100 per cent renewable electricity: the next steps

I’ve spend the last few days at a workshop on the transition to a renewable energy supply for Australia, which focused primarily on electricity. The presentations should be available soon, and I’ll write a longer post if I get time, but here are a couple of quick points I took away.

  • Adding storage to a system that is at or close to 100 per cent renewable will cost around $25/MWh, that is, about 2.5 cents/kWh
  • The big problem for Australia is transmission, to connect solar and wind resources to the grid. AEMO and AEMC are in denial on this. My view – we need to renationalise transmission immediately, and replace the current NEM alphabet soup with bodies that will plan for a rapid transition

15 thoughts on “100 per cent renewable electricity: the next steps

  1. John, I would respectfully disagree with you over your comment regarding AEMO and the AMEC being in denial over the need for upgrading the NEM’s tranmission network. AEMO’s Integrated System Plan acknowledges the need for better inter-connection both between states and within state boundaries. As I understand it, Transgrid and Electranet currently have a proposal for a major inter-connector between SA and NSW on the table with the strong support of AEMO. Even the AMEC, which has been very slow in recognising the need to transform the grid, has promised a fast-track process to approve this proposal. Hopefully, this points to a much needed change in this organisation’s approach to the integration of renewables into the NEM.
    I would suggest that it’s the AER and the ESB, dominated by the FF gentailers that continue to be the major obstacles in moving the NEM to 100% renewables as soon as possible.

  2. Thanks for this. The problem is that we need a lot more interconnections in Queensland and elsehwere if we are going to use our solar and wind resources, and none of this fits into the market model that still prevails despite a decade of comprehensive failure. Neither AEMC nor AEMO is paying proper attention to this, and both are stuck in a framework where climate stabilization is an optional extra at best.

    As regards the general alphabet soup, ESB has no justification for existence and should be abolished immediately. AEMC has failed and needs to be scrapped or radically changed. The privatised transmission operators need to be renationalised. As regards AER and AEMO, it’s probably mostly a matter of changing the rules under which they operate.

  3. Is the incremental cost for storage at high renewable penetration a marginal cost (say for the last 10% of supply), or the cost averaged over all supply? Either way it’s clearly affordable.

    These cost projections are very iffy because of rapid technical progress. I read the technically hyoerconservative Blakers scenario, using only transmission and pumped storage for firming, as establishing an upper bound on costs. Ten years from now, when the debate turns into real investment decisions, the technological menu will be wider. CSP, V2G, P2X (my favourite X is ammonia), grid flow batteries, EGS .. It would be as big a surprise if none of them worked as if they all did.

  4. “CSP, V2G, P2X (my favourite X is ammonia), grid flow batteries, EGS .. It would be as big a surprise if none of them worked as if they all did.”
    Yep, that’s the way technological progress works – you play the odds by trying lots of different approaches. That, after all, is exactly how solar PV has come to dominate a renewable grid, at least in sunny parts of the world (wind may be more important elsewhere). We tried solar themal, tidal, waves, 4G nuclear, fusion, carbon sequestration as well as PV until we found one that works cheaply. Now we need to be putting some serious money into a wide range of bulk storage approaches.

  5. For off-the-wall storage schemes, take a look at Heindl’s gravity storage, basically cutting a huge cylinder out of a hill and pushing it up with high-pressure hydraulics. Another concept is building temporary towers of large concrete blocks. The crane winches turn into generators on the way down.

    The big problem faced by such innovators is that pumped hydro is a fully understood century-old technology already deployed at gigawatt scale. Legacy is hard to beat.

  6. Re alphabet soup: SFIK the UK makes do with one regulator for wholesale electricity, OFGEM, and one regulated monopoly grid operator, National Grid (erroneously privatised, but the main thing is that it does not own or manage any generating assets). I dare say more players get into the act at the retail end. Still, it’s hard to see what is gained by adding more committees.

  7. The next government of Australia has to declare that no new thermal coal mines will get licenses to be opened in Australia. It has to become L-A-W, law. It’s as simple as that. Anything less means we are not serious. Half of the barrier reef is already dead, January was a new record hot month and our climate is already experiencing wide-ranging destabilization. How many times have we heard the word “unprecedented” in relation to recent bush fires and floods? Normally, one could dismiss this new vogue for the word “unprecedented” as media hyperbole. However, a look at the facts indicates it is precisely the right word.

    Even the IPCC is using the word unprecedented albeit in relation to the efforts we now need to make.

    ““Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics, but doing so would require unprecedented changes,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, which focuses on reducing (mitigating) climate change.”

