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Conservatives attack storage report as “eco-evangelism”, Finkel responds

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Australian conservatives have continued with their bizarre attack on new technologies, with Senator Eric Abetz dismissing the new report on battery storage commissioned by chief scientist Alan Finkel as “eco-evangelism”.

The new report, prepared by ACOLA, gives an important insight into the level of storage needed to support various levels of renewable energy in Australia, and comes at a critical time in the local policy debate, and the consideration of a National Energy Guarantee.

Abetz dismissed the report, saying it “suggests that Labor’s crazy renewable energy target could be ‘easily met’ if individual households install solar panels and battery technology.

“This eco-evangalist approach of suggesting that there is no cost restriction to households installing expensive solar panels and batteries defies common-sense and highlights a disconnectedness from mainstream Australia.”

Maybe Abetz didn’t read the report. It actually says that consumers will install solar and storage, precisely because it is or will be cost effective, and this amount of storage would, in theory, be enough to meet the security and reliability needs of a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030.

The report pointed out that the issue was a bit more complicated than that, but highlighted that there was no technology or cost issue that would prevent a high penetration of renewables.

Finkel made a presentation on the report in Canberra on Monday and followed this up with a “doorstop” press conference with journalists. This is a transcript provided by his office.

Dr Finkel: I’m very pleased with this report. Let me first point out it doesn’t have recommendations – it’s not a government commissioned report. It’s a report that is intended to survey opportunities and come up with findings and then leave it to government to develop a policy informed by what’s in this report.

What impresses me is the report is very broad, it’s not just looking at lithium-ion batteries, it’s not just looking at the electricity grid. It’s not just looking at transport per se.

It’s looking at the supply chain opportunities, whether it’s lithium, nickel or cobalt. It’s the ability to do a little bit of development of battery technologies, battery pack technology development and looking beyond batteries at the importance of pumped hydro in our future electricity system security.

It’s looking at the opportunity to export sunshine, take sunshine, wind, renewable electricity, and use that through electrolysis to make hydrogen and from hydrogen you make ammonia and ammonia is easy to ship and you can send it to countries that have indicated that they will have a not only growing, but a huge demand for hydrogen and they want clean hydrogen going into the future, countries such as Japan and Korea.

So there are many, many diverse opportunities for Australia and I think this report has captured, well, all of them that I’m aware of so I’m very pleased with this report.

Reporter: Dr Finkel, what sort of investment do you think we are going to need to see over the next 15 or 20 years in storage, whether that’s pumped hydro, batteries whatever, in order to meet our Paris commitments?

Dr Finkel: So I won’t link it to any particular commitments. The report, as Dr Godfrey indicated in his remarks, looked at three scenarios and they were decided upon I think last year – a low, medium and high scenario for renewable energy.

Don’t forget some of the renewable energy is hydro power, catchment hydro. So when you’re looking at those figures it’s not just variable renewable energy which would come from solar rooftops and wind and solar farms. It’s a little bit of biomass as well. The mid-scenario is the only one that’s costed directly at the moment in the upfront summary and that says look, the capacity that you would need for security in the mid-scenario costs around about $11 billion, but that’s not the whole picture. S

ecurity is the ability to maintain the frequency of the electricity grid, so it doesn’t collapse. You also need storage for reliability, the ability to dispatch electricity on demand, and then of course to get to any of these scenarios you’re investing in solar, wind and transmission lines, the generation and transmission lines.

The purpose of this report, unlike say the Electricity Review, is not to look in depth at the electricity system. It was doing modelling on the electricity system purely to inform it in its deliberations on energy storage and the role it would fulfil. So the figures in this report are not the sort of figures that are intended to inform government policy on the electricity grid. They’re there just to give an order of magnitude to the challenges.

Reporter: Dr Finkel are you frustrated that the National Energy Guarantee has been pushed to the backburner with the citizenship crisis that’s currently in parliament?

