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Elon Musk has turned Australia’s energy debate on its head

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It took a couple of tweets, and at least one one-hour long phone call, but it seems pretty clear that Tesla founder, CEO and billionaire Elon Musk has helped turn the debate around energy policy in Australia on its head.

We can’t be sure what was said in the phone call between Musk and Turnbull last Sunday, but Musk’s views  on the future of energy are well known: He wants to kick fossil fuels out as quickly as he can. And he is not one to hold back.

So, it’s hard to imagine that Turnbull was putting the case for baseload power plants in that phone call with any conviction. Musk would have been hammering home – as the tweet below suggests – the value of storage and flexibility, essential for the new technologies that he knows will dominate the grid: wind and solar.

musk turnbull tweetFive days later, and just a few weeks after trumpeting clean coal in a National Press Club address, Turnbull was announcing his plan for Snowy 2.0: a plan for 2GW and 175 hours of new pumped hydro storage capacity that would support wind and solar and make the push for new gas plants and added baseload all but redundant.

The haste with which it was put together was betrayed by the fact that NSW and Victoria, the common shareholders in Snowy Hydro, didn’t know about it, and the company itself didn’t even mention pumped hydro in its Finkel submission.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance wrote that it was a sign of long-term strategic thinking and planning “that has been desperately lacking in Australia’s energy policy debate for 10 years.”

BNEF said the sheer size of the project would add tremendous flexibility to the electricity system and capability to smooth the intra-seasonal variability of renewables. It was cheaper than gas and even below its projections for lithium-ion storage in 2025.

But also noticeable was the change of language that went with it: In an interview on ABC on Thursday night, Turnbull chose to use the word “variable” rather than “intermittent” when talking of wind and solar, and highlighted the need for “flexibility” over baseload.

turnbull snowy

He was being careful about his language. For the first time in months, he was treating wind and solar – which are now clearly the cheapest form of new energy generation – with respect, and talking seriously about the readily available technologies needed to bring these technologies together.

This is what we want. That’s why this could – could – be a potential game changer in Australian political rhetoric.

In South Australia, the same energy discussion was being held. South Australia’s energy plan is not focused on baseload, but on flexibility and despatchability, and on technologies that can provide a fast response to grid faults and weather events, and unlock the stranglehold of the incumbent oligopoly.

Its focus is also on storage. In this case, battery storage, because its needs are urgent. There will be at least 100MW installed by next summer in tender that has already started.

And as RenewEconomy reveals today, there will be a further 50MW of battery storage in a world-first pairing of gas and battery units. (That proposed peaking gas plant is more than it seems).

One energy insider who has had extensive conversations with Turnbull on energy in very recent times says the PM “gets it. He understands renewable energy.”

“Really,” I said. “Then why does he spend so much time talking shit?”

“Ah, that’s politics,” came the reply. “I don’t understand politics.”

Turnbull’s task, now, is to try to infuse that enthusiasm – if it is actually real – through his party. The Coalition has been told in no uncertain terms – by the market, by analysts, by scientists and the general public – that the pursuit of “clean coal” is an absurdity, and not justified on economic, environmental or market grounds.

Chief coal spruiker Matt Canavan, the resources minister, only has to look at the jaw-dropping list of large-scale solar farms that are now being built in north Queensland. There simply isn’t an economic case for new baseload power in the region. Or anywhere in Australia for that matter.

Musk is a long way from being the first person to explain the future of energy markets to Turnbull or the Coalition. But it may be that Musk can be the acceptable messenger, who can cause them to listen, and bring a change in attitude.

He’s not Labor. He’s not a Green. He’s a billionaire who wants to send people to Mars, makes electric vehicles they all want to drive, sells solar panels and home battery storage systems they want to have, and is a ruthless and successful entrepreneur.

Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 11.27.17 AM

Of course, the political battles will continue, and so will the hypocrisy. The extraordinary public spat between South Australian premier Jay Weatherill and federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg on Thursday (at the launch of another world-first trial of a virtual power plant) is a sign of the huge frustration over federal policy.

