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How The Australian distorted S.A. renewables advice

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Readers of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper would have been fascinated to learn this week that the South Australian government had apparently ignored advice in 2009 to limit the amount of wind energy in their state’s grid to 20 per cent.

South Australia has, of course, gone well beyond that, with wind energy now meeting more than 40 per cent of the state’s electricity demand, and rooftop solar another 5-6 per cent. The combined total is likely to exceed 50 per cent by the end of the year, well ahead of its 2025 target.

But this target is under attack from the fossil fuel industry and their proxies in the Murdoch media – as Media Watch documented so well on Monday – and by some in the ABC itself.

On Sunday, the ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann wrote that it was “well documented” that any more than 20 per cent wind energy created problems for the grid.

We debunked that piece of nonsense with this story – The ABC’s Uhlmann gets in wrong on renewables. Again on Monday, which noted that the CSIRO regarded anything up to 30 per cent penetration of wind and solar as “trivial.”

On Tuesday, The Australian followed on from Uhlmann, and with gusto, in this report titled Energy crisis puts the wind up Jay Weatherill (subscription required).

It quoted federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg, a fierce critic of high renewable energy targets and premier Jay Weatherill’s recent sparring partner, saying the South Australian government “had ignored warnings eight years ago that increasing the uptake of intermittent sources of power ­beyond 20 per cent would have negative consequences.”

The Australian report said:

“Clear warnings were given to the Department of Premier and Cabinet in 2009 that the power grid could cope with only 20 per cent of wind generation before it became unstable. A report by Mc­Lennan ­Magasanik Associates said: “A level of 20 per cent wind capacity is proposed as a level that can be achieved without compromising grid stability.”

We’re not sure whether The Australian was fed this line or actually checked the report out for themselves.

We talked to one of the authors of the report and were provided a copy. Yes, there is a brief reference to 20 per cent, in light of the inter-connector limits at the time, but this is how the report concluded:

“A renewable energy target of 40% of total South Australian generation by 2020 for a high demand scenario in South Australia is a reasonable but stretching proposition given the expected rate of technological development and the Commonwealth commitment to a 20% renewable energy target for Australia by that time. There are no significant technological constraints to achieving such a target. It is more a question of whether such a target would correspond to the most economic solution for meeting the national renewable energy target. That is, whether it would be economic to deploy the necessary infrastructure resources to remove barriers to entry for renewable energy in South Australia.”

Just to be clear, we put that text in bold. We thought the quote must have escaped The Australian, the federal energy minister’s office, and perhaps also the ABC, presuming they had actually looked at that report.

Below is a screen shot of that report’s conclusion, just to show that we are not making it up.

mclennan report

The report does mention possible limits to a 20 per cent wind share, but mostly in the context that the current federal target was limited, which might make it difficult for South Australia to aim for 40 per cent, and because of the limits of the interconnector to Victoria.

At the time, the link had a capacity of 400MW, and the McLennan report said it would need to be lifted to at least 600MW to accommodate more wind – which it has been. (Although some people say it should have been upgraded further).

This is the remainder of the McLennan report’s conclusion, in full.

“The main threat to achievement would be that energy efficiency growth could be strong and economic growth weaker in the face of high carbon prices. If that occurred, the generation base upon which that 40% were to be calculated would be some 30% to 35% lower than projected in the high case and the 40% renewable energy might find it difficult to reach commercial operation in the presence of lower market prices and infrastructure constraints.

“Even if the high growth scenario were to be achieved, a 40% target would require an early commitment to interconnection development to provide investors with the necessary confidence to proceed.

“It therefore depends on how the South Australian Government wishes to apply such a target. If it is to guide the market place on what is achievable within the State and not relying on interconnection development, then 30% would be appropriate as it could be achieved by a number of feasible and foreseeable pathways. A more stretching target of 40% relies on fulfilling the expectations in geothermal development and applying resources to network development so as to provide investor confidence to proceed with project development.”

As one of the authors of the report told RenewEconomy on Tuesday, 2009 was a long, long time ago. Since then, the costs of solar have fallen by 90 per cent, the cost of wind has fallen by 50 per cent, and geothermal – touted in this report as a likely contributor – has disappeared off the map.

Even more encouragingly, new technologies such as battery storage and smart software have emerged, at a competitive price, which will help integration of even greater penetration rates of wind and solar. Pumped hydro is now being recognised, as is solar thermal.

