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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