"Base load” power: a myth used to defend the fossil fuel industry | RenewEconomy

“Base load” power: a myth used to defend the fossil fuel industry

“Base load” power is not a technical term, but an economic one that supports the fossil fuel industry. But while it’s ingrained in western culture, China’s network operator can see a future where fossil fuels act, at most, as back-up to wind, solar and other renewables.


Last week, leading lights of the global fossil power industry gathered at a conference in Houston, Texas, for CERA, known in the sector as the “Davos of Energy”. They reportedly got the shock of their professional careers.

They had invited the most senior executives from the biggest network owner (Chine State Grid Corp) in the biggest energy market in the world (China). The organisers fully expected their Chinese guest to endorse the “all of the above” marketing pitch, which is underpinning the “keep coal” campaign.

No such luck. Despite prodding by leading oil industry commentator Daniel Yergin, the chairman of State Grid Liu Zhenya reportedly said the “fundamental solution was to accelerate clean energy, with the aim of replacing coal and oil.”

Gasp number one. And then to more stunned silence, he and State Grid’s R&D chief Huang Han dismissed coal’s claim to be an indispensable source of “base load” generation.

As the network operator builds out its clean power sources, they noted, coal-fired generators could only serve as “reserve power” to supplement renewables.

“The only hurdle to overcome is ‘mindset’,” Liu said. “There’s no technical challenge at all.”

The “base load” mindset, though, is a pretty big and powerful hurdle. Across the world it infests incumbent utilities, the coal and nuclear lobbies, conservative politicians, energy regulators, and many in mainstream media, who are clinging to the concept of “base load generation” as the last resort to try to ridicule wind, solar and other technologies.

In Australia, which has more coal generation as a percentage of its energy supply than any other developed country, this perpetuation of this idea has reached fever pitch, particularly with the imminent exit of the large coal-fired power station in South Australia.

But according to Tim Buckley, from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the idea of “base load” generation as an essential part of the energy mix is becoming redundant, and turning into a myth dreamed up by the fossil fuel industry to protect its interests.

“It’s as dangerous as the marketing term of “clean coal” and the idea that coal is “good for humanity”,” Buckley says.

New data bears this out. In China, thermal power plant utilisation rates (capacity factors) declined from 56.2 per cent on average in 2014 to a record low of just 50.9 per cent in 2015.

“This highlights coal is not ‘base load’, even in China,” Buckley says. “It is the marginal source of supply. Coal-fired power plants aren’t designed to run only half the time, but that is what is happening in China, and increasingly that is occurring in India as well.”

Indeed, CLP, the Hong Kong-based owner of the Yallourn and Mt Piper coal-fired power stations in Australia, revealed this week that its “flagship” Jhajjar coal plant in India ran at a capacity factor of just 49.9 per cent in 2015.

In Australia, it was even worse. The 1,400MW Mt Piper power station near Lithgow in NSW operated at just 45 per cent of its capacity, even after its neighbouring Wallerawang coal plant had been shut down.

Other black coal generators have been similarly afflicted, so much so that the Northern power station in South Australia is to shut permanently in May.

Grid operators also understand this. The head of UK’s National Grid says that “centralised energy” will soon be a thing of the past. The Australian Energy Market Operator says that the exit of “base load” coal generation in South Australia should not impact reliability or security of supply.

It does mean that supply it is dependent on other factors, including a connector to the main grid, but also a “different way of doing things.” Culture, not technology, is the biggest challenge here.

A study by energy consultant Energeia suggests that wind energy will become the default “base load” generation in South Australia, and dispatchable power sources – which previously dominated the grid, the markets and the business models – will have to fill in the gaps left by wind and solar.

The study conducted on behalf of South Australia transmission network operator ElectraNet, and released in December, illustrated a range of scenarios that suggested there was no room for “base load” generation.

And it wasn’t needed. The gaps would be filled by flexible plant such as solar towers, or battery storage, or from gas – as long as it can compete with the new technologies.

In this first graph – it shows the “average daily” supply over a year – the big change is the dominance of wind energy and the role of solar, most of this on rooftops of homes and businesses.