But there we have it. A report that says South Australia could easily aim for 40 per cent renewable energy is portrayed as a warning that 20 per cent is the natural limit. It boggles the mind.

Weatherill – to his credit – keeps on repeating that the blackouts and near misses in South Australia have not been about technology choices, but about grid management. Even AEMO agrees. But some journalists don’t want to know.

The CSIRO outlines a scenario for 86 per cent in that state by 2035. Zinc refiner Sun Metals is building a solar plant because it is cheaper than coal-fired generation in Queensland. The former head of Hazelwood says that solar and battery storage is already cheaper than baseload gas.

But don’t expect to read much about those exciting developments in much of the mainstream media. They just don’t seem interested.

  

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  • john

    There is good reason why The Australian is not interested in alternatives, it is pure and simple ideological.
    The Murdoch News Empire has gone full bottle, attack anything that is put up by any other organisation,that is not from his particular viewpoint.
    Once The Australian could be relied upon now it seems with this kind of frankly shoddy make up article everything has to be taken with a grain of salt.
    I suppose if it is good enough for the most powerful president in the world to get his information from Fox and other frankly fake news outlets it must be good enough for backward people in Australia.

  • humanitarian solar

    To really understand renewable energy and what % it can supply any grid, in my view it’s necessary to look at our own properties and microgrids, small scale examples demonstrating results. In a way, developing countries have been ahead of us with numerous projects demonstrating results of what can be done when it’s necessary – due to their unreliable or intermittent fossil fuel grids. Data speaks louder than words and we need data of renewable systems with the % of their fossil fuel imports or local fossil fuel backup generation statistics, versus the capacity of renewables to supply the load. Results from small scale projects and microgrids, will be favourably transferrable to larger scale contexts that can share energy across different geographical areas. I’d guesstimate it would now be cost effective for local towns and regions to be easily 90% self sufficient, with minimal imports from large storage like the proposed Snowy pumped hydro facility. Economic feasibility also needs to take into account oppression by big business, and conversely, how renewable energy can create a more equitable and participatory economy.

    • Gary Rowbottom

      Good point, nothing like good ol’ empirical evidence.

  • Andrew_Nichols

    This is my gripe. We have a global media that is daily covering the Trump admin re its false news/lies/untruths whatever as if such behaviour was new or confined to pollies. I will make easy money betting that once he goes the media will quickly forget this zealous task and revert to being a stenographer to power as they are in this matter.

  • Alastair Leith

    Thanks for all the great work on this Giles. I for one would love to see ABC hire you as their full time Energy Editor across all media and SM platforms, with the power to countermand Uhlmann, Sales, Probyn, Trioli and any other host when they start broadcasting Fossil funded talking points, again.

    I’m not sure to what extent they truly don’t understand these issues in any depth (admittedly they are complex which is why Uhlman so frequently hangs himself on his own dumb tweets and written pieces) and to what extent it is motivated by allegiances to certain political objectives. I guess we’ll never know until they leave the ABC to run for parliament or something like that. But then who would run Reneweconomy! Compulsory acquisition under the emergency services act?

    • humanitarian solar

      The hanging himself on misunderstandings “or” being motivated by allegiances to certain political objectives is a polarity. Is a mother selfish or biased if she loves her own child more than the world’s children? And if you love a woman, are you selfish or biased for not caring for all of the world’s women equally? If you love your country over and above feeling like an integral part of humanity, are you selfish or biased? If you look at it within, ethnocentricity is a pretty standard developmental kind of process. The Greens might attack Hanson and Trump, though it’s really their lack of emotional intelligence to see their own shortcomings and hence work more compassionately.

      • Alastair Leith

        No, the Greens critique of Hansen or Trump reflects the realities of an adversarial political system that works on win/lose contests and debates, and in many ways a winner takes all system of forming governments and policy objectives. Plus the deep corruption of all that by money (industry lobbying and developers) and MP egos.

        You speak to MPs from any side/party and you’ll find pockets of compassion and wisdom almost across the board (often constrained by ideological limitations to *their* values, constituency and concerns). But the system is brutal and punishes the expression and embodiment of intrinsic values to a great extent. Rhetorically they’re overplayed, in reality it’s mostly lip service when you look at outcomes.

