How many times have you read something like this? Written by an experienced member of the press corps.
The shift to renewable energy is unstoppable and accelerating. The role for gas and coal will rapidly diminish as renewable technology advances to ensure a cheap, clean and reliable supply of power.
Fact checking: Where in the world has that happened, apart from Norway, which is practically built for hydroelectric power and the economy floats on exports of oil, gas and herrings?
Mark Mills reports that the reduction in the contribution of hydrocarbons to worldwide total energy consumption has declined from about 86% to 84% over two decades.
This suggests that the shift has just about stopped, especially as some countries are getting back into coal (Germany) and many are accelerating their consumption (China, India and the rest of the developing world.)
In Australia the retreat from coal has hardly progressed since the closure of Hazelwood in 2017. See here for a shot of the Hazelwood towers coming to earth.
When Hazelwood closed, AEMO warned that we were travelling with dangerously diminished spare capacity. This meant that further reduction in coal capacity could be catastrophic and we have survived so far by heroic load shedding during critical periods (Jan 2019, June 2022) and (largely invisible) deindustrialization.
In the same year that Hazelwood closed, Audrey Zibelman arrived from the United States to head up AEMO and set the course for energy policy going forward. She was greeted as a breath of fresh air by RenewEconomy.
Audrey Zibelman has only been in Australia and in her role as chief executive of the Australian Energy Market Operator for six weeks, but already her views on the changes needed to adapt rapidly to a modern grid and new technologies are being described – both within her organisation, and in the broader energy industry – as a breath of fresh air.
Never before has Australia had a senior executive in the energy industry being so up-front about the possibilities of new technologies, and so enthusiastic about the changes that lie ahead. She is convinced the gird will change dramatically, and will be cheaper, cleaner, smarter and more reliable. And focused around the consumer.
When she left in 2020 the Energy Minister, Angus Taylor, thanked her for her service, especially for her influence in developing the Integrated System Plan “to ensure that we will have affordable, reliable, clean and secure energy with record investment in renewables.”
Zibelman was a strange choice for the role, a failed software vendor with political connections, she was a potential Energy Secretary if Hilary Clinton had won the US Presidency. Her most visible contribution was to stump the country promising the trifecta of clean, cheap and reliable power and her most potent influence was to stack the AEMO with green zealots. That ambition was recorded in another interview with RenewEconomy shortly before she departed to conquer fresh fields of endeavour with Google X.
She should probably be extradited and brought back to face a charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Her legacy project, the Integrated System Plan for the future of the national grid (the NEM) has been subjected to a forensic review by serious professionals and condemned as simply unworkable – certain to lead to energy shortages, high prices and perpetual subsidies. They say the plan fails to provide analysis of whole-of-system, whole-of-life costs and emissions, nor a proper comparison of alternatives. Attempting to reach Net-Zero with renewable wind and solar means much higher costs and impoverishment, especially for those on lower incomes. The renewables transformation of our electricity sector, driven by a doubtful need for Net Zero carbon emissions, is a monumental mistake. Here are a dozen reasons.
Of course penetration of wind and solar has increased, in line with installed capacity, as AEMO likes to record with a new tab on the Data Dashboard.
Everyone needs to understand that the exit of coal is limited by the lowest level of wind and solar output on nights with little or no wind, as a convoy travels at the speed of the slowest vessel, the water penetrates the levee at the lowest point, a chain is only as strong as the weakest link and stock get out of the yard through gaps even if the rest of the fence is built to the sky.
As long as periods with effectively zero solar and wind power persist, 100% backup from conventional power will still be required, assuming that we want security of supply. This means that we will have to keep burning coal until nuclear power is on deck.
If the Zibelman appointment was strange, replacing her with Daniel Westerman was bizarre. He was one of the planners who guided the implementation of net zero policies in the British electricity system. Have a look at the cost and reliability of the British power supply at present with the eye of a car-buyer and ask yourself if you would want a second-hand energy policy from that yard!