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Turnbull and Trump both demonising renewables for no reason

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The push by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition for “baseload dispatchable” power and his enthusiasm for new “state-of-the-art” coal fired power stations has all the hallmarks of the Trump administration’s campaign against renewables.

Turnbull, as we reported on Tuesday, says he will ask the Australian Energy Market Operator to assess the need for something called “continuous power” or “baseload dispatchable” energy to replace Hazelwood and other coal generators that will retire in the next decade.

He even said how pleased he would be to see a “state-of-the-art coal plant being built, and even funded and built by government – which presumably would be the only way it could access the sort of indemnities and cheap finance that could make it competitive with renewables and storage.

His comments are more about political games within his own party, but it highlights the fact that the Coalition cannot progress beyond the old fashioned idea that centralised, baseload fossil fuel generators is the only way to achieve “energy security.”

Even AGL, the largest operator of coal fired generation in Australia has debunked this. “We don’t see anything baseload other than renewables,” said CEO Andy Vesey on Wednesday. “There a lot of misinformation out there.”

In the US, energy secretary Rick Perry has been pursuing a similar line to Turnbull. Perry, who this week again rejected climate science and now heads a department he vowed to dismantle, launched a  60-day study examining the impact of wind and solar on fossil baseload power plants.

Perry has made it clear that he would like to undo all the state-based renewable energy targets, an ambition shared by both Turnbull and his energy minister Josh Frydenberg. The premise is that baseload power is the only way to guarantee energy supply.

This has been called out as complete nonsense by energy market regulators in California, the state with the most renewable energy in the country.

David Hochschild,  a commissioner with the California Energy Commission, the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency, and David Olsen, a member of the California Independent System Operator Board of Governors, which runs the state’s electric grid, wrote:

“While a convenient myth for the fossil-fuel industry, this is nonsense. To begin with, in the interest of national security, the military itself has become a national leader in adopting renewable energy. The U.S. Navy, for example, is quickly moving toward its goal of using 50 percent renewable energy by 2020.

“In California, which has installed more clean energy than any other state, there have been no threats to the reliability of the electric grid caused by renewables. Instead, the three biggest threats to our grid over the last 20 years came from market manipulation (Enron et al, during the 2001 energy crisis), a nuclear plant failure (San Onofre, 2012) and the largest natural gas leak in history (Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, 2015). Rather than create these emergencies, renewable energy was part of the solution and continued to operate reliably and prevented these events from becoming worse.

“Almost two-thirds of the new electric generation capacity added to the grid in the United States over the last two years has come from wind and solar. From a reliability perspective, this is a positive development. In August 2011, when a heat wave in Texas shut down 20 natural gas plants, it was wind power that kept the electric grid operator from having to black out areas of the state. In Iowa, wind power now provides 37 percent of the state’s electricity with no reduction in reliability.”

These comments have similarities in Australia. Its recent outages have been caused by storms and network failures, software bungles, and the failure of fossil fuel generators in the middle of a heat wave. They have had nothing to do with the nature of variable wind and solar at all.

RE share 2015 copy

Greentech Media published this graph below, from the head of NextTracker, a company that installs tracking equipment on large scale solar farms, including in Australia, that shows that the countries with the highest amounts of wind and solar have much higher reliability than the US.

The point that Greenwich Media underlines is that this is not about the nature of technology, but it is dependent on numerous other factors, such as the resilience of the network, the grid management, and other issues.

Indeed, away from the party room politics of conservatives, and the vested interests of the fossil fuel lobby, few people see a future in centralised baseload coal generators, or “continuous dispatchable power” or however you want to describe it.

The head of UK’s National Grid has said that the era of centralised generation is coming to an end, the head of China’s State Grid holds the same views. Numerous studies have suggested that the key to the future is indeed dispatchable generation, but it does not need to be fossil fuel or even baseload.

Flexibility is the key, and presumably since we are supposed to be serious about climate targets, so are zero emissions.

It’s just as well, then, that Turnbull has passed the assessment of new generation over to the AEMO, whose new CEO Audrey Zibelman has made clear her preference for smarter, cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable technologies – such as storage, demand management, energy efficiency and localised generation – rather than the decades-old practice of stuffing new large scale generation into the grid to try and solve every problem.  

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  • Chris Schneider

    Do you even understand words? I know you want to hate Malcolm because your greens leader says too but this is totally unhinged based on ZERO reality and just a made up load of shit. Malcolm is committed to Paris (he says it often) he is looking at ways to make dispatch able power from renewables (Snowy 2.0 and Tasmania). Why not support go policy when you see it rather than talk shit unless he bend over for you exact thought this exact minute. You touted pumped hydro until he start supporting it! If he was to start supporting Solar you would cry poor of Wind and vise-versa. Grow up, stop trying to paint Malcolm as the bad guys when you know he is doing the good job to move Australia to Renewables. Part of that by the way is about staying the hell out of the way! It’s the states that are more of a joke. Anna (QLD) wants 50% renewables but will not support the needed changes to a network her government fully owns which would save us millions! It’s easier to blame the retailers even though it’s her wholesales that are the issue. Where is that article? Or one about the other bad Labor state government decisions.

    • When Turnbull talks sense. We say so. https://reneweconomy.com.au/turnbull-drives-stake-through-heart-of-fossil-fuel-industry-48916/.

      There is a big difference in saying you are committed to something and doing it. Or are you new to politics. You are clearly new to this website. You would have seen our numerous articles about the gaming of state owned and private generators – in fact, we have been about the only ones to write about it, and your comments on our position on hydro etc are dismantled by the above story. I wouldn’t suggest you grow up”, but I do suggest you read.

      • Mark Fowler

        I believe the real test will be whether coalition funds coal rather than just talks the talk to shut up the loony right. It has provided some seed funding to Snowy 2.
        DevMac – In the ACT we plan to harness the hot air coming from parliament house to help power the city.

    • DevMac

      Again, just picking on one point: “bad Labor state government decisions”

      South Australia, garnering lots of negative attention on renewable energy policy, already reached it’s 2020 renewable energy target in 2016. Further years are yet to be seen but it shows what’s possible with commitment from leadership. An example the Feds would do well to learn from.
      The Port Augusta coal power station closure was an economic decision made by a private enterprise. ie.. The market at work.

      The ACT seems to be doing a decent job as well – their lack of heavy industry helps their transition though.

      QLD, however, is a good example, but I think they have been called out a number of times on this site.

  • Jo

    “baseload dispatchable” I recognise an oxymoron when I see it

  • howardpatr

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2017/jun/21/ten-years-ago-turnbull-called-out-peter-garrett-on-climate-what-went-wrong

    This article demonstrates what a hopeless prevaricator Turnbull is- remember when the same Turnbull danced to Mad Monk Abbott’s tune with Fibre to the Node.

    Turnbull – Billy McMahon the Second.