A tangled web of electric make-believe

I looked it up. Apparently, pylons are needed each 75 to 100 metres to support high-voltage overhead transmission lines. In England and Wales there are 7000 kms of high voltage overhead transmission lines and 90,000 pylons. Roughly one pylon per 80 metres. Seems about right. I’ll use this number.

Peter Dutton referred in Parliament to the planned construction, under the Government’s ‘Powering Australia’ plan, of 28,000 kms of transmission lines. He could have added, and 350,000 accompanying pylons, each needing lots of concrete and steel. He described the plan as pie-in-the-sky. But where, I wondered, did he get 28,000 kms from? AEMO’s Integrated System Plan (ISP), issued in June this year, estimates 10,000 kms. Or at least I thought it did. See below.

To my mind, 10,000 kms (plus 125,000 pylons) is already pie-in-the-sky. Quite apart from the missing expert manpower to do the job, the sheer ugliness of it all will mean the need to bribe landowners or engage in extended lawfare. It won’t happen. And it certainly won’t happen on time or on budget; or anywhere near. We know that because it’s an ambitious government project. Think Snowy 2.0.

I found the 28,000 kms. And pass the information on to those equally curious. It has its own inbuilt curiosity.

Appendix 5 of the ISP is where it can be found. Here is where the 10,000 kms is explained as being part of particular favoured scenarios for achieving net zero. The 28,000 kms represents the requirement if, additionally, Australia becomes a ‘Hydrogen Super Power’, as envisaged by Twiggy Forest et al. Becoming a hydrogen superpower would mean having vast acreages of wind and solar farms out in Woop Woop. Hence, I suppose the need for vast arrays of transmission lines. Of course, it’s yet more pie-in-the-sky.

Many advanced countries see themselves as future green hydrogen super powers. Even if the difficulties of producing green hydrogen affordably at scale are ever overcome, an international fallacy of composition is afoot. The world is simply too small to sustain and contain the ambitions of these aspiring hydrogen super powers. They’ll have to duel it out.

But hold on, when I carefully read the aforementioned Appendix 5, I realised that the 10,000 kms of wires is apropos of the “new transmission network.” In addition, the Appendix says, 3,200 kms will be required to connect generation (I assume individual wind and solar farms) to the network. So, at best, without us becoming a green hydrogen superpower, 13,200 kms of new lines will be required plus 165,000 pylons. It’s mindboggling.

And all of this when, just a few short years ago, we relied on coal power stations, sitting on coal fields, abutting population and industrial centres. How convenient and economical. How reliable. And now, an extended, complex, expensive, tangled web is being weaved; and, to boot, to solve a non-problem which, even if it were a problem, we can’t begin to solve. It won’t end well. Pain lies ahead. We are in the hands of nincompoops.

21 responses to “A tangled web of electric make-believe”

  1. Plasmamortar Avatar

    Let’s not forget the 25% of the world’s uranium that we’re sitting on…

  2. chrisl Avatar

    Up around Bright ( NE vic) way , the greenies wanted , demanded the pylons be painted green so they blended into the landscape.. Must have been because they are UGLY.

  3. H B Bear Avatar
    H B Bear

    Don’t forget every $ spent on Transmission earns its regulated WACC and disappears straight to foreign owners. Local contractors would be licking their lips if they had any workers.

  4. Kneel Avatar

    “He could have added, and 350,000 accompanying pylons, each needing lots of concrete and steel.”

    Don’t forget the steel and aluminium of the actual power line “wire” itself – for a high capacity line, these are around 50mm, about half of which is steel (for strength) and half aluminium (better conductor than steel, and cheaper and longer lasting than copper). 330Kv is typically two conductors (“wires”) per phase (3 phases per line), and 500Kv typically 4 conductors per phase.
    That’s a lot of aluminium (aka “congealed electricity”).

    You would also want more than a few substations and/or switching stations as well. These by themselves consume vast amounts of copper – for instance, a typical “earth grid” buried under a large substation (100MW+) is 6x50mm copper on a 1.2 metre grid, for both electrical engineering AND personnel safety reasons.. A switching station for several GW could easily consume several hectares.

    And don’t forget you need to cut down a lot of trees to create a relatively fire-proof corridor for the power line – not only to prevent sparks starting a fire, but also because fire is a good conductor of electricity, so a fire could “fault” the power line if it’s close enough. And that needs to be maintained as well.

  5. Roger Avatar

    Pain lies ahead. We are in the hands of nincompoops.

    That’s putting it politely.

    Meanwhile, your average Bruce or Tracey thinks it’s all going to be accomplished seamlessly and affordably, just as they are told it will by clueless politicians advised by experts blinded by ideology.

    The day of political reckoning – or should that be night? – is going to be something to behold.

  6. Bruce of Newcastle Avatar
    Bruce of Newcastle

    The problem with being a hydrogen superpower is you need an electrolysis plant to make the hydrogen from water. These are insanely complex and extremely expensive in capital cost terms. I’ve worked at one site which had one, they had cheap electricity which is why it made sense. I worked at another site with a hydrogen plant, they didn’t have cheap electricity so they put in a methane reformer instead.

