Getting Behind the Façade of Renewable Energy

The case for renewable energy has been promulgated using disinformation and at best half-truths. Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese continue to run the line that that renewable energy, particularly solar and wind installations, are the cheapest forms of generation available. Now, largely because there are no fuel costs, at the point of generation, when this intermittent plant is actually generating,this is most likely true.

But this overlooks the fact that most consumers who need electricity aren’t close to the source of generation and need to be able to depend on the electricity supply even when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

So this introduces two problems for renewable energy.

Firstly the locations of many renewable sites are remote from the main load centres and the main electricity transmission infrastructure and consequently transmission connections have to be constructed to allow their output to be connected so that consumers can benefit from their power production.

Secondly we have to compensate for their intermittent generation. It would be OK if consumers were happy to wait until the weather was favourable to cook their meals or to heat or cool their homes –but of course they’re not. In a modern economy we have a reasonable expectation to avail ourselves of the benefits of electricity whenever we need it. The twenty four hour availability of electricity is even more important for industry. Many industrial processes need to run continuously for the industry to be profitable. Thus the dilemma for renewable generation is how to maintain supply to consumers in the face of the intermittent delivery of power to the grid which is a characteristic of the major renewable sources of energy. This adds two further elements of cost.

Because wind and solar energy generation can fluctuate wildly it is useful to be able to store the energy generated when there is a surplus. And this is often the case because quite often renewable generation is at its highest when electricity demand is at its lowest (and vice versa of course).

Currently we only have two reliable technologies for storing electricity, viz batteries and pumped storage hydro. Battery technology is quite expensive and even the largest battery installations can only store relatively small amounts of energy and therefore can only prop up the grid for minutes.

Pumped storage hydro on the other hand is capable of providing long term support to the grid, dependent on the storage capacity of the upper reservoirs. Many who are unaware of how the electricity system works decry pumped storage hydro because it is a net consumer of electricity. When you take energy from the grid to pump water to a higher elevation only to release it later to generate, the resulting losses can be up to 30%. But as indicated earlier electricity prices can vary markedly over twenty four hours depending on supply and demand. It is not unusual to purchase energy from the grid when there is a surplus for a tenth of the price you will receive when you release that water for generation. So pumped storage hydro makes economic sense and provides a smoothing function to ameliorate the wild fluctuations of generation from renewable sources.

But again the variability and unreliability of wind and solar impose these extra costs on the system which renewable zealots neglect to factor in when they are calculating the costs of renewables.


And then on top of this, because it is unlikely we will ever have sufficient storage capacity to power the grid entirely on renewables we need to have access to despatchable generation which can be called upon to fill the inevitable gap between supply and demand when relying on renewable generation. Consequently the grid must endure the cost of continuing to provide firming generation so that24 hour supply can be maintained. To put it simply having large amounts of renewable generation forces us to have additional standby generation to ensure supply.

A further consideration when contemplating renewable energy is that solar and wind generating assets have far shorter lives than other generating assets. Wind turbines and solar panels have an estimated life of around twenty years before they must be replaced. Most thermal power stations can run for fifty years and nuclear plant has a life of at least seventy years. So not only has the cost of renewables then have to be amortised over a far shorter period we must then face the cost of disposal of the renewable assets at the end of their productive life.

A growing opportunity cost associated with the installation of wind farms and solar panels is emerging due to the large geographical footprint these facilities require. Large areas of land are required to accommodate wind and solar generation of any significant scale. This is now encroaching on prime farm land and national parks impinging on agricultural and pastoral production and impacting environmental values.

So the rush to renewables is having both adverse economic and environmental impacts. Economists estimate that this intervention into the electricity market has caused a 30% increase in electricity prices. This is not only a significant impost on the cost of living of electricity consumers but is leading many manufacturers to exit Australia to seek more economic electricity tariffs.

It should serve as a trigger to examine the rationality behind pursuing this ideological goal.

We have now reached the farcical situation whereas governments are subsidising renewable generation to displace fossil fuel generators but this has forced the premature closing  of fossil fuel plant which governments are now paying to stay on line to avoid blackouts and brownouts! The transition to renewable energy has been poorly planned and executed.

Meanwhile we have the ludicrous situation that because of the obsession with renewables and the Green movement’s bias against gas we are facing the prospect of power shortages because we don’t have an adequate supply of gas with increasing demand due to cold weather and the reduced output of wind and solar with less sun and reduced wind!

So we have to contend with higher electricity prices and less reliable power. It is worth reviewing what caused us to take such a path of self-harm.