    “Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030,”

    We are not seeing unprecedented change as yet in BAU (Business As Usual). We are seeing wimpy, mealy-mouthed, prevaricating change around the edges. National governments, including Australia’s, have to implement radical changes now.

  8. The problem is that we need a lot more interconnections in Queensland and elsehwere if we are going to use our solar and wind resources

    The problem is that essentially the entire ruling coalition is in the middle of what appears to be well let’s be honest some sort of psychotic breakdown. That’s the actual issue, not the technocratic ones of planning and technology selection: those ones aren’t actually that hard to make [the costs of delay appear to be significantly higher than the costs of a plausibly-poor technology decision] and little effort needs to be spent on them, and even once they’re made they can’t be implemented until the other issues are dealt with.

    I mean, I’m not going to tell people they can’t talk about the technology and implementation decisions at all, because clearly some sort of decisions have to be made, but questions like ‘how do we go about getting Greg Hunt sectioned as a hazard to others” are kind of more pressing.

  9. “Avoiding overshoot and reliance on future large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can only be achieved if global CO2 emissions start to decline well before 2030,”

    Atmospheric storage of CO2 for draw down as a fuel precursor (and for conversion to safer than CO2 permanently stored products)? Photosynthesising plants at low efficiency have used it so for ever – a globally unrestricted storage site. There should be far less restrictions on siting refineries than for oil currently, so less restrictions on fuel product transport or derived electricity transmission. Carbon farming, forestry, face mounting restrictions such as from climate destruction and population…

    “Moving artificial leaves out of the lab and into the air
    … Their improved leaf, which would use carbon dioxide — a potent greenhouse gas — from the air, would be at least 10 times more efficient than natural leaves at converting carbon dioxide to fuel.”

  10. If Hunt (and Co.) were ‘sectioned’ where would they be placed? The mental health system being in a woefully deprived state, Hunt and Co. would probably just be left where he is in Australia’s fantastically well provided and biggest asylum.

    Overall better outcomes for the country may result from vastly increased transparency applying to all government related decisions and decision makers. That, and Hunt along with all other politicians, their apparatchiks, and government executive agents donning a certain sort of transcranial magnetically stimulating headwear prior to any role related decision making. How about an implanted miniaturised device? I suspect there would be some pushback, but “what have they got to hide”?

    Morals versus money: How we make social decisions
    “..Through electromagnetic stimulation of the rTPJ (right Temporal Parietal Junction), the researchers were then able to determine which of the three types of considerations — predisposed altruism, reputation management, or trading off moral and material values — are processed in this area of the brain. … depending on the strength of the monetary incentive, people will at one point switch to selfish behavior. When the authors reduced the excitability of the rTPJ using electromagnetic stimulation, the participants’ moral behavior remained more stable.

    The headwear mechanism facilitating more moral decisions, surely able to be first miniaturized at least into the form of a permanently worn headband much the same as a GPS ankle bracelet, at Materials and Methods from the linked paper:

    “We used theta burst stimulation (TBS) applying repeated burst of 3 pulses at 50 Hz, known to deactivate the stimulated neurons during 30 min (Huang et al., 2005) when applied continuously. Every TBS burst was repeated at a 5 Hz rate resulting in 200 bursts with a total of 600 pulses. For TPJ TBS, the coil was placed with the handle perpendicular to the supramarginal gyrus anterior to TPJ (with the current going in the anterior to posterior direction) and for the vertex TBS it was held parallel to the midline. TBS was applied using online tracking system held by a robotic arm to guarantee correct placement during TBS period.” – https :// elifesciences.org/articles/40671

  11. Mark Butler is very keen on new interconnectors and support for storage. And he recognises that cost of finance concessions may need to be made to enable things like the second Tasmanian connector to be built quickly. If reduced capital costs are facilitated through organisations like CEFC, this then makes a good case for the next step of government ownership. We do it for Snowy Mountains, so why not for the rest of the energy infrastructure.

  12. A 916 km, 800 megawatt interconnector apparently will be built between South Australia and NSW at an estimated cost of $1.73 billion. In my emergency “giving a toss about children” mode I look at the price tag and think that can provide enough cheap sources of dispatchable power to shut down Loy Yang Power Station, which is Sauron to Hazelwood’s Saruman.

    But these interconnectors can apparently pay for themselves while reducing the reliance on fossil fuel generation so they are win-win. Sure, if storage costs fall rapidly enough they may not be as productive an investment as hoped, but that is a very minor problem for a country of Australia’s wealth. The deaths that result from fossil fuel pollution and environmental damage are not a minor problem.

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