If Angus Taylor is so blinded by ideology, he should step down as energy minister

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If the energy minister can’t overcome his ideological opposition to wind and solar, or his aversion to new smart technologies, he really should get out of the way.

AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
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Australia’s energy minister Angus Taylor declined an invitation to the launch of the expanded Tesla big battery at Hornsdale this week. Which is a pity, because he might have learned something.

Taylor was invited because two agencies under the remit of the federal government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and the Clean Energy Finance Corp, contributed funding and debt finance to the $71 million project to boost the capacity of the Hornsdale Power Reserve by 50 per cent, and deliver new services that would hasten the transition to a net 100 per cent renewables grid.

Taylor, however, was firmly focused on the negatives.

“The Hornsdale Power Reserve expansion will improve response times on the worst days when demand is at its highest and the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” the minister’s statement said.

Technically correct at a pinch, but entirely missing the point of the announcement. And disappointing – but sadly predictable – that Taylor would feel so compelled on this occasion to fall back onto tired old Coalition and conservative lines.

The principal problem that this even bigger battery is designed to address is not what happens when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, it is designed to make things easier when they are, to such an extent that fossil fuel generators would not be needed at all.

Right now, when wind and solar deliver more than 100 per cent of South Australia’s electricity demand, which is increasingly often, the excess is usually exported to Victoria and the market operator is obliged to keep a certain amount of “synchronous” generation (i.e. gas plants) operating to ensure there is enough “inertia” in the grid.

The purpose of this new addition to the Tesla big battery at Hornsdale is to remove that need. Just this 50MW/64MWh addition of what Tesla calls its Virtual Machine Mode (VMM) – which mimics the inertial response of traditional synchronous generators – will be enough to provide half of the state’s inertia needs.

That will be a lot cheaper than operating gas plants, and probably cheaper and more efficient than the synchronous condensers that are also planned for the state.

As state minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said, the expansion of the big battery is expected to lead to significant savings by allowing South Australia to use even more renewable energy to lower prices in a secure fashion.

“The Marshall Liberal government is leading Australia’s transition to a reliable and affordable renewable energy system,” he said.

“This expansion will support our transition to net-100% renewables energy and show the world a better way to manage the transition to renewable energy.”

Talk of 100 per cent renewable energy, “net” or otherwise, is all too much for the federal Coalition, which is now acting as a kind of handbrake or deadweight on the transition.

Its complete lack of vision, and lack of respect for new technologies, means it is harder to get the planning and regulatory and rule changes needed to facilitate this transition – which everyone apart from this government, the Murdoch media and Sky News acknowledged is inevitable and desirable – and make it happen as quickly and cheaply as possible.

The Coalition continues to mock new technologies like a bunch of techno-troglodytes. Prime minister Scott Morrison likens the Tesla big battery to the Big Banana, resources minister Matt Canavan compares it to the Kardashians.

The CEFC’s chief executive Ian Learmonth added some much needed perspective: “The Hornsdale Power Reserve has already delivered substantial benefits to South Australia, providing grid reliability, reducing energy costs and integrating the state’s substantial renewable energy resources into the grid. It is an exciting model that can be extended across the grid to improve security.”

Taylor, though, does not want to recognise the benefits of non fossil-fuel technologies. It was Taylor’s office that fed much of the nonsense published in the Daily Telegraph about electric vehicles in the May election campaign, that was echoed in the absurd statements made by Morrison (“EV’s will kill the weekend”), and others.

Positive remarks about the big battery in the government statement were left to be uttered in the name of federal member for Grey, Rowan Ramsey.

Taylor is already under pressure from sections of the media over water rights, alleged grass land interventions, and his office’s appalling attempt to attack Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore using patently false data about travel expenses.

The energy industry is getting ever more frustrated by the Coalition’s lack of engagement, its lack of policies, its refusal to get on with planning for the future grid, and its attempts to boost the coal and gas industry through a range of interventions that now might include carbon capture and storage.

What this Tesla big battery announcement reminds us is that in Australia we have leadership from state governments, key institutions and the industry itself, while the federal Liberal National Party government is being dragged along behind, kicking and screaming all the way.

Taylor seems more intent on picking fights with Victoria and other states than embracing some overall policy.

The COAG energy ministers meet on Friday – for the first time in nearly a year – and it is going to be very interesting, particularly as it considers chief scientist Alan Finkel’s national hydrogen strategy, which will likely focus on huge arrays of wind and solar to underpin a revived manufacturing and processing industry, and energy exports.

But if Taylor can’t overcome his long standing antipathy and ideological opposition to wind and solar, and his aversion to new, smart technologies like batteries, demand management, virtual power plants and the like, then he really should get out of the way.

The only problem then would be what happens next. If even the most moderate member of this Coalition can produce such a package of lies and misinformation as Liberal MP Jason Falinski did on ABC’s QandA program last week, what hope is there? Maybe they should all go.

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