The Winter of discontent
21 June 2022
To paraphrase from William Shakespeare’s Richard the Third – ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made inglorious by renewable energy’. As we move into the chilly months, Australia’s omens are dire with blackouts predicted. Some of us heretical climate deniers are tempted to say, ‘told you so’…
Local councils are joining a long list of politically correct administrations who have wasted their constituents’ money on virtue signalling. Inspiration for these futile activities originally came from the ban-the-bomb activists. Sydney was the first of numerous councils that declared themselves nuclear-free. More time and money have been wasted on zero carbon policies; by 2019, 29 councils, including Melbourne and Noosa, had declared climate emergencies, with plans to achieve Net Zero by 2026.
South Australia’s new Labor government, with unfortunate timing, has this month declared its own state climate emergency, with vague plans to ‘decarbonise’. Having had prior warning in 2016, when there was insufficient wind to power its turbines, SA built the Tesla big 100 MW battery which was capable of powering 30,000 homes for 8 hours, tough luck for the rest of the state. In 2019, when there was too much wind and wind turbines shut down, the battery failed to fill the gap and the company was sued. It was expanded to 150 MW in 2021, providing a ‘beacon of innovation’. That beacon of innovation was illuminated when a battery fire disrupted operation.
On rare occasions, renewables have fulfilled all the state’s electricity, routinely around 60 per cent of requirement, with the rest provided by gas from the Cooper Basin and fossil fuel electricity via inter-connectors from Victoria and a planned connection to NSW. There are plans to build a further 450MW of battery storage, commencing later this year, to provide a battery to supply SA for 11/2 days has been estimated to cost $6.5 trillion.
California, the woke capital of the world, suffers from similar virtue signalling and has, for no obvious reason, just signed a climate pact with New Zealand. Unlike SA, it does have hydro potential and a nuclear power plant, otherwise, like SA, it relies on back-up fossil fuel electricity from other states. Its economy and social structure is deteriorating and, should it not be consumed by a predicted mega-earthquake, its enormous debt will lead to the ‘go woke go broke’ outcome.
The increasingly separate ‘country’ of Western Australia, both in geography and in its power supply, has joined the bandwagon, with plans announced to shut its remaining state-owned, and money-losing, coal-fired power stations in 2027 and 2029. As with other states, there is a problem with excess (still subsidised) solar energy in the day, and the Premier plans to spend $4 billion on increasing wind turbines and renewable storage with hydro and batteries. More importantly, he has the advantage of gas backup, with a reservation policy in place for years ensuring adequate supply.
In the haste to shut down fossil fuels, there has been reduced maintenance of coal power generation, now leading to shut-downs and potential blackouts, initially in Queensland and NSW, but subsequently spreading to Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia. The failure rate is partially due to age and lack of upkeep, but also routine repairs taking place in a period of normally low demand. Unfortunately, the cold spell, (ACT has had the coldest June on record), means demand has exceeded that of mid-summer. Building more inter-connectors, as Victoria plans, does not solve the reliability problem if there is no baseload to connect to.
Meanwhile, the energy generators, which no longer make a profit from intermittent use of coal, have increased charges for gas, and power bills are soaring. This increased cost is now affecting manufacturing as well as home supply; energy-intensive businesses are increasingly unprofitable and may be shut down, with knock-on effects on supply chains and unemployment. Gas reservation policies, as in WA, should have been included in its East Coast development, a failure of both sides of government; this error has been compounded by ideological restriction of gas field exploration and development in New South Wales and Victoria.
Despite this country reducing its CO2 emissions, the feel-good restriction will do nothing to save the planet; China and India’s CO2 output climbs as they manufacture goods that our electricity cost and reliability make unprofitable. This ludicrous situation will continue until a reliable substitute for coal is available; currently, hydrogen technology is not developed and is too expensive, batteries are expensive and do not make energy, the only proven CO2-free option is nuclear. We must hope that some reality on gas exploration and use develops in the short term, and we also need a bit of global warming!
Dr Graham Pinn, FRCP, FRACP, FACTM, MRNZCGP, Retired Consultant Physician.