The impact is even more dramatic in the following graph, that shows a high uptake of rooftop solar and battery storage (although not as much as many might predict). Still, it shows that solar accounts for a large part of daytime demand.

Part of the reason for this uptake of solar and storage is the cost of transporting that centralised power to consumers, who are being asked to pay more than $300/MWh to boil a kettle at home.

Those on time-of-use tariffs are being asked to pay more than $550/MWh – that makes solar and storage so attractive that a major study conducted by the CSIRO suggested that up to half of all generation could be supplied locally.

“Base load is not a technical concept, it is an economic concept and a business concept of the coal industry that is no longer feasible,” says Sven Teske, an analyst with the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney.

“Baseload is a myth, but it is so deeply rooted in the debate that it will take a number of years to change perception. It’s a bit like going from analog to digital, it is a different way of operating the system.”

He says the focus is now on renewable energy, and on flexible generation, demand management, and energy efficiency.

Teske has been working on a new analysis of the possibility of 100 per cent renewable energy generation in Australia, on behalf of advocacy groups Solar Citizens and Get Up. It will likely be released next month.

He says his study shows that renewable energy can supply 100 per cent of Australia’s electricity needs by 2035, and 100 per cent of all energy needs (including transport and heating and industrial processes) by 2050.

“A 100% renewables Australia is definitely not a technology challenge it is a political one. And that is because it needs stable policy, something it has not enjoyed for a decade or more.”

In the meantime, the transition will bring about pain and complaint. The Australian Financial Review continues on Wednesday its documentation of the complaints from large energy users about future energy contracts.

It all rather forgets the fact that the high prices are not set by renewable energy sources such as wind or solar, but by the cost of fossil fuels, as Tasmania is finding out to its cost following the depletion of its hydro assets and the loss of the cable to the mainland.

If Tasmania had encouraged more wind and solar, it would not be paying ridiculous prices for gas-fired generation and importing 200MW of diesel gen-sets. If investments in large-scale renewables had not hit a two-year drought under federal policy shenanigans, then South Australia would not be so exposed to volatile price swings.

Buckley points out that as more renewable energy is deployed, and more storage with it, this will not just bring savings in network costs, it will also bring down the cost of peak power prices.

“Electricity demand is variable. It is not fixed. With smart grid technologies what we need is variable sources of supply to accommodate variable sources of demand.

“Base load is an archaic term that is no longer commercially relevant. Once that capacity is built – coal-fired generation is the most expensive marginal cost of supply because of the fuel cost, because it has to burn coal to operate.

“We believe that with more renewables and storage, peak electricity prices will halve over the next 20 years. Once you build solar and you build storage, the marginal cost of production is zero.”

  • Ed: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named CLP’s brown coal generator as Hazelwood, rather than Yallourn.
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  1. Matt 5 years ago

    The term base load will be hurried on its way when electricity prices are highest, which will most probably at night in a renewable energy future. This will force the current users of cheap overnight electricity to rethink their strategy, for instance finally converting street lighting to LED, and turning off airconditioning in shopping centers closed overnight.

    • Feefeecee 5 years ago

      Pretty sure shopping centres’ air con is turned off at night! I used to be in an early-morning walking group doing laps of a (huge) Westfield centre. Air-con noticeably did not come on until 8am.

    • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

      Night time demand is always lower than daytime demand and so far wind power is half of PV power and have much higher capacity factor and more potential for increasing the capacity factor.

      In Australia you have so fine wind resources that you could power the entire world with the total energy need. The same is of cause true for your PV potential but you would then have very low grid utilization because of the low achievable capacity factor of PV.

      CSP is another matter but currently too expensive and so are hybrid CPV/CSP.

      My expectation is that we are nearing a ketchup bottle effect where the cost of wind suddenly eradicate coal from the grid entirely. In USA no more coal power plants will be built and if the many large subsidies available for coal was removed the entire coal value chain would collapse and you would have 39% of US electricity generation that needed urgent replacement. Companies like, GE, Siemens and Vestas that dominate the US market can handle that challenge and the huge deployment will drive down cost. Currently the wind majors expect to drive offshore cost down by 40% by 2020 and onshore by 2025 but deployment on the scale required to substitute US coal will probably sustain the last five years cost trend where the cost was lowered by 65%.

  2. Max Boronovskis 5 years ago

    Nice to keep in mind! Baseload as an economic rather than technical construct.

    • Chris Fraser 5 years ago

      The ageing idea of baseload, as previously supplied by coal, could also be a baked in construct for many and it is hard to unbake it. The idea seems to come from our previous need to set a large amount of energy generation at a constant output, to fit a wildly varied demand pattern and smother that demand because generation was hard to vary. In other words set and forget, some waste was inevitable, but at least we knew energy distribution supplied customer needs. This began to change with the addition of hydro.Now wind and solar creates a challenge because it is intermittent, not readily stored and anticipated like all that coal and water. The challenge is directing a varied energy supply and – due to rooftop PV – match it to an even more wildly varied demand.They’re not up to the challenge, so they fall back to what they previously knew, which permitted them more control.

  3. mike111ryan 5 years ago

    Hang on . “In China, thermal power plant utilisation rates (capacity factors) declined from 56.2 per cent on average in 2014 to a record low of just 50.9 per cent in 2015.”
    There economy is slowing and manufacturing is getting slapped. More delusional stuff.

    • John Saint-Smith 5 years ago

      Hang on. The reduction is a percentage, not an absolute quantity of electricity. If the Chinese reduced their total consumption of electricity, it stands to reason that they would not reduce the percentage of their power that was generated by burning coal unless they were actively engaged in transitioning their grid to other forms of generation – renewables, gas and nuclear.

      • Tim Buckley 5 years ago

        The reduction in utilisation rate from 56% to 50% is correct, but the missing number is that thermal power generation declined by 2.7% year on year in 2015 in China, vs the overall electricity market growing by 0.5% – thermal power generation lost market share and declined in absolute terms. This is consistent with China’s coal consumption being down 3.7% yoy. The transition away from coal is clear, and rate of transition is accelerating, aided by the economic slowdown.

        • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

          I think the economic slowdown is more about transitioning the economy from export to domestic markets where the salaries has not followed suit to create demand and the ballooning real-estate market is threatening to burst. It is inconceivable that China can continue to have a positive trade balance with every single OECD member state but little Denmark. China has to open their markets and has to allow wider distribution of wealth, which will increase imports and lower exports. Also the widespread practice of ignoring intellectual property and industrial espionage has to stop.

          When you use the term thermal power generation you forget that nuclear is thermal power generation too. The Chinese has undertaken the largest engineering project in the history of mankind where they direct water from the water rich south to the semi arid north. Boiling that water of is downright stupid not to mention expensive.

    • juxx0r 5 years ago

      Chinese electricity demand grew 0.5% in 2015.

      So Coal lost, sucks to be coal.

  4. Paul McArdle 5 years ago

    Thanks Giles

    My understanding is that the genesis of “base-load” term (years ago) was the perspective of the portion of energy consumption that was “always on” – which just happened to equate to (high Capex, low Opex) generation sources used (which have been thermal or nuclear).

    In terms of the balancing supply and demand question with high levels of intermittency, this is what I started to work through here:
    Genuine questions still seem to remain – though these would be answered much more easily if the discussion could be rational and not emotional (with the extremes at both ends of the spectrum tending to their own emotive exaggerations)

    My sense is that ceasing use of the “base-load” terminology would be a step in the right direction of helping everyone to understand.


  5. John Saint-Smith 5 years ago

    It never ceases to amaze me how much the Australian retail consumer has to put up with from our greedy dinosaur distribution network and their pals in the LNP:

    ” more than $300/MWh to boil a kettle at home”
    At the same time we’re told that Coonooer Bridge wind farm is contracted to deliver wholesale power to the grid at $81.50/MWh! Clearly the problem is not the ‘cost of renewables’. When will our fossilized government get the message?