In the wake of the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 Australia committed to reducing its CO2  emissions. Even if we were successful Australia has little effect on the global atmosphere contributing only a little over 1% of the world’s CO2 emissions. Probably due to high immigration. Australia’s emissions have flat-lined in recent years and despite the high cost of the renewable energy transition, this expensive intervention is having little noticeable effect on our emissions.

We are told by the climate zealots that the world is rapidly decarbonising and Australia risks being some sort of international carbon pariah if we don’t double down on our efforts to install more renewable generation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Australia has barely a dozen functioning coal-fired power stations most of which are scheduled to close in the next decade. China has more than 1100 coal fired power plants and is commissioning a further two per week! When it came to committing to emissions targets, China was allowed to be considered a “developing country”! China which manufactures its own nuclear submarines and has its own space program, must be laughing at how easily they can dupe the international community. China is the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter and despite some occasional vague commitments to renewable energy show no evidence that they will do anything to slow down their industrialisation or put their economy at risk to pursue a renewables Nirvana.

The top 10 emitting nations in the world are China, USA, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Iran, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Of these countries only two viz USA and Japan could be defined as rich, developed countries. (And as far as I am aware none of them have made a concerted effort to reduce their emissions except for the USA who have harvested more gas to displace oil and coal. This involved the technique known as “fracking” which has effectively been outlawed in Australia.)

In a recent article, the Australian Newspaper’s Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan quoted statistics from the International Energy Agency which shows consumption of all three major fossil fuels viz coal, gas and oil ar all at or near record highs. So despite all the renewable propaganda the world is having little impact on carbon emissions.

Nobel Prize winning economist, Bjorn Lomborg, points out that access to cheap energy is essential for developing countries to improve their standard of living. For most this will continue to be provided by fossil fuels.

I was reminded of this some twenty odd years ago when I went to South Korea to negotiate an electricity supply agreement with a major industrial company. My company had just begun pursuing renewable energy projects. The Korean executive from the company  queried me why we were doing this. I responded with the standard line about trying to ameliorate global warming. He laughed at this and replied, “This is just a strategy of the rich developed countries to prevent us from attaining your standard of living!” I was taken aback by this because that wasn’t my intention at all. But I could see how it might have that effect. This response highlighted that our response to global warming has marked effects on the wealth distribution around the world.

As Lomborg consistently points out the benefits of raising the standard of living of people in the poorest countries far outweighs the likely costs of global warming.

And of course those costs are generally vastly exaggerated by the climate alarmists. In justifying the undue haste to renewables they would have us believe that climate change is already exacerbating natural disasters like floods, fires, droughts and so on. Lomborg points out that the UN Climate Panel has found there is no conclusive evidence to support this. Instead he points to data that concludes that deaths from floods, fires, droughts and storms have declined some 97% in the last century. No doubt this is also aided by our increased standard of living which provides us more robust dwellings, better flood mitigation and so on. But this just reinforces his argument to concentrate more on raising the standard of living rather than trying to moderate global warming.

Now much has been made of Australia’s commitment to the Paris Accord including an implication as mentioned earlier that Australia might be seen as some sort of international Pariah if we don’t meet our emissions pledges. Australia is not on track to meet its 2030 pledge but from what I can discern neither are most countries. For example in the recent EU parliamentary election we have seen a number of countries attempting to walk back from these commitments. These countries include Germany, France, Spain and Italy.

Australia has legislated its target of achieving a 43% reduction of its emissions from a 2005 base. Currently we have achieved a 29% reduction and most of this was achieved early on because of credits received for committing to land use change. It is extremely unlikely we will achieve our pledged target. But most countries are in the same boat. Moreover there is no penalty for failing to meet the target except for the bruised egos of our climate change warriors.

Most signatories to the Paris Agreement have not legislated their targets. This includes major emitters like USA, China, India and Russia. So, in effect their responses amount largely to virtue signalling by those captured by the climate change zeitgeist but have little bearing on likely outcomes in the real world.

Australia’s irrational rush to renewables in response to the climate change threat has already substantially increased the price of our electricity and is now dramatically threatening its reliability. We have already seen many energy intensive businesses close or move offshore. We are also seeing the dramatic effects on the old and the poor as winter arrives forcing the disadvantaged to make decisions about whether they can afford the energy costs to heat their homes at the expense of properly feeding themselves.

Just as Bjorn Lomborg counsels that we need cheap energy to raise third world countries out of poverty, let us not also forget that high energy costs will also reduce the standard of living for those of us that live in more developed societies. We need to be very careful in planning our energy future to ensure our standard of living is not compromised in engaging in “woke” ideological pursuits.