    Someone is going to have to build the vast sea of electrolysis cells that such a manic vision requires. The capital cost will be stupendous. I know this stuff, it is my business. The electrolytic cells in a process plant are usually by far the largest capital item for the whole site.

    Where are they going to put them? They will need expert labour, chemical supervision and a lot of consumables. Can’t put them where the solar power is, there isn’t the water supply and there’s no way you’d get the skilled workforce to come. So you have instead to take the electricity to the coast and built the ginormous electrolysis plants and desalination plants there (or consume yet more holy-to-Gaia fresh water from nasty Earth-destroying dams).

    About the only idea which is madder is the HVDC line to Singapore. Ok, yes, maybe the ammonia plant idea even stupider, there is that.

  7. another ian Avatar
    another ian

    Remember this equation?


    “This famous Sidney Harris cartoon (below) captures what is wrong – what is deeply unscientific – about far-too-much modern economics. The miracle assumed by the unscientific ‘scientific’ modern economist is that government will act (1) apolitically, (2) without any of the human imperfections, myopia, and psychological quirks that (are assumed to) give rise to the market imperfections that allegedly justify government intervention, and (3) with more information and wisdom than is discovered and used in markets.”


    Now think of the road from here to net zero and the stumbling blocks outlined on that road in terms of supply and sheer do-ability.

    IMO this can be expressed in a similar manner to that cartoon but with multiple steps where “miracles occur” and “I think you should be more explicit here” applies.

    And I doubt that “The Miracle Factory” has the ability to churn out the requirement for those miracles – given the competition for more of them for other bright new ideas.

  8. Anchor What Avatar
    Anchor What

    It won’t end well. Pain lies ahead. We are in the hands of nincompoops.
    Doesn’t seem to matter how often this is pointed out.
    The climate and energy fiasco juggernaut just rolls on.

  9. another ian Avatar
    another ian

    “The climate and energy fiasco juggernaut just rolls on.”

    Well what did you expect? It is going down hill after all.

  10. MatrixTransform Avatar

    Remember this equation?

    Southpark – Underpants Gnomes

  11. Mooka Avatar

    Farmers at Lockhart are being paid $200,000/ pylon that is on there place.
    Unfortunately I’ve missed out on the jackpot.

  12. GreyRanga Avatar

    Look I think you have got your wires crossed, sorry for the pun. I think you are getting mixed up with poles and pylons. Poles are around the streets are about the distance you quoted and carry 240v 3 phase and 11kv-22kv 3 phase. The pylons carry 66kv- 132kv are 1-2 km apart. A place I went fishing in NZ the pylons carrying 220kv to the aluminium smelter were 1-3 km apart depending on terrain, with the occasional one much further.

  13. mem Avatar

    Peter, You or Rafe should try and see if you can participate in the webinar detailed below:

    Wednesday 23 November at 6pm – 7pm


    What might net zero look like for Australia? What changes might we have to make to our economy, infrastructure, and outlook to achieve net zero emissions by mid-century?

    The Melbourne Energy Institute invites you to join us for a webinar to discuss the interim results from Net Zero Australia, a groundbreaking multi-year study into how Australia might achieve a net zero economy.

    Launched in 2021, the Net Zero Australia study aims to provide rigorous and independent analysis of the pathways by which Australia can achieve net zero in both domestic and export emissions.

    On Wednesday 23 November, the interim findings will be shared, detailing six scenarios for reducing emissions, and their consequences. Early downscaling results will also be presented, exploring mapped land and sea use changes that may arise from a net zero transition.

    We welcome you to join the conversation!

    Wednesday 23 November
    6pm – 7pm

    Online via Zoom

    Click here

    Alumni Relations, STEM Advancement
    [email protected]


    Professor Michael Brear

    Project Director –
    University of Melbourne

    Michael Brear is a mechanical engineer and the Director of the Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) at the University of Melbourne. MEI facilitates the University’s research on the technical, economic, environmental and social impacts of energy. Michael is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, the Combustion Institute, Engineers Australia and the Australian Institute of Energy. He previously established the University’s multi-disciplinary degree, the Master of Energy Systems. Prior to commencing at the University of Melbourne, Michael worked for ICI Australia (now Orica), and then undertook graduate studies at Cambridge University and post-doctoral research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    Associate Professor Simon Smart

    Project Director –
    University of Queensland

    Simon Smart is Deputy Director of the Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation and an Associate Professor in the School of Chemical Engineering at The University of Queensland. His research is centred around the sustainable production and use of energy and chemicals – including the development of enabling technologies and processes for the production of clean energy, materials and water. Simon’s technical research involves the design and development of inorganic membranes and hybrid nanocomposite materials for gas and water separation; as well as the use of molten metals and molten salts as liquid catalysts for clean hydrogen production through methane pyrolysis and CO2 utilisation to produce syngas through dry reforming.
    He has been involved in the Rapid Switch initiative, in relation to pathways to decarbonisation of the global economy, since its inception at the UQ Dow Centre for Sustainable Engineering Innovation.

