Everyone is suddenly wise after the event – except about the wrong event.
Behold, David Crowe in the SMH, presenting what has become conventional wisdom since last Sunday:
After years of slow failure in plain sight, the Australian energy system has hit the wall. This is a moment like the collision at the end of a slow-motion crash test video when the car crumples under pressure. Anyone watching could see the jolt coming for the crash test dummies.
Australia has not installed enough renewable energy quickly enough and has failed to provide enough storage for that energy. The withdrawal of coal-fired power has been under way for years and the country is still not ready despite the warnings. The high price of gas has been forecast for years and is sending electricity prices soaring.
Slight cognitive bust.
Yes, destroying the low-cost dispatchable coal-fired generation system with nothing to replace it but high-cost gas was rooly, rooly stupid.
But 15-20 years ago, when the car crash “everybody could see coming” really started in earnest, there was no alternative (other than nuclear). Batteries were not an option and there is insufficient hydro capacity on the eastern seaboard.
And gooses, exactly like David Crowe, were talking about moral hazards – and not about how stupid it was to use a high price fuel for base load generation.
Even today, with the car crash entering everybody’s homes and workplaces, again, gooses like Crowe still don’t see the car crash unfolding.
Sure Australia could go out and commit to build ~80GWh of battery storage and ~60GW of additional renewable generation to keep it charged and supply the grid. If everything worked out well, that could give us a reasonable 90%/95% system availability. (Although with international Robber Barons providing the capital, power would get seriously expensive – but that’s another issue.)
But the necessary $600/$700 bn investment would need to be substantially replaced in 12 years, and completely replaced within 20 years.* And the sunk cost would be a permanent drag on technology upgrades.
That sort of money would buy Australia a tradable nuclear industry and deliver power at world scale prices. However nuclear will not be considered because of the politics.
So, unfortunately, it’s 97.3% likely that Australia is on the threshold of making a panicked series of bad, bad choices – choices that will make the Covid response look thrifty, slick and well considered.
There are a few alternative starting dates for the process that led us here. But mark this down as when things really started downhill.
*Even without catastrophic failure, network batteries lose capacity: the literature suggests 8 to 12 years and on average they are not doing 25% of their job. Replaced by 20 years.
Similarly wind turbines: European experience is they are replaced at between 15 to 20 years – although many fail sooner.
Solar: longer time to failure, but a wide range of estimates: 10 to 50 years. Solar farm installations are estimated to live 25 years – although that’s panels, not the associated Sun-following technology.