Lately I’ve inspired social media outrage from Green keyboard warriors – or GKWs - for my comments on Green activism and energy policy. GKWs are the foot soldiers for modern Green activism which strives for a Green utopia where the world is powered 100 per cent by wind/solar and the natural environment is untouched.
In reality, wind/solar account for 0.75 per cent of global primary energy consumption; coal and crude oil 30 per cent each; natural gas 23 per cent. Globally, wind/solar would need to increase by 4,063 per cent to equal coal; 11,148 per cent to equal natural gas/crude oil/coal combined, assuming total energy consumption remains constant, which it won't. Energy consumption has sharply increased for decades and will continue to, not least because 1.2 billion people still don’t have electricity. India and China account for much of this growing energy consumption, building hundreds of new power generators of all varieties.
GKWs believe the fact that a large number of coal plants in India and China were put on hold last year is evidence of coal’s decline. At worst that’s deceptive, at best a failure to understand the difference between a decline and a slower increase. Coal won’t increase as much as previously planned but will still increase massively. India and China have 457GW of coal power capacity in active development and 1,132 GW in operation, more than the rest of the world combined. India and China’s coal pipeline will increase their coal fired power capacity by 40 per cent.
GKWs claim wind/solar is cheaper than coal, a claim based on smoke and mirrors. Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) for different electricity sources aren’t like-for-like. Wind/solar are intermittent with no certainty when they’ll work. Thermal power reliably delivers 24/7. The distinction was obvious during South Australia’s recent blackouts. GKWs are unperturbed: Green utopia can still be achieved, they say, with battery storage and grid re-engineering. Both cost money. Wind/solar LCOEs don’t include these costs, nor generous government subsidies.
The recent Finkel report into the National Electricity Market (NEM) recommends new wind/solar plants have battery or back-up systems to stabilise supply, substantially increasing cost. I agree. Costs should be transparent and this is a start. Australians wear the costs (even hidden ones) through higher power bills, taxes and/or higher prices for goods and services. Governments advocating clean energy should come clean on costs.
Ultimately, Green utopia collapses under the weight of Green ideology. Imagine how much steel (from iron ore and coal), copper, lithium, nickel, rare earth metals and plastic (from petroleum) is required to build the turbines, panels and batteries necessary for a 11,148 per cent increase in wind/solar capacity. The Green utopia will be a huge boon for the mining industry. But GKWs oppose mining. Will they campaign against the huge mining increase required for the Green utopia?
It’s one thing for GKWs to indulge in fantasy; another for politicians and senior bureaucrats to listen to them. Australia is paying more and more for less and less reliable electricity. The market is distorted by 40+ per cent wind/solar targets, subsidised by coal plants which are closing at one per year, and a gas shortage driven by gas extraction bans. Nuclear electricity and new hydroelectricity dams aren’t allowed. Governments are picking winners. And failing.
Finkel’s big proposal is a new clean energy target (CET) to replace the RET. Electricity generators emitting less than 700kg CO2/MWh will sell credits to retailers who’ll be required to source their power. The CET is badged as technology neutral. But, apart from wind/solar which are already in the RET, only coal plants with carbon capture and gas will meet the 700kg/MWh threshold. New ultra-super-critical HELE coal plants emit 760kg/MWh.
Finkel projects coal generation will reduce from 66 to 24 per cent by 2050 under the CET; gas from 6 to 3 per cent. Wind/solar will increase from 19 to 64 per cent. Nuclear power remains prohibited.
There’s no precedent anywhere for an isolated electricity market the size of the NEM generating 64 per cent from wind/solar, even half that. None. GKWs cite Denmark but its electricity consumption is 14 per cent of Australia’s and it can access thermal power from the massive European electricity market. This will be a massive experiment, much bigger than South Australia’s. Meanwhile the rest of the world, particularly India, China and USA, will remain heavily reliant on thermal power.
Australia has amongst the largest coal and uranium deposits in the world. Most mining of rare earth metals, and a lot of manufacturing of wind/solar equipment, occurs in China. Governments are taking Australia down a path where we export coal and uranium for other countries’ cheap, reliable thermal power, while we close our own coal plants, shun nuclear and import wind/solar infrastructure from other countries. We’ll reject technologies we have a competitive advantage in and embrace those we don’t. And pay more for it.
Green Utopia a costly fantasy
20 June 2017
By Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO