Eight reasons why Dr Finkel is great news for Australia’s energy future

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Our electricity grid looks likely to progress more systematically to a cleaner more secure future thanks to Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel being brought in – to lead the analysis and policy recommendations. For those who could not make Tuesday night’s 2.5 hour session in Adelaide with him, here are some of the key comments made by him and his team:

1.      Dr Finkel and SA’s Chief Scientist Leanna Read both see the grid becoming 100% renewable powered as the end point.finkel

2.      Dr Finkel is walking the talk: all electricity at his home is sourced from green power electricity and he is an electric car user.

3.      He and his team will travel shortly to other renewable energy leading regions with few grid interconnections to share best practices for SA (Texas and Ireland), to high penetration locations committing to further quick transitions to distributed renewables (California, New York, Denmark, France, UK and Germany) and meeting GE and Siemens who are leading in creating distributed grid systems and controllers and grid storage.

4.      Is looking at technology that is technically proven and cost-effective over a 20-year time frame and their team has chosen to focus on:

a.      Solar;

b.      Wind;

c.      Battery backed frequency controlled synthesis and converted fossil fuel turbines to be on standby for grid stability;

d.      Storage (pumped hydro, batteries) and Combined Cycle Gas turbines to add more “on demand dispatch-able power”;

e.      More interconnections, competition and two-way flow of power on the grid.

5.      His team has chosen not to consider further:

a.      Any more baseload of any kind – the grid does not need more fixed output generators, but instead only fast acting on demand dispatchable generators;

b.      Asked about coal, he does not see any financiers backing the risk of building any more coal power stations in Australia;

c.      Asked about nuclear, he does not see over the 20 year horizon any technologies being proven or cost-effective and thus getting funding;

d.      Wave and geothermal for same reasons as nuclear;

6.      Often raised the theme “social licence” – gas fracking and nuclear has lost its license in much of Australia, and grid retailers are at risk of losing theirs if they don’t improve transparency, quality and fairness.

7.      The grid needs more competition with more suppliers (especially in SA).

8.      There needs to a system transition that meets three key goals: meeting our Paris obligations, grid security and affordability; cannot focus on just 1 or 2 sides of the triangle in transitioning to the new grid.  

  • howardpatr

    The RWRNJs in the LNP likely to have Dr Alan Finkel on their hit list – they have Joyce on their team and he has form on sacking people who challenge him.

    • solarguy

      Yes it’s ironic that Turdbull gave Dr Finkel the job, has this been his way of placating the RE crowd whilst towing the line with the FF moguls at the same time. Finkel maybe sacrificed, that’s on the cards.

    • solarguy

      Yes it’s ironic that Turdbull gave Dr Finkel the job, has this been his way of placating the RE crowd whilst towing the line with the FF moguls at the same time. Finkel maybe sacrificed, that’s on the cards.

      • lin

        It could be that appointing Dr Finkel as the chief scientist will be the crowning glory of Turnbull’s reign. He has done bugger all else.

      • John Reynolds

        Turnbull support’s action on climate change and support for renewable energy. It’s just some in the party and some lobbyists are holding him back from doing anything.

        • solarguy

          It’s not good enough for Uncle Mal to have feelings of support for RE, after all he has been shown to agree with climate change etc before he became Prime Minister and remember he lost the leadership to Abbott before on that mantra. No the problem with the PM is that he knew he had to tow the line with the right wing FF nitwit’s to become PM. Once he had secured the job though, if he had any guts and the courage of his convictions, he could of sacked Hunt, Frydenburg, Bernadi and co and gone down the tenable path of RE, but the title means more to him than that. And that’s sad for him and for Australia as clearly so many believed his bullshit and the rest is history.

          • DJR96

            Appointing Finkel and getting this report with real scientific clout will arm the PM enough to be able to dump FF and it’s proponents for good. Good move!

          • solarguy

            I thought that too, but it seems the FF puppet masters and their wacky right wing flat earth Lieutenant’s in the government will do their best to denounce Finkel, I feel. It also seems that there is some school bully tactics going on in the Liberal and National parties against any mention of RE from the likes of Abbott

  • FeFiFoFum

    I like this guy.
    Finally, someone who makes sense and has a full understanding of how an electrical network functions and what is required to ensure supply reliability, supply quality, cost reduction, and a move away from both fossil fuels and so called base load power production.
    He also has enough intelligence and foresight to see how this will transpire and eventuate into the future.
    I suspect he does not need the government appointment, he will be snapped up by any number of organisations if he was available in the market.
    Someone who says it like it is and walks the talk as well.
    A rare gem.

  • David Mitchell

    What we need instead of combined cycle turbines is flexible load following plants comprised of large gas reciprocating engines. Can be switched on (and off) in 10-20MW increments and can synchronise to the grid in as little as 5 minutes.

    • Chris Baker

      What about using wind for load following? As the price of wind turbines continues to fall we will begin to see wind farms running with curtailed output, so they have headroom to increase their output to follow the load. Now wind farms run at maximum output whenever they can. This happens to be quite variable. When the wind speed becomes high they are throttled to a maximum output of the generating plant, even though the energy available in the wind is higher. Instead of throttling to 100% of capacity if this is set to say 90% of capacity then the turbine has spinning reserve. Rather like a steam turbine that is load following. By running at less than capacity it has room to increase output to follow varying loads. Such turbines would use synthetic inertia as well to track the changes in system frequency. The technology is available now we just need our regulators and market to support these opportunities.