Dr Finkel: Look I think that our politicians are more than capable of handling several issues at the same time. It is my understanding and I’m not on the inside of any of this, that the COAG Energy Council will be meeting on Friday to give further consideration to the National Energy Guarantee so it’d be interesting to see what comes out on Friday. I think it’s consideration, not necessarily something definitive, but it’s an important date nonetheless.

Reporter: Does the report tell us that the storage solutions which exist or perhaps will exist in the next ten years support Labor’s theory that they can reach their clean energy target?

Dr Finkel: This report does not address anybody’s policy, anybody’s theories. This report is about storage, storage through batteries, storage through pumped hydro, storage through creating hydrogen.

Don’t forget hydrogen has got enormous potential, where you take the electricity, clean electricity, to make hydrogen from water and you don’t have to use it to then regenerate electricity – that’s one possible use – but using it to substitute methane, that’s natural gas in our reticulated gas supply is another important use and that is storage.

You can store an enormous amount of energy in the gas or hydrogen that’s packed in the pipes. This is not a report that’s making recommendations about anybody’s policy at all.

Reporter: I know you drew this distinction before, but given there’s a bit of confusion this morning around that reliability as opposed to security, the implications for both, power storage and this report.

Dr Finkel: So would you like me to explain the difference?

Reporter: Yes, If you could just give a layman’s, for a broader audience, a layman’s explanation of the difference between the two notions, and the implications for this report.

Dr Finkel: We talk in the electricity industry about security and reliability, and in the electricity industry they have very specific connotations. But in layman’s discussions they often get lumped together: security, reliability, stability, adequacy, they get thrown into the pie.

In the specific language of the electricity system, security is the ability for the whole system to stay functional even when there is a disaster of some kind, such as a lightning strike that takes out a generator or a transmission line. That’s a devastating, very rapid blow to the system, and if you didn’t have the mechanism to deal with security the system would black out across a large area.

Reliability is the ability on a daily basis to dispatch electricity to meet the loads. If there was a failure of reliability it’s more likely to turn up as a temporary, easily reversed localised blackout in a suburb or for a couple of factories. So reliability is the ability to deliver energy, and that’s often associated with storage, security is the ability to keep the system up and that’s associated with maintaining the frequency.

Reporter: Have you been in contact at all in the last few months with AGL boss Andy Vesey, and what do you think of the closure of Liddell coal powered power station, the government wanting to keep it open, despite in this report saying that technology needs to be changing, need to move forward with our technological advancements, but they’re trying to keep open a 50-60 year old coal fired power station.

Dr Finkel: So no, I have not been in touch with Andy Vesey or anyone else about that, so I can only answer in the generalities. We do live in a world of rampant technological change. We’re very aware of it, with our smartphones, with your computers, the lighting systems that we have. But it also affects our transport and it affects our electricity systems. There’s no way one sector of our society can be protected from ongoing technological disruptive change.

The challenge is to manage the transition from here to there. We are going to be moving into a new future, it’s happening all around the world, it’s inevitable. We’d like to do that in a managed fashion.

What this report shows is that with storage available to us, if it’s used effectively, we can manage that transition as smoothly as possible for the lowest possible price. But the transition will happen.

Reporter: How close are we to achieving that level of storage, or how far down the track is it?

Dr Finkel: Oh look, it’s only just beginning. So, South Australia has put in the world’s largest battery, 100 MW capacity battery, from Tesla – it’s not yet commissioned, but it’s coming soon. We’re talking about storage levels out to 2030 through batteries and pumped hydro of at least 50 times that capacity. The Snowy Mountains hydro scheme has storage vastly in excess of that. We’ve got a long way to go, but the quickest way to get to a difficult future is to start now.

Reporter: So just to confirm, you’re saying that part of this report if we do embrace storage and battery storage that the Liddell power station or other coal fired power stations don’t need to be closed, because there will be enough energy to support – to fill that shortfall.

