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Coal lobby hits peak denial on battery storage, renewables

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The coal lobby is showing increasing signs of desperation, dipping into their bags of increasingly tenuous talking points in an attempt to find an argument to demonise renewables, battery storage, and promote their core commodity.

The latest comes from Australia’s largest coal miner Glencore, the international mining giant, and its most senior executive in Australia, Peter Freyberg, who decided to join the conga-line of conservatives and vested interests seeking to diminish and mock the Tesla big battery in South Australia.

“The much heralded proposed renewable lithium battery storage in South Australia of 129 megawatt-hours would power our aluminium smelter here in New South Wales for a grand total of 7.7 minutes,” Freyberg said, according to the AFR, which made it the lead story on its home page.

Peter Freyberg

If you’ve heard those arguments before, that’s because they are similar to those repeated by conservative commentators on radio and in the Murdoch press, and on the right wing of the Coalition government. Not to mention One Nation.

The Glencore comments came around the same time as a study financed by Australian National Low Emissions Coal Research and Development, which came up with this pearler – arguing that each megawatt of wind needed 23MWh of back-up in South Australia, and 48 hours in Queensland.

“If storage were to be provided to back this up, then in SA it would need to hold at least 23MWh for each MW of wind. SA has about 1600MW of wind so to secure this against a wind drought would need 285 batteries of the size being built by Tesla at time of writing. The economics of this operation would be poor with some of the storage only being used once every 5 years.”

As one energy analyst noted, the idea of proposing to build 285 Tesla big batteries to cover a one-in-five-year event is “completely idiotic”.

First of all, it assumes that the power system will be nothing but wind and battery storage – solar, pumped hydro, biofuels, solar thermal? – and that the huge back-up built to support the inflexible coal generators would suddenly disappear.

But this has traditionally been the fossil fuel industry’s approach to back-up power – such as the 82MW Merredin diesel back-up generator in Western Australia which was paid for by subsidies and has never been switched on since it was built in 2012.

As the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Audrey Zibelman argues, along with most other people not representing the coal lobby, there are smarter ways of dealing with supply shortages – demand management being just one.

The ANLEC report was designed with one idea in mind: to justify spending on coal-fired power stations and carbon capture and storage.

“New coal that is prepared for future CO2 storage delivers immediate near term grid stability services while also securing the path to lowest cost carbon abatement in the long term,” it proclaims.

Likewise, Freyberg didn’t try to hide his intentions. He wants the federal and state-based renewable energy targets to be scrapped; he backtracked on his previous cautious support for a clean energy target, and he argued Australia should slow its commitments to the Paris climate targets.

Given Australia’s recent performance, he probably means Australia should reverse more quickly. Most of all though, he wanted wind and solar farms “to be linked with baseload” so they can be “turned on and off as required”. Presumably so as not to interfere with coal-fired generators, which can’t be turned on and off.

This attachment to the concept of “baseload,” rather than “reliability” (we go into what that means here) and flexibility, is troubling, not least because of the traction that it gains in media and government circles.

Treasurer Scott Morrison – he of the handful of coal in parliament – recently compared the Tesla battery storage to the Big Banana and the Big Prawn.the big banana - coffs

Freyberg said that “unless something happens quickly” to Australian electricity prices those businesses will shut. “We’re going nowhere with emissions reductions, we’re just putting the Australian economy at risk.”

But here’s the inconvenient truth about the issue: businesses that are being hit by high energy prices are turning to, and not away from, renewables as a solution, be they zinc refiners, steel works, mining operations or large-scale agriculture producers.

Korea’s Sun Metals decided that building its own 116MW solar plant was the key to expanding its refinery near Townsville, the new owners of the Whyalla steel works say renewables will be the key to its future viability, the owner of what will be Australia’s largest greenhouse for vegetable growing only decided to build it in Australia after realising that the combination of wind energy and battery storage offered the cheapest option.

Freyberg would do well to follow the example of both Sun Metals and Whyalla. He lamented the high energy costs faced by Glencore’s operation in Mt Isa and Townsville, but as we reported before, the situation in Mt Isa was largely self-inflicted.

It was Glencore that pushed the Queensland government to go against its own advice and go for a new gas fired generators rather than a renewables super-highway known as the Copperstring project.

