“Cheap” renewables pushing fossil fuels out of the market

Last weekend, I watched a short Youtube video about the claim that cheap renewables is forcing out fossil fuels. A new report came out finding that 5 of the 16 Australian coal plants could close earlier due to cheap renewables.

Screenshot from The Agenda: Australian coal plants unviable by 2025

The lead analyst of the report made the claim that the future closures of those plants are due to a flood of “cheap” renewables. This claim was mentioned in the title, the description ánd the interview itself. They really wanted to thoroughly rub that message in…

Most members of the public would probably understand from this claim that the cost of producing electricity by renewables is so low that it makes coal fired power plants unprofitable, but it is my experience that when an energy expert claims that solar and/or wind are “cheap” that it generally means something really different from what members of the public thinks it means…

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New South Wales batteries model: the optimal balance between deficit and surplus production

In previous post, I explored the potential impact of batteries with a total capacity of 1,350 MW / 2 GWh in replacing dispatchable power sources by intermittent power sources in a grid. It learned me that the capacity of the batteries was way too small to absorb the variability of the intermittent output. Not much surplus was produced at a low share of intermittent power, but there was always a deficit. The higher the share, the lower the deficit, but also the higher the surplus production. It however took an incredibly high share for the deficit to reach zero, corresponding to very high levels of surplus production.

That made me wonder whether it would be possible to determine the point where the batteries would be used in an optimal way, meaning finding the point where there is the least amount of surplus combined with a still reasonable amount of deficit. This would allow me to determine a more realistic share of intermittent power for this battery capacity and, more importantly, how much dispatchable power would this intermittent share actually displace.

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New South Wales batteries model: balancing with 2 GWh?

In this first (late) post of the new year, I will go back to a previous post about 18 new grid batteries that might be built in New South Wales. I estimated that the capacity to be build could be somewhere around 1,350 MW.

These batteries would most probably provide frequency control as does the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia. But frequency control is just one small piece in the transition towards renewables. At some point in time, New South Wales will have to provide back-up capacity when they want to increase intermittent sources and cut back on fossil fuels. That made we wonder, if NSW would like to do this backup with batteries, how far would they jump with that 1,350 MW and how much dispatchable power could be displaced? Would that solve much of the back-up problem? Or is this just akin those proverbial gnats peeing on a fire?

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South Australia, the second cheapest electricity in Australia … or the most expensive?

Previous post detailed electricity prices of four states in Australia, coming to the conclusion that the electricity prices of South Australia were without any doubt the highest of those four states. In the meanwhile, I came across several other sources that also claimed that South Australia has the highest electricity price for consumers in Australia.

Now imagine my surprise reading the last paragraph of the Wikipedia article on “Energy in Australia” (my emphasis):

It was claimed in 2017 that South Australia had the most expensive electricity in the world [50] Another analysis claimed that South Australia has the second cheapest electricity in Australia.[51]

South Australia, the second cheapest electricity in Australia?!?!

In my limited dataset with only four states, South Australia had -by far- the highest average electricity price for consumers. This means that South Australia is at best the fourth cheapest in Australia (if all other not listed states were more expensive). How does this “second cheapest electricity” claim square with being at best the fourth most expensive, possibly even the most expensive?

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South Australia, at lonely heights

It is often claimed that energy sources like solar and wind are cheap or even cheaper than some conventional power sources like coal, gas or nuclear. If this is really true, than one would expect that energy prices in countries with more solar and wind go down or at least being less than in countries powered by conventional sources. That doesn’t seem to be the case, on the contrary. I already looked at energy prices of Denmark and Germany a couple years ago. I then came to the conclusion that these two countries not only had by far the highest share of solar and wind, but also by far the highest consumer prices.

What about South Australia? It also has a high share of solar and wind, how does its electricity price for consumers compare to the other states within Australia?

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At a lower cost … compared to what exactly?

Just an update on previous post about new big batteries to be built in New South Wales. In that post, the author made the claim that grid-size batteries are cost-effective and come at a low(er) cost. Here are the instances in the article were such claims are made (my emphasis):

In doing so, TransGrid will demonstrate that batteries can provide the most cost-effective solution for NSW’s projected upcoming inertia shortfall,” Miller said.

