Home > Economics - General, Environment > Low-carbon electricity future: the big picture

Low-carbon electricity future: the big picture

October 18th, 2010

The latest renewables v nuclear sandpit thread has racked up 300 comments and counting. Rather than attempting to arbitrate, I’m going to assume that both sides are right in their most pessimistic estimates of the other technology. That is, I’m going to look at the implications of assuming that a low-carbon electricity generation (mainly carbon-free with some gas) will imply average costs of $200/MWh.

What does that mean at the household level. Average generation costs are currently around $50/MWh, so there’s an increase of $150/MWh or 15c/kWh.

UpdateI didn’t think I needed to spell it out, but obviously I do. Debate on the merits of specific technologies, such as nuclear v renewables belongs in the sandpit. End update

That’s about 75 per cent on current prices of about 20c/kWh (most of which are accounted for by transmission and retail margins). Assuming it takes 20 years to phase out existing power generation, the implied increase is about 3 per cent per year, much less than the rate of increase we’ve seen recently to cover higher costs of transmission and distribution.

We can extend this to look at electric cars. A litre of petrol yields about 10kWh of power, so, on the pessimistic assumptions set out above, replacing coal-fired electricity with high cost renewable would add the equivalent of $1.50 a litre, roughly doubling the current price. Over 20 years, the implied rate of increase is 3.5 per cent.

Finally, let’s look at replacing Australia’s total emissions (about 600 Mt of CO2 equivalent) with high-cost renewables. At an additional cost of $150/tonne, that would cost 90 billion a year, or 7.5 per cent of national income. But the actual cost of going all-renewable would be far lower, since at such high prices, there would be huge incentives for improved energy efficiency and for substitution away from energy-intensive goods and services. A more plausible cost, even on pessimistic estimates about renewables would be 5 per cent of national income or about 2 years of economic growth.

To sum up, there is very little point in lengthy hypothetical arguments about which low-carbon technology is best. Even in the worst case described above, the cost of decarbonising the economy is small in relation to the costs of uncontrolled climate change.

If we can introduce a carbon price to the economy, and allow it to rise gradually over time, we will soon find out which technologies are the most cost-effective. That’s what we should be focusing on.

Categories: Economics - General, Environment Tags:
  1. Chris O’Neill
    October 18th, 2010 at 21:07 | #1

    A litre of petrol yields about 10kWh of power

    That should be 10kWh of energy, not power.

  2. Peter T
    October 18th, 2010 at 21:13 | #2

    Agree i must be done. Not too sure I’d back the cost calculations. Eg, you cannot translate directly from energy content of petrol to electric cars. Petrol engines are around 40% efficient. Power stations are more efficient, but there are losses in transmission and further losses in electric traction. Plus the extensions of the grid to handle vastly more electricity, and provide greater coverage = or, more sensibly, to refurbish railways for long-distance transport (which means more intermodal etc). Point is that the existing systems are interlocked, and adapting them is not going to be cheap.

  3. October 18th, 2010 at 21:24 | #3

    I’d absolutely endorse a serious price on CO2. I regard $100t as a benchmark to pitch for 2015.

    I also think all technologies should be on the table, and let the most feasible combination bear the load.

  4. jquiggin
    October 18th, 2010 at 21:50 | #4

    Peter T, I agree with these qualifications, but I think the basic approach works OK in the absence of large differences in efficiency.

  5. hrgh
    October 18th, 2010 at 22:14 | #5

    Plus new transmission connections to remote energy generation, and greater line loss over these new transmission lines. And substantial network upgrades to deal with electric cars, including peaks from everyone plugging in at 6pm as they get home from work, etc.

    Which is nit picking. Your point still stands well. An extra 3%(ish) increase when (in NSW) we just got a 22% increase this June, won’t be noticed much more. Except by those households already struggling. Which is why it’s so important that the low-income compensations in the CPRS be bought forward into whatever comes out of the new committee.

  6. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 01:23 | #6

    A lot of effort has been put into freeing up Australia’s electricity markets, so I think that for the most part we should just put a price on carbon and let her rip. People can invest in whatever generating capacity they think will earn them the most money and invest in efficiency that they think will save them money. From whatever the price on carbon starts at, it should be steadily increased until it is equal to the cost of removing it from the atmosphere. My guess is that it will be possible to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere for considerably less than $100, as it is often possible to buy some types of cattle feed that are almost half carbon for $50 a ton or less. (A ton of CO2 has about 273 kg of carbon in it.)

    Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that agriculture be used to remove the entire CO2 emissions of current fossil fuel use. That would be a big job. But carbon capture (of whatever sort) could place a upper limit on the price of carbon that hopefully will only be moderately high.

  7. el gordo
    October 19th, 2010 at 07:14 | #7

    In the Uk they have just decided to build eight nuclear power plants, on the basis that renewables can’t carry the baseload.

    Quiggin’s big picture is just an illusion.

  8. BilB
    October 19th, 2010 at 07:14 | #8

    I’ve argue for many years for a carbon tax. However my view has change somewhat. Recognising the urgency for change as we are now pinched between climate change on the one hand and oil depletion with the economic upheaval that that will bring on the other hand, I propose the following.

    The most economically smooth path to zero CO2 is via a 4cent per unit retail price levy for electricity with the electricity industry exempt from a carbon tax, and a carbon tax designed specifically to address the remainding 50% of CO2 emissions. The funds obtained from the electricty levy placed into an infrastructure fund would then be available for competitive tender by interested and capable bodies for the building of renewable infrastructure intended specifically to retire fossil fuelled infrastructure on a worst first basis. This method will allow private industry perform optimally providing certainty along with flexibility and at a competitive price. Furthermore the infrastucture would be completed mortgage free allowing better electricity price stability. By this method the social aspect of electricity pricing (assistance for the economically challenged) is addressed, with more extreme needs being met by other agencies. The infrastructure fund would obtain around 10.4 billion dollars per year.

    The carbon tax would then be able to be tuned to achieve the best result with the minimum disruption for the many other areas in our economy where CO2 is released. Attempting to use one instrument for all CO2 emissions risks creating unnecessary hardship for emitters in the broader industrial and agriculture sectors as electricity generation requires a different level of deterent to other activities.

  9. Donald Oats
    October 19th, 2010 at 07:29 | #9

    @el gordo
    England can fit in Australia’s backpocket, landmass-wise. Population-wise, England is more than double that of Australia, and has a hazier atmosphere and different climatic conditions to the land down under.
    Irrelevant to the discussion. Nice try but no banana.

