Parallel universes and the revised energy story. According to the official narrative we are accelerating the move from dirty fossil power to clean and green power from sun and wind. That is the story in the developed nations of the west.
In the other universe described by Mark Mills, we have gone as far as we can go in that direction or at least as far as we should try to go if we care about the planet. He points out that trillions of dollars of spending over two decades have barely increased the share of intermittent solar and wind energy in the total energy mix of the world.
So-called renewable energy has failed. It is not sustainable alone because it needs 100% conventional power for “firming”. That makes it very expensive. Worst of all the environmental and human impacts of wind and solar are massive at every stage from mining to disposal of junk and toxic was at the end of the road
The iron triangle of forces makes wind and solar power unsustainable at grid-scale.
- The need for continuous input to the grid.
- Wind droughts break the continuity of wind input.
- The “holy trinity” does not work to bridge the gap.
The items in the holy trinity are (1) transmission lines to carry spare wind power to other places that are short,(2) “big batteries” and (3) pumped hydro. But some wind droughts extend over the whole of SE Australia, even the biggest batteries are not big enough to make a difference at grid-scale and pumped hydro in Australia is becoming a joke.
Looking through the wrong end of the telescope.
RE protagonists love to cite the figures for the ever-increasing penetration of the grid and AEMO got into this act with a new tab on the Data Dashboard to document the rising tide.
When we lose another coal power station or two the bitter truth will become unavoidable. They have been looking at the wrong numbers to track the transition. Due to the iron triangle the critical figures are the lowest penetration of wind and solar input which is effectively zero on nights with little or no wind.
No amount of installed capacity of wind and solar will help on windless nights and no amount of so-called big batteries will help either.
This means that there will be no “green” transition as we close more coal plants, there will just be more frequent blackouts.
The South Australian story: parallel universes revisited
According to the official story, SA is showing the way to our green future as the penetration of wind and solar power march relentlessly onward and upward.
In July last year the Office of Hydrogen Power South Australia announced that SA continues its world-leading renewables shift with the daily contribution of RE for the year ending June 30 reaching 68%, up 7% from 2020/2021. Wind contributed 45% of the total and solar contributed 23%.
On Sunday February 5th South Australia’s rooftop and large-scale solar generation capacity combined to supply all of the state’s demand for several hours with a peak of 112% of demand.
The vast majority of the solar power was generated from rooftops across the state, for example near 1.30pm rooftop PV was supplying a 93.4% of demand, while field solar supplied 19%.
According to the latest Quarterly Energy Dynamics report from AEMO, South Australian renewables peaked at 91.5% in November,
Looking through the other end of the telescope
Looking at SA daily before breakfast and around dinnertime the picture is quite clear. Whenever the wind power is running below the average capacity factor (29%) SA imports power from Victoria and also burns gas. And occasionally diesel as well!
The capacity factor has to exceed 50% to provide enough power to meet the local demand when the sun is not contributing.
This means that SA has not led the way to the show how to do without coal power because most days they depend on coal power from Victoria between sunset and sunrise. They can increase penetration by installing more windmills and they can reduce the time they depend on imported power but they will never eliminate dependency until some distant future when new storage technologies are invented.