16 Replies to “Getting Behind the Façade of Renewable Energy”

  1. Ted, Its been a while. I left the industry 12 years ago and look back with a wry smile feeling glad Im no longer in charge of New Zealands only coal fired station. While NZ is blessed with a natural supply of renewables (large hydro and geothermal) it too will face some serious questions about its energy future. I’d be the first to enjoy never seeing a coal fired power station again but I (like you) fear the solutions being pursued won’t work. While we need to consider our environment and the climate, sadly, no one will care less about this if they don’t have a reliable supply of electricity. Hopefully you thoughts will get an audience prepared to listen.

    1. Bob , I have very fond thoughts about you and Judy. Wonderful people that greatly enhanced my experience in the electricity industry! The problem seems to me that the renewable debate has been usurped by the political class that has little real understanding of the complexities of providing reliable and affordable energy to their constituents.

      Might I ask what are you doing now?

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my essay.

  2. Ted, healthy to have facts exposed to overcome fantasies of life with renewables only.
    Coal brought billions out of poverty and without it we’ll be going back, unless nuclear can stave the day.
    Renewable stupidity bordering on criminality may result in major legal claims down the track. Not to mention the opportunity cost of subsidies in renewables and destruction of landscape ecology. Keep going.

  3. Hi Ted (and Bob) We need more people like yourselves, who have the longer-term experience in the energy space, to continue to put forth reasonable arguments, underpinned with relevant factual information.

    And we need it out on more public platforms please!

    There is so much emotion-loaded response from Albanese (and Bowen, and now Matt Kean!) And there is such a paucity of common sense, in their over-reaction to mere mention of nuclear. Nuclear seems to me – and my novice mind – a sensible way forward as contribution to baseload power.

    With all the scaremongering this past week, we seem to have forgotten that here in Sydney we’ve had a nuclear reactor (ANSTO, Lucas Heights) operating for 57 years, episode-free. I was at dinner last night with some left-wing friends (yes, I have a few left) and when I mentioned this, they were dumb founded. Argument faltered after that.

    And how about that young William Shakleton and his leading the conversation for Nuclear Australia? Wonderful stuff.

    Please keep the discussion happening. And thank you!

  4. I asked Chat GTP how much a single 5 MW wind turbine would cost over its entire life cycle. While Chat GTP provided caveats, it responded that when you include initial capital and installation, annual maintenance (20 years), operational costs $700,000 and decommissioning the total is $7,650,000 EACH.
    Then I asked the cost of a 500KV HV transmission line. With caveats the answer is apparently $2.6M
    I understand the cost of South Australia’s Tesla Battery Farm was $90M for a 15-year life. And at full discharge, would last about 7 minutes.
    While these are very high level number and must be subject to more clarity and scrutiny,
    it’s hard to see how the numbers stack up when we have to replace the current 22,241 Mws of coal-fired based electricity.

    Ted, keep speaking up.

    1. Thank you Mark. I am sure (as you have alluded) that a proper analysis of nuclear energy will show that it is indeed a more economic option than just doubling down on the renewable fantasy.

  5. I didn’t realize how much Aust and NZ are not dependent on coal until reading this! Those points about the few remaining coal power stations kind of run against your argument of dependence on coal. Renewables must be having a high order of impact in the supply of electricity.

    I have read your position on this topic for about 15 years Ted. I actually recall talking with you in about 2008 when you were coaching. I asked for your view on it. You continue to double down on your views to an immovable point that refuses to allow for any new or proven facts. Whilst all your facts seem solid, I’m curious about your actual views in summary. I interpret the following from reading you:
    – There is little or nothing true about the science of human caused (or partly caused) global warming. The science on this is wrong and your own research and views are more correct. And this is all backed up by your personal experience in the electricity industry.
    – The Labour party is always wrong while the Liberals offer some sense. The Greens have only ever been worthy of mocking.
    – Anybody that accepts the science and forms the view that human activity has caused (or even part caused) climate change is a zealot and alarmist.
    – People that support a shift to renewables are uninformed and just don’t understand what you have a firm grasp on.

    I think there is truth, error, politics, and fear on both sides and it’s polarizing. I also think that you write on one polarized side of the argument in what I consider as political writing, rather than philosophical and science writing.

    1. Thank you for your response Matt. I always like to hear from you.

      But let’s cut to the chase. It is likely we are experiencing global warming. Indeed there have been vast differences in the earth’s temperature over geological time. I don’t think it is conclusive that whatever changes we are currently experiencing can be definitely be labelled as anthropogenic.

      But even if it is we need to consider carefully what we do about it. You know i quote Bjorn Lomborg frequently and that is because he has some common sense ideas. What he is suggesting is let us not pursue a cure for global warming that is worse than the disease. The rush to renewable energy is rapidly increasing electricity costs which is having adverse effects around the world but even more so for poor countries that need cheap, reliable energy to improve their standard of living..