        This might interest you: http://www.commoncause.org.au/common-cause.html I know many people in Australian Greens are very active trying to realise the elevation of intrinsic values within a systems that focuses greatly at present on extrinsic values.

        • humanitarian solar

          Your “intellectualising” which is a psychological strategy of justification and reasoning which stops deeper feelings emerging. The Greens didn’t improve their votes in the WA election at all. What do you get out of such a strategy? How does it help you? I know from experience, there’s very little point reasoning with you until you recognise the suffering involved in what your doing personally. In my feedback to the Greens strategic review, I suggested they focus on strategic relationships with unifying the left and with Labor.

          • Alastair Leith

            I’m not justifying; I’m reflecting the reality of the situation, no judgement either way. Your psychological running commentary on issues you continually show no depth of knowledge in is getting tiresome, frankly. What are you doing?

          • humanitarian solar

            Having compassion for the people you’re giving a hard time to or lobbying against.

          • Alastair Leith

            And you’re the judge of all. Saints don’t need to critique others. Never have, never will.

          • humanitarian solar

            With this topic, “distortion” happens allot and is a completely normal process for anyone with a history and of course media elites have a history and naturally seek to perpetuate parts of it.

          • Alastair Leith

            And when I said what are you doing it was a more general question i.e. what is the theory of change you subscribe to and where are you putting your hours of paid or unpaid labour and capital into the solutions to these manifest climate and unjust world issues? Action might find you with less time for running speculative commentary.

          • humanitarian solar

            I’ve said some of the things I put my time into elsewhere and I’m in a little group who wish to form a kind of miniature urban eco-village in the longer term.

          • humanitarian solar

            The difference between judging and merely recognising what’s going on, is judging involves a negative emotional objection towards the other side.

          • Alastair Leith

            “No, the Greens critique of Hansen or Trump reflects the realities of an adversarial political system that works on win/lose contests and debates, and in many ways a winner takes all system of forming governments and policy objectives. Plus the deep corruption of all that by money (industry lobbying and developers) and MP egos.

            You speak to MPs from any side/party and you’ll find pockets of compassion and wisdom almost across the board (often constrained by ideological limitations to *their* values, constituency and concerns). But the system is brutal and punishes the expression and embodiment of intrinsic values to a great extent. Rhetorically they’re overplayed, in reality it’s mostly lip service when you look at outcomes.

            This might interest you: http://www.commoncause.org…. I know many people in Australian Greens are very active trying to realise the elevation of intrinsic values within a systems that focuses greatly at present on extrinsic values.”

            How is that a “negative emotional objection to the other side“. I’m talking about a collective of people in a political system not “one side”.

            I’d say if you polled on a simple compassion index, say asking ‘for whom do you have more compassion, the murderer or the victim?’ i’d poll in the (>10% ?) who would answer ‘the murderer’. But thanks for keeping me on my toes.

            And by the way, your wrong about ARENA not funding residential scale storage projects, get onto Google, it’s amazing how much you can learn before putting conjecture out there. White GUm Valley is a micro grid project for 44 residences in suburban Perth which will model P2P energy trading (using blockchain) and shared PV and storage infrastructure.
            http://news.curtin.edu.au/media-releases/curtin-researchers-seek-to-develop-zero-carbon-neighbourhood/
            https://arena.gov.au/projects/energy-storage/
            https://www.google.com.au/search?q=arena+grants+to+battery&oq=arena+&aqs=chrome.1.69i59l2j69i57j69i60l3.6782j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#safe=active&q=arena+grants+to+community+micro+grids&*

          • humanitarian solar

            Ok thanks for the links. I think you’ll find most of the Greens despise Hanson and Trump and hence why they feel it’s the thing that desperately needs to be put back in its box, attempt to hold back the tide of the populist voter, not recognising the populists are taking more interest politics which is a good thing.

          • Alastair Leith

            Thanks for the analysis. I think you’ll find that most Greens in WA (and I actually know this from discussing it with many candidates rather than speculating) were worried about a) the polling of ON and that eating into the Greens upper house quotas and b) the use of WA politics as a platform for hate speech and promotion of intolerance and ignorance-based policy. Do you really think Hansen is the first Australian politician to run a platform based on racial prejudice and disaffection?! Do you really think the ON constituency is somehow a “tide” of populist votes who didn’t vote for populist leaders (er, Barnett) in the past? Have you heard of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, QLD Premier for 19 years and the ultimate corrupt conservative populist? Hansen would have happily served under Joh, nothing new at all, just an opportunist and her party has almost no functional party apparatus at all, which is part of why they crashed on re-entry in the WA election with resignations, expulsions and declining voter interest by the day.