  10. Chris Warren
    October 19th, 2010 at 08:04 | #10

    The poor Brits, but that is what happens if you allow both the population and debt to balloon out of control.

    If Australia continues to overload the population, then Australia too will exceed the limits of its land, water and renewable energy capacity.

    Once you have exceeded these natural limits, you have to live in concrete boxes hong Kong like, high up in the air, and prey that the nuclear waste that leaked from Sellafield does not breeze in through your window.

    So it is up to public policy to get a handle on these issues by ensuring that our industrial development is sustainable and leaves the environment in the same condition for the next generation.

  11. DavidC
    October 19th, 2010 at 08:14 | #11

    el gordo:

    > In the Uk they have just decided to build eight nuclear power plants, on the basis that renewables can’t carry the baseload.

    The government has *announced* they are going to build 8 new nukes provided they are built without subsidies. There is a huge gulf between announcing nukes and completing them. Maggie announced 10 new nukes in 1979 – one of them was eventually built.

    Also, these new reactors would simply replace existing ones due to go offline.

    Your claim regarding renewables being unable to “carry the baseload” is unsubstantiated speculation at best and nonsense according to several credible analyses. As Donald just said, nice try – no banana.

  12. quokka
    October 19th, 2010 at 08:18 | #12

    @el gordo

    In the UK the government has approved eight sites for NPPs. Whether they are built or not remains to be seen. They have abandoned the Severn barrage.

    It is possible that the UK will just build more gas.

  13. Sam
    October 19th, 2010 at 08:29 | #13

    Actually, why is it that retail electricity prices are rising so rapidly at the moment, given that investment in high cost renewables is insignificant? John says because of a higher cost of distribution, but why is that?

    Also, I’m not sure where John gets his $150/tonne figure from. It seems a little high, even for a pessimistic figure. Does anyone know how much CO2 is released to make an average MWh of coal fired electricity in Australia at the moment (say averaging the contributions of brown coal and black)?

    @Chris Warren
    Totally agree with this last comment, low population numbers make renewables much more feasible. I don’t want to derail another thread with this, but we should remember that the population question is one half of nearly every environmental problem.

  14. Hermit
    October 19th, 2010 at 08:47 | #14

    For carbon pricing to work the govt will have to tell certain groups to suck it in, the cost that is. Before the ink is dry on any proposal there will be a conga line of interest groups pleading special treatment. With the farm lobby for example I’d tell them they are off limits for at least a decade ie no need to measure/guess cow farts or soil carbon. Keep it simple and revenue neutral. However the govt seems unable to either keep it simple or tell the rent seekers to get lost.

  15. Ernestine Gross
    October 19th, 2010 at 09:43 | #15

    Professor Quiggin,

    it seems to me you are making an ‘all else being equal’ assumption regarding GDP and the Balance of Payments and unemployment and the income distribution. But different technologies may have very different implications for these macro-variables such that it is conceivable that under technology xyz many people may not be able to afford q units of essential ‘energy’ while under technologies ryz these same people may be able to afford q+1 units of energy even if the monetary price of one unit of ryz produced ‘energy’ is greater than that of xyz.

    As long as there was talk about a (series of) cap(s) on greenhouse gas emissions to prevent human induced average global warming I could follow. Moreover, the problem of finding a mechanism to implement the cap(s) is interesting – at least to me. But now there is talk about ‘climate change’, ‘decarbonising the economy’, GDP, and households. I am as lost as what I was when there was talk about ‘the level playing field’, ‘moving forward’ and having micro-economic reform based on macro-economic objectives during the era known as economic rationalism.

    Climate change refers to both, natural and human induced changes. Is this obfuscation necessary? Greenhouse gas emissions aren’t only due to electricity generation. I don’t know the problem to which ‘decarbonising the economy’ is the solution but I am absolutely sure that nothing can be deduced from some estimated impact of an administered price on GDP for individual households given the empirical data on income, wealth and debt distributions.

    To the best of my knowledge, mechanism design requires a bottom up approach (ie agent model) and not an outcome down approach as in macro-economics.

  16. Fran Barlow
    October 19th, 2010 at 09:57 | #16

    @Hermit

    For mine, the simplest first step would be to simply abolish the tax deductibility of dirty energy. A dirty energy benchmark would be set up (e.g the CO2 intensity of a bog standard anthracite coal plant; and perhaps a gCO2/km for liquid fuels based on petrodiesel or petrol) and you’d be able to deduct based on the improvement you managed to achieve over dirty energy. Beat it by 10% and it’s 10% deductible. Stay B-A-U and pay for energy out of your after tax budget. Obviuously diesel fuel rebates would go, as would LPG rebates conversion etc..

    In addition a separate $23 per ton would apply to all combustible carbon-based products. These two measures would take effective business input cost of common fuels well over the $50 mark (and perhaps in the case of some liquid fuels well over the $150). This would be incremented each year.

    You’d then reimburse the public out of the claw back and taxes so that those on or below average income got about 80% of the reimbursement pool in cash or services.

    As the bulk of agricultural emissions are derived ultimately from fossil inputs eg the fertiliser, pesticides, fuel for farm equipment, transport of stock etc the emissions are already charged at an earlier stage. You don’t have to measure “cow farts” (cow breath actually as flatus has about 5% of the CO2e of what comes from the rumen).

    Once this system is beded down we can then introduce a solid cap and trade system as an alternative to paying the tax and forfeiting deductibility, with businesses deciding what suited them best. The cap could then conform to where we are on Co2 intensity. This would effectively divide business who would not have a clear target to aim at.

  17. Peter Lang
    October 19th, 2010 at 09:59 | #17

    John Quiggin,

    This is so wrong, on many counts, it is unbelievable.

    Let’s just deal with one. You say:

    “Finally, let’s look at replacing Australia’s total emissions (about 600 Mt of CO2 equivalent) with high-cost renewables. At an additional cost of $150/tonne, that would cost 90 billion a year, or 7.5 per cent of national income. But the actual cost of going all-renewable would be far lower, since at such high prices, there would be huge incentives for improved energy efficiency and for substitution away from energy-intensive goods and services. A more plausible cost, even on pessimistic estimates about renewables would be 5 per cent of national income or about 2 years of economic growth.”

    But renewables cannot do the job at virtually any price!!. Don’t you understand that? The technologies do not exist and are unlikely to ever exist. We’ve been hearing from the renewables advocates the same story “but its just around the corner” for 30 years. Nothing is changing. Not only is the cost of the generators huge, we don’t have cost effective energy storage so intermittent renewables cannot work.

