A big new study by electricity grid nerds (and I mean that in the nicest possible way) shows that after all the money and pain of 20 years of forced transition Australia’s electricity has shifted from 85% coal powered to 75% coal powered, which cost billions and as a bonus, made electricity more expensive and unstable. We drove out some brown coal, but swapped it for black coal. Instead of ousting coal power, the extra solar and wind power replaced some gas and hydro.
The authors are genuine independent experts, and the report is incredibly detailed — so this is rare — but still suffers from serious drawbacks:
1) The team doesn’t question the need for an artificial expensive transition. Almost all the problems they describe are caused by government policies that task our grid with changing the climate as well as producing cheap and reliable electricity.
2) In a grid being ruined by inept policy, the implied solutions almost all involve more regulation and government policy. If our gas prices are too high we could ban sales overseas, but then we lose the export income. The left hand steals from the right. The free market solution is to use another fuel, like coal or nukes, or explore for more gas. When the new report says “Thermal plants are aging and are highly unlikely to be replaced by new coal plants” they don’t add — but only because government policy prevents this.
3) Changing markets and scheme “Design” won’t save us — it won’t make low density energy more dense, it won’t make intermittent supply more reliable, or batteries cheaper, or open up vast land near the demand for electricity. All these are structural problems — and every solution involves throwing money.
This report is very useful for identifying problems but not so much for figuring out solutions — to be fair, Paul McArdle and team are not selling their report as such. That’s not their job — that’s Angus Taylor’s.