The Coalition’s exploitation of South Australia’s spate of blackouts has been a disgrace, as Weatherill rightly pointed out. This is not about technology, this has been about system management, the lack of leadership on energy policy, and a failed market.

Petty politics and hypocrisy abound.

Turnbull and Frydenberg lambasted Weatherill for pre-empting the Finkel review, and then went ahead and did exactly the same thing two days later. They have mocked the state’s reliance on the interconnector, and then howled when the state moved to lessen its dependence on a link that keeps failing.

And Turnbull’s taunt to Weatherill – my storage is bigger than yours – was pathetic. Turnbull’s plan may not ever see the light of day, and will address a medium to long-term problem. Weatherill’s will happen before the end of the year and will address a pressing need.

Stand by for more shit to be spoken.

The events in the US, where the election of Trump has defenestrated environmental protections, climate change initiatives, and given carte blanche to the fossil fuel industry, underlines how a change of leader can turn things on its head.

Australia, and Turnbull, know well the risk. And it is the main reason that Australia still has no credible climate or energy policy.

But perhaps this last week, and this subtle change of language, are signs that we are starting to get on the right track.  The Finkel review will be critical in that process, even if the Far Right are howling already. Perhaps, though, it will need more phone conversations. And a lot more tweets.  

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  • MikeH

    Keep ripping into them Giles. Our children’s future is at stake so there is no time to be polite (all of the time) to the climate science denying coal dinosaurs in the L/NP.

    I cheered when Weatherill gave Frydenburg a long overdue serve. The subsequent tut tutting from the political commentariat was ridiculous and just indicates how out of touch and clueless a lot of our prominent political journalists are.

    • Brunel

      What about deforestation and recycling?

      Closing coal power stations is one thing but if people could recycle copper and steel instead of throwing it away – it would reduce the demand for more mines.

      How is it ok for Vic to not have an aluminium can recycling scheme like SA does.

      • Pete

        I asked my state MP about that because of the number of cans (and bottles) I see beside the roads. She got back to me and said that local councils were opposed. They’d lose the income they make from the aluminium in their recycling collections.

        • Leo

          Australia in a nutshell!
          Have a look at the Swedish cans recycling model. If it’s controlled at a federal level it doesn’t matter what the local councils oppose. http://www.jordbruksverket.se/swedishboardofagriculture/engelskasidor/trade/petbottlesandmetalcans.4.584a812513a8740bea18000916.html

        • Brunel

          Councils make not enough from council rates?

          The council rates were going out faster than inflation – MP Dan said he will stop council rates from going up faster than inflation.

          NSW will merge councils.

        • Rod

          Really? Which State?
          It works a treat here in SA and I think NT have adopted it.

          It is cost neutral. Although we started before councils were using recycling trash collection which would capture some but to increase the % recycled, some people need an incentive.
          I’ve seen stats on % recycled per country/State so there must be info out there.
          No doubt about it, it should be pushed by the Feds.

          • Pete

            Victoria. She also said that Victoria didn’t have a big problem with roadside litter. Ha! It’s not so noticeable when you’re driving past but I do a lot of walking in Central Victoria and I can tell you there’s plenty.

          • Rod

            My parents did the grey nomad thing and drove around Australia.
            They said you could tell the difference with litter as soon as you went over State lines.

          • stalga

            The recycling scheme returns to NSW this year after being canned (pun intended) in the 1970’s.

          • Reg

            Big investments in recycling can be devalued over-night by market volatility. No matter what ppl think about world trade, the problem of cleaning up the mess remains local and this includes open cut coal sites. Not to mention the yet to be addressed problem of Tesla battery recycling.