    You say: “To sum up, there is very little point in lengthy hypothetical arguments about which low-carbon technology is best. ”

    There is very little point in lengthy hypothetical arguments about whether, in the far off future, energy storage on the scale required might become viable or that the prices of wind and solar power may come down so they can provide reliabl power at a competitive price.

    Non-hydro renewables cannot provide our electricity supply, or even 10% of it. And they don’t avoid much if any CO2 emissions because of the increased emissions due to the reduced efficiency of the back up fossil fuel generators.

    Don’t you get any of this?

  18. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:07 | #18

    Sam, in the US in 1999 coal plants produced 0.950 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, or 950 kilograms per megawatt-hour. The US produces slightly more brown coal than Australia.

    At the same time in the US gas produced about 0.608 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

    Assuming similar figures for Australia (and I can’t think of any particular reasons why they’d be very different), a $40 a ton price on CO2 would increase the cost of a kilowatt-hour of electricity from coal by about 3.8 cents and would increase the cost of electricity from gas by about 2.43 cents.

  19. Peter Lang
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:13 | #19

    Here we have an extreme Left economist arguing that Australia should impose policies that on his highly optimistic calculations would cost only 5% of national income and 2 years of growth.

    It is no wonder that people are scared stiff of what the Left stand for.

    He says: “A more plausible cost, even on pessimistic estimates about renewables would be 5 per cent of national income or about 2 years of economic growth.”

    But they are not pessimistic estimates. They are ridiculouly optimistic estimates.

  20. Fran Barlow
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:14 | #20

    @Peter Lang

    Non-hydro renewables cannot provide our electricity supply, or even 10% of it. And they don’t avoid much if any CO2 emissions because of the increased emissions due to the reduced efficiency of the back up fossil fuel generators.

    Geothermal might well supply a fair tranche of dispatchable energy. A modest and non-scaleable proportion might be sourced from waste biomass. The broader point stands of course.

  21. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:23 | #21

    Peter Lang, right now wind power produces about 20% of South Australia’s electricity. Energy storage is not used or required. Kilowatt-hours of electricity produced by wind replace kilowatt-hours produced by gas on an almost one to one basis. Wind power only has a minor effect on the efficiency of the state’s fossil fuel generators because the increase in variability at current levels of penetration is not large compared to normal variation in demand. I believe the subsidy for wind power is currently about 4 cents a kilowatt-hour.

  22. Fran Barlow
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:24 | #22

    @Peter Lang

    Peter, PrQ is not an “extreme left economist”. His approach falls well within the Keynesian mainstream.

    Whether his estimates of the investment cost of renewables conversion to the Australian economy is optimistic or entirely sound isn’t related to his overall paradigm in any significant way.

  23. Peter Lang
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:29 | #23

    Fran Barlow.

    No.

    Geothermal will be another small bit player as will biomass.

    Geothermal is another very diffuse energy source (like wind, solar, wave, etc) , hard to extract, and huge technical problems I will not bore you with.

    It takes many decades to bring new technologies that have high capital costs and long plant lives to become mature technologies.

    Stop dreaming. None of this is viable. It is a wish of the blind.

  24. October 19th, 2010 at 10:36 | #24

    I resisted the idea of nuclear power for the longest time. I wanted to believe Mark Diesendorf, as I had all these anti-nuclear issues. I thought it was too costly, too unsafe, the waste was too dangerous, and uranium too rare (peak uranium). I also thought baseload renewables were ‘just around the corner’.

    I was wrong on all counts. Silly legislative hurdles and one-off build costs have made American nuclear too expensive, but other countries are mass producing them under saner, more efficient legislative guidelines. Too expensive? How expensive is a car? Are we talking Rolls Royce or Hydundai?

    Too unsafe? Hello? How many people die falling off wind turbines? How many average Aussies have even bothered to read about the new advances in passive safety? I certainly hadn’t… I had just assumed most modern reactors were little Chernobyl’s waiting to blow. D’oh! That’s like comparing the Wright brothers plane to modern jumbo jets whose wing span is wider than the Wright brother’s first flight!

    Peak uranium? Not bleeding likely! Not with breeder reactors just around the corner. Don’t sneer: we know the physics works! This is NOT like ‘baseload renewables are just around the corner’. We have 300 reactor years accumulated experience with breeders. They are just working on bringing the deployment costs down. The world could build out a whole smorgasbord range of cheaper Gen2 or Gen3 reactors this generation while we perfected the breeders, which would then BURN THE WASTE! Breeders will burn the waste. The tiny amount that’s left over after breeding it will be safe in 300 years. Stick it in the reactor basement… I don’t care… it will be safe soon enough. Waste is not an issue.

    Note: I’d LOVE baseload renewables, I really would. But I’m just not convinced the technology is on the drawing boards, let alone ready to deploy at massive scales right now. With peak oil looming, we need a massive hit of clean, RELIABLE electricity. Now. Not in 20 or 30 years when ‘they think’ they’ll have baseload power.

    I can’t see renewables offering reliable baseload power unless battery technology drops 1000 fold in price and increases 1000 fold in capacity. We’d need batteries so powerful they could store excess summer solar for long cold winters. ANY argument that tries to move the goalposts from wind to solar as ‘the backup’ for baseload power is assuming massive overbuild. “When the wind isn’t blowing the sun is shining.” Oh yeah? These people don’t watch the weather maps of Australia very much do they? “When the wind isn’t blowing the sun is shining SOMEWHERE.” Oh yeah? So if NSW has an overcast, quiet week, we’re going to rely on Queensland’s solar are we? Just how much capacity overbuild are you all asking for?

    Renewables are so unreliable we’d basically be burning gas as backup. “Oh, but that would only be 5% of the time!” Yeah right. Again, watch the evening weather, and ask yourself if today was a good day for renewable energy. Do this EVERY night, not just when it suits you. Include those days where most of Queensland, NSW, and Victoria are all under a could bank. Include those massive cloud banks that stretch across the continent. Don’t rule them out! That’s dishonest. You’re only lying to yourself.

    I’d be amazed if in the quest for renewable energy we didn’t *overbuild* renewable capacity about 5 times, only to find we were burning gas about 50% of the time anyway, after all that effort!

    So I’m forced to accept nuclear. There is no alternative if we want to survive peak oil and climate change. I’m also very keen on New Urbanism and ecocities that require drastically less energy to operate in the first place, but even if EVERYONE AGREED ON THIS RADICAL NEW CITY PLAN (and they don’t), it would still take a generation to build out.

    Back to nuclear, the real environmentalist’s most realistic first choice. Until something better comes along. (Such as nuclear fusion).

