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Renewables, coal and culture war

November 22nd, 2017

In the final week of the Queensland election campaign, I’ve been busy trying to do what I can to influence the result. I’ve put out a couple of opinion pieces about the choice between coal and renewable energy. This one, in The Guardian, focuses on the central role of the culture war in motivating rightwing opposition to renewable energy. In The Conversation, I look at the economics and business aspects and debunk the idea that ‘ultrasupercritical’ technology makes coal-fired power a high efficiency, low emissions technology

Also, in New Matilda, I’m collaborating with Morgan Brigg and Kristen Lyons of the Global Change Institute to produce a five-part series on Adani and the resistance to the project by the Wangan and Jagalingou people.

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  1. November 22nd, 2017 at 19:24 | #1

    Does the culture war position extend to the health cists of air pollution? Denialism on these by spokesmen is muted, and finds it hard to overcome the “patently ridiculous” barrier. Breathe in car and truck exhausts and soot from power stations, get lung and heart disease (and Alzheimer’s and cancer, the list keeps growing). Maybe the issue is less salient in low-density Australia than in Los Angeles or London.

  2. poselequestion
    November 23rd, 2017 at 06:34 | #2

    Is there any evidence that our “leaders” have given any thought to the prospect of a bank that is effectively an arm of the Chinese government financing the Adani fiasco? What will back these loans, a piece of Queensland, Commonwealth Government guarantees…? What will happen if Adani (likely) falls over, will it become a commercial offshoot of the Chinese Government?

  3. Ernestine Gross
    November 23rd, 2017 at 08:33 | #3

    @James Wimberley

    Add aviation to car and truck exhausts.

    Aviation is important in Australia, not only international air transport but also domestic.

    While Australia, as a country rather than a set of regions and cities, has a very low population density in comparison to the UK and all EU countries, the location of the airport in Sydney is such that large densely populated areas of this great city are regularly exposed to aircraft noise and air pollution.

  4. may
  5. Mpower
    November 23rd, 2017 at 17:04 | #5

    Historians will look back at this period and think us crazy. Is there a comparable region anywhere with higher per capita emissions and likely greater impacts from climate change on an already extreme climate. I suppose what you grow up and live with seems normal. Most of the cynics and those in denial on the science of climate change, attribute recent climate change by pedalling some mystery cycle ignoring the recent unprecedented rate of change.Ideas on sunspots and cycles went rogue in the hands of seasonal forecaster Inigo Jones, a legend to too many Queenslanders growing up last century, and despite 50% success by Jones on wet and dry type forecasts. Our hope has to be that the rest of the world will recognise we are small fry, solve the emissions problem for us ,save the reef, ignore our claims to any credibility, and not take punitive action.

  6. Ikonoclast
    November 23rd, 2017 at 22:35 | #6

    People with heavy investments in coal, coal mines and coal power stations don’t want their investments to become stranded assets. They have a lot of money right now because coal was profitable in the past. They use some of this money to lobby and buy politicians, via campaign donations etc., to keep policies favouring coal in order to keep coal profitable.

    While the market is sending signals right now that renewable power is more profitable than coal, there is also a delayed action effect from the owners of established capital in coal using part of their accumulated monies to lobby for market distortions (and a free ride on negative externalities) favouring coal.

    Rather than see which way the new trend is going, which would mandate a disruption and new direction to their current business model, the coal barons and their managers and functionaries would rather double-down their bets on coal while seeking to rig the game. They are doing what they are comfortable with and know. They are comfortable with the coal business and buying politicians. Anything else would take them out of their comfort, knowledge and expertise zones.

    Like climate change denialists, the fossil fuel dinosaurs will have to go senile and die.

  7. November 24th, 2017 at 01:05 | #7

    News item: the latest renewable energy auction in Mexico has come out with record low prices. (*****greentechmedia.com/articles/read/mexico-auction-bids-lowest-solar-wind-price-on-the-planet#gs.bU3MFEg) The average price for the successful bids was $20.57 per Mwh. The lowest in solar was a staggering $17.70, from ENEL (Italy); the lowest in wind $22, from Engie (France).

    The auction structure is complex, with prices the sum of an electricity PPA for 15 years and a contract to sell an allocation of renewable energy certificates, SFIK for 30 years. The process is advertised as subsidy free, but the tradeable certificate market is created by regulation – large consumers have to buy a rising share of renewable electricity by PPAs or certificates, the grid operator acting as a middleman. Still, this is much closer to a “clean” auction than the ones in the Gulf, where bidders can it seems get cheap capital and free grid connections. The delivery dates in 2019 are earlier than the Gulf ones, so bidders in Mexico can’t be building in much of a fall in expected future prices.

    GTM think that Engie are getting only a 5% IRR, with little margin for error. Developers make their money by selling on completed projects to risk-averse institutional investors, for whom 5% is an attractive rate. The anecdatum confirms that the WACC of 9.6% used by Lazards in calculating comparative LCOEs in the USA is seriously out of date. They admit as much, but keep the high rates typical of 10 years ago for statistical consistency. At all events, using a realistically low cost of capital shifts the comparison with fossil generation even more in favour of wind and solar.

    Funny that Mexico and India can manage to reform their electricity markets so that they deliver these sorts of results, while sophisticated Australia is stuck with a badly performing kludge.

  8. November 24th, 2017 at 01:13 | #8

    @Ernestine Gross
    Do you have a source for local, health-damaging air pollution from planes? The peak burn is at takeoff. so it’s possible. Certainly air pollution from huge cruise ships in port, running their Sulzer diesels on sludgy bunker fuel, is becoming an issue in Europe.

    You may be on stronger ground or noise pollution from aircraft. Electric planes aren’t noise-free, but they are plausibly claimed to be much quieter. *****youtube.com/watch?v=kcZCwSe3qZI

  9. Mpower
    November 24th, 2017 at 11:01 | #9

    Meanwhile in suburbia, the chain saws herald summer. Those nuisance century old figs next door blocking the sun on their panels – not good for their aircon. As it gets hotter, more sun needed and so it goes. The good news is that panels will reduce the demand for peak power from the grid as peak shifts to the afternoon.

  10. November 25th, 2017 at 08:29 | #10

    Another news item:

    The Indian government reported that in Q3 2017, the country’s coal-based power capacity shrunk by 1,126 megawatts.

    WTF? This must be a blip, as substantial coal capacity was added in Q1 and Q2. Still, it’s astonishing. There’s now a bare possibility that the coal market in India is collapsing even faster than the optimists have been hoping. India has a true generation market: if the owners of coal plants are losing money, they can shut them down. Presumably the oldest ones with the highest operating costs will go first.

  11. Ronald
    November 25th, 2017 at 11:57 | #11

    James, it’s a quarterly figure so it’s easy for blippish things to happen and third quarter should be the best time to shut down a coal power plant in India. It’s after the summer peak, hydroelectric production is up, and the monsoon is likely to be interfering with coal mining and transport. But India closing what are presumably their worst performing coal power stations is definitely good news.

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