  6. john 5 years ago

    Without a doubt distributed RE generation of power is going to be very beneficial to the overall cost of delivery of power.
    This is hard to get ones mind around because while one generation system may not produce another will and the over all effect if sufficient sets are put in place the end product is a smoothing of the supply curve.
    The result of this is a lowering of the high prices paid in a transitional time frame for power.
    Instead of paying up to $13500 per MWH for power the price will be lowered a saving for the on sellers who can then pass on the savings to consumers.
    Just remember the old system worked on a system of about 4 days of high price making them profitable for a whole year.
    What is needed now and is going to be built is more and more distributed energy producers of power that will especially help reduce the $430 million subsidy cost to the system in large states like Queensland for instance.
    Mind that state does not look like it has many especially good resources to exploit.

  7. Cooma Doug 5 years ago

    I am an energy conscious former energy grid manager. I live in a thermally modern home. No need for air con 99% of the time and we have gas cooking. We live in the best location in NSW for temperature range of the year and season range.

    Got power bill today for the quarter.
    We paid 50 cents a kwh average. That means we pay 500 dollars a ton for brown coal generators energy.

    250 dollars of that is for the poles and wires stretching across the nation.

    Solar is already cheaper when we drop the gas hot water and cooking for electricity and use 4kw system and batteries.

    • Ronald Brakels 5 years ago

      Well, in NSW generators are paid an average of about 4 cents a kilowatt-hour, so about 92% of what you pay is for everything else including transmission, distribution, and the cost of printing a logo on your electricity bill.

  8. phred01 5 years ago

    Base load concept is basically min power generation that is a min to support a network. Coal power plants need @ least 24 t0 48 to wind up or wind down. Before mass solar & wind generation the way to level the daily peak demand was to use the snowy as a potential energy storage. During the day hydroelectricity would augment the coal fired power stations and then in the night unused excess electricity would then pump water back up to a higher dam storing energy for another peak demand. Solar & Wind has upset the apple cart a bit. To level out the load water can be pumped back up to higher dam with the daily excess and power then can be supplied @ the new peak. I can c that the electricity industry doesn’t want the new reality as it requires innovative management

    • Cooma Doug 5 years ago

      There is a lot of truth in what you say concerning the hydro, pumping and using excess power. They used the pumps to keep the coal stations running at low loads very inefficiently and filthy. But this removed the need to shut down and start coal stations. We go to a huge costly, filthy lot of trouble when doing everything on the grid side. With huge base load coal generator power grids there are few choices.
      Snowy for example is effectively a huge battery. Who needs batteries when we have 5000GWH of energy sitting there in the dams that can be used quickly on demand? Well, we need the batteries because the energy needs to be on the load site. The snowy is of much greater value in todays energy market functioning to the tune of a market that responds and reacts to volatility on the gen side of the meter.
      When we start the process of technology functioning on the load side of the meter to manage demand, the snowy energy can play a huge role in that process at greater value and much more efficiently then happens now in the big base load set up. Much can be done in the future to use the stored energies in the water at the ideal moment, at the ideal efficiency, at the ideal time demand of the load side technologies.
      Much of this energy will be moving in cars rather then ugly poles and wires and at a convenient time..

      • phred01 5 years ago

        I was not defending power generators burning of dinosaur poop. The point was to clarify the concept of base load the article made. The issue goes deeper than just dirty power stations. The real problem is the incumbent electricity operators……they only have a narrow vision of how they have always operated with a view to maintain the current status quo. If one looks @ the graphs the impact of solar is quiet significant for the current installation penetration. Just imagine if the the solar base was maxed out we would have a humongous solar electricity excess during the day. Now with hydro, wind and quick startup gas fire power stations most of the poop burners would be relegated to dinosaur status. The problem for the electricity industry it would require innovate grid management…..not likely Going by their rear guard behaviour it is obvious they are unable to handle the new and up coming landscape. My prediction is distributed battery storage / electric cars will disrupt the current cosy market including the specter of grid defections. This electricity industry destroy the current business model. Wait c the next move will be a solar tax

        • Todd McKissick 5 years ago

          I would agree on all and add that the ‘solar tax’ is already being implemented in place. It’s just not being called a solar tax.

