Five things we learned this week …..

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Australia is far from having the highest carbon price, but will there be an international market for it to trade in; solar energy is actually cheap; the cost of wind is coming down; the cost of nuclear is going up; but all of that won’t halt the nonsense, or the clean energy culture wars.

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Australia’s carbon price not the most expensive, but the carbon market is a scary place 

We are told often enough that Australia – with a fixed price of $23 – is about to have the highest carbon tax in the world, never mind that Sweden’s has been well north of $100/t of CO2-e for some years. A new report out of Europe, and supported by former financial ministers of Germany argues that while the emissions trading scheme is at rock bottom, various other carbon imposts have imposed an effective carbon price ranging from a low of €35/t in Poland to as high as €78/t in Italy.

That, however, might all be a little academic. Another new report, from CDC Climat, a branch of French bank Caisse de Depots, has raised doubts about whether there will be any sort of international market for Australia to trade in once it moves to an ETS in 2015. It says that without major reform, the price for international credits will slump further (it is currently at $5), stop tracking the EU price and fall to “almost nil”. It said Australia, and possibly China at a later date, appear to be the only sources of potential demand for the credits.

It had this important warning for Australia:  Unless there was more demand from other countries, Australia would have to restrict its usage of international credits (Australia will allow emitters to satisfy half of their total liability with foreign credits) “to avoid being drowned by oversupply from existing projects and to maintain an incentive to invest in new projects.” It predicts that the imbalance between supply and demand will be so great that it would probably make Australia reconsider its decision. Its report is here.

Solar costs are coming down rapidly ….

It seems everyone is now cottoning on to the idea that costs of solar PV have come down so rapidly that the technology is likely to revolutionise the electricity industry, at least at the retail level. Welcome to the new world of “socket parity”, where comparisons with the price of rooftop solar and the electricity produced at coal-fired power stations becomes redundant, because consumers only care about the cost of electricity at the socket. In Australia, despite its abundant cheap coal, its overcapitalised network guarantees that the grid-based power will be more expensive.

NRG CEO David Crane said this week that solar PV is so cheap, and so compelling for residential and commercial customers, that it would likely do to the electricity grid what mobiles did to fixed line telephony, which basically means that much of the current infrastructure would be made redundant, and the industry would be dominated in the future by new, nimble players with different energy products. Interestingly, Michael Liebriech, the CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, drew on the same analogy, presenting this graph to illustrate how falling tariffs of the new products (mobile phones and PV) had intersected with the rising cost of established infrastructure.

Wind costs are falling too ….

With all the excitement about solar, it is often forgotten that wind costs have fallen substantially too over the last 30 years, and according to BNEF’s Liebriech, it’s now as cheap as new coal or even gas (at $6MMB/tu). At the recent Clean Energy Ministerial, at which our very own Martin Ferguson spoke, Liebriech illustrated his point with these graphs …

This is where we have come from in wind …

And this is how the price of wind energy has fallen ….

 

What was even more interesting was the admission this week by the head of the Australian Energy Regulator, John Pierce, that renewables had caused wholesale prices of electricity to fall (the famous merit order effect). The Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission also recognised that distributed generation also offered a cheap form of energy, and made the network more efficient. The challenge for these regulators is how to manage the transition between the old and the new.

Nuclear’s financing meltdown

While the technology costs of renewable technologies are falling rapidly, the costs of new nuclear appear to going in the other direction with equal speed. The UK is relying heavily on new nuclear – 26GW of it – not just to replace ageing existing plants – but to add new capacity. However, two major blows have been struck against the plans – RWE and E.ON have withdrawn from a $25 billion project because it no longer makes financial sense, while the UK company Centrica is thinking of doing the same to the Hinkley Point project in Somerset, arguing that the investment case for nuclear is yet to be proven.

Citi’s UK energy analyst Peter Atherton, who wrote a report in 2020 arguing that new nuclear is far too risky a proposition for private investors, said it now appeared that the Hinkley Point project would require a government mandated tariff of up to £166/MWh to finance the project. This compares to the current baseload price of £51/MWh, and the of £150/MWh cost of offshore wind. He says the cost of capital could be reduced, but this would require the government to accept all the risk on the project. The UK government has a problem, Atherton noted this week, because its current energy policy doesn’t work without 26GW of new nuclear.

But the bollocks continues ….

Despite this, the appalling rhetoric around climate and clean energy continues, here and overseas. Someone in Climate Change Minister Greg Combet’s office has been having fun producing regular updates called “Abbott Absurdities”, dissing the misinformation being proferred by the leader of the Opposition. Here’s an example: Abbott claim: “The compensation is for today, the tax is forever. (Tony Abbott, Doorstop, Melbourne, 16 May 2012).Fact: The Government is increasing Family Tax Benefits, pensions and other government benefits permanently. Sadly, the Combet staffer appears to be amusing only him or herself, because the tabloid and talkback media where this stuff gets traction is ignoring the corrections.

This is a problem around the world. Grist posted an excellent article this week about the “energy culture wars”. It’s main point was that wind, solar, and the rest of renewables threaten the financial dominance and political influence of dirty energy. It’s worth a read. And as if to illustrate the point about the massive campaign being organised to fight clean energy, the Tea Party-led Republicans made the astonishing decision to ban the US armed forces from buying alternative fuels which cost more than fossil fuels, effectively killing the development of biofuels that Navy and Air Force had been working on.

 

 

 

 

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