          • Rod

            Agreed, excess newspapers was a problem for a while.
            I think Aluminium will be a desirable resource to recycle.
            Much less energy intensive to recycle and the price is now $1900 per tonne. Up $200 in about 6 Months.
            I read a piece about how aluminium was being used increasingly in cars and thought I should get some of that action. Another missed opportunity ;(

      • John Saint-Smith

        What about concrete and steel making? What about global food miles? 2 billion cars? Or the 20 million commercial airline flights per year? What about meat consumption quadrupling the amount of food grown to feed humans in fossil fuel and water intensive soil destroying industrial farming? What about the inequity which sees the 1% take a thousand time as much of the earth’s resources to sustain their extravagant lifestyles as does a Somali tribesman? What about the acidification and deoxygenation of the ocean and the destruction of fisheries?

        I could go on… but you get the point? We’ve a long way to go, so lets just take a moment to celebrate the fact that for once in this country, we are taking a small step in the right direction.

        • Brunel

          My point is there is an obsession with having a 100% renewable electricity grid while ignoring things that we can do today like recycling copper, steel, aluminium, brass.

          • Pedro

            I think we are already recycling copper, steel and aluminium. We could do better no doubt…..Cheap abundant energy would go a long way into making recycling these materials more cost effective

          • Brunel

            Cheap abundant electricity would make aluminium smelting cheaper – thus reducing the incentive to recycle.

            You may not be aware that it takes hardly any energy to recycle aluminium compared to making aluminium from scratch.

            Steel is thrown away. So is plastic.

          • Just_Chris

            Aluminium made from cheap renewables is a great way of exporting renewable energy. Cheap aluminium could displace some steel which will be carbon intensive for a significant time into the future. It is better to recycle but exporting green aluminium should be encouraged, brown coal aluminium…. er, not so much.

            Completely agree with you on recycling, it’s a total no brainer from where I sit. We should totally tax the life out of throwing stuff away it benefits no one in the long run.

          • John Saint-Smith

            Why do you find it so hard to see a picture a thousand times bigger and more time critical than recycling aluminium for earth’s sake?

          • stucrmnx120fshwf

            Agreed, it’s wonderful, that long ago, we were getting more energy out of renewables, than it took to produce them, then renewables became cheaper, than carbon dioxide emissions based power. Now renewables, plus storage, are cheaper, than carbon dioxide emissions based power, in response to this we saw lithium and graphite miners stocks go up yesterday. Combine lithium and graphite, then you get 3X as much kWh per kg, then there’s solid state batteries, which can use cheaper materials, such as sodium. We’re heading into a Clean Disruption, third industrial revolution, roaring twenties situation, with as you so rightly suggest cheaper energy, which with storage means cheaper transport. The other side of photovoltaics, LEDs, also means cheaper food, through high rise agriculture. Cheaper energy, also means cheaper materials, easier recycling and being able to use lower concentration mining finds, plus more energy, equals cheaper, for example metals. As renewables will become substantially cheaper, than carbon dioxide emissions based power.

        • Geoff

          it’s about a whole range of things that unfortunately we need to get all right or it’s sayonara human race. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IESYMFtLIis

    • Rod

      I would like to think a State Premier trumps a lowly Federal frontbencher and is entitled to put him back in his place.

    • Reg

      Remember Mike, the tut- tuters fear change and are all snooty conservatives accustomed to long term bellybutton gazing. All the same I have reservations about large battery installations. A large battery installation has the potential of a small nuclear device. Certainly a modest coal power house has, say, two 500 megawatt alternators and two 200 megawatt units, but other than by reverse hydro, none of that is stored.Concentrated storage of energy in a volatile chemical device in a new problem.

  • Rob

    Malcolm Turnbull, aka “The Man from Snowy River” has finally realised, it seems, that backing fossil fuels is floggin a dead horse. Renewables and storage are galloping ahead and if he wants to catch the colt from “old Regret” he’s going to have to change horses mid-stream. Wait a minute, is that Malcolm I can hear shouting now? What’s that he’s saying?…………”a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse! “

    • Brunel

      No idea what the LNP are about apart from being puppets of big coal and the real estate ponzi (Gillard refused to touch negative gearing).

