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Climate change, power and coal

By 2353NM

You may have noticed it’s been a bit hot lately. In fact, if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month. Let’s just read that again so it really sinks in – if you were born after 1985, you have never experienced a cooler than average month.

The UK Government (amongst a lot of other experts in the field) states that Climate Change is happening, noting that

13 of the 14 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century and in the last 30 years each decade has been hotter than the previous one. This change in temperature hasn’t been the same everywhere; the increase has been greater over land than over the oceans and has been particularly fast in the Arctic.

It’s probably stating the obvious to suggest the UK Government is by nature conservative, as the Conservative Party is the ruling party at present. The same UK Government website goes on to list a number of detrimental effects of life (as they know it) changing in the UK as a result of climate change.

Regardless of the date you choose to start to measure from, and the scale of the graph you choose to draw, there is an upward line going to the right. Great if you’re looking at a company’s sales or share price, not so good if you are looking at the health of the world we want to leave for our descendants.

A number of scientists explain climate change as similar to pouring water into a bath. There is a lot of water in the bath and the water level is continually moving upwards. Dependent on where the spout you are using to pump water into the bath is located, there is a reasonable chance that the waves created by the water entering the bath will appear to reduce the height of the water in the bath on a momentary basis at points along the waveform; your brain will see though that the level is still rising. Climate change is where we are continually pumping chemicals into the atmosphere, which changes the way heat is dissipated. Let’s look at the UK Government’s website again:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide and other gases, such as methane, in the atmosphere create a ‘greenhouse effect’, trapping the Sun’s energy and causing the Earth, and in particular the oceans, to warm. Heating of the oceans accounts for over nine tenths of the trapped energy. Scientists have known about this greenhouse effect since the 19th Century.

The higher the amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the warmer the Earth becomes. Recent climate change is happening largely as a result of this warming, with smaller contributions from natural influences like variations in the Sun’s output.

Carbon dioxide levels have increased by more than 40% since before the industrial revolution. Other greenhouse gases have increased by similarly large amounts. All the evidence shows that this increase in greenhouse gases is almost entirely due to human activity. The increase is mainly caused by:

  • burning of fossil fuels for energy
  • agriculture and deforestation
  • the manufacture of cement, chemicals and metals

About 43% of the carbon dioxide produced goes into the atmosphere; the rest is absorbed by plants and the oceans. Deforestation reduces the number of trees absorbing carbon dioxide and releases the carbon contained in those trees.

So what does our ‘adult’ and ‘mature’ government do when South Australia again suffers electricity shortages? It claims that the fault for the outages is solely due to the state’s high (by Australian standards) use of renewable generation capacity. To emphasise the fact, Treasurer Morrison acts like a 5 year old taking his new toy to show and tell by bringing a lump of coal into Parliament.

Turnbull started this crusade when the entire South Australia power supply went down in September 2016. Turnbull claimed that the network was not secure:

Today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said several state Labor governments — not just in SA — had set “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” targets for renewable energy use.

“If you are stuck in an elevator, if the lights won’t go on, if your fridge is thawing out, everything in the kitchen is thawing out because the power is gone, you are not going to be concerned about the particular source of that power,” he told reporters in Launceston.

“You want to know that the energy is secure.”

While Energy Minister Frydenberg did acknowledge that the September 2016 power failure was caused by a significant weather event, ‘home town hero’ Senator Xenophon claimed that South Australia had become the laughing stock of the nation.

The reality is that the weather caused significant damage to not only the interconnector from Victoria and the national grid, it also caused significant damage to high voltage towers that took power from the base load generation equipment in South Australia around the state, as well as local cables that feed power into people homes. To make it even better, Turnbull knew that the September 2016 blackout had nothing to do with renewable energy.

Turnbull said: “What we know so far is that there was an extreme weather event that damaged a number of transmission line assets knocking over towers and lines and that was the immediate cause of the blackout.”

However, Turnbull also linked the blackout to South Australia’s use of renewable energy, calling it a “wake-up call” for state leaders who were trying to hit “completely unrealistic” renewable targets.

He said state governments needed to stop the “political gamesmanship” that had seen a state like Queensland set a 50% renewable target when renewables accounted for only 4.5% of its current energy mix.

“What’s the pathway to achieve that? Very hard to see it. It’s a political or ideological statement,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to recognise that energy security is the key priority and targeting lower emissions is very important but it must be consistent with energy security.”

Seems that the facts weren’t allowed to spoil a good story, as this event preceded President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway’s invention of the ‘alternative facts’ term by some months.

Fast forward to 8 February 2017 and 40,000 South Australians underwent the torture, euphemistically called ‘load shedding’ – where the electricity supply doesn’t meet the demand. Intelligent Energy Systems have suppled three graphs which explain the problem. The ‘National’ electricity grid (which doesn’t operate in the NT or WA) works on an economic free market system. The economic theory being that if the demand is there, various operators of the (generally) privatised power stations will bid for the ability to supply power. On 9 February, according to the ABC:

South Australian Treasurer and Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis slammed AEMO for choosing not to turn on the second unit at Pelican Point on Wednesday.

“AEMO admitted that they got their demand forecast wrong in SA, and when they realised that, it was easier for them to load shed customers than turn new generators on,” he said.

But Mr Koutsantonis also revealed that three generators were out of action due to technical issues.

“There were communication problems on Eyre Peninsula, which meant 75 megawatts of Port Lincoln baseload generation could not be dispatched into the system,” he said.