Dr Finkel: The operators of the electricity system have to look at each generator commissioning and closure on its merits. But if you’re looking at the system, it’s quite clear that as we go through the transition – and as I said, that transition is inevitable – we will need storage as a piece of the solution. There is no one solution to the challenges we face.

Reporter: Eric Abetz has expressed disappointment in the latest report, saying it’s more concerned with eco evangelism rather than affordability. Is he on the money?

Dr Finkel: I’m not going to comment on other people’s perceptions of this report. I think this report is broad, fair and reasonable.

Reporter: Just on storage more broadly, is it possible there are other forms of storage coming, say in a couple of decades’ time, that we haven’t even conceived of yet? What are some of those possibilities?

Dr Finkel: It’s a challenge to answer your question about what we haven’t conceived of yet. But the report does talk about multiple storage types. So it’s batteries of many, many different types, compressed air storage, storage in hydrogen, storage in ammonia, storage in molten salts, storage in molten silicon, combining the storage into thermal solar generators.

There are many technologies for storage that are covered in the report. I apologise that it hasn’t covered the ones that haven’t been conceived of yet!  

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  • Mark Fowler

    I wonder if Erica Betz has considered that he represents a state with the highest level of renewables (hydro) and no doubt argued vociferously for the building of the Franklin Dam to add to that pool of renewables.

  • BushAxe

    Fairly sure Abetz still uses a horse & cart?

    • Joe

      Poor Eric, he is in total denial. Sometimes there are people that can’t help themselves to save themselves. Whether it is marriage equality, workers penalty rates or now renewable energy he just never gets it.

    • Joe

      Don’t call him a… ‘transport-evangelist’.

  • Jonathan Prendergast

    7,000 households reportedly installed batteries last year. Possibly 20,000 this year. While the storage numbers in the report sound big in terms of MW and investment value, we may already be at 100MW and $200 million per year in residential storage. Could have a 1,000MW by the time Liddell closes, or much more.

    Spread over many houses and consumer investments, the numbers add up quickly, just like our rooftop solar doing 1GW per year.

    • trackdaze

      Yep guessing this year will see 100Mw+ in behind the meter and a further 100Mw + with Tesla battery in SA.

    • Clearly households followed by C&I are the low hanging fruit when it come to rolling out storage quickly, effectively and with minimal government involvement. But some incentives to get it kick started would be nice.

      • itdoesntaddup

        You mean it needs to be subsidised?

        • The way I see it is if there is an energy crisis and if Finkel, AEMO etc are right with there solutions, then rather than tax payer money going into a new coal fired power station I would rather it support the Finkel – AEMO solutions.
          With c. 7-8 million households in the NEM, subsiding battery storage would be a far quicker solution than most other.
          However, if we don’t really have an energy crisis then we shouldn’t need to subsidise anything and let the market do its job.

  • trackdaze

    I think the conservatives are confusing themselves with comunists.

    How dare we the people take exception to central control of ever higher centrally controlled electricity.

  • George Darroch

    They’re not conservatives, in any real sense. They’re reactionaries, and it’s time we labeled them as such.

    • Mike Westerman

      With Abetz you get two for the price of one: a reactionary evangelist!

    • Rod

      I’ve started using the term regressives.

  • JIm

    Dear Eric, when it comes to storage, your State is the leader, thanks to the HEC. You could always try to get arrested for trespassing on eco-evangelist property.

  • Adrian Ingleby

    I am a ‘protector’ involved in the fight against toxic coal seam gas extraction [fracking]. Use electrolysis to make hydrogen, then ammonia to ship it o/s? It can also be used to “substitute methane gas !!!!” – RE can you do another stand alone article
    on the hydrogen subject …. Please ! RE is the best website ever I recommend it
    to everyone. Lock The Gate, Northern Rivers Alliance etc., please note.

  • Ken Dyer

    I do not give a rat’s bottom for what Abetz and his cronies spout. They are so way off base as to be absolutely ludicrous. And that seems to apply to the International Energy Agency (IEA) as well. They are so timid with their predictions and have been for the last 15 years as this linked blog indicates.

    https://steinbuch.wordpress.com/2017/06/12/photovoltaic-growth-reality-versus-projections-of-the-international-energy-agency/

  • Robert Comerford

    Abetz comments how him to be a poorly educated fool.
    Interesting to see the use of Ammonia brought to the fore by Finkel.
    It is one of the more sensible ways to transport (renewable) energy. Already in wide use now but sadly from fossils in the main..
    Compressed hydrogen might be best kept for use on site.

  • Andrew Roydhouse

    Too many people have a misguided view about what drives our politicians.

    Many seem to believe that the pollies have deeply held convictions (shoudl be convicted more like!) on matters.

    The reality is totally different.

    It does not matter what major party you talk about – they all dance to the same tune.

    The tune of the donors. Some parties quite hypocritically say they don;t take donations from companies. Instead they take them from the company owners, directors and senior executives.

    If donations are banned from certain industries at the State or Local Govt level – then they’re made at the Federal level (eg: NSW developers only operating in NSW paying $100,000s to the Federal ALP and Lib/Nats).

    At over $500,000/week in declared donations to political parties (then add in all the illegal donations such as uncovered by the ICAC in Operation Spicer) and you soon start to see the reality. Pity it lead to the NSW ICAC having its funding cut and its head effectively sacked in response.

    Linked to the Chinese communist party – no problem. See 4 Corners early 2016 program showing the leadership of ALP, Libs & Nats falling over themselves to sit next to the largest donor in recent history.

    The MPs and Senators arguing that black is blue (brown) are driven by the donors.

    “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

    Long live the Rum Corp!

  • Bill Laing

    Come on Dr Finkel, you can only sit on the fence and not answer the questions for so long…..I am an energy analyst and a scientist with a personal entry in Aust Academy of Sciences 3500 Men & Women of Science & Engineering – and I am not afraid to project scientific-technological-commercial data including costs, on to Liddell. Coal at ca A$120-150+ per MWh levelised, far exceeds renewable at A$50-80 (see graph below, Nov 2017). So I can deduce (via rigorous, deductive argument, not sloppy inductive argument, or worse still, eco-evangelism) that our community should close Liddell as soon as is practicable because we the taxpayer are losing money hand-over-fist. You are in a far more influential position than little old me in Townsville, so why don’t you call out eco-evangelism as fostering poor choices. Or don’t you care? My primary school teacher wife is constantly telling her kids “make good choices”. Well Dr Finkel – are you going to assist us mere ordinary people make good choices, or not? WE PAY YOU TO DO THIS – STAND UP FOR RATIONALITY & GOOD CHOICES. Dr Bill Laing, Townsville
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/4a8809b48a0943f51582d31e10a372a20e0ed897ccb98568f1c7d955eedea774.jpg

    • Robin_Harrison

      You’re absolutely right but, unfortunately, that’s based on logic and reason which isn’t allowed in our purely ideological political system. Finkel seems to understand this and, in any case, has to protect his job.

  • Rod

    This to me is the most interesting part of the entire interview. I wonder what he meant. 😉

    “There’s no way one sector of our society can be protected from ongoing technological disruptive change.”

  • Chris Fraser

    When they lash out at inanimate objects, sounding of desperation, projecting such superlatives like ‘evangelism’ at us (at US, of all people) … it’s downright hilarious.

  • fred payne

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    I wonder if the reporter’s question about better storage options that might become available in the next couple of decades, highlights the problem with the
    coalition’s approach to energy? He seems to be suggesting that we
    do nothing now because there might be something better that will be
    developed … soon.

    To me this idea misses the point – if we want to be part of the innovative solutions that will take us into a cleaner more sustainable energy future, it would make sense for us to be involved in developing (and integrating) the technologies needed to do this. At least part of the problem with the government’s unwillingness to address these issues is that we are now in a position where we arer finding it difficult to see how it will all come together. = Hence the suggestions that we should stay with what we have and wait for perfect solutions that might (or might not) become available in the future.