Now it is the victim of high gas prices and a monopoly supplier.

Its Townsville operations could follow the same path as Sun Metals. No need to build its own solar plant, it could contract one of the more than dozen solar plants proposed for the area, as Telstra, which consumes 1 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs, has already done.

Thousands of smaller businesses are doing the same thing, and so are some big consumers on the electricity front: Malcolm Turnbull (solar and battery storage in Sydney) and Corey Bernardi (12kW solar in Adelaide). You can be sure that Bernardi is doing this to save money, not cut emissions.

Another reality is that five of the world’s six biggest companies by market capitalisation – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and – have all committed to going 100 per cent renewables.
Not so much because they want to save the planet, but because it is cheaper, and to show leadership. The owner of Foster’s and VB, investment bank JP Morgan, retailer IKEA and numerous others have done the same thing, and more will follow.

The one bright aspect of Freyberg’s comments to the press was the sight of fissures within the coal industry. He argued against any subsidies for the Adani coal mine in the Galilee Basin, because of the impacts on coal mines elsewhere highlighted by recent studies.

The fossil fuel’s main strategy against climate polices and renewable energy has been to divide and conquer, but their own unity is rapidly disintegrating.

The first signs of this came in the lead up to the Paris conference, when the oil and gas industry took aim at the coal sector. Now the coal sector, with increasingly tenuous economic prospects and shrinking markets, is fighting amongst itself.

  

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  • Brunel

    Let us consider this to mean they want a lot more solar panels and batteries. 😁

  • Chris Fraser

    ‘Baseload’ would be the antonym of ‘dispatchable’ as you have already said. Dispatchable energy may be turned on and off. Baseload – with its shaky uptime record – immediately gives itself away as inefficient, dependent, and ultimately parasitic. It’s no wonder RE readers acknowledge new technologies which tend to push out this outdated, wasteful energy infrastructure.

    • Mike Westerman

      This is the same industry that has been living on the teat of the public purse for years through subsidised power, both in terms of low energy costs and extremely high network reliability levels paid by others. Meanwhile they reap enormous profits from our minerals…you won’t find a better class of rent seekers.

      • Joe

        …and they want to add Adani to the public teet.

  • André Balsa

    Excellent article.
    I would just add that what’s happening in Australia with the coal industry is actually also happening in other parts of the world.

    • solarguy

      Ah…. yes we know.

      • André Balsa

        I know you know. 🙂 (the also excellent Sri Lanka article comes to mind)

  • Paul

    Its all a numbers game. The only hard(ish) fact is that demand is known. Each generation asset brings its own characteristics with respect to reliability. Surely its not hard to agree a reliability of each asset and do the numbers. Least cost solution (including cost of emissions) should be what is the goal.

    • Mark Roest

      That’s going to be solar, wind and batteries — after energy efficiency, the champion for low cost.

      • André Balsa

        Plus other renewables, demand response, a mix of a flexible main grid, microgrids, and distributed power generation, and other forms of energy storage apart from batteries – each and everyone of these where/when least cost can be achieved.

        • Mark Roest

          Absolutely! Much better said than I did.

          • André Balsa

            You are being modest, because you really made the main point, that energy efficiency is – by far – the champion in low cost. Unfortunately, this is not very often recognized.

          • Coley

            In the U.K., the home of the steam driven industrial revolution, coal is all but gone, and look? we are still here-:)

            But it did hurt a lot of people in the process, other countries can learn to do it without that pain.

          • André Balsa

            Oh, Margaret Thatcher dealt with the coal industry during her premiership but it was not because of environmental concerns and the suffering she inflicted on the poorest workers in England (coal miners and their communities) was criminal.
            I am not sure what will happen to coal miners in the US, or in the Ukraine, or in China or in Australia these days as these countries transition to renewables. Each country will have to find a way to deal with them, and I would suggest the best way is to reconvert these populations to work in the solar and wind industries. Building solar and wind capacity requires a lot of labour, the training of which should be facilitated by the government.

