Annika Dean’s article (see image) repeats several recurring misrepresentations about renewable energy.
The first is that renewable energy, particularly wind, is cheaper than coal. The 2011 Australian Productivity Commission shows the following cost comparison between the energy sources in Australia:
Coal fired power station $79 per Mw/h (megawatt/hour)
Gas fired power station $97 per Mw/h – or 1.2 times the cost of coal power
Wind power $150-214 per Mw/h
Solar power $400-473 per Mw/h
But even that does not show the true cost of wind and solar. In their paper computer scientist at The Weather Company, Andrew Miskelly and Physicist, Dr Tom Quirk analyse the actual power output of wind farms; their conclusions can also be used with solar power.
Miskelly and Quirk found 3 types of power output; the first is Installed Capacity which is the power which would be produced if the plant were running all the time. The second is Capacity Factor which is what is actually produced averaged over a year; and the third is the Reliability Point which is the probability of the Capacity Factor occurring at any one time.
They found wind’s Capacity Factor is about 30% but wind’s Reliability Point is between 2 and 6% at any wind farm. That means there is only a small chance that a wind farm can be relied upon to be producing power at any time.
This low Reliability Point is because wind power is intermittent. Advocates of renewable energy say this can be overcome by batteries or other storage for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun not shining. But as professor Gordon Hughes notes if this could be done it would be being done. As well there is the insurmountable problem that you cannot use energy twice; if wind and solar store energy to be used later they cannot use it when they produce it.
The consequence of this is that renewable energy needs reliable fossil energy to be on constant backup. This adds greatly to the overall cost of energy because the expense of building the wind and solar farms and infrastructure does not replace the fossil sources but only adds to the overall cost to the energy grid. Part of that infrastructure expense is the special poles and wires necessary for wind and solar which provide power in surges not as a continuous even stream.
Advocates of renewable energy still maintain that fossil energy can be replaced. In 2010, the Zero Carbon Australia-Stationary Energy Plan was produced under the auspices of Melbourne University. This plan claimed all Australia’s energy could come from renewables by 2020. This plan was critiqued by engineers Martin Nicholson and Peter Lang in collaboration with professor Barry Brooks from the University of Adelaide.
Nicholson and Lang found Australia could in fact convert to renewable by 2020 at a cost of over $4 billion and if Australians were prepared to cut energy consumption by 63%. That’s no electricity for over half the week.
Ms Dean asserts that “disadvantaged countries” can use renewable energy instead of coal. That would be condemning those already “disadvantaged” people to a continuation of disadvantage.
Coal and other fossil fuels have had a history of pollution; but apart from nuclear energy they are the only energy sources which work reliably.
World-wide another 1200 coal-fired power plants are planned, over 75% of them in China and India.
The challenge is to make sure those new plants are not as polluting as the past ones. China is developing a technology called Ultra Supercritical plants; these greatly reduce all pollutants and even non-polluting CO2.
In addition if some of the money going into renewable research was used for developing Thorium energy, a relatively non-radioactive type of uranium, then those “disadvantaged” countries might have a real choice instead of the dream of renewables.
But then the greens were never interested in practical solutions; the reason for that is because their solutions are for imaginary problems.