This innovation will help accelerate the industry’s transformation to a low-carbon energy system, at a lower cost to customers” she said.

Batteries offer a solution to this challenge at a small fraction of the cost of traditional technologies such as synchronous condensers.

Research and results from the trial will be shared to support future projects and help demonstrate that battery technology is a low cost and technically viable solution to the emerging challenge created by the transformation of the generation sector.

Again, this looks impressive and also confirms the narrative of the media and some researchers that renewable technologies are cheap. If this is really true, then migrating to a combination of solar, wind and batteries seems the most logical thing to do.

However, not everything is what it seems.

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As effective as 18 gnats peeing on a fire

It seems I keep stumbling upon hooray stories about Australian grid batteries. I found this reneweconomy article about a new Tesla battery that will be built in New South Wales. The article is titled “Transgrid to build Australia’s first Tesla Megapack big battery in western Sydney” and the author is Giles Parkinson. I remember him from a cheering and one-sided article about the Hornsdale Power Reserve and this article seems not much different.

The first paragraph provides the crux of the story (my emphasis):

Transmission company Transgrid is to build the first big battery in Australia using Tesla’s recently introduced Megapack battery technology, and what is likely to [sic] the first of more than 10 big batteries to be built across NSW as it they are important in face of the looming retirement of its ageing coal fleet..

A new big Tesla battery will be built, this time in New South Wales and likely 10+ big batteries will follow. More, these batteries are built in preparation of the retirement of the New South Wales coal power plants over the next 10 to 12 years…

This all sounds pretty impressive, but I wonder what order of magnitude we are talking about here.

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Blackouts: candlelight dinners and evenings without television?

Around the same time that I started writing previous post, I came across the article Guaranteeing power at all times is absurd (Dutch ahead) about our energy security. It is an opinion piece by Belgian economist Etienne De Callataÿ after our new Federal Government announced its intention of closing our nuclear infrastructure by 2025.

In that article, he makes the case that security of electricity supply should not be top priority for our Government and goes as far to write that one or two days of blackout per year is not the end of the world…

I think that I can somehow understand his reasoning, but first let’s look how De Callataÿ explains his strategy.

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Our new Federal Government

While I was blogging about the grid batteries in South Australia, we got a new Federal Government. It took a while, we were without a functional Federal Government since December 2018 when the then coalition broke up. This new coalition consists of seven parties from four different political groups. This Frankenstein coalition want to be called the “Vivaldi” coalition (after the violin concertos “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, representing the colors of the four political colors of the groups in the coalition). To make such a coalition work, compromises had to be made and also political presents had to be given.

Probably one of those presents is that the Minister of Energy is provided by the Green party. Our Minister of Energy now is Tinne Van der Straeten and the readers of this blog know her as the politician who managed to increase, ahem, fossil fuel subsidies and the Green party was apparently proud of that achievement.

The new coalition is very ambitious. When it comes to energy, they aim for the closure of the nuclear power plants by … 2025. To put that in perspective, our nuclear plants currently produce almost half of our electricity and this amount of power needs to be replaced within the next five years (it took decades to come to ten or so percent of solar and wind). They want to do this replacement by stimulating intermittent technologies, cooperation with neighbor countries (increased import and export), energy saving and also some gas-fueled power plants will be needed too. At the same time they also want to make energy cheaper, ensure energy security, create more jobs and lower emissions. All this without having to increase taxes…

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The fingerprint of solar and wind on import/export balance

The subject of previous post is how South Australia, having a high share of solar and wind, balances its grid. While crunching the numbers, I noticed that there generally is more import when electricity production by solar and wind is low and that there is more export when electricity production by solar and wind is high. This reminded me of a post I wrote about the German Energiewende in which I looked at the import/export balance and compared it with solar, with wind, with solar plus wind and with lignite. The import/export balance clearly followed the solar plus wind curve, but the peaks were somewhat topped off.

This made me wonder whether the same is true of the South Australia data. Let us first look at the same graph from previous post, but overlayed with the import/export balance curve in red (click to enlarge for a much clearer view):

AEMO South Australia charts0011b Fuelmix vs import export balance small

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