          • Coley

            China and possibly the Ukraine may have problems re-training ex miners given the sheer numbers involved.
            Howeve modern mining techniques are not labour intensive so the US and Australia shouldn’t have any major problems given the relatively low numbers involved.
            Yes, what Thatcher did was ‘criminal’ but she was aided and abetted by very greedy gentailers wanting to transfer generation from coal to ‘cheap gas’
            Now we have very expensive imported coal and gas-;)

          • André Balsa

            And nuclear, most of which will have to be decommissioned within the coming 20 years.

          • Ian

            Not to mention all the radioactive waste that will have to be disposed of somehow.

          • Pedro

            I not sure that the mining industry employ as many people as they make out. There is a trend to automate as much as possible. For example in some open pit mines large dump trucks are self driving and so are some trains.

          • Tom

            A grand total of 39,000 people were employed in coal mining in 2014-15. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8415.0

            That’s 0.32% of employed Australians.

          • Interested 1

            We see this all the time. Probably more important is the % of exports. People serving imported coffee to publicly employed earnest but often deluded thought leaders depend on exports to pay for, coffee, medical equipment, energy production equipment, parts for mining agricultural equipment (our other high-export industries) that raise the foreign exchange and pay the taxes on wages and profits, repay the interest and principal on foreign investment.

  • Ken Dyer

    Stranded assets to the right, stranded assets to the left, stranded assets that are pipedream assets (like Adani), The end of coal is inevitable, it is just a matter of when. Meanwhile the fossil bloc will try and wring out every last dollar and ounce of pollution they can to make a buck, and will lie and cheat and steal and obfuscate and treat people like idiots to survive as long as they can. And they will continue to survive as long as corrupt politicians and gullible commentators continue to give them air.

    • André Balsa

      Exactly! Well said.

    • John Saint-Smith

      They might be gullible politicians and corrupt commentators.

      • Ken Dyer

        It doesn’t really matter, because as long as new solar investment is made (GOOD NEWS – a new 1GW solar farm in Queensland about to be constructed – the world’s biggest), the nails keep getting hammered into the coal industry’s coffin, and the sooner the better…….

        • Tom

          1 GW? Wow!

          Do you have any links or stats for it? ie, is it “flat”, fixed tilt, or horizontal SAT? And how much will it cost?

          I’d love to know what the costs of PV have come down to. And you’d hope that economies of scale bring the costs down. 1GW is the biggest “economies of scale” that we’ve had to date (if it happens, which I hope it does).

          • Ken Dyer
          • Tom

            Thanks Ken,

            Really hard to find out exactly what it’s going to involve. Western Darling Downs Council doesn’t seem to have their development applications or council meeting agendas/ minutes online – this is where the best information would be.

            Still, given the cost ($1.5 billion to $2 billion for 1000MW) and the fact that they’re looking at putting batteries in, I would hope that they are using single axis tracking technology, as smoothing power with SAT would be cheaper than smoothing power with batteries.

            However, given the power density (1000MW in about 1400ha), it may well be fixed tilt. SAT usually needs to be a bit more spread out than this to avoid shading.

            We will see. If they can build 1000MW of SAT PV for $1.5 billion it will be very exciting indeed.

  • Cooma Doug

    I will be talking to politicians in a couple of weeks concerning climate change and energy. These are some questions. I would appreciate some suggestions.

    1……Many people in the power industry are developing the view that the transition to 100% renewable s is not as difficult as many suggest in politics. It is not as easy as others in politics might suggest. But if it is possible to get there sooner and cleaner than expected, will you support a more rapid transition?

    2…..Will there be efforts made to slow down a quicker than expected transition if coal and gas assets are stranded sooner than some might expect in places like Hunter? Will the government invest in the new technology and industries in these areas to support and allow this optimistic more rapid outcome?

    3…..Will there be a continuation of the payments to gold plated assets when they become less valuable in the evolving dispersion of the energy grid?

    4……It is clear to many in the industry now that energy management and provision, though new, and more complex for many reasons, will be less expensive to produce and manage. Will you support the push for justified consumer price reductions?

    5….As in the USA and around the globe, regional and state governments are pushing ahead and seeking faster action on climate change. The federal government constantly criticizes such efforts. eg South Australia
    There needs to be considerable investment in the federal government share of this enormous responsibility. Will the government invest in the innovation and scientific support required?
    (CSIRO)

    • solarguy

      I think the questions are good, but if your talking to certain Liberal party members, it may be better to clout them over the scone and put em out of their delusional misery. Look it saves time.

