CHRIS MILLS. Australians’ Electricity Transition Plan: Coal to Renewables.

May 22, 2019

Climate scientist across the world have proven beyond reasonable doubt that anthropometric heating of the planet is a grave and imminent danger to humanity, often described as an existential threat.  In Australia, our politicians have dithered for decades while the world burns.  The claim is that Global Warming is a ‘wicked’ unsolvable problem, but is it? Does it just require new thinking?

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words, so let’s start with one:

This is the plan:

A clear and effective Climate Management direction for Australia (also applicable across the world) is:

  1. No new coal-fired power stations– close the existing power stations  as they reach their planned economic life;
  2. Fill the gapbetween electricity demand and diminishing coal-fired power with a steady expansion of renewable energy: wind, solar and hydro;
  3. Firm the system with energy storage, with reliable pumped-hydro currently being the lowest cost, but watch new technologies such as liquid-metal batteries;
  4. Lower energy costswith a planned network of intelligent transmission lines and control systems;
  5. Combine Storage and Transmission to improve the resilience of the energy systemto the impact of climate change (storms, floods, fires).

 The graphic above is mostly derived from here:

Department of Energy and Environment – 2018 Energy Update 

And here: 

Table 2.1 Australia’s operating coal fired power stations

Information was merged into an Excel spreadsheet, with three

Policy Levers added:

  1. Nominal Coal Generator Life Years: How many years after commissioning a coal-fired power station reaches the end of its economic life, 50 is used;
  2. Capacity Factor Percentage: coal-fired power stations don’t run at 100% of maximum power, so a lower average output needs to be used to estimate how many Megawatts of power are lost when a coal-fired power station is closed:

Understanding Capacity Factor

  1. Electricity Demand Increase PA:  The Department of Environment and Energy’s report indicates that electricity demand has been rising by about 1% per annum; electrification of transportation through charging electrically powered cars, busses and trucks will increase demand for electrical power, in the graphic above this has been set at 3% per annum.

The Transition Plan is easily achievable.  For the policy settings used, an average of renewable capacity build is 1,562 Megawatts per annum out to 2060.  The Clean Energy Council provides this project tracker:

Clean Energy Council Project Tracker

In 2018, 6,758 Megawatts of renewable energy generation was added, with more projects in the construction pipeline.  The number of jobs added – Wind 5,058 and Solar 5,030 substantially exceeds the 1,464 new jobs estimated to be created by the Adani Galilee Basin coal mine, which The Australian Institute suggests will place at risk the jobs of coal miners in other locations:

‘Building new coal mines in the Galilee Basin would reduce the overall coal workforce by between 2,680 and 5,800 mine workers in the coming decades.’

Adani’s Automated Mine Risk to Other Workers

‘Firming’ or increasing the reliability of renewable electricity generation is an essential element of the Transition Plan and depends on two factors: storage of energy and the ability to transmit energy from a place where wind and sunshine are generating power to places where ‘the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining and there is no energy stored’.

Snowy Hydro 2.0 has been given approval by both sides of politics.  ‘Tasmania as the Big Battery’ has also been mooted, with analysis suggesting that it will become economically viable and necessary in several years.

Each of Australia’s coal-fired power station has an economic ‘use by’ date.  These closures are spread out reasonably evenly between the next closure at Liddell in 2022 until the final closure in 2060.  This schedule of closures is easily accommodated by the now booming industry of renewable wind and solar powered generation.

The schedule of closures also meets – indeed exceeds – Australia’s Paris Climate Change Agreement:

Australia’s Climate Change Target

The Transition Plan moves beyond 2030 towards the Inter-Governmental Plan on Climate Change 2018 Report to limit Global Warming to 1.5 Celsius by 2050:

IPCC Report 2018

The transition from coal-fired to renewable generation is substantially complete by 2050, accompanied by a substantial increase in electricity generation to charge electrically powered vehicles, further reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.

Chris Mills is a MSc in Systems Management and is a systems designer and builder.

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2 thoughts on “CHRIS MILLS. Australians’ Electricity Transition Plan: Coal to Renewables.