      They let the car factories go abroad over a mere $500 million and then went into panic mode to save Christopher Pyne’s seat and thus decided to build 12 submarines in SA for $50-100 billion!

    • Michael James

      Man from Snowy River is good but I rather liked The Conversation’s headline: “Turnbull turns to water … ”

      Giles P. wrote: “The haste with which it was put together was betrayed by the fact that NSW and Victoria, the common shareholders in Snowy Hydro, didn’t know about it, and the company itself didn’t even mention pumped hydro in its Finkel submission.”

      Well, of course that is because, like everything else in this world, it is now run by people with degrees in economics or business or, even worse, Oxford PPEs. In fact Turnbull revealed last night that this massive PHES had been fully engineered about 40 years ago but never green-lighted by the politicians. The most recent detailed plans date to 1991. And it was one of those engineers who brought it to the government’s notice.

  • Hugh M

    typo: “virtual” power plant? – I doubt you can see it, except on a computer screen 🙂

  • Rod

    I’ll get excited when I see the first sod being turned.
    Chance to wear a hi-viz vest. Yay.
    Did I see somewhere a $500,000 feasibility study is required? Surely not.

    Sounds like a plot for Utopia.

    • Michael James

      Rosie Lewis, in today’s Australian (p7):
      “The money will go towards a $500 million feasibility study, expected to be completed by this year …”

      Note this may be an error but it is not a simple typo. After we paid between $500m and $1bn (no one seems to really know for sure) to build precisely zero kilometres of the East-West Link, I guess we are inured to absurd costs of the money men to give their seal of approval but $500 mil seems a tad high for a 6 month update of existing engineers plans (1991).

      • Rod

        500 Million for a feasibility study for a 2 Billion (cough, cough) project is ludicrous

  • Mark

    Oh I wouldn’t get too excited just yet. It’s a fair bet that the right wing zealots in the COALition will get all excited and next week dear old Fizza Turnbull be back to spruiking the virtues of clean coal again. A week is a long time in politics.

  • Leo

    Why isn’t Waste to Energy part of the debate. We happily keep sending a big portion of our rubbish to landfill, having to deal with methane emissions down the track. Have a look at what Scandinavian countries have been doing for decades with tremendous success. 2 tons of waste = 1 ton of coal.

    • Jan Veselý

      Communal garbage has usually higher energy content than lignite and they pay you to take it.

  • Andy Saunders

    To be fair, the Snowy extension will be key to enabling a quite high penetration of renewables…. into NSW and Victoria.

    • Just_Chris

      The snowy extension is a great idea, the only thing that worries me is it seems to good to be true. $2 billion for 2 GW of new green dispatchable power in the heart of the NEM. Why wasn’t it done already? It just seems like such a complete no brainer.

      • Calamity_Jean

        Maybe the people in charge have no brains.

      • Michael James

        $2 billion for 2 GW of new green dispatchable power in the heart of the NEM.

        The power that comes out of it is only as green as the power that goes into it. And it loses about 20% on each roundtrip (possibly more considering the energy has to travel a fair old distance across the network). This is simply storage of energy which is created elsewhere, and why Canavan still wants to subsidize coal.

  • Colin Vincent

    Why does it take a billionaire businessman from overseas spruiking his own product to get the government to think about adding storage to the mix? A 5 year old might’ve figured that out years ago. What do they use for brains?

    • JIm

      Think Giles touched on reason why. Ross Garnaut said it way earlier but he will be viewed in right wing circles as suspect for the fact of him giving advice to Rudd, Labor etc. Elon is safely removed from local tribalism as usual.

      • Colin Vincent

        “Petty politics and hypocrisy abound.”

        “Stand by for more shit to be spoken.”

  • David Osmond

    Hi Giles,

    Note that the ANU study had over 90% of electricity coming from wind or solar, which is why they needed a large amount (450 GWh) of storage.

    In contrast, AEMO’s 100% study (scenario 2), had 70% from wind and solar, with a much larger amount from dispatchable biomass, so only needed 100 GWh of storage.