          See my other comment for a way this can be done easily and most importantly, bottom up disruptive.

    • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

      Actually coal power if built to modern standards (30 years old) can deliver 47% electric efficiency and can be regulated up and down in minutes. I know modern standard coal power plants have never caught on and I know the coal industry never ever promoted efficient coal technologies and I know it is way too late to do anything about the matter now because coal simply is too expensive and will never go to widespread grid parity again.

      • phred01 5 years ago

        I think your confusing with gas fired power stations these can come on line in minutes. Whereas coal fired power stations that considerable time warm up or cool the boilers. The best efficiency is for the generators to run flat out fully loaded otherwise the generating effiency is lost

        • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

          Nope. You presumably just have extremely poor performing coal power plants in your region of the world. I live in Denmark and just south of the border in Germany the coal power plants are ridiculous. Good coal power plants are on par with combined cycle natural gas power plants when it comes to the ability to ramp up and down.

          There is potential for doubling average coal conversion efficiency – not that it will ever be deployed in greater numbers because it will still be too expensive relative to wind and PV.

          • phred01 5 years ago

            my location is in the state of vic our brown coal PS are archaic

            to do maintenance on the generator it takes 2 weeks to wind`down do the repairs that’s another 2 weeks.to wind`up. Years ago we had massive power shortage in summer as a number of generators failed due to lack of maintenance so we had to endure rolling blackouts……some much for privatization

          • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

            In Denmark we have always imported coal and as the westerly winds carry the acid rain to Sweden and we like to be good neighbors we early on developed state of the art coal power.

            We were on course to realize 60% efficient coal power plants with 30% going to district heating but then the Lomborg supporting government that we now have again decided to privatize the utilities including those that was user owned and to drop public grants to energy research projects, which of cause killed innovation overnight.

            The key to the high efficiency was metallurgy that allowed high steam temperature and also makes the turbines and pipes stabile during violent temperature and pressure shifts required to handle load following.

            If all coal power plants had been built to Danish standard in the last 30 years energy would have been cleaner and cheaper but on the other hand for the exact same reasons wind power and PV would probably not have enjoyed the tremendous success we have seen for a while now.

          • phred01 5 years ago

            It is more important to max profits ahead of polluting the atmosphere of the only home we have. The economic realists view is privatize profits and nationalize losses!

  9. Jan Veselý 5 years ago

    Baseload plants’ “need” is typical example of twisted logic. Why? Because it is mixing up a problem (pair production and consumption) and properties of “old school” solution (baseload-shoulder-peak).

  10. Cooma Doug 5 years ago

    In the next decade, at some point, this issue will start to fade in significance.
    I believe there is emerging right now a disconnect between economic growth and resource consumption. Economic growth will be hinged to the industries required to reduce and eliminate consumption of resources, fossil fuel industries and pollution of all kinds.
    Soon there will be political muscle in this direction that will dwarf the fossil fuel/nuclear/and rare earth denial druids. My power bill will fall from 50c a kwh to 6 cents and there will be huge employment and industrial activity growth in the process.

  11. Cooma Doug 5 years ago

    I recall in roughly 1989, sending and email on a computer at work. The email took 15 minutes to process. Sitting next to me was a PC of sorts. I recall that the purchase cost was more then my car. I recall suggesting PCs might end up in every home and change the way we do a lot of things. They said I was nuts.
    Today i got a power bill charging me 50cents a kwh. Next door there is a home installing solar and batteries. It will cost more then my second hand car. But they will get their power for replacement cost only. Im suggesting now that they may end up in every home and people think Im nuts.
    The car in this case will be the same as the internet was to computers. The big main frame computers of the 80s were the brown coal generators of the 21st century.

    • addinall 5 years ago

      Bad anology. Unless you have been living in a cave for the past decade, you might have noticed that technology (computing) has turned the full circle. Every one is being sold “the cloud”, SaaS etc. This entails really great big refrigeration building stuffed full of fast multi-cpu computers and storage devices. Mainframes in centralised data complexes. For money they will sell you CPU cycles and storage space, just like IBM in the 70s.

