Everyone knows the sad story about the farmer who decided to save some money by reducing the ration of oats for his horse. He started with a reduction of 10% and it didn’t seem to matter so he cut another 10% and then another. He was saving money hand over fist but then the animal unfortunately died.
Over the last decade or three the nations of the western world started to reduce the amount of fossil fuel “oats” in their power “rations.” In Australia the process started in 2012 with the closure of Munmorah in NSW (600MW), Swanbank, Q, 500 and Collinsville Q 180. Major closures since then were Wallerawang (1000) in NSW, Northern (546) and Playford (240) in SA and finally in 2017, the biggest of all, Hazelwood in Victoria(1760.)
That took 7600 MW out of the total of 30,500, a 25% reduction. This year the phased closure of Liddell in NSW started with one of the four 500MW turbines going out of service, with the process to be complete in April 2023. In recent months a combination of planned (maintenance) outages and unplanned outages combined with issues in the supply of gas caused major price increases and alarm about the stability of the system.
The horse died when the ration of oats slipped below a sustainable level. How many more oats (coal power capacity) need to be taken out of the system to kill it? Practically everyone who has an opinion insists that the closure of coal stations has to be accelerated, or at least the expansion of wind and solar power, storage capacity and major interconnections has to be ramped up with all possible dispatch. That cannot work, as described below.
Now in Europe we can see what happens when you go too far, apparently it happens very quickly when you get to the tipping point.
Trigger warning, this material is likely to be distressing if you manage to conjure up a feeling for the desperation and desolation in a Britain where 60% of their manufacturing could be about to collapse, while household bills for many people are likely to exceed their disposable income.
Meantime, the same forces are de-industrializing Europe right before our eyes. Industry after industry is throttling back, shutting down, or considering doing so if the energy chaos continues. Britain is staring at the potential shutdown of 60 percent of its manufacturers. Germany and most of Europe are on the same track.
Never say it couldn’t happen here!
There are companies that started business in the 1800s and survived two world wars but may not last the coming winter. It’s all changing so fast, they lament. With energy costs rising three to sixfold, the highest energy industries are folding. The first casualties were fertilizer, aluminium and zinc, and now in the second wave, the glass makers and tilers are coming undone, and with them, whole towns that support them will unravel too:
How many power-intensive Australian firms will survive the impending increase in power prices?
Postscript. Why we can’t build RE capacity to get out of the hole.
As the saying goes, when you are in a hole, first of all stop digging. We are in a serious hole with the power supply but the standard response is to keep digging by accelerating the building of wind and solar, storage, interconnectors, hydrogen.
That will not work due to the combined effect of the following factors.
- Wind droughts. These are well-known in some circles but not among the people in AEMO and other advisory bodies who planned the destruction of the conventional power supply.
- Need for continuous supply – no gaps. Hence the term “choke point” that I used to convey the sense of “rapid death” when the wind power supply is too low to keep the lights on.
- No storage
- No capacity to exchange power with neighbours.
The reason why more windmills and solar panels will not help at the “choke point” is that when you have no RE on a windless night, no amount of additional capacity will help. The horses will get out of the paddock through gaps in the fence, regardless of how high you build it. Building the high parts even higher will not keep the horses in. We can increase the penetration of RE in the system by building more capacity but the gaps persist (so why bother?)
As for storage and the calls for “Storage Targets”, we don’t have any effective storage at grid scale at present and there is no prospect of any in sight, despite the number of “big battery” projects in the pipeline. Add them up in terms of MWhrs (instead of MW) and see how much you get compared with the demand on a windless night.
Wind watch update
This morning just before sunrise the wind was generating 7% of power across SE Australia at a capacity factor of 12% (almost down to the 10% for a severe wind drought.) South Australia (the wind leading state) was importing two thirds of its demand and the local generation was 80% gas! A bit of a gap there!
This evening at dinnertime WA was down to 1% of power from the wind. In the East the wind was doing much better, delivering 3% of the demand at a capacity factor of 7 (severe drought.) Victoria is the big wind state with more capacity than SA, though not per capita, and their windmills contributed 1% of demand at capacity 1.4%. Their capacity factor was below 5% for the previous 24 hours!
Approaching 10pm nothing has changed, the wind across the SE is delivering 4% because the total demand has gone down, still the capacity factor in SA is 1.2 and in Victoria 2.8! This is a shot of the NemWatch widget, it is a live display so it will change.
This is the AEMO data dashboard, this is also live, this display shows the flows between the states, see the Fuel Mix tab at the top to find what the different sources are providing.
The wind supply over 24 hours. This is the rolling 24-hour display at Aneroid Energy. Tick and untick the boxes to see individual states. This is the 24-hour display for all sources on the same page.