  25. jquiggin
    October 19th, 2010 at 10:45 | #25

    I didn’t think I needed to spell it out, but obviously I do. Debate on the merits of specific technologies belongs in the sandpit. Anything further along these lines will be deleted.

    El Gordo and Peter Lang: please comment only in the sandpit. Anything else from you will be deleted.

  26. Fran Barlow
    October 19th, 2010 at 11:21 | #26

    @Ronald Brak

    No, Ronald, wind doesn’t produce 20% of SA’s power or anything like it. Nameplate capacity is misleading because as Miskelly & Quirk (2009) show, the 90% availability point for SA windfarms is 6%. So wind might produce 1-1.2% of total SA load.

  27. Hermit
    October 19th, 2010 at 12:44 | #27

    A very simple approach would be to carbon tax coal at the mine mouth and gas at the well head. If a tonne of black coal generates 2.4 tonnes of CO2 (in a standard power station) then levy each tonne of coal with 2.4 X $23 = $55 carbon tax. Using Ronald Brak’s figures make the levy on gas 65% of this or $36 per tonne. Note the carbon levy should also go on coal and gas exports as a first step to international harmonisation. The billions in revenue go prorata to income tax cuts and pension increases.

    This is how the government should respond to pleading for exemptions and giveaways. ‘Pensioners won’t be able to heat their homes.’ Govt: ‘Not if they only heat one room’.‘Our company has planted lots of native trees so we deserve a carbon credit.’ Govt: ‘The trees will look lovely but we didn’t legislate for credits’.

    It could be simple if they really wanted it to be. If they make another hash of it then perhaps they’re not really serious or just incompetent.

  28. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 12:55 | #28

    Fran, you might want to read Miskelly & Quirk again. I do not think it means what you think it means. If you want to you can ask me questions in the sandpit.

  29. Fran Barlow
    October 19th, 2010 at 13:14 | #29

    @Ronald Brak

    By all means. If you could elaborate in the sandpit what you think it means, that would advance matters.

  30. may
    October 19th, 2010 at 13:14 | #30

    @Peter Lang

    promises promises.

    in the 50′s nuclear energy was going to be so plentiful there would be no need it to be metered.

    we are still waiting.

    in the meantime problem piled apon what-the-hell problem.

    cost piled apon yer-gotta-be-kidding cost.

    the road to renewable energy has been blocked by misinformation and scare tactics since the 70′s.

    those old 4% panels people put up at that time are still putting out power albeit at at lesser rate. not bad after all that time.
    top of that,over the lifespan of each unit the cost of installation and manufacture would have been met.

    it would be good to have an Australia wide study result the see by how much.

    the idea of all promise and no delivery is well and truly out of date.

    the field has had explosive growth from wave to sun to wind to hot rock.

    take a look around.

    if you are interested in investment opportunities do your research,corporate money and sovereign funds are not in it for the warm and fuzzy feelings.

    every unit installed and running(however intermittantly) is paying for itself.

  31. Mark Duffett
    October 19th, 2010 at 13:24 | #31

    @jquiggin

    But of course. “the merits of specific technologies” are obviously completely irrelevant to energy economics. Riiight.

    Could you at least give a pointer as to where the “average costs of $200/MWh” estimate comes from?

  32. may
    October 19th, 2010 at 13:25 | #32

    sorry about the abysmal grammar.

    no need for it to be metered.

    on top of that.

    study result to see by how much.

    blush.

  33. Ernestine Gross
    October 19th, 2010 at 14:18 | #33

    “dirty energy” is another one of these unnecessarily obfuscating phrases. “Clean energy” is another one. What about ‘stained energy’ – silly isn’t it?

  34. Mark Duffett
    October 19th, 2010 at 14:43 | #34

    @may

    may :

    “corporate money and sovereign funds are not in it for the warm and fuzzy feelings.”

    Are you sure about that, May? Ever heard of greenwash? Social licences to operate?

    In any case, they’re sure as hell in it for the subsidies.

  35. Tim Macknay
    October 19th, 2010 at 14:45 | #35

    Climate change refers to both, natural and human induced changes. Is this obfuscation necessary?

    You’re a bit late to the party on this one, Ernestine – the term “climate change” has been in official use since 1992. I agree that the expression “anthropogenic global warming” is clearer, but I think everyone understands what the first term means, in the context.

  36. quokka
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:29 | #36

    Anybody have any comments on Hansen’s fee and dividend approach – other than it would likely tread on some powerful toes?

  37. Phil Holland
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:32 | #37

    @Ronald Brak
    is that 20% of peak generation? or 20% of baseload?

    I think if you did some research you would find that it is the latter, as wind generation is neither constant or reliable.

    As with most of Australia, SA derives a Clear, Unassailable majority of its baseload energy for coal power, there is only one technology which is capable of delivering similar quantities of energy into the grid at low prices, and with minimal (read zero) carbon emissions, this thechnology has been aroud for at least 50 years, and barring a few mishaps, one where the technology was poorly designed and got seriously messed with, it has been so safe it is absolutely ridiculous.

    The technology is nuclear power generation. now before you all flame me so hard you melt antarctica, hear me out. There have been quite a few advancements over the years in the field of nuclear energy.

    In particular the Gen 5 IFR(Integral Fast Reactor), this wonderful piece of kit is 95% fuel efficient, for nuclear reactors, that means, it reacts 95% of the fissile mass in its fuel elements. mass for mass, it generates 190,000 more energy per kg of fuel than burning coal, and DOES IT CHEAPER, and safer than coal does. not only that, but for this baby to SCRAM, the laws of physics need to breakdown, and that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon( the only way to SCRAM a IFR that has been suggested, is to throw it into a black hole!)
    as well as that, it can “burn” a variety of fuel types, including spent reactor elements from gen 1,2,3 and 4 PWRs and BWRs (Pressurised Water Reactors and Boiling Water Reactors)
    all that remains, are isotopes that are referred to as ‘Fission By-products’ which are dangerous for at most, 300 years, and in such small quanties that the reactors life-time waste would barely fill an olympic swimming pool AFTER vitrification.

    well, that’s all i have to say,
    Cheers

  38. Phil Holland
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:38 | #38

    @may
    PV cells are essentially light-activated batteries,
    no PV cellin existence , has ever or will ever produce more energy than
    than it took to make it, most of which comes from coal fired powerstations in china.
    seriously, do your research

  39. October 19th, 2010 at 17:46 | #39

    @Tim Macknay

    Ernestine – the term “climate change” has been in official use since 1992. 1988

    Ernestine said:

    “dirty energy” is another one of these unnecessarily obfuscating phrases. “Clean energy” is another one. What about ‘stained energy’ – silly isn’t it?