          • humanitarian solar

            It’s the Greens hate email they send us about Hanson, and keep spewing forth in public which discredits us. Hanson didn’t create inequality and voters are merely trying to get a better deal for their families.

          • Alastair Leith

            I understand the calculus Hansen exploits, we all do. “Spewing” is a fairly emotive term for one so detached and all-seeing as you HS. You’re comparing Greens mail blasts to Hansens public rhetoric on a hate scale and find them similar, that’s interesting.

          • humanitarian solar

            Fish and chip shop owners don’t do calculus. Hanson is in resonance with those voters genuinely being herself. See there’s your projecting another kind of awareness on her when she is really being herself just like Uhlmann. And, this lack of understanding is the source of the Greens despising such ethnocentric or capitalist oriented persons.

          • Alastair Leith

            I’m not projecting anything of the sort. There you go speculating (not to mention projecting) again. Tiresome.

            Truck drivers don’t do calculus either (for the most part hate to generalise). But there’s a calculus being applied to foot on brake, foot on the gas. It’s done subconsciously. “Calculus” is just a figure of speech, she’s not actually running a political party in the normal sense, it’s more like a fan club. I had to ring their party organisation to invite them to a forum and I can tell you for sure there’s just zero party structure and organisation.

          • humanitarian solar

            I wrote them a letter suggesting solar is becoming essential for rural people at least for critical system backup and also dispersing power generation makes population resilient for national security.

          • Alastair Leith

            Google Green Tea Party green movement meets Tea Party in USA 🙂

          • Alastair Leith

            Spewing, despising, such strong words, do you want to back them up with evidence? I’m as i happens someone who urged caution about going down the ‘bash Hansen’ path during an election campaign, and I do know her comments resonate with many conservative people even if they never voted for her. can only suggest Greens polling and market research told them that they were getting traction on the issue, either to motivate the base to volunteer or bringing disaffect conservative voters over.

            Multiculturalism is not without it’s problems and we should openly acknowledge those tensions (and Greens MPs do I think from time to time including the current leader). And that fact that a less homogenous society actually can make it more difficult to have a progressive social contract in place like Scandinavian countries seem to be so good at. And Australia is like most countries peopled by a great many conservative people, on both sides of the political left-right divide.

            The simple political left-right divide is primarily one between labour and capital respectively. Both sides of that divide are seeing growing inequality and lack of opportunity and that’s why she can garner votes on both sides, from those with some amount of wealth and those who work to service their debt.

            But you are just talking in the most simplistic black and white terms that your commentary serves little benefit to anybody. It actually seems quite motivated and emotional to me, and your use of terms like emotional and projection quite loaded for self-reflection.

          • Alastair Leith

            On WA election, you are wrong, superficially it may look like that to you but we could get 4-5 MLCs (2 previous term) and the level of volunteer campaigning was a significant magnitude larger than last state election from what I’m hearing. But you just keep pointing out that nobody is an enlightened saint in the electoral system, because that’s going to get us so much further forward. Perhaps you’d consider running a benevolent dictatorship for us in WA and we can to secede under your benevolent guidance?

      • Alastair Leith

        “These results lead us to pose a crucially
        important question: Why is it that such a large
        majority of people believe their fellow citizens
        hold selfish values to be more important, and
        compassionate values to be less important, than
        is actually the case?”

        Would seriously encourage you to read the Common Cause handbook if you haven’t already. I think you’d get something from it given your comments and perspective.

        http://valuesandframes.org/download/Perceptions-Matter-Full-Report.pdf

        • humanitarian solar

          Values spring from peoples deepest experience of who they feel they are. Everyone acts on that basis, which gives rise to how to deepen values. My central method is meditation though i acknowledge there’s many. All of them are a process taking time.

  • Alastair Leith

    TLDR:
    “But there we have it. A report that says South Australia could easily aim for 40 per cent renewable energy is portrayed as a warning that 20 per cent is the natural limit. It boggles the mind.”

  • Ross Flint

    Ah, fake news – from the expert, one Rupert M!

    • Calamity_Jean

      Rupert Murdoch is a malign influence in every country where he has media.