      • Cooma Doug

        I have a solar power electric chair for them.

        • solarguy

          Well naturally they would need such a device after you wacked em. BTW will there be any advert space on the chair.

    • Chris Fraser

      Also try asking if they can anticipate potential unemployment from stranded generation industry. If they can indeed anticipate it, What are their plans for identifying existing skilled workers’ new training requirements ready for renewable and storage businesses ? And when they plan on implementing this training for individual sites – given that existing generators are expected to cease roughly in order of their date of commission ?I hope their blank looks don’t discourage your good efforts good luck.

      • Cooma Doug

        That is a good lot of asks.
        There is an art to lobbying.
        We have to find good things in their heart and use it and inspire it.
        The questions you have there will be put to those who have coal in their electorates.

        • Pedro

          Energy security seems like a good angle that appeals to the right. The US military are transitioning to far less reliance on FF. This is done for strategic reasons. In case there is a major conflict the military is far less reliant on FF sources of energy which can easily be destroyed in an attack.

        • Tom

          Money. Easy.

    • Mark Roest

      1. Change “But if it is possible to get there sooner and cleaner than expected,” to “But if it is possible to get there cheaper, sooner & cleaner than expected,”
      If they ask, say battery prices are expected to hit US$100/kWh by late 2020, and it will take longer than that to permit and build fossil fuel plants — and they will bleed money from the communities for 40 years for fuel, while their brand becomes, “They killed the Great Barrier Reef because of their greed!”

      • Cooma Doug

        Good point thanks.

        • Rod

          The $100/kWh is key as long as they understand what this means
          At that level, massive uptake and load or possibly grid defection will be very disruptive.

          • Ren Stimpy

            I think Joshua and Malcolm know all about the cost curves, it’s just that their hands are tied being in a party that includes the morons to their right.

      • Peter

        Use “drop to” not “hit” – “hit” carries an upward emotion. Say “battery prices are expected to drop to US$100/kWh by late 2020”.

    • MaxG

      Looks like you like talking to yourself 🙂
      These questions are too complicated for a politician to comprehend.
      Remember, 3 word sentences!
      Will you resign?
      Forfeit your pension?
      Go shoot yourself?
      Publish donations received?

    • André Balsa

      “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it
      a third time – a tremendous whack.” – Winston Churchill

      And also “money talks, bs walks” – specially true for politicians.

      I would focus on a single point, and it’s not even a question: that renewables make more sense than fossil fuels, from a purely economical point of view, from investors and businesses and banks all the way to energy-intensive industries, consumers and workers. If they need evidence just provide a link to this website: reneweconomy.com.au. 😉

      • Tom

        I second this. If you start talking “emissions”, then the pro-nuke whackers will come in with the old “We’ve got massive uranium reserves, and nuclear is both “baseload” AND emissions free – AND it’s safe these days”.

        Start talking about LCOE and it’s “game over red rover” for coal (and nuclear).

    • Ian

      Ask them if they will support the rollout of distributed BTM storage and transport electrification including subsidising EV. EV’s are the most effective way of using subsidy money to leverage private investment for storage capacity. EV can provide a new electricity market and EV storage and BTM storage can bridge the gap between the generating characteristics of renewables vs FF

      • Peter Campbell

        Just ask about emission standards for cars. They were not even prepared to go that far – called it a carbon tax.

    • Jeremy C

      Can I add to your question 3?

      Will the government force corporations to honour their committments to coal mine remediation should the coal industry collapse? Otherwise communities in places such as the Hunter face a century or more of poisoned environments and such communities willhave no choice but to leave destroying significant portions of business sectors let slone the disruption to social fabric with its associated social and moneyary costs.

      • Greg Hudson

        Just sell ’em to Bingo, and let them fill the holes full of rubbish (see 4 Corners this week ?)

    • Pedro

      6…When is your political party going to cease accepting donations from the fossil fuel lobby?