    Perfectly plain, IMO. What do the terms obscure?

  40. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:47 | #40

    Phil, about one fifth of the kilowatt-hours produced in South Australia are generated by wind.

  41. quokka
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:54 | #41

    You can see the the performance of SA wind charted nicely against demand and price here. Scroll across to eyeball the variability.

    http://www.oz-energy-analysis.org/data_viewer/dv1a.php

  42. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 17:58 | #42

    Phil, the cheapest Chinese PV is $1.40 a watt. Over 25 years in Australia it can generate about 50 kilowatt-hours or about $2.50 worth of Chinese wholesale coal fired electricity. So if no solar cell will ever produce more energy than it took to make, then Chinese companies must be selling them for at least a dollar less per watt than it cost to make them.

  43. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 18:02 | #43

    Sorry, I should be in the sandpit.

  44. Sam
    October 19th, 2010 at 18:05 | #44

    @Ronald Brak
    Hi Ronald, that’s a nice way of putting it. I’m not disputing those figures, but could you send me a link to that information?

  45. Alice
    October 19th, 2010 at 18:35 | #45

    @may
    May – you are so right – we really live in a little narrow backwater in Australia full of little narrow people who try to turn every policy decision into an “left right culture war divide”. Meanwhile other countries are just passing us by, investing in solar (years ago) and other energies, still investing in public infrastructure for the good of the nation (roads, transport, anti corruption etc), while we sell everyting in sight that once belonged to the people and slap our most corrupt on the wrist with a feather.
    One thing you can count on in Australia. We are immature. We are naive. We are stupid and think we must follow the newspeak of other nations but worse we take it to an extreme….and then we are so slow, almost backward in undoing bad policy when we realise we blew it.

    There is no policy manual overseas. Would someone please tell our politicians to wise up and make their own decisions and stop being the adoring fans of some overseas fad that overseas isnt even following.

    Never in such a short time has a country privatised so much, lost so much industry, alienated so many, caste so many into unemployment (like one fifth of all youth) – check the stats – we are at the front of the “market ethos prevails” race.

    We will be eating humble pie late again as usual – because we still have not grown up and we are still just plain dumb. There is no other explanation. Thick as a brick in leadership and politics.

  46. Alice
    October 19th, 2010 at 19:08 | #46

    I should be in the quicksandpit too…. where true pessimists belong.

  47. Ronald Brak
    October 19th, 2010 at 19:40 | #47

    Sam, I’m sending you a link in the sandpit.

  48. Peter T
    October 19th, 2010 at 20:09 | #48

    John

    For a look at the issues behind changing complex patterns of infrastructure use, I suggest you may find this helpful:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7051#more

  49. wilful
    October 19th, 2010 at 22:08 | #49

    Hmmm, can’t see this thread going too well before it is shut down. But, if I may, I found Professor David Mackay’s free e-book, Sustainable energy – without the hot air to be a breath of fresh air into these sorts of debates. Only really useful to the UK I’m afraid.

  50. DavidC
    October 20th, 2010 at 01:32 | #50

    Another indicator of which way the wind is blowing and how reality diverges from the beliefs of the nuclear fan club: Wind Power Soars by 16GW in first half of 2010. Global wind turbine capacity hit 175 GW by mid-2010 and is heading for 200 GW by the year-end.

  51. BilB
    October 20th, 2010 at 02:56 | #51

    It occurs to me, Finrod, that this whole issue is about living within ones means.

    You BNC types have over time declared that photosynthesis is very inefficient, the sun is totally unreliable, wind is fickle, waves are too hard to deal with, and heat “from the core of the planet” ..well just don’t go there. Nature is so totally disappointing.

    Yet the whole global warming lesson is about living within our natural means. But you guys want to keep going, stripping what ever is left of the earths stored energy, you’re like the mining industry “if its there it must be had now to improve the corporate bottom line”.

    Underlying Australian’s rejection of Nuclear energy, I believe, is the intuitive understanding that one should live on ones earnings. Of course we all use creditcards to stretch beyond in the belief that when we get what we want we will be content to sit back enjoy the things gained until our income catches up. But of course that is not what happens. Nuclear energy is an extention of that thinking. Rather than learn to live with natures natural energy flow the executive control attitude demands energy results right now, whatever the cost.

    That is where BNC is at. And the intriguing thing is that its inspiration comes from somone who professes to be a naturalist.

  52. BilB
    October 20th, 2010 at 02:59 | #52

    Oops, sorry. I thought that I was making sand castles. Please move to the appropriate spot.

  53. gregh
    October 20th, 2010 at 06:05 | #53

    @BilB I have thought similarly. There (and they) are people who don’t really understand what is happening.They look for a ‘plug and play’ technology that can be slotted into the current system of exploitation – both human and natural – unplug the fossil fuels and quickly plug in the nuclear before anyone notices. Then we can all go back to what we were doing.
    That is why the debate cannot function. It is fundamentally ideological and psychological.
    People who can see a range of possibilities against those who can’t. People with imagination against those without.

  54. Ronald Brak
    October 20th, 2010 at 10:37 | #54

    Earlier I wrote that the US produces slightly more brown coal than Australia. While this is true, I should have made clear that the amount of brown coal as a percentage of total production is much less than in Australia. Brown coal is less efficient than black for generating electricity, but the figure of about one kilogram of CO2 per kilowatt-hour generated from coal should still be reasonably accurate. If anyone has the Australian figures at hand that would be groovy.

  55. Fran Barlow
    October 20th, 2010 at 11:11 | #55

    @Ronald Brak

    In the case of lignite (brown coal) the commonly quoted figure is 1.3 tonnes of CO2 per mWh (or 1.3kg for kWh etc).

    This is imprecise of course because various plants are better or worse at conversion, and because like most hydrocarbon products not all lignite is of the same quality.

  56. Tim Macknay
    October 20th, 2010 at 12:26 | #56

    @Fran Barlow

    Ernestine – the term “climate change” has been in official use since 1992. 1988

    You’re right, Fran. I was thinking of the UNFCCC which was done at Rio in 1992, but it occurred to me after I’d posted my comment that the IPCC was actually established in 1988.

  57. may
    October 20th, 2010 at 12:35 | #57

    dear marknphil,

    subsidies?elucidate please?

    coal fired production of dye solar cells?

    erm.we are in a transitory stage.using the technology and energy sources we have now to produce the technology and energy sources that are replacing them.

    y’know?like horses used to be used to haulcoal.

  58. may
    October 20th, 2010 at 12:50 | #58

    and.
    unable to produce more energy that it took to make it?

    that doesn’t sound right.

    do you mean that all the manufactured solar,wind wave,tide,etc units can never produce more energy than it took to make them?

  59. Ernestine Gross
    October 20th, 2010 at 13:22 | #59

    Tim Macknay :@Fran Barlow

    Ernestine – the term “climate change” has been in official use since 1992. 1988

    You’re right, Fran. I was thinking of the UNFCCC which was done at Rio in 1992, but it occurred to me after I’d posted my comment that the IPCC was actually established in 1988.

    For a longer established time scale on ‘climate change’ see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geologic_temperature_record

    Make no mistake, I am not a ‘skeptic’ or denier of the impact of ghg emissions that are, more or less, under the control of humans on ‘climate’.

  60. Hermit
    October 20th, 2010 at 13:57 | #60

    @BilB
    I fear you will come to grief if you try to pull rank in greenyism terms on others. I have paid the grand total of $66 in power bills in the last two years. I make most of my own car fuel. I have a half acre vegie garden. Yet it is obvious to me that the vast majority of people are not set up to do this and never will be. This energy self sufficiency experiment has cost me tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of time.

    My conclusion is that we need a cheap but controllable low carbon energy source that can replace coal, gas and oil. Neither wind nor solar fit the bill so it has to be something else. You can arrive at this conclusion either the hard way like I have or by running the numbers through a public forum. Or you could stay on the moral high ground and become even less relevant.

  61. quokka
    October 20th, 2010 at 14:58 | #61

    I have thought similarly. There (and they) are people who don’t really understand what is happening.They look for a ‘plug and play’ technology that can be slotted into the current system of exploitation – both human and natural – unplug the fossil fuels and quickly plug in the nuclear before anyone notices. Then we can all go back to what we were doing.
    That is why the debate cannot function. It is fundamentally ideological and psychological.
    People who can see a range of possibilities against those who can’t. People with imagination against those without.

    Good grief is confused nonsense. “The current system of exploitation” is not going to be appreciably changed by the engineering choices made about electricity generation. PV panels have no political affiliations and neither do nuclear power stations. It is the most superficial of analysis to suggest otherwise. If the world were to be powered by solar and wind, who do you think will own the generation and distribution infrastructure? – big capital, that’s who. In fact public ownership and/or involvement is possibly more likely in the case of nuclear due to the propensity of private equity capital to seek a quick buck.

    As for for unplugging coal and plugging in nuclear and we all go on doing what we are doing, I must say that would be a great improvement on the current situation and make a huge difference to GHG emissions. Nobody pretends that it would solve all problems and it is a ridiculous straw man to suggest so.

    And no, the world does not need a vast range of “possibilities” to address the GHG issue. It needs to adopt methods that have the highest probability of success.

  62. Tim Macknay
    October 20th, 2010 at 15:17 | #62

    Make no mistake, I am not a ‘skeptic’ or denier of the impact of ghg emissions that are, more or less, under the control of humans on ‘climate’.

    I was never under that impression, Ernestine. Also, the geologic temperature record is irrelevant to my point, which I’m sure you’re aware. To be honest, I’m not really sure why you raised it.

  63. BilB
    October 20th, 2010 at 15:18 | #63

    We have been talking about your experiment for a number of years now, Hermit. It is sad that it has failed, ..failed to give you fulfilment. The energy system I am involved with is not a “scale your life back” type of product. It is a “live it up” energy product which provides you with all of the power that you need to do just that, completely free. One of the many nice things about this is that it is equally accessible to all income levels.

    I’ve just had a lengthy meeting with a guy who is on the boards of a lot of companies and I learnt about some really interesting things that are going on out there. Here is one that I can talk about that a green thumbed guy such as yourself might appreciate

    http://www.biowishtechnologies.com/us/news/biowish-technologies-cuts-poultry-ammonia-emissions/

  64. BilB
    October 20th, 2010 at 15:20 | #64

    I should have added that the biowish product range is technology that seeks to address some of the other 50% of greenhouse gas emissions.

  65. Fran Barlow
    October 20th, 2010 at 15:32 | #65

    @Tim Macknay

    In fact, the earliest offical use of the term climate change may well have been in 1979 at the time of what was called the Charney Report. Up until then the debate about exactly how the anomaly would manifest had led researchers to speak of inadvertent climate modification. cf: MIT, Inadvertent Climate Modification: Report of the Study of Man’s Impact on Climate (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971

    Jule Charney of MIT and the National Academy of Science wrote:

    if carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we find] no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible. {National Academy of Science, Carbon Dioxide and Climate, Washington, D.C., 1979, p. vii}

    Mind you, in 1975, Wallace Broecker had written a short piece in Science {v189, August 1975} referring to Climatic Change producing “pronounced global warming”.

    Doubtless this terminology would have been taken up in the intervening years by the researchers before the WMO and UNEP got together to form the IPCC.

    I can recall as late as 1999 teaching HSIE in the SW suburbs of Sydney and noting that the textbook, Geoactive described the Enhanced Greenhouse Effect. We don’t hear that so often today.

  66. Ken Fabos
    October 20th, 2010 at 18:53 | #66

    Pr Quiggin, I think you’ve made an excellent point although I don’t know how those costs will go if we keep putting off actually making serious commitments to decarbonising our energy supply. I think there is resistance to changing our profligate energy usage and to acknowledging the unsustainable nature of our current modern lifestyles. Climate change is just one of the signs that the limits of our planet are being pushed up against – or being exceeded. Insisting that changing our energy infrastructure can only happen so long as that lifestyle isn’t forced to change in the process seems like denial of the other impacts and limits we really do need to acknowledge and develop policy for. Profligate energy usage may have pushed those limits further than sober analysis of previous times might have predicted but those limits have not been eliminated and cannot be avoided. Population, resource depletion, high energy and water usage for food production, expectations of ever larger homes, more stuff in them… I don’t think that giving priority to low energy costs will do more than carry us a bit further past those limits by maintaining illusions that the way we live is sustainable.

  67. gregh
    October 20th, 2010 at 19:35 | #67

    @quokka
    All you are showing is your lack of imagination and inability to deal with multiple possibilities – most of which are well underway. And I make no apologies for looking for social transformation.

  68. hix
    October 21st, 2010 at 12:08 | #68

    Just put a price on co2 and let the market decide is not a solution at all. Different technologies have different other externalities besides co2. Theres also the question if public sector production is suprior to market production at least for nuclear powerplants.