      • horsewhisperer

        The problem I see with this is what happens when there’s no wind – you still need other plant for load following, meaning you end up with much more capacity (i.e. capital cost) than you would otherwise.

        • Chris Baker

          I think we already have more capacity than we need, and probably plenty of load following plant. The complaints I hear are about high renewable energy penetration making the grid unreliable. So this is a suggestion about not being slavish to the idea that we must have synchronous generators doing the load following. Wind energy is quite predictable, even though its variable. So when we have some expected days of strong winds, why not designate some wind farms to be load following, and run at less than 100%, and pay them for that service, just as we do now for hydro or steam turbines to act as spinning reserve.
          As to the capital cost being higher… how important is this? I see plenty of expensive cars around ie high capital cost, and do they do the primary task any better than a cheap car? Probably not but clearly we humans are prepared to pay quite a lot extra for things we regard as important, so why not pay a little extra to conserve our planet, and our health?

          • horsewhisperer

            I think any renewable generator is going to make much more money from selling energy and generating RECs than from offering capacity as ancillary services.

            Re capital costs, I would contend extremely important. Sure, if you value nice cars highly, buy yourself an expensive car, that’s your choice and your money. Problem with doing it within the context of the power system (and with many peoples’ money) is that not everybody’s preference is for more expensive things for the benefit of the planet. While we (presumably) share the same view with regard to a desirable energy mix, there are many who disagree.

    • FeFiFoFum

      5 minutes is a long time when the grid is collapsing and the frequency is decaying.
      There are other storage solutions that provide support within milliseconds.
      Been rolled out and proven in the US.
      We just need to get with the program and embrace new technology and get away from this outdated model of FF base load generation, traditional spinning reserve and under frequency load shedding as the only methods to provide network control.

  • Mark Roest

    David, tell me the price of those large gas reciprocating engines? The maintenance cost over time? The fuel cost over time (high to low) Then compare it with, by 2019 or sooner batteries that respond instantaneously, will cost $100/kWh, and last probably 10,000 cycles for good Li-ion, and 20k to 200k cycles for new technology coming soon. 10k cycles is a penny per cycle levelized cost of energy to transit the battery. 100k cycles is a tenth of a penny per cycle. What does that comparison look like? Take the electricity to the batteries from solar or wind energy, which will then be dispatchable 24/7/365. Free energy source, and the hardware will pay for itself in a few years, and last over 30. How is that comparison looking now? All fossil fuel systems are dinosaurs! The comet that makes them extinct is on its way!

    • neroden

      Maintenance cost is very low if you rarely use ’em.

    • horsewhisperer

      Hi Mark, assuming the state of technology and cost is as good as you suggest, can you provide a reason for investors not falling over themselves to make this a reality?

      • FeFiFoFum

        Check back over the next 12 months.
        The first wave was domestic installation
        The second wave is commercial installation ( still underway)
        The third wave will be battery storage ( just taking off)
        No need to fall over themselves,, it will get taken up over time starting now
        The spot market price already goes negative at certain times. This means FF generators are paying to stay on line for that duration ( generating free electricity). Indicative of how much rooftop solar is already affecting the load curve on certain networks. I’m sure its only going to get worse,, not better.

    • David Mitchell

      Mark, if batteries can fill the niche that Alan Finkel is proposing for combined cycle gas, then I’m all for it. However, right now, what we need is a load following technology that will match our increased penetration of wind and solar over the next few years. Combined cycle is not “load following” and has large generation increments. Capital cost is roughly the same as gas turbines, maintenance is lower (no stop/start penalties, only a function of run hours) and fuel efficiency is the same. The trouble is that we have the generation capacity that we need in combined cycle gas turbines, but it is not the right technology for the required application – load following. If you want further information google Wartsila “flexible power”.

      @disqus_tDkatL85Gr:disqus Agree with you about the trend of battery storage, just not sure I agree with your timeline. Already a no-brainer for individual households, but the required scale for load following to replace gas/interconnector would be something like 200-500MW x 10 hours in SA at the moment to support the grid. We aren’t even close to that.

  • lin

    Everything Finkel says highlights the foolishness and short sightedness of the federal government wrt energy. So doubtless someone will be looking to get rid of him about now.
    As just the latest example of woolly thinking, today Bananaby is bleating on about governments spending more taxpayer dollars on coal power plants as a moral imperative to improve the lot of the poor. What have we done to deserve such “leaders”?

    • FeFiFoFum

      We voted them in.
      We get the muppets we deserve.
      Acid test is to vote them out when we next get the opportunity.
      Regardless, the rollout of renewables and clean energy will continue to go ahead, despite the FF brigade and their supporters.
      Its just going to take a bit longer.

    • solarguy

      Too many idiots voted for the bastards!

  • David K Clarke

    Well said Valdis. Finkle obviously lives in the real world; it seems our PM and Deputy PM both live in Cloud Cuckoo Land. (

  • David leitch

    Helpful summary. Thanks.

  • Radbug

    Contra-seasonal Solar Methanol from the giant Pilbara PV array, shipped to the Northern hemisphere, with “return to sender” CO2. The Pilbara, Namib & Atacama deserts the big energy winners in the 21st century.