based on the number of km an average (UK) driver does per year.

But the key variable is how the electricity is generated, both in making the battery and in running the car. If it is made in Asia with coal fired electricity to manufacture the car and then charged with coal powered electricity, there is very little benefit. If the battery is produced by renewable electricity and the car charged with renewable electricity, the savings are more than two thirds by 150,000km.

If you keep your old ICE car for 4 years, it will have produced about the same amount of greenhouse gas as it takes to produce a new electric car. Looked at it the other way, it takes 4 years for a new electric car to pay for itself from an emissions point of view as against paying just for the petrol of an existing ICE car.

www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change

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NZ Environmental Law Disappoints

The Conversation has an article about how NZ rivers are degraded and a package to improve them has been disappointing as it did not take expert advice. The Conversation only takes articles from academics and the author admits he was one of the expert panel whose advice was ignored. He does not write of other […]

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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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