Frydenberg’s coal call to right wing: Trust me, this won’t hurt at all (honk!)

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Alpha Males and the Lump of Coal.

I can see the future!

Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg is promising the right wing of the coalition government that coal-fired generation will continue to prosper for decades to come, as he and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull make a desperate attempt to gain consensus on the proposed clean energy target.

Chief scientist Alan Finkel released his long-awaited energy blueprint on Friday, promising that coal-fired generation would still have a prominent role in Australia by the year 2050.

To reach that conclusion, Finkel had to deliberately ignore the Paris deal to keep Australia’s emissions well below 2°C and work only on the Coalition’s modest down-payment, a 28 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, and no long-term target.

The reasoning appears to be that it is crucial to get some sort of policy in place, even if it is third best, and pretending that coal has a future may be the only way to bring the Coalition’s substantial right wing rump on board.

Finkel’s modelling suggests coal would still account for one-quarter of Australia’s generation by 2050, but you would need to live in a fantasy world to believe that coal would have any role to play in 2050 and beyond, if the world is to take climate change seriously.

That much has been made clear by the International Energy Agency (coal has 14 years left at current generation), the Climate Change Authority, any number of independent analysis, and hopefully Finkel himself.

But Frydenberg has to play the line: “The market will determine it and that’s the key point,” Frydenberg told ABC TV on Sunday. “We don’t want to punish the existing coal generators because we want them to remain an important part of the energy mix going forward.”

The far right may be mad, but it is not stupid. Craig Kelly, the climate science rejector who heads the environment committee, wants to see the yet-to-be released modelling before swallowing that line.

It is not clear that Finkel’s team has modelled the 2°C scenario, but if he has then it is likely to paint the same sort of picture as energy consultancy Jacobs’ modelling from last year, which saw coal shunted out the back door quick smart if the 2°C was pursued.

Interestingly, Jacobs has also done the modelling for the Finkel Review, although it would be hoped that Finkel has taken a fine tooth comb to the consultancy’s previous cost estimates for wind and solar, which were grossly inflated.

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Finkel already has concluded that wind and solar are by far the cheapest sources of new generation, and even with storage and firming they are cheaper than gas, and match coal (without a carbon price).

And wind, solar and storage costs will all fall soon enough. That was the most important message from the Finkel Review, that emission reductions could be achieved and prices lowered at the same time.

In a way, it is not really the mechanism that counts, it is the target. For that reason, as BNEF’s Kobad Bhavnagri points out, investor certainty doesn’t come from a new mechanism but by the targets underpinning it.

It could be that a high renewable energy target could achieve that goal more cheaply, but there is zero chance of the Coalition adopting either that or a carbon price. Hence the compromise CET, which was actually called for by conservatives before they realised that wind and solar would win out on that too.

That wind and solar are the cheapest technologies, even with storage and “firming” is the hardest fact for them to swallow. In the Weekend Australian, they were still ranting against the “rent seeking” renewable energy industry, and on Monday the Australian led its commentary section with a piece rejecting the idea that temperatures were rising dangerously.

On Saturday, former Business Council Chief Tony Shepherd, now the chair of the Menzies Institute, and his sidekick Nick Cater, called for a blanket ban against any new renewable energy plants unless they signed contacts to deliver electricity on demand, 24/7, at a “constant” 50hz.

Imagine if the coal plants had to do the same thing! Presumably they want demand to stay flat too, because that’s the only way that would happen. Not so much flat earthers, as flat-demanders.


  • Ray Miller

    I agree Dr Finkel needs to show how his recommendations and plan fit in to the world carbon budget for 1.5 and 2.0 degrees of warming, if they do not his report and plan does not qualify as a plan.
    It really is time the right wing of the LNP was thrown overboard.

  • DJR96

    “constant” 50Hz

    Funny they should blurt that out. That is the one concept that NO ONE in the entire industry is even considering. It would seem only I am.

    Thing is, it is possible to re-design the grid to do just that. And it solves a whole multitude of issues in operating the grid as it is.

    Finkel even mentioned the concept on page 55 of the report, but didn’t give it a second look at all. Yet it is the real solution.

    • Kevan Daly

      Yes, I thought the idea was to control the frequency so it averaged 50Hz over the day meaning that there was no need to be constantly re-setting the digital clocks.

      • DJR96

        Yes, that is what AEMO does now. Not only maintain it between thresholds, but if it does spend a bit of time below 50Hz, they’ll deliberately run it above 50Hz to bring the average back.

        But my point is that it is possible to redesign the whole system such that frequency really doesn’t vary at all. Truly constant 50Hz.

        • Cooma Doug

          There are a few concepts involved in that process. Can you outline what you mean exactly with the constant 50 hz
          Could be a good didcussion.

          • Chris Fraser

            Perhaps a ‘digital’ 50Hz sinewave over the transmission line to use as a benchmark ? Regardless of how much energy is passing or fluctuations which would throw out a condenser or spinning generator …

    • Island fisher

      That would create a whole multitude of issues for the FF generators, steam valves cannot react that quickly.
      It would be end game for them

      • DJR96

        Synchronous generators simply can’t hold frequency constant. They’re not very good at anything other than providing the energy, and should not be called upon to do anything else.

        What is needed is another whole category of market participant. Network Storage Service Provider (NSSP). And within that there would be different tiers. The primary Tier 1’s should be non-market, any other tier is market based and just bulk load-shifting – smoothing out demand. And there is money to be made in that.
        But NSSP Tier 1 becomes the core of the system. It would need about 6GW worth of inverter capacity and 30-minutes of battery storage. It would form the grid – set the frequency constantly at 50Hz. It is no longer a variable in the system at all. Everything else then has to run at that frequency. As loads vary these inverters can instantaneously respond and either provide the extra demand or soak up the excess generation. If a variation is sustained for a minute or so it will allow the voltage to sag a little bit to which automatic voltage regulators (governors) on the generators can respond to by ramping up/down output. This way we don’t depend on the generators having to respond instantaneously to any variation. This Tier 1 would perform all of the ancillary services required, and better than any of the generators can now.

        So it is not end game for the generators. In fact, it assures them a place in the market long after they could no longer maintain security and stability of the system.
        By removing those responsibilities from the generators they can do what they do best.

  • Sean Sweetser

    Why is the right more so behind coal than moderate conservatives? Is it because they just automatically oppose anything the left likes?

    “Oh the left wants renewables @#!$ THEM”!!!

  • Ian

    How would you get a constant 50 Hz? Is that even a thing? Considering all measurements of any kind have a certain uncertainty X+-deltaX.

  • Peter F

    There is a completely different way to solve the problem. Forget about GHG and Paris
    Just give all generators ten years to meet current Chinese standards for Particulate, NOx, SOx and heavy metal emissions. Most of the existing thermal fleet is not worth retrofitting so will be retired very quickly
    If that’s not enough incentive, make life even more interesting by,
    1.Reduce the supply/payment period to 2 minutes like Texas
    2. Reduce the allowable frequency variation back to the standards which applied in SECV days.

    To meet these electrical standards, most power stations will have to install stabilisation technology like flywheels, synchronous condensers, capacitor banks or batteries.

    Once they are considering such equipment they will have three possibilities.
    1. The inverters and control system are the expensive bit, so adding more storage than is needed for short term frequency stabilisation is reasonably cheap. More storage will allow them to run the plants closer to optimum heat rates and therefore reduce their average cost of generation and by the way reduce emissions. This is the path being followed by some coal and gas stations in the UK
    2. Once the storage is on the grid it may be cheaper to charge it from excess wind and solar than start up some of their gas generators at all for morning peak. If that is the case then they have an incentive to add even more storage
    3. They will probably work out that it is cheaper to spend the money on wind and solar generation with synthetic inertia. That enables them to earn more revenue and achieve better frequency stability at the same time

  • john

    Before there was any RE input into the mix I do remember the first Solar Panel Converters having to have switches to switch off when the voltage was above 255 volts.
    What happened was because the voltage varied so much from the generators the systems could not work.
    Why you may ask?
    Because the voltage varied so much up down all over the place so much for the so called stable generation.
    This was slowly fixed up.
    Now with frequency I think a similar situation is developing when there is huge demand a frequency drop happens and more power has to be fed into the system which suits battery back up or hydro storage perfectly.
    Considering the cost of providing backup using solar storage or hydo may prove a cheaper outcome just do it.
    Building coal generation plants to provide this service is not cost competitive.
    The bottom line is if the energy input is zero the resultant output has to be cheaper than any energy that has a cost.

  • Chris Fraser

    Abbott and Co should start their own trendy party. The Great White Anachronisms. If they remain Liberal it’s embarrassing for Frydenberg to have to put out to try to impress them.

  • Joe

    The reaction from the COALition led by the Abbott is more of the same…what do we want…”COAL”…when do we want it …”NOW AND FOREVER”. Meanwhile electricity prices ( driven by gas and coal ) keep going up, pollution / emissions keep going and our inevitable RE future keeps getting stalled.

  • Greg Paulsen

    I think it is better to think about frequency stability as just a symptom of the load and generation balance in the system. If the frequency is stable at 48hz or 50Hz then the system is in balance. I suspect the whole protection system in the grid has been tuned to recognize large Rate of Change of Frequency as a symptom of a fault condition. If tomorrow we had a system built purely of power electronics and battery storage we might come up with a different solution. I remember as a student engineer 30 years ago touring the state the art Swanbank power station and being told that the frequency had to be managed, above and below 50 Hz, so that clocks driven by induction motors kept correct time. Is that still a thing?

    I think Finkel’s recommendation to tighten the deadband in synchronous generators is a good move. The current regulators seems to be fixated on making markets where free markets don’t exist. Deadbands were widened so they could create a FCAS market hence weakening the stability of the network. Also by Finkel asking RE sources to provide some firming solution there will be additional frequency support in the grid. Levelling the playing field with the synchronous and RE generation sources is a better way forward than making a bogus market that only synchronous machines can play in. It shouldn’t matter if the energy injection to stabilise the grid comes from turbine kinetic energy or chemical potential energy.