    UNSW was in between, getting ~88% from wind and solar, and required 200 GWh of storage.

    Hi Giles, you mentioned 175 hours of storage associated with Snowy Hydro 2.0. Can you provide a link to that? I heard elsewhere that Turnbull mentioned it could produce 2 GW for almost a week, which implies less than 175 hours. But regardless, even 6 days at 2 GW represents a massive 288 GWh of storage. As a sanity check, that represents draining about 63% of Tantangara’s 254 GL reservoir capacity down 650m vertically into Talbingo.

    288 GWh of storage is in line with estimates of how much storage the NEM needs to go 100% renewable (albeit all in one location is far from ideal). Andrew Blaker’s study suggested 450 GWh, UNSW suggested 200 GWh, while AEMO suggested 100 GWh. The discrepancy between the studies is explained by what fraction of our electricity they got from dispatchable biofuels, more biofuels means less storage. AEMO got 24% from biofuels, UNSW: 6%, ANU: 0%

    cheers,

    Dave

    • Just_Chris

      288 GWh is a fantastic level of storage but I suspect the 2GW power is not sufficient to go as far as you would like. It will make a disproportionately positive difference in my opinion, especially as RE penitration increases in vic and nsw. People always focus on “the days when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow” but the days when it is really windy and sunny are equally important. Gas or biomass are great for the lows but if the wind farms are to turn a profit then there needs to be something for the highs.

    • Tom

      The thing I’d worry about with that much “storage” is how LOW Talbingo reservoir would have to be when the “storage” is pumped back up, and therefore how it would affect the function of our current reversible power station Tumut 3.

  • Sandi Keane

    My Hypocrite of the Week award goes to Frydenberg who had the gall to accuse Weatherill of a ‘stunt’ after his side’s infantile lump of coal ‘stunt’ in Parliament.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/95dce9a52c153890e09ede8ed77577d9470406d0eb9ffedbbf357e6aa80a38c9.jpg

    • Reg

      Nor did the fool-of-man bring in the 10kg of air per kg required to reduce the energy of that lump of coal to 18% on the grid. Without it, it was just a lump of useless stuff.

  • john

    The aspect to be highlighted is this.
    Bloomberg New Energy Finance wrote that it was a sign of long-term strategic thinking and planning “that has been desperately lacking in Australia’s energy policy debate for 10 years.”
    Now Bloomberg New Energy is not noted for being for Renewable Energy or against it but when the view is that planning is “desperately lacking” one should take note.
    To put it simply Australia has no plan and the political class can not get together to present a sensible plan.
    The only conclusion I can come to is that we have a surplus of dumb heads with a Deficit of bright heads.

  • Vic

    I too noticed the subtle changes in Turnbull’s messaging, particularly at the Snowy Mountains presser where he chose to mention that two coal fired power plants had tripped out the night before – sacrilege!

    Thanks Elon – perhaps no battery sales to Malcolm for now, but 27km of tunnel could give your latest gizmo something to cut its teeth on…

    https://thetechportal.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/elon-musk-tunnel-image-990×743.jpg

  • john

    32 km apart 650 meter elevation parhaps some work to be done.

  • Miles Harding

    Well said, Giles!

    It seems the every time Elon does something like this, the debate gets propelled at least 5 years. The snowy proposal is one of the few responsible things the LNP has done recently and I would be very impressed to see it actually occur.

    Let’s say is actually costs $2Bn. This results in a 70% efficient 2GW battery that will last more than half a century and has enormous reserve capacity, delivered for a up-front cost of $1000 per kWh, not dissimilar to many current storage batteries, but with somewhere between 5 and 10 times the service life, so actualy a lot cheaper over 50 years.

    The reserve capacity something like $5.70 per kWh up-front, compared to $250 for a Tesla battery. No wonder pumped hydro is the obvious choice for big grid storage.

    Our challenge is to get Turbull to build it before the coal trolls tighen the noose around his neck.