      • Cooma Doug 5 years ago

        You may be right. perhaps the bits and pieces that are required can be put in the home and there might be no need for a cloud. I dont know about that idea.They may have muscled in and taken back control via centralised hardware etc. But the big coal gens are not going to come to the homes and con you into using coal again on the big grid when you have it at home cheaper.
        They may come up with some interesting ideas to have virtual load site energy and continue on a subsidised basis backed by a criminal government.

      • ehutch 5 years ago

        That’s why I don’t use any cloud services. I am willing to store, back up, and sync my own devices. But I’m something of a nerd and I don’t trust my information on somebody else’s data farm. Oh, sure I can always ask NSA for a back-up copy of my data (they probably have it), but they may resist. I do use a GPS occasionally so I am not as “independent” as I might be. And I don’t back stuff up as often as I should… I worry about all of the businesses that decide IT is not among their “core strengths” and decide to outsource all of their data processing. Data is not like gas for the car, pulling up to the cheapest pump may not be a good idea.

  12. Ian 5 years ago

    “Base load”, Is defined as the minimum electricity required over a 24 hour period. Some would add ” or supplied” over a 24 hr period. The consumption graph more closely resembles the swell on the sea than the stillness of a pond. The only power sources that can fully match the variable consumption are the dispatchable ones hydro and gas. The others are okay but have their failings. In the old electricity economy coal was relatively cheap it could trudge out electricity like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise story. Because of its cost and characteristics there were two ways to deal with its invariability. 1. Smooth out demand by shifting certain loads to low demand times like night time 2. Store the excess power produced in pumped storage or install dispatchable power ( usually more expensive) like gas peaker plants or hydro.

    in the new electricity economy. The cheapest forms of power production are wind, solar and hydro. Once built, no matter how expensive the initial outlay, the difference between the cost of producing electricity or not producing it was zero. No difference. If you’ve got a wind mill or solar panel or hydro pump you might as well use it, otherwise the opportunity is lost. Now the mismatch between the dominant forms of power generation and consumption still occurs. How do you manage this discrepancy between demand and supply. Well, exactly as you did before. Shift demand to suit generation and store or use dispatchable gas or hydro plants.

    The old concept of base load generator needs redefining. As Giles says it’s an economic definition. So here’s a crack at it. BaseLOAD generation is defined as the cheapest form of power generation. It often does not match demand and more pricy dispatchable forms of power generation,storage, interconnection, or load manipulation are needed to compensate and compliment it.

    Using this definition then look at a couple of scenarios. Tasmania has hydro as its cheapest form of power, it is the baseLOAD generator. Wind,solar,gas and a(now broken) interconnector, compliment it. For South australia, solar and wind take the role of baseLOAD generator, the interconnector and gas compliment that.

    South East Queensland has not much industrial energy demand and has high roof top solar penetration ( for sake of argument), rooftop solar is the cheapest power source. it is the baseLOAD generator, all other power sources need to compliment that.

    Iceland would have geothermal as its dominant power source. France, and Japan nuclear, Saudi Arabia , oil.

    Developing this idea of dominant power source, planners of an electricity supply may choose the most desirable power source as being the dominant and prima facta one for them. This may not be the most economical but would have other benefits. Historical examples would be fast breeder nuclear power stations in the USA, plutonium was the motivating factor, other sources of power and loads would play second fiddle to that. Morocco, tiring of its reliance on foreign oil, builds CSP plants. Germany, with its green conscience builds solar and wind generators. The liberal coalition and the incumbant coal vested interests in Australia see the existing coal and gas fleet as being the most desirable power generation source. Mmm, just because you like a particular option and wish to promote it,does that make it the ‘ baseLOAD generator’? This shifts the meaning of the phrase into an emotive one similar to words like nice or big or small, good for advertising but not much good for rigorous policy decisions.

  13. Reality Bites 5 years ago

    What’s in a name? Apparently a lot! Chinese State grid are right, base load is an incorrect term to describe coal fired power and hence forth it should be called reserve power. So move on from the semantics and the question still remains, when will China or indeed South Australia feel comfortable to dispense with “reserve power”?