    About the Melbourne Energy Institute
    The University of Melbourne is a national leader in energy research, with over 300 experts engaged across science, technology, economics, social implications and energy policy. The Melbourne Energy Institute (MEI) engages with the University’s energy sector partners in government and industry. Since the Institute launched in 2010, it has delivered influential, interdisciplinary research on the challenges of transitioning towards a low carbon energy system. For more information, visit energy.unimelb.edu.au or email [email protected].

  14. Tom Avatar

    And now, an extended, complex, expensive, tangled web is being weaved; and, to boot, to solve a non-problem which, even if it were a problem, we can’t begin to solve. It won’t end well.

    More hippie fantasies from get-rich-quick subsidy Luddites determined to kill our remaining industries and take our standard of living back to the 1800s.

    I say “hippie fantasies”, but they’re loaded with poisonous anti-free market ideology – from parasites who have never created anything of value and have devoted their existence to destroying everything left standing: Marxism with an overlay of nihilist self-destruction.

    “Renewable energy” is a monument to the backwardness of the Middle Ages.

  15. Peter Smith Avatar
    Peter Smith

    Basically, you’re right, I think, GreyRanga, I did get my wires crossed. So maybe not each 80 metres; but the most popular distance I found for high-voltage transmission was about three pylons per kilometre, or less depending on the terrain. Still a lot of pylons. Need an electrical engineer to clear it up.

  16. Beertruk Avatar

    “Renewable energy” is a monument to the backwardness of the Middle Ages.

    “Renewable energy” is the alchemy of today.

  17. johanna Avatar

    It would be interesting to calculate the amount of nasty ’emissions’ required to produce all that concrete and steel, transport it to site, and put it up. Not to mention the same for all the ancillary infrastructure made of metals, plastics and so on.

    Like electric vehicles, all their claims rely on not looking behind the curtain, just at the finished product. And even the finished product doesn’t look too flash.

  18. Adelagado Avatar

    “A hydrogen superpower!”. Yeah, we can be that because no-one else has got water and wind.

  19. mem Avatar

    Peter, You or Rafe should try and see if you can participate in the webinar detailed below:

    My thought was that finding out what these boffins are promoting might be helpful in understanding what we are up against.

  20. Kneel Avatar

    “It would be interesting to calculate the amount of nasty ’emissions’ required to produce all that concrete and steel, transport it to site, and put it up. Not to mention the same for all the ancillary infrastructure made of metals, plastics and so on.”

    It’s “better” – but no-one ever asks, let alone answers, “Better than what?”
    Nor do they ask “At what cost?”

    Simple question: Hurricane Ian, the cat4/5 weather system that recently devastated Florida, killed less than 100 people. 120 years ago, it would have killed 100 times as many, despite the population massively increasing since 1902. Why?

    A: because of fossil fuels. Period. They created a society where:

    * the materials required to make buildings storm resistant are much more readily available and cheaper, allowing building regulations to require their use;

    * high speed, low cost communications mean people had plenty of warning;

    * widely available, reliable, relatively high speed transport, easily and quickly “recharged” (refueled) let people move out of the way;

    * that same transport allowed for rapid response to life-threatening injuries, getting people treatment early enough to save their lives;

    * that treatment massively improved by an explosion of research and development that could not have happened without the high speed, low cost communications infrastructure, as well as international trade that allowed for cheap and widely available duplicates of life-saving machines and medicines;

    * it goes on and on and on… every time you think you’ve reached the end of the benefits of cheap, widely available energy and industrial society, something else comes to mind that simply would not exist without those two precursors.

    At one time, 5 billion people would have been unthinkable without starvation and/or privation. Now, more than 7 billion of us exist, and starvation and privation only exist because of politics and other crap – we have enough to feed the world, and enough medicines to heal the world, just not enough cash and other resources to move these things where they are needed most in a timely manner.

    In the “west” even poor people are obese, likely have electricity, running water, sewerage, some sort of transport (car, bike etc), a TV, and a mobile communications device that can access pretty much all human knowledge and entertainment from almost anywhere on the planet. Things that even 100 years ago would have been unavailable to even the richest kings.

    These Malthusian fools would tear it all down and throw away all that so many hard working and inventive people created to our great benefit. Such people should and must be told “after you – demonstrate yourself that it can be done by living it the way you envisage, without relying on that which you despise to save yourself if it goes wrong”. Every time such is suggested, there are no takers – I don’t blame them, but I do despise them for their continued push to denigrate all that is good in this world.

  21. louis Avatar

    I know the people in government pushing this stuff and they do not understand electricity transmission. They believe you can have a power station anywhere and transmit power from it over any distance without cost and without loss of power. They also do not understand variable power generation and what the impact of that is, not that all the things they hope for, all require a lot more power than Australia currently generates.

    Then there are the truly evil ones who think power to the plebs should be rationed.

    There is a real push in the Western world to return to rigid class separation and enforcement. With an upper class that is in total control and living under completely different laws to the lower class. Europe is about to see it this Winter with devastating effects. We already saw it during COVID with the ‘exceptions’ handed out of politicians, celebrities and the extremely wealthy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *