35 degree days make blackouts more likely, but new power stations won’t help



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Whether your energy comes from coal or renewable sources isn’t likely to make a difference to your risk of a blackout this summer.
yellowbkpk/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Guy Dundas, Grattan Institute and Lucy Percival, Grattan Institute

Summer is here with a vengeance. On hot days it’s very likely something in the power system will break and cause someone to lose power. And the weather bureau expects this summer to be hotter and drier than average – so your chances of losing power will be higher than normal.

We’ve analysed outage data from the electricity distribution networks over the past nine years and linked it to Bureau of Meteorology maximum daily temperature data for each distribution network. The findings are stark: customers are without power for 3.5 times longer on days over 35 degrees than on days below 35.




Read more:
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Grattan Institute

What causes outages on hot days?

Hot weather puts more stress on all parts of the power system. Wires sag and short, fuses blow, transformers overheat, and fires and storms damage power lines. And demand spikes when people get home from work and turn on the air-conditioner.

When the air-conditioner doesn’t work during a heat wave, people get upset and politicians rush to assign blame. They often point the finger at a lack of electricity generation capacity – just ask the current federal energy minister, who responded to a report forecasting supply shortages in Victoria this summer by saying:

This is a direct result of Victorian government policies forcing out reliable 24/7 power, and a failure to prioritise firming of heavily subsidised intermittent wind and solar generation.

Media reports highlight this risk, too. But the truth is, if you do lose power it’s much more likely to be because of problems in your local network.




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There have been generation shortfalls in Australia on only three days in the past fourteen years, whereas there are network failures every summer all around the country, every year.

The last time a lack of generation affected large numbers of customers was in Victoria and South Australia in January 2009. But even on very hot days that summer, Victorians and South Australians lost 14 times more power because of network failures and weather damage than generation shortfalls.

Outages caused by generation shortfalls are also easier to manage than network problems. Power can be restored at a flick of a switch, as soon as demand falls or supply increases. And the blacked-out areas can be rotated, to reduce the impact on any individual customer. By contrast, if your power goes out because of a network failure or storm damage, you’re stuck with the problem until a crew can come out and fix it.

Our analysis of outages shows almost all customers affected by generation shortfalls in 2009 were back on line in less than an hour. By contrast, if your power goes out for other reasons, you will normally be waiting more than an hour to get back on line. In the worst cases, you can be left waiting for more than five hours.


Grattan Institute

What should we do (or not) about summer blackouts?

The main thing governments should to address summer blackouts is… nothing, just sweat it out. If governments over-react to newspaper headlines about blackouts, customers will pay more in the long run. Power failures on a hot day are unpleasant, but the bill to avoid them entirely would almost certainly be worse.

Blackouts in 2004 prompted the New South Wales and Queensland state governments to tighten network reliability standards. This caused over $18 billion of network over-spending and delivered only modest improvements in reliability. Network costs were the largest cause of increasing residential electricity prices in those states over the past decade, which increased more than 50% above inflation in New South Wales, and more than 70% in south-east Queensland.

Customers are unlikely to be willing to pay for more network “gold-plating”. Research by Energy Consumers Australia shows more customers are satisfied with the reliability of their power supply than with the price they pay.




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Customers can also play an important role. If your power does go out, don’t buy into the political blame game. Contrary to the impression the politicians and media might give, it’s very unlikely the outage will have been caused by a lack of power supply – whether coal, gas or renewable.

So be sceptical when a hot-headed politician tells you the solution is their preferred energy generation technology. Neither a new coal-fired power station nor a giant solar-fed battery will keep the power on if your local network fails.The Conversation

Guy Dundas, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute and Lucy Percival, Senior Associate, Grattan Institute

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ultra, super, clean coal power? We’ve heard it before


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Replacing old coal power stations with new “ultra-supercritical” stations could help meet Australia’s greenhouse gas targets, according to research commissioned by Resources Minister Matt Canavan. Other analysts have reacted with scepticism.