    • Peter Grant 5 years ago

      Or, to take the analogy a little further, will investors and utilities feel comfortable to sink hundreds of millions of dollars to build new capital intensive coal fired “reserve power” plants. Tomorrows prospective income influences today’s capital investment.

  14. Mark Diesendorf 5 years ago

    Unfortunately a small element of confusion has entered this otherwise excellent article. Base-load demand and base-load power stations (e.g. coal and nuclear) can be defined clearly as technical concepts. That’s not the myth. There is no need to label them as economic constructs. The real myth is that base-load power stations are necessary to supply base-load demand [http://www.energyscience.org.au/BP16%20BaseLoad.pdf].

    This myth has been refuted by practical experience in operating electricity grids with high penetrations of variable renewable energy (e.g. Denmark; South Australia) and by hourly computer simulations of the operation of electricity grids with 80-100% renewable energy in many countries and regions of the world. I look forward to reading Sven Teske’s forthcoming study on 100% renewable electricity for Australia, supplementing existing studies by BZE, UNSW and AEMO.

    • Doug Yuille 5 years ago

      Hi Mark. I trust your analysis but can you outline a response to the claim that Denmark’s base load is propped up by importing nuclear power from neighbours?

    • Bob Meinetz 5 years ago

      Mark, Denmark still relies on coal to provide nearly half its electricity, and the concept of “base-load demand” is nonsense. Demand is demand; if renewable generation is there to meet it, wonderful. If not, Denmark either fires up its coal plants or imports Scandinavian hydro/French nuclear.

      Renewables advocacy has been churning out computer simulations of grids powered by 100% renewable energy since the 1970s, to no effect other than prolonging global dependence on fossil fuels.

      • Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

        Coal is not nearly half of the electricity generation in Denmark and it is going away fast despite huge subsidies and preferential market position by law and a energy minister from the minority government that projected Bjørn Lomborg into fame – and just to top it the energy minister was until he took office the chairman of a powerful fossil energy lobby.

        The first thing he did was to chunk a large number of offshore wind projects where offshore for the first time in history would be cheaper than onshore and to centralize all decisions on tracking gas so local decisions to ban tracking gas was lifted.

        The fossil generation in Denmark has huge backing from the political establishment because they hand out checks to a huge number of politicians that sit on the boards of fossil energy companies.

        The majority of Danish homes and offices are forced to buy fossil energy based district heating at shy high rates or natural gas based heating.

        Wind power is not admitted access to the district heating market because heavy taxation on electricity makes heat pumps uneconomical. The same is also true for excess industrial process heat.

  15. Dispassionate 5 years ago

    Grattan Institute had a talk on this last year, I found it very interesting.
    “Can renewable energy meet ‘baseload’ power?”

  16. david_fta 5 years ago

    One day, “baseload” will be identified as “averaging”.

  17. Bob Meinetz 5 years ago

    Gasp #3: “Energy in China is very much diversified and nuclear power will become one of our main alternatives,” said Liu Zhenya, the president and CEO of State Grid Corp. of China.

    China added as much nuclear generation capacity as wind last year, and more than twice as much as solar. Why?

    “Feeble, unreliable wind and solar generators are hard-pressed to match the robust output of China’s nuclear reactors. In 2012 China’s wind turbines generated 100.4 TWh, edging out nuclear’s 98.2 TWh. But last year China had just 12.8 GW of nuclear in operation — which still managed to generate almost exactly as much electricity as six times their number of wind gigawatts…

    “The main cause of Chinese turbines’ abysmal performance is simply the fickleness of wind. Turbines generate their full power only under ideal wind conditions; most of the time their output is a small fraction of full power…China’s grid-connected wind turbines had a capacity factor of just 21 per cent; had there been sufficient transmission to avoid curtailment, it would have struggled up to 25 per cent. At 14%, the capacity factor of Chinese solar power is even worse, thanks to exotic weather anomalies known as “clouds” and “night.”