  • humanitarian solar

    Musk is wealthy by being good at making a little bit of profit from many many people meeting their basic human needs. This ability is worshipped as success. A green entrepreneur in a country with the highest wealth inequality in the world. This inequality, created by public policy, results in economic imperialsm, big business undermining democracy and yet we like it because many of us crave the recognition and net worth, wondering why any successes we do have, create a brief reprisal in the regular discontent and incessant thought stream most of us carry around. If we peer into our heros privates lives, our politicians, athletes, idols, most of us find little foundation to justify our worship. Tesla, the Green capitalists ideal, the paradigm of material and technological mastery in a finite world, promising an infinitely better life for all, while the data demonstrates wealth inequality is increasing. This is the disconnect between the rhetoric and the result. It’s like watching a competition for dominance of a particular proprietary system, like a new religion as intermediary between us and natural resources.
    http://theconversation.com/land-of-the-fair-go-no-more-wealth-in-australia-is-becoming-more-unequal-63327

    • MaxG

      One word for what you described: neoliberalism

    • Tom

      Better him than Trump.

      • humanitarian solar

        Yes and the hero worship needs to end or tender processes can be derailed down unethical preferencing of particular manufacturers. In my view it’s okay to use Tesla technology as an example of concepts or even for costing examples, though actively promoting Tesla on this website, to the exclusion of others, raises questions around the financial interests of the person posting.

        • Tom

          @ Humanitarian Solar – I absolutely agree with you – tender processes must be open, honest, and fair and not betroven to celebrity or popularity. The alternative is known as “corruption”.

          I merely meant that, yes, Elon Musk is a billionaire and billionaires generally don’t get to that point by being nice guys. I’m sure he is a ruthless salesman and dealer and has burned a lot of people on his journey.

          However, there is the potential for a hell of a lot of good to come out of his endeavours – he might not single-handedly be steering the world to becoming a better place, but he’s got a pretty strong grip on the rudder. And I say good luck to him.

          Compare his billions to Donald Trump’s – billions made out of property speculation and sweetheart (corrupt) deals. Never actually produced anything, never actually enhanced anything, just made his money by loading the dice and being on the winning side of the deal.

          • humanitarian solar

            Distributed storage is the ideal so i hope SA acts on all reasonable tenders to get a number of battery projects being installed concurrently then trialed concurrently. This would begin a working knowledge base for the country and I’d like to see Tesla in there alongside all the other manufactures. For security of supply i think it’s also important to see a few local manufactures tool up within this country.

  • tsport100

    Lets not forget NSW almost suffered it’s own state-wide blackout as recently as just one month ago. During the record Feb heatwave 50% of generation capacity at Liddell Power Station went off-line due to forced outages, amongst others, and it took a couple GW from Snowy hydro to keep the lights on!!

  • Brunel

    I would say his cousin got the ball rolling. “We can install 100-300 MWh of storage in 100 days and that would prevent further power cuts in SA”.

  • Ian

    Storage is not anti coal. It’s a flexible leash that allows the old tired dog to walk at it’s own pace while the rest of the generating and consuming crowd runs in fits and starts. It’s the saving grace for coal actually.

    • Rod

      And that is why it just might get the approval of the right and why Trumbell was allowed to promote it,
      The problem is, (for FF) easily dispatched storage of this magnitude makes very high penetration of variable RE possible.

  • phred01

    With all the ho ha about budget repair where is the 2 bill coming from? The libs who claim the mantel of fiscal responsibility for one dollar Hazelwood could be purchased and in one foul swoop we would have electricity security by burning clean brown coal. This solution is now and not in 7 or so yrs time

  • Pumped hydro may be cheap but I don’t think it is of the most value to end users in the long run. Solar, storage and local electricity trading seem like a better solution. https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_AEMC_Reconsider_the_change_request_for_local_electricity_trading/edit/

  • Phil

    The bigger picture is that Home storage will be far bigger than anything Federal or State Governments EVER can and will do.