Echoing recent prime ministers, Canavan retorted that these criticisms were part of an “ideological” attack on coal:

Coal has an important role to play as Australia and the rest of the world reduce carbon dioxide emissions… Australia has the resources to be a low-cost and efficient energy superpower. Access to affordable and reliable power underpins our economy and is the key to long-term jobs in the manufacturing sector.

This is not the first time Canavan has put his weight behind increasing Australia’s coal production to “help the environment”.

But technological promises and government support for coal’s bright future stretch back almost 40 years, long before the election of Tony “coal is good for humanity” Abbott, and have been entirely bipartisan, as have claims that Australian coal is especially clean.

Early days

The NSW was funding “supercoal” research for air-pollution reasons from the early 1980s. Climate change entered the fray in 1988, when delegates at the Australian Coal Association conference were told:

Coal’s contribution to the greenhouse effect is small… Means of controlling C0₂ emissions from coal-fired plant are considered best achieved by improved overall operating efficiency using new technology, rather than by endeavouring to capture C0₂ emissions.

The early Labor advocate of climate action, Graham Richardson, told a reporter in July 1989:

Fortunately we use mostly – but not entirely – the cleanest coal in the world. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve the technology and so limit how much carbon dioxide is blown up the spout.

(Times change; Richardson recently called on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to recant on his “silly” green goals.)

The same year the visiting president of the US National Coal Association told a government committee that, while much of the low-emissions technology was still in the laboratory stage, he was confident it could be applied soon to plants using coal to produce energy.

In 1991 Australian government funds supported an international conference on clean coal in Sydney.

After Australia’s first climate policy, the National Greenhouse Response Strategy, was agreed in December 1992, it quickly became clear that the Commonwealth was not going to stand in the way of state-level support for new coal-power stations.

On March 21 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change became international law. Coincidentally, Singleton Council in New South Wales approved a new coal-fired power station. Greenpeace launched a legal challenge, but this failed in November 1994. The State Electricity Commission of Victoria’s greenhouse reduction plans died with privatisation.

Peak (clean) coal

It is debatable, but Labor perhaps had more concern – for both climate change and coalminers’ jobs – than the incoming Howard government. The Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council in 1999 suggested Australia ratify the Kyoto Protocol and see it as an opportunity and spur to new technologies.

This fell on John Howard’s deaf ears, but a December 2002 report, chaired by Rio Tinto’s chief technologist and government chief scientist Robin Batterham, was taken up, and the enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS) was born. A COAL21 plan followed in 2004, and the Australian Coal Association Low Emissions Technologies group was formed.

Howard’s enthusiasm for coal over renewables was such that he even called a “secret” meeting of fossil fuel producers to advise on lower emissions technologies.

The 2004 Energy White Paper continued the trend in support for CCS over renewables.

Labor’s innovation in 2007 was to say yes to both. As opposition leader, Kevin Rudd announced he would bring in a National Clean Coal Centre.

Had the Coalition won the 2007 election, it would have removed the Renewable Energy Target and replaced it with a scheme that would have allowed coal-with-CCS to be considered “low carbon”.

In 2008 the coal association spruiked “NewGenCoal” in television adverts.

It all started to go wrong in 2009, shortly after the launch of the expensive and controversial Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, Rudd’s brainchild.

Former Liberal minister Ian MacFarlane, who had previously urged the coal industry to sell its message, told ABC’s Four Corners:

The reality is, you are not going to see another coal-fired power station built in Australia. That’s, that’s a simple fact. You can talk about all the stuff you like about carbon capture storage, that concept will not materialise for 20 years, and probably never.

Geology intervened as the Queensland ZeroGen project ended in late 2010, when the state government decided to stop throwing taxpayers’ money at it.

And in 2013 it emerged that the coal association’s funding for low-emissions technologies had been broadened to include “promoting the use of coal”.

While there is now a functioning CCS plant in Canada, in Australia CCS limps on and the sums involved now are pitifully small.

Dark days ahead

Three concepts from the study of technological innovation may help us understand what is going on.

The first is the “hype cycle” – the observation that initial unrealistic enthusiasm for a shiny new technology goes up like a rocket and down like a stick, followed by a more gradual, tempered enthusiasm over time (for a recent appraisal see here).

The second is the sailing ship effect. When challenged by steamships, the incumbent technology added more sails, automated sailors and so on, trying to keep up. But ultimately it was in vain – a new technology won out.

Thirdly, supporters of incumbent technologies highlight teething problems in the challenger technologies, in what academics call “discursive battles”.

It’s fair to guess three things. Promises of clean coal, high-efficiency, low-emissions (HELE) coal power and bio-energy carbon capture and storage(BECCS) will escalate, but perhaps learning from the public mockery of the last two efforts – Australians for Coal and Little Black Rock.

Protests, by people who agree with James Hansen’s 2009 assessment that coal-fired power stations are death factories, will continue. Legal challenges will escalate.

Governments – state and federal – will keep wrestling with the greased pig that is the “energy trilemma”. 2017 will be bloody, and noisy.

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Delaying shutting power stations will bring big disruption later: Climate Institute research


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Modelling done for the Climate Institute indicates that without big policy changes Australia’s path to zero emissions from the electricity sector by 2050 would mean huge disruption after 2030.

The report, “A Switch in Time: Enabling the electricity sector’s transition to net zero emissions”, warns that a weak policy now means big adjustments later, and calls for a range of initiatives including a program to progressively shut down power stations.

Electricity emissions are about 30% of Australia’s total emissions. They have risen by 5.5% in the past two years due to some increasing demand and the scrapping of Labor’s carbon price.

Climate Institute CEO John Connor said the modelling found that a modest carbon price rising to $40 per tonne by 2030 would result in emissions reductions similar to the Coalition government’s 2030 target of 26-28% below 2005 levels.

But “this would result in almost no replacement of existing high-carbon power stations with clean energy; a 60% collapse in projected clean energy growth from 2020 followed by stagnation through most of the 2020s, and 98% of the sector’s 30 year carbon budget used up in the first 10 years”.

This meant that the action on climate after 2030 would have to be more extreme, Connor said.

“More than 80% of the coal-fired generation fleet would have to be closed in less than five years, and new clean energy capacity would have to jump four fold and keep rising. The impact of such a disruptive shift would be felt across the economy.”

The government currently has a “direct action” policy, while Labor is crafting a new version of emissions trading and related policies with the details still to be announced. The government plans a 2017 review of the policies needed for its 2030 and longer term targets.

The Climate Institute calls for the systematic retiring of existing high carbon generators on a timeline that would have them all stopped by 2035. The policy should facilitate replacing them with zero or near zero emission energy, it says.

There should be a well funded structural adjustment package for communities affected by the closures; energy efficient policies to minimise costs to energy users and further reduce emissions; and a carbon pricing mechanism capable of scaling up over time that provides a signal to investors.

“There is a low probability that a price of sufficient strength and reliability will emerge quickly”, so the other measures proposed would be needed to deliver a timely transition, the report says.

The report estimates the additional cost to build and operate the new power infrastructure would be about $50 billion over the 30 years 2020-2050. But it argues the disruptive costs to jobs, communities and energy security of other approaches would be more than this.

The preferred approach would represent an increase in retail energy prices of 3% a year although bills would not go up by this much if energy efficiency was improved.

The report says that while both major political parties “have acknowledged the need to achieve net zero emissions, existing climate and energy policies provide no prospect of reaching this goal”.

The research was done by leading electricity market modeller Jacobs to test the ability of policy options under discussion to reduce electricity emissions in line with the Paris commitment to limit global warming to 1.5-2°C.

– Reporting with James Whitmore

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/xdwwc-5e609a?from=yiiadmin

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.