    New nuclear plants in China cost 1/3 as much in the U.S., and are built and generating electricity in 5 years:

    “The wholesale grid price of nuclear electricity, set at 0.43 yuan (US $0.07), is therefore considerably cheaper than wind-generated electricity at 0.51-0.61 yuan ($0.08-0.10) and solar electricity at 0.75 to 1.15 yuan ($0.12-$0.18). That doesn’t count the systemic grid costs of stringing power lines from steppes, deserts and oceans and balancing chaotic surges and slumps of wind and solar power. Those system costs are a big reason Chinese transmission managers are reluctant to bring wind onto the grid, even with a new renewable portfolio standard.”


    • Clee 5 years ago

      You claim, “China added as much nuclear generation capacity as wind last year, and more than twice as much as solar.” Then you drag out an article from 2013 as support for “last year”?

      Last year, 2015, China installed 7 GW of nuclear generation capacity. That’s not much compared to 30.5 GW of wind and 16.5 GW of solar.

      Wind and solar capacity additions were larger than nuclear additions in 2013 and 2014 as well.

      However, TWh production is a better measure than GW capacity and wind surpassed nuclear in China 2012 and widened the gap in 2013-2014.

      • Bob Meinetz 5 years ago

        Clee, that article contained the most recent capacity factors I could find for Chinese wind and solar. If you have CFs from a more recent, non-promotional source (“CleanTechnica”, “GreenTechMedia”, and similar sites which pay their bills by promoting renewables don’t count) they’re welcome – I love to be corrected.

        Then you quote generation numbers from 2012? Here’s what my numbers are saying: Chinese nuclear averages 87% capacity factor; wind 21%, solar 14%. That puts average generation for new 2015 capacity at 6.4 GW for wind, 6.1GW for nuclear, and 2.3 GW for solar. CF matters.

        • Clee 5 years ago

          Ah, so you actually were talking about last year, confusingly using the words “generation capacity” differently than the energy industry does. I thought you were referencing the 2013 article and pretending that 2012 was last year. That’s why I repeated the bit you mentioned about wind TWh production edging out nuclear in 2012 and then updated it with 2013 and 2014 info.

          It’s a moving target to calculate average generation capacity by multiplying nameplate capacity with a capacity factor number that changes every year for every generating unit. Apparently for nuclear it dropped from 87% in 2012 to 86% in 2014.

          Wind increased to 23.7% in 2013 according to

          Perhaps Cleantechnica did get the wind rated-capacity added in 2015 wrong. Instead of 30.5 GW, it looks like it was actually higher at 32.97 GW.

        • Scott 4 years ago

          I don’t see how capacity factor proves anything. Does it matter whether a wind turbine only generates half the time if the power is significantly cheaper? What is the point of a nuclear generator that runs all the time but generates electricity that costs the consumer twice as much?

        • Scott 4 years ago

          I don’t see how capacity factor proves anything. Does it matter whether a wind turbine only generates half the time if the power is significantly cheaper? What is the point of a nuclear generator that runs all the time but generates electricity that costs the consumer twice as much?

  18. Jens Stubbe 5 years ago

    OTEC, Geothermal, osmotic power and ocean current power plants are all renewable power technologies that provide base load but so far all at a higher cost than wind and for most also more expensive than PV. Base load has its merits because the grid roughly has a factor two higher peak demand than average demand and a factor four higher peak demand than minimum demand.

    The challenge for grid operators is to ensure that supply meet demand every second of the year.

    There are a few renewable energy technologies that can provide dispatchable or semi dispatchable power such as biogas, biomass, hydro power (net environmentally acceptable though) and CSP. They are unfortunately much more expensive than wind power and PV.

    Storage of electrons is presently hyped but will never ever be able to handle the supply demand challenge.

    What you need is sufficient over provision of energy and a huge part of demand that can be controlled by the grid and stronger HVDC interconnections that can even both production and demand over larger geographical areas.

    To get this much needed flexible control over demand you need to establish a binding stabile price incentive structure that makes it attractive to invest in setting up operations on a massive scale that can use cheap excess electricity.

  19. davidhand 4 years ago

    Oh how much a year’s real world events show up this solar wind puff piece. Starting with the concept of “base load” which the author clearly doesn’t understand. Well, residents of South Australia understand it now.

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