      I know from my personal experience that you are a very intelligent young man. Might I ask you what you think about nuclear power? Australia is the only country in the G20 countries that hasn’t entertained nuclear as part of its energy mix. Do you think that we are so intelligent as to know some problem with nuclear that these other advanced countries haven’t discerned? As a well-educated engineer, do you think that nuclear generation is unsafe?

      The last nuclear accident we had was in Japan at Fukushimo when the nuclear plant was inundated by a tidal wave. Despite fatalities from drownings nobody at all suffered life-threatening incidents due to nuclear exposure.

      Would you entertain the notion that Australia might benefit from an injection of nuclear generating capacity?

  6. Thanks for your opinion piece. I respect that you had a long and successful career in leadership in the coal fired power generation industry. However, as I understand it, that was a long time ago and the energy generation landscape has changed significantly since then. Although you raised a number of important issues in your opinion piece, these are all well-known to the industry and are already embedded in the current development of energy policy in Australia. A lot of the money developing renewable energy projects in Australia is coming from the private sector and I cannot imagine that hard-headed financial investors would be placing their money in these projects without the issues you raise being properly addressed.
    In May 2024, the leading research organization in Australia, CSIRO, released the GenCost 2023-24 report on the relative costs and advantages of different methods of generating power, including various forms of nuclear energy. The report is dense with evidence and sophisticated modelling on the topic, although I found it possible to read and understand. You can download it for free from the GenCost website. The report concluded that nuclear power is much more expensive than the current roll-out of renewable energy (including storage). Even the cheapest nuclear solution will cost more than two times the cost of renewable energy. The report also clearly addresses the issues of new transmission lines, reliability and “bad weather” and these issues are already built into their economic models. The report’s conclusions are very much in alignment with other reports written by independent researchers, engineers and economists. These reports seem to address your concerns very thoroughly.
    What is your response to the evidence presented and conclusions drawn in reports such as GenCost 2023-24 with regards to the feasibility and costs of renewable energy and nuclear energy for Australia? Particularly as your opinion piece is largely evidence-free and in my view, out of date.

    1. Richard, how lovely it is to hear from you.

      You are probably right that I am a know-nothing has-been when it comes to the energy debate.

      But I would question some of your assertions. The proponents of green energy have been dishonest in not including all the costs that are attendant with green energy entering the grid. I attempted to show that in my essay. The CSIRO Gen Cost report perpetuated this omission.And of course quite a few experts have questioned their modelling. As economist Judith Sloan has commented the CSIRO might know something about technology but their economic qualifications are somewhat lacking!

      I am happy to wear the epithet of “out of date” but rankle a little at the criticism of being “evidence-free”.

      I think your main concern is that I derive my evidnence from sources that are not as politically correct as you would like them to be!

  7. Hi Ted.
    I once attended an IEAust forum (back in the 80s I think) where the eminent speaker made a case that it would take a country such as Australia at least 15 years to grow sufficient local nuclear power skills to make such an industry self-sustaining without relying on imported expertise (nuke-powered subs anyone?). Arguably this is why Iran’s internal nuclear development programme has been going on for so long. I wonder if this is still true, and if so whether nuclear power for Australia is nothing more than a long term aspirational goal.
    Meantime, intermittent renewables are grabbing all headlines, as are storage options, gas supply shortages and potential retirement of ageing coal burners.
    Whilst I am not a passionate advocate or apologist for any particular technology, I continue to be amazed that one never reads about “clean” coal technology. By that I simply mean that replacing an old station such as Liddell or Gladstone with mid-20% efficiency, by one of equivalent size and latest technology at about 40% efficiency, greenhouse emissions virtually halved for same energy output.
    And this is regardless of whether or not GHG directly contributes to climate change.
    Elephant in the room perhaps? Political suicide for the proponents?
    Food for thought.

    1. Excellent point Dave! New generation coal fired plant would indeed reduce our emissions. But you see the zealotry of the green/renewable movement won’t tolerate any augmentation of the grid that is not emissions free. We could easily install modern coal and gas plant that would see a reasonable reduction in our emissions while keeping prices low and our power reliable. This would be a far more sensible path than our current rush to renewables. Australia’s impact on global emissions is so low it is downright foolish to ruin our economy by continuing on this reckless path.

  8. Thanks for engaging Ted. I don’t know enough about nuclear power generation to have an opinion for, or against. It is something I’m working on.

    It’s great that you research and read, and still write (especially publicly). And you write so that people can respond. Never stop.

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