  69. frankis
    October 21st, 2010 at 12:31 | #69

    @hix
    “Different technologies have different other externalities besides co2″

    Certainly.
    Fossil fuels have had their time in the sun, by now their externalities are well-known and (someways roughly) quantified. The risks we run with them are serious and immediate. Replacement technologies should be expected to start out well-regulated according to lessons learnt from earlier mistakes and according to present knowledge, and assured that as evidence accumulates and science improves they will be better managed than fossil fuels have been. That maybe should involve some Pigouvian taxing of negative externalities associated with some of them. What else can we do? Taxing of widely accepted and endemic “bads” such as the burning of fossil fuels just makes sense.

  70. Bill
    October 22nd, 2010 at 13:54 | #70

    Small problem:- Australia produces 1.5% of global GHG emissions. Even cutting our emissions to zero will have no measurable effect on any aspect of the climate.

    Unless you can persuade China, US, India, and the rest of the developing world to do the same, investing 2 yrs GDP growth in this crusade is entirely useless.

    How many economic degrees will you need to learn that?

  71. Fran Barlow
    October 22nd, 2010 at 14:19 | #71

    Bill said:

    Unless you can persuade China, US, India, and the rest of the developing world to do the same, investing 2 yrs GDP growth in this crusade is entirely useless.

    This claim is repeatedly made but it is nonsense every time it comes up. Firstly and most obviously, not all of the benefit of Australia decarbonising depends on the whole world decarbonising. Australia gets a cleaner environment and is less exposed to the pernicious influence of price volatility in oil markets. It gets to sell a greater proportion of its coal and gas. Redesigning cities to reduce the dependence of the citizens on motor vehicle transport saves them money and time and is likely to make the cost of infrastructure easier to bear.

    Those are tangible goods whether the rest of the world decarbonises or not. Indeed, it may be better in the short run in one sense if they don’t since the value of those coal and gas assets right up until they are exhausted will be greater, putting aside of course the catastriophic implications for all humanity of that course.

    Of course the other benefit — and it is an intangible one — is that if Australia decarbonsises successfully, or more precisely, if it starts decarbonising, then its ability to show that this is possible and we are serious is enhanced, and that makes it politically easier for other states who are not doing enough to argue within their own jurisidictions for more.

    Finally, it isn’t so that other countries like India and China are doing less than Australia in reducing carbon intensity. They are actually doing more, despite the fact that the legacy of damage associated with Australia’s pattern of development during the 2OthC was much greater than either of these jurisdictions and that we still emit more per capita.

  72. Chris O’Neill
    October 24th, 2010 at 11:25 | #72

    Proffesor Q:

    I’m going to assume that both sides are right in their most pessimistic estimates of the other technology. That is, I’m going to look at the implications of assuming that a low-carbon electricity generation (mainly carbon-free with some gas) will imply average costs of $200/MWh.

    No, that’s not the most pessimistic cost estimate of using wind energy. It’s the most pessimistic estimate of using wind energy as long as its capacity does not exceed the minimum demand. In this case it can only supply between 10% and 20% of total MWh. $200/MWh is the estimate without using storage and without wasting capacity.

  73. Ernestine Gross
    October 24th, 2010 at 12:28 | #73

    Chris O’Neill, what happened to the other parts of “the other technology”, namely hydro, and solar, to name two major parts of the other technology besides wind?

  74. jquiggin
    October 24th, 2010 at 12:58 | #74

    @Chris O’Neill

    On the contrary, high estimates of the cost of windpower include large allowances for wasted excess power, while ignoring the point that exactly the same problem arises for “always on” sources such as coal and nuclear. If you didn’t take these factors into account $200/MWh would not just be pessimistic, it would be absurdly high.

  75. Ernestine Gross
    October 24th, 2010 at 13:54 | #75

    @Tim Macknay

    Sorry, I overlooked your comment. The point I wanted to make is that the term climate change is also used in some branches of earth sciences concerned with very long time periods – millions of years. The site I referenced includes an example. I am sure you know that, too.

  76. Chris O’Neill
    October 24th, 2010 at 15:17 | #76

    @Ernestine Gross

    Chris O’Neill, what happened to the other parts of “the other technology”, namely hydro, and solar, to name two major parts of the other technology besides wind?

    As we all know, there is a limited amount of hydro available. Hydroelectricity accounts for 6.5-7% of Australian electricity generation and I think most of that is in Tasmania. Sure it will be increased with a higher price for electricity but I doubt it would ever supply more than 10% of energy on the mainland.

    Solar has an even lower average output/capacity ratio than wind, so it will be capable of supplying less energy than wind without wasting capacity.

  77. Ronald Brak
    October 24th, 2010 at 16:35 | #77

    If the problem of low solar capacity was fixed the world would save billions in lighting costs.

  78. Ernestine Gross
    October 24th, 2010 at 16:37 | #78

    Ronald Brak :If the problem of low solar capacity was fixed the world would save billions in lighting costs.

    Good one.

  79. Chris O’Neill
    October 24th, 2010 at 17:23 | #79

    @jquiggin

    On the contrary, high estimates of the cost of windpower include large allowances for wasted excess power,

    How large are these allowances? The cost would be very dependent on how much capacity is at risk of being wasted. There has been no need for such allowances so far because wind capacity is still within the minimum demand, even in South Australia. I would be very surprised if much allowance has been made for wasted power because at the present time that is hypothetical.

    while ignoring the point that exactly the same problem arises for “always on” sources such as coal and nuclear.

    With exactly the same used capacity, these other sources supply a lot more energy than wind. So the generating capital in wind is used a lot less efficiently than in the other sources. These other sources can also be relied upon to generate their capacity during peak load while wind cannot. Thus wind provides little, if any, relief from the capital cost of supplying peak demand but the others do.

    If you didn’t take these factors into account $200/MWh would not just be pessimistic, it would be absurdly high.

    I don’t think the US$149.3/MWh cost here includes a large allowance for wasted excess power.

  80. Ronald Brak
    October 24th, 2010 at 21:19 | #80

    If people are interested in the cost of wind power in say South Australia, they could look up the average wholesale price of SA electricity and add the subsidy to it. This gives a figure at which people are currently happy to build wind capacity. Off the top of my head I think the figures are roughly 7.5 cents and 3.5 cents a kilowatt-hour. This gives about 11 cents a kilowatt-hour or $110 a megawatt-hour.

  81. Ronald Brak
    October 24th, 2010 at 23:33 | #81

    Now that I think about it, people are willing to build wind capacity in SA for a bit less than the average wholesale price plus the subsidy.

  82. Hermit
    October 25th, 2010 at 06:57 | #82

    @Ronald Brak
    After the usual heatwaves AEMO point out that SA wind farms produces only about 8% of their nominated capacity. That means that the power has to be imported from interstate or the gas fired generators maxed out. It could also be why ETSA wants to remotely switch off home air conditioners in an odds and evens system.

    Rann wants to go for gold taking SA nameplate wind capacity to over 1,000 MW and he thinks the eastern states should kick in for extra transmission. I don’t think the incentive is the 4 or 5c per kwh of the Renewable Energy Certificates so much as the ~20% national quota for RE. Thousands of kilometres of new transmission line criss crossing the landscape and spoiling the view. Wind turbines that don’t put in when they are most needed. This represents an extraordinary sacrifice for an 80% non-solution.

  83. BilB
    October 25th, 2010 at 08:24 | #83

    Hermit, as Ronald Brak pointed out to you wind is costed out on what it does produce, not what it doesn’t. There is no sacrafice.

  84. Ronald Brak
    October 25th, 2010 at 11:17 | #84

    If only the problem of wind intermittency was solved the world could save billions in drying costs.

  85. Hermit
    October 25th, 2010 at 13:02 | #85

    wind is costed out on what it does produce, not what it doesn’t

    How come in both US and Europe windpower is sometimes sold for ‘negative prices’? That is to keep the subsidy coming the wind operator pays customers to take it away. An even better question is how come a simple carbon cap isn’t enough to compete with other forms of generation? In Australia we have RECs, in the US the production tax credit and in Europe the feed-in tariff or renewables obligation. A simple CO2 benchmark should see coal burners looking for other power sources with no need for anybody to be paid subsidies.

  86. Ronald Brak
    October 25th, 2010 at 13:32 | #86

    Hermit, there can be charges on dumping electricity on the grid to prevent people using it as a big resistor. But it’s levied by whoever is running the grid. Customers never buy a negative kilowatt-hour of electricity and if anyone ever offers to sell you I wouldn’t recommend buying it.

    On your second question, I’m not sure what a simple carbon cap is, but putting a price on CO2 emissions is the most efficient way to reduce carbon emissions in the electricity sector.

  87. OldSkeptic
    October 31st, 2010 at 13:09 | #87

    There is another factor not often considered in the ‘coal vs other’ arguments. We can pretty reliably expect coal prices to rise in real terms into the future.

    There are a number of factors.

    Firstly the price of coal is intimately tied to the price of oil, especially that which comes from remoter areas. The energy used in extraction and shipping mostly comes from diesel and heavy oil for ships.

    Now of course there is room for substitution to gas or electricity, but not for ships. Plus the cost of diesel would have to go up a lot to justify the capital cost.

    Secondly coal is running out, especially the high quality stuff. The Energy Watch Group did a report on coal that indicated that the US may have peaked in high quality coal production (http://www.energywatchgroup.org/Startseite.14+M5d637b1e38d.0.html).

    As for Australia there are (according to the BP Energy Revue, 2010) has 36.8B tonnes of Anthracite/bituminous (high quality in NSW and QLD) and 39.4B tonnes of sub-bit/lignite (poor or brown coal VIC & SA) in reserves, 76.2B in total.

    Now according to ABARE we produced 438M tonnes in 2008/09 of block coal and 65M of brown coal. All exports were black coal. At those production levels there are 84 years left.

    But, in doing so there would be nothing left of the Hunter Valley and you get into diminishing returns. You would expect the last 15B or so tonnes of reserves would get pretty expensive to extract. Then there is growth. Since 2000 growth has averaged 3% p.a.. Just on that alone the black coal runs out in 42 years. There are also the issues with coal seam gas and loss of agricultural land, which might lock away a lot of possible coal reserves.

    So realistically you would expect black coal costs (and hence prices) to start rising rapidly by at least the halfway depletion point, about 18.4B, which we would hit in 27 years. International issues will, of course, affect this. If, indeed the US has hit its peak of black coal production and China is somewhere there, then prices could easily start climbing rapidly much earlier.

    Note Australia domestic consumption is rising faster (at about 3.5% p.a.) than production.. Therefore (this is the export land model) there is going to be pressure on what is available for export and what the domestic price will be.

    At some point the cost of electricity from other sources (nuclear, solar, etc) will be cheaper than from black coal and this day may be a lot closer than we think, sometimes in the next 5-20 years is my guess, depending on the source (nuclear is probably the first, followed by wind and solar, then others after that). After that point alternatives become increasingly cheaper relative to coal.

    Now there is also brown coal as used in Vic/SA, but to switch NSW & Qld over to that would be expensive in capital expenditure and prices (shipping costs plus the lower energy quality) and if there is (inevitably) some sort of CO2 price then brown coal gets hit very hard.

    Therefore, from a pure economic point of view, to maximise Australia’s export income from coal and isolate the economy from ever increasing electricity prices, it needs to reduce its own consumption very quickly.

  88. OldSkeptic
    October 31st, 2010 at 18:50 | #88

    I should add – Danger, Danger Will Robinson. Are we facing an electricity crunch.

    Looking at ABARE’s numbers, the trendline growth in Australian electricity means we need about 1.5GW of new capacity a year. But there is only 2.7GW of committed capacity being built over the next couple of years, barely enough to meet demand. There is another 20GM that is ‘tentative’ over the next 6 years or so, some just feasibility studies.

    Which means Watson, it could start to get ugly in 2012/13.

    Of the committed, 9% is black coal based, 23% coal seam gas (that;’s ambitious), 34% gas and 34% wind.

    Of the ‘tentative’: 6% brown coal, 6% black coal, 6% coal seam gas, 31% gas, 33% wind, 3% wave, 1% biomass, 0.3% solar (really), 1% geothermal, 13% to be determined.

    The wind numbers (which are good) , if they eventuate, take us right into the max that the grid can handle (roughly 10%, probably less in an antiquated ancient one like ours).

    Going to get interesting folks. Note: all numbers are approximate, +/- 10% are quite feasible.

  89. Ben
    October 31st, 2010 at 20:57 | #89

    @OldSkeptic
    Why do you say that the grid can handle a maximum of 10%? Where did you get this number from?

  90. BilB
    November 1st, 2010 at 15:16 | #90

    Old news now, but current because the Nissan Leaf has just begun rolling off the assembly line. Looks really good to me.

    http://www.themotorreport.com.au/38743/nissan-leaf-electric-vehicle-revealed-coming-to-australia-in-2012

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