    • Rod

      I’m sure you have some ideas how Snowy one could be better utilised to facilitate more RE.
      Coming from someone with first hand knowledge carries a lot of weight.

  • Joe

    Peter Freyberg really has no choice but to go this line of attack. I mean his company, Glencore, is actively buying up Coal ‘soon to be stranded’ Assets around the country. It is insanity to do it, so wheel out an equally insane defence that flies in the face of everything that we know. What is with people’s names that end with ‘F’ berg’. We’ve got Joshie F’ berg in Canberra and Peter F’ berg in a Coal pit both spruiking the joy of that ‘Little Black Wonder Rock’.

    • solarguy

      You really have to laugh at these fossil fools don’t ya. No brains in business, buying up coal mines in this economic climate and to have the gall to ask us the tax payer to fund their f#$k up!

      With all the hype around smart companies going solar, these dead shits march off to Noddy Land with their tin foil hats gleaming in the sun.

      • André Balsa

        Buying politicians has worked for them for decades, so they think they can go on with fossil fuel BAU – at least until they retire to some island in the Caribbean. They couldn’t care less what happens afterwards, or about Australian taxpayers.
        My guess at Mr. Freyberg’s retirement package would be around $30 million or more *in cash*, iow not counting his (by then, worthless) stock options.
        These are extremely cynical people, so imo there’s not much to laugh about here.

        • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

          They are soul sold delusional prostitutes.

        • solarguy

          Yeah and that Caribbean island may just be under water by then.

      • John Saint-Smith

        The only other alternative is to cry for Australia.

    • André Balsa

      Not insanity. More like pure cynicism.

    • Roger Brown

      Maybe the Kodak moment is kicking in ? Evolution mining bought some of their gold mine assets too , they are making good dollars now and into a debt free company , in 3 yrs . We export more gold to China / Russia , since 2015-17 ,than all the Aussie gold mines can produce ?. EVN = 857,000+ ounces last year .

    • RobSa

      The people who invest in Glencore will not be happy. They will want to know how and why the companies assets lost value. They will seek answer from people like Freyberg.

  • Sally Noel Triggell

    Glencore have already demonstrated how stupid they are in choosing gas over renewables. Then when it becomes obvious just how stupid they have been, they want tax payers to foot the bill. Just how much tax do they pay in Australia again.

    • MaxG

      ZIP to the latter!

  • MaxG

    People! Take action: divest from any fossil fuel industry, super fund, etc. Do not buy anything from businesses associated with FF. Build your home solar PV and add a battery; once done: raise the middle finger and smile like there is no tomorrow!
    I do the latter every day :))
    The neighbour borrowed the battery powered drill, and said he didn’t drain the battery; I replied, did you forget? It is filled with solar.
    The satisfaction of adding bit by bit to self-reliance is so rewarding it is not funny!

    • solarguy

      Max, I do exactly the same as you and it is a wonderful experience to be sure!

  • Patrick Comerford

    Here’s a prediction. In a year or two this character Freyburg will be out and about spruiking some “green” energy company or device for a living, in total denial about their previous misdemeanours. These guns for hire are a blight on the ethical business community and an insult to the intelligence of an informed public.

    • solarguy

      But how many of the uninformed public are intelligent or have the sense to enquire what the truth is. Far too many just don’t give a shit, I’ve found.

  • Ren Stimpy

    According to my observations of the renewable energy widget over the last couple years, renewable energy ‘potential’ just passed 15GW

  • Michael Harvey

    You actually supplied a graph here at renewable economy to show how much storage would be required. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/10edf7571ac3944d291efdc16b8ef4edc7eb825858b0

    e0a22a20825871d66a99.png

    This is your information and now you say it’s a lie.

    If we want renewable we need back up.

    The largest battery in the world at the moment is 37 MWh.

    Nothing is proven it’s all still a theory.

    No one has built one yet.

  • Jexpat

    Memo to Giles Parkinson:

    It is a well know fact, demonstrated repeatedly in the social science literature- that repeating a bogus assertion in large bold letters and then attempting to ‘myth bust’ is counter productive- and serves largely to promote and reinforce the myth.

    This has been shown to be the case across wide audience demographics- including those originally predisposed to believe the rebuttal -rather than the myth.

  • Chris Young