    You only have to follow the home solar panel installations and say “well that’s half the job done , now lets do the other half in 1-3 years time from now “.

    If just 2 million households spend $10k on battery storage that’s $20 billion gross right there.

    Is it any wonder the battery suppliers are lining up to get a piece of that

  • Tom

    Not completely related to this story, but I read the ABC website today and came across this strategically timed article:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-19/manufacturers-will-quit-australia-if-reliable-energy-in-doubt/8366528

    I didn’t read who the author was, but by about half way down I though “I bet this is Chris Uhlmann”. I could tell by the negative and disparaging tones toward new energy and the cheerleading of coal. One can claim that the ABC is biased or left-leaning, but it is unusual to read an article on the ABC with that amount of bias in the actual tone of the paragraphs.

    It was Chris Uhlmann.

    Uhlmann nailed himself to the mast of the coal-ship back in September despite not knowing the subject matter very well, and now that the ship is sinking he is screaming and squawking to try to re-write history and protect his shredded legacy. He’s quite disgusting.

    • humanitarian solar

      Read it. Trying to be impartial I’ve been complaining about ARENA not focusing on integrated RE/storage for a year or two. Even 5 minutes of storage is valuable to stop glitches on the grid becoming drama. People said oh storage hasn’t come down the price curve enough and renewables aren’t high enough penetration, though i never saw those two factors as primarily important. It’s the momentum and knowledge base, in manufacturers, installers and the community becoming knowledgeable and developing trust in new technology – preventing political storms. Though ARENA said no to Lyon Solar. I hope the present storage tenders around the country have diversity of manufacturers and the whole community gets into it. Uhlmann cites backup reserves as the chief problem and batteries are both fast to install and in a grid they are the fastest to pick up the slack if other generation has hiccups or falls over. So there’s enough time for a coordinated response from politicians and any Australian with the opportunity can also act including Ulhmann.

    • Rod

      I’ve been reading a lot in the local Murdoch rag (including readers letters) over the past few days about our new energy plan and Jay’s slap down of Frightenberg.
      99% is negative. Given that most South Australian’s support RE I’m starting to smell a biased rat.
      With ABCs infiltration of ex Murdoch execs, I smell more biased rats.

  • Brad Sherman

    Having worked in the hydro division for one of the larger electric utilities in the USA (PG&E) I think the suggestion that pumped storage represents clean energy can be quite a bit misleading. In general, pumped storage has been used to soak up excess generating capacity from large thermal plants at night and deliver that power during peaks so that the owners can profit from the very high prices available.

    If the LNP has proposed it, I would assume it is a Trojan Horse to justify building new fossil fuel plants, especially coal-fired. If coal-fired power is used to pump the water uphill, and it’s 70% efficient, that would make it’s generation roughly comparable to Hazelwood assuming a black-coal plant was used to provide the pumping energy. In reality, it will probably be the dirtiest power on the market after Hazelwood is closed down.

    Because of the natural diurnal cycle, wind and solar already deliver power during the peak demand period. It’s because of this that the timing of the daily peak has shifted to later in the day (say 1600 – 1900 h). If we took away the ‘negative’ demand provided by solar and wind then the peak period would shift back towards noon by a couple of hours.

    The defective Australian energy market only incentivises delivery of power during the peak demand period. I can’t see pumped storage ever being powered by wind or solar – the economics don’t seem favorable. And because our energy market is competitive, rather than coordinated and collaborative, it is hard to see how any of this will benefit the consumer – the incentive is still there for the generators to game the system to maximise their revenue – as is their right under the current rules.

  • Brad Sherman

    Another comment regarding pumped storage is that it comes with some quite real environmental consequences that arise from transporting contaminants that used to exist only downstream to the upstream storages. If these upstream storages have multiple delivery options (e.g. Tantangara can release to the Tumut scheme or to the Murrumbidgee River) it will be important to understand the possible unintended consequences to rivers fed from storages at the top of a pumped system.

    It’s not by accident that water quality is nearly always better the higher one goes up the catchment.