  1. Peter,

    The source is this, Figure 3.3:

    The demand for electricity has decreased in recent years because of the market-place sensitivity to higher prices, leading to widespread ‘make it at home’ domestic rooftop solar PV. I have had one operating since 2007 and it has generated 24.25 MwHr and it has saved a lot – our peak price is 45 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    I agree that the uptake of Electric Vehicles in Australia will be slow, in part because of ‘range anxiety’, which is why I published this, hoping to spark a technology response:

    Overall, I agree with your analysis, especially the core logic that we don’t need to build publicly-funded coal-fired power stations in Australia as modern renewables and intelligent grid design will provide electricity that is more affordable, reliable, lower in price and delivering a more resilient system in response to the heat, floods and storms of climate change.

    Many thanks for a well considered response.

    Chris Mills

  2. I am not sure where you get the figure that electricity demand is increasing. This is the mistake suggested in most official forecasts. Yet outside a few places like Texas, electricity demand is falling throughout the developed world. For example net demand in Britain has fallen from 318 TWh in 2012 to 272 TWh last year. Germany 515 TWh to 496 TWh and so on

    Total demand on the NEM in 2010 was 207 TWh. This year it is running at 203 TWh including 9 TWh from rooftop solar, so net supply from large scale generation has fallen by almost 1% per year.

    Australian Households still average 6.2 MWh per year. Italians 2.8 MWh even though their major city summers are hotter and winters colder. In other words there are huge opportunities for further energy efficiency gains.

    The total failure of energy policy by the current government will ensure prices stay high and encourage
    a) more energy efficiency/conservation
    b) more behind the meter generation
    c) More commercial, institutional and industrial PPAs directly with wind and solar farms or through intermediaries such as Flow Power
    d) scaling back of energy intensive industry.

    All of these things will accelerate the fall in grid generated power and make the standing costs and inflexibility of coal plants harder and harder to maintain

    Second, wind and solar are more and more complimentary. New wind turbines generate for 40-100% more hours per year than 8-10 year old designs (CF going from 28% to 50%+) and tracking solar generates useful power for almost twice as many hours per year as fixed tilt rooftop solar, so the gap between solar during the day and wind at night is getting smaller and smaller. At the moment we generate more renewables in winter than we do in summer because stronger winter winds more than offset stronger summer solar but as solar installations are growing almost twice as fast as wind and more of the solar is tracking types, by 2020/21 winter and summer renewables will be roughly in balance.
    It has been shown in Germany and SA that until you reach at least 50% renewables, storage is not very important, Germany’s peak hydro+ peak imports are about 20% of annual peak demand, but in fact Germany never goes anywhere near that. Most of their imports are off peak nuclear and hydro from France, Switzerland and Sweden where those countries would otherwise be suffering negative prices.
    In our case SA is more self sufficient than it has been since the opening of the NEM. Total trade across the interconnectors has fallen from 2.8 TWh in 2016 of which imports were 2.6 TWh to a projected total of 1.8 TWh this year of which imports will be about 0,8 TWh. Even NSW imports have fallen from 9.3 TWh in 2014 to 5.2 in the 12 months to date. There is a case for minor expenditure on the NSW Queensland link and possibly the Victoria/ NSW link but it is highly unlikely that any new transmission capacity will get enough use after the first few years to justify its cost of operation.

    As for EVs increasing demand. If we do reach 50% of sales by 2030 that will mean that we have about 1.8 m vehicles on the road each drawing about 2 MWh or a total of 3.6 TWh. If grid sourced demand is falling by even 0.5% per year, that is a reduction of 10 TWh so while EVs might slow the decline they won’t increase demand. In practice because of continuing high power prices, demand from large scale generation might fall by more than 30 TWh by 2030.
    The net result of all this is that coal plants will start closing before the end of their economic life. The closures will be disguised as long term outages of individual units for maintenance to keep prices high, but that will just encourage cheaper alternatives so a slow but inexorable vicious circle will ensure that coal generates less than 30% of our power by 2030

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