Paved with good Intentions

Minister Bowen addressing the National Press Club

I was shocked recently when our new Federal Minister for Energy baldly stated on national TV that the recent unreliability of the NSW electricity supply was entirely due to the presence of coal-fired power stations in the supply mix and that once the system was completely converted to renewables all would be well.

Who would have thought? Intermittent renewables are more reliable than base-load generation. Wow! What an insight! Later I viewed Bowen’s address to the National Press Club where he said the same thing again but in shiny-eyed, True Believer mode. Not just a sound-bite this time. The physicist in me was, well, repulsed would be the best description. I have to get to the bottom of this, I thought. This requires a public refutation. Rarely do federal ministers, Labor or otherwise commit such astounding public gaffes.

Not so easy. Bowen’s Press Club statement is based on something called the ISP which I found after some digging around. It came over as an impressive document at first sight but closer examination reveals a masterpiece of obfuscation and legerdemain. Even the title, ISP, for Integrated System Plan, makes it difficult to find via a search engine because of the confusion with Internet Service Provider.

What puzzled me was why I could find no supply-side modelling among the numerous appendices. Surely if, as they claim, Energy resources provide sufficient supply to match demand from consumers at least 99.998% of the time (Table 2 Page 23), then how can they know that without modelling intermittent cloud cover and wind speed? It seems the devil is in the detail of how various acronyms and buzz-words are defined. For example Firm Renewables means solar panels that are 100 percent backed up by gas generators which kick in whenever the sun goes out.  This sleight-of-hand in redefining Renewables as “Firm” allows the system to be modelled using old-fashioned engineering methods  under which short term variations in local weather conditions are ignored and replaced by seasonal averages while still retaining the carbon-free cache of “Renewables“.

Another handy acronym was VRE defined as “variable renewable energy (at utility scale)”. No further definition was given.

This stuff has all come from inside the AEMO not from the ALP. The new minister is clearly a convert and will move hell and high water to get it implemented. It will be an unmitigated disaster for Australia’s economy, even an existential threat. No-one talks of economic tipping points but this will surely be one. Once we are committed there is no turning back. It will be exorbitantly expensive and insufficiently reliable to support a manufacturing industry. No doubt Labor gurus will spend the next few decades looking for suitable kulaks to blame for its failures.

Even if this plan is successfully implemented, it will have no measurable effect on global climate nor on the climate of Australia. Any small  savings in carbon emissions (if any) from “firmed renewables” will be completely swamped by new coal-fired power stations under construction in India (31,000 MW) and China (92,000 MW) compared with Australia’s present installed capacity (25,000 MW) . Its purpose is entirely short-term and political, i.e. to show that the present government “really cares”. It has no practical benefit whatsoever, even if you believe the IPCC’s hype about global warming.

At issue is whether this proposed irreversible switch to renewables is a viable engineering option for this country.

It isn’t!


8 Replies to “Paved with good Intentions”

  1. Hi John,
    “ By the way, this has nothing to do with climate change. It is not about belief systems. ”
    If only that were so. The entire edifice is based on the CO2 conjecture. The incremental implementation of variable RE (as distinct from hydro ) is based on cross subsidies in the form of the Renewable Energy Target, which is an off budget hollowing out of the coal industry.
    For a couple of decades now, the costs have been shown to ramp up as RE penetration increases. There are numerous decades-old papers on the “Hosting Capacity” of existing infrastructure of distribution networks. The accounting of costs includes estimated off-sets or Carbon Capture &Storage in the case of Fossil Fuels costs. The numbers are malleable.
    The present situation is incredibly frustrating. Many headlines point to the limping coal infrastructure as the cause of the energy woes because upto 25% was off-line at one point recently . The fact that almost 90% of RE is off-line very regularly doesn’t seem to count.
    The inability of the States to organise their gas resources so the State pitches in with a reserve price at the time of the Initial Take Off Agreement when a project is in the planning stages (as WA has done) is either poor management or subterfuge on the part of the State . Many claim it is a failure of capitalism when in fact it is government coercion that has brought the situation about entirely on the grounds for changing the climate.
    How on earth they manage to price that is a quandary. We’re already in pretty deep and it’s going to be painful for many.

    1. Hi Rob, You have jumped the gun a bit. The post on which you commented was a work in progress. Thanks to your input I have modified the offending paragraph. If you wish to comment further go ahead and I’ll replace the above comment if yo so wish.

  2. Stop pretending that it is not (geo)politics. By debating and arguing this woke world on anything other than politics one maintains these ludicrous fictions which supply the advocates of treasonous and/or insanely ruinous policies with an excuse for themselves.

    1. Jacob – Maybe you are right but I believe, perhaps naively, that these phoney edifices will one day come crashing down when economic reality bites.

  3. John:

    TY for noting and objecting to such absurdities. The simplest way to make sense of this, is to be clear that there are two very different spheres: Science and political science.

    Although he latter is purposefully made to sound like the first, the similarities end with the contrived name.

    Regrettably, lackeys like Bowen are only the tip of the iceberg. The attacks on genuine Science are breathtakingly broad and profoundly problematic.

    That should be the topic of one of your op-eds.

  4. These fantasy based belief systems (renewables, recycling etc.) inevitably hit a brick wall of reality (brownouts, power rationing) which the true believers have trouble comprehending so they sometimes seem to go further off into la-la land with bizarre beliefs and statements.

    1. These schemes are set up to be money-spinners for all involved in the designing, building up and maintaining of the leading and supporting narratives. It’s a broadly-based and well-practised method of milking the sucker-taxpayers and those consumers who do not profit by it. Some would say these scams are conspiracies. I would say it is simply political cooperation on a huge scale, developed almost naturally due to corruption (of purpose) in government in the West. The public have been hoodwinked since, forever basically, but international high finance in combination with digital technology and the gradual cooption of nominally opposing parties, political, commercial, academic and scientific, etc., with the mainstream media covering all angles, not least overt and covert censorship, and the creation of money from nothing has enabled the price paid by those not profiting from it to be disguised amidst a maze of financial, economic, political, academic and pseudo-scientific gobbledygook under the cover of biased reporting and concocted, contrived, confected states of emergency.. This is a challenge for the nominally enfranchised in the West which is patently ignored so far. By the time people wake up to their civic duty they will find all legal avenues to turn back this beautiful scheme of arrangements (for those clever and/or ruthless enough to be part of it) firmly closed and, I’m guessing, any attempt by individuals and groups organised for the purpose of resisting will be dealt with by the police, army and private security forces, etc., etc.

      1. Bring back the aristocracy, I say. At least we knew who we were fighting.

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