Yes, you read it right, the market regulator chose to ‘load shed’ rather than ask a South Australian power generator to commence generation. In essence, the market regulator chose to withdraw power from 40,000 people rather than generate more power! And Turnbull claims it is because South Australia uses too many renewable energy sources. Isn’t the Liberal Party the party of small business – don’t they understand how the free market works? If they did (and actually wanted to ‘fix’ the problem), surely they would be asking the market regulator A(ustralian) E(nergy) M(arket) O(perator) why it is not allowing the market to operate?

Maybe there is an ulterior motive here. Remember Treasurer Morrison passing a lump of coal around Parliament a couple of weeks ago? Remember Turnbull’s ‘stirring’ speech accusing Opposition Leader Shorten’s apparent desire to live in a waterfront mansion? Remember the brouhaha surrounding the shortage of electricity in a state that does successfully generate a fair proportion of its electricity need from renewables? Perhaps, according to Paula Matthewson, writing on The New Daily’s website they are all related.

Onlookers may have been puzzled to see the coal passed along the government’s frontbench and then among its backbenchers (in direct contravention of the parliamentary rule against the use of props), but the purpose of the Treasurer’s behaviour was clear.

Mr Morrison set out to prove to agitating Liberal conservatives that, if there’s going to be a change of Liberal leader, he is the man to take the fight to Labor on totemic conservative issues such as coal-based electricity.

There are a few points to note here. Apparently Queensland has larger spikes in demand for power than South Australia does. Surely, if there is a reason to question how individual states manage the generation of power, all eyes should be looking at Queensland!

The vast majority of Queensland’s energy is supplied by coal and gas. In 2015, Queensland had just 4% of its supply coming from renewables, compared to South Australia, which had 41%.

“Clearly these figures show that other dynamics like market concentration and gas prices are contributing to these price spikes and volatility, not the penetration of renewable energy,” McConnell [Dylan McConnell from the Climate & Energy College at the University of Melbourne] said.

While the events in Queensland have not raised an eyebrow, the smaller volatility in South Australia last year hit the front page of newspapers around the country, with politicians and rightwing commentators blaming the state’s reliance on renewable energy, calling for a halt to renewable energy expansion.

The push against renewables was supported by the coal lobby too, with the Minerals Council of Australia saying the reliance on renewables “exposed families and businesses to higher prices, supply instability and greater reliance on imported power”.

The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening and carbon pollution reduction processes don’t work! Well, no it doesn’t actually:

Peta Credlin admits the climate change policy under Julia Gillard’s Labor government was never a carbon tax, but the coalition used that label to stir up brutal retail politics.

Credlin, the former chief of staff to Tony Abbott when he was prime minister and now a political commentator for Sky News, said the coalition made it a “carbon tax” and a fight about the hip pocket rather than the environment.

And finally, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated:

“Clean coal” plants that the Turnbull government has flagged could get clean energy subsidies, are more expensive than solar, wind and gas-fired power and would lead to higher electricity price rises, analysts have warned.

Support for what the government calls “clean coal” stations – ultra-supercritical plants, which still emit greenhouse gas – would also be at odds with a 2015 OECD agreement under which Australia agreed not to fund any type of coal power in developing countries if cleaner options were available.


This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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  1. jim

    You’d swear the LNP was still in election mode . laughable,

    Thee Liberals and the Nationals cut $80 billion out of school and hospital funding even before they attacked Medicare.

    Mrabbitt oversaw Investment in renewables drop by more than eighty percent %.dickheads !.

    Renewable energy is not “causing” blackouts. They’re primarily due to the (incredibly complicated) energy market that wasn’t designed or isn’t being run to cope with a higher proportion of renewables, and is throwing up perverse incentives that mean South Australia can have a blackout while generators are sitting idle. Hmm, nsw Libs,SA Alp.

  2. Miriam English

    The sooner this pack of serial liars is ejected from government the better for Australia. But how to fight against the mainstream media owned by that fossil Murdoch?

    I wonder if the “load-shedding” was similar to the rolling blackouts and brownouts deliberately imposed on California by Enron to raise prices all those years ago. That’s to say, I wonder if it could have been intentional, calculated to achieve a desired result (framing of renewables). But perhaps the AEMO is just inept.

  3. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, AIMN. It strikes me that in these terrible times, one of the most important jobs for writers is to frame their facts and their truths in sharp, gobsmacking statements, in order to effectively combat the three-four-five word slogans of the deniers and the governments that represent their interests. The first sentence of this piece, justifiably repeated, does do that, brilliantly. It’s extraordinarily powerful. I’ve copied and pasted it to my notepad so I can drop it here and there, along with the link, of course, wherever it might seem appropriate.

  4. Keith

    I sent these comments off to an extreme right wing site today:

    “A couple of significant points:

    BOM, and other Agencies are suggesting there is a likelihood on ENSO going back into an El Nino phase for 2017. Unusual circumstance as El Nino occurs cyclicly; not yearly, 2015 had been suggestive of an El Nino event could happen.

    The other matter relates to APRA, watch the short video.

    And quote:

    “Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution jumped in 2015-16 as coal use continued to rise after the scrapping of the carbon price, making it harder to meet its emissions targets.

    Overall emissions are up 3.4 per cent compared with 2014-15 and up 7.5 per cent since the Abbott government eliminated the carbon price in June 2014, the Australian Conservation Foundation said, citing new data released under the National Greenhouse & Energy Reporting Scheme.”

    Coal being cheap might appear so on the surface, but, there are many hidden costs, health being one of them.”

    Sent later:

    “Further significant points:

    Shell knew about the impacts of climate change in the 1990s:


    ExxonMobil scientists had already stated that fossil fuels have an impact on climate in the 1970s.


    A New Zealand paper discussed the anticipated problems with fossil fuels in 1912.

    Another matter:

    Huge areas of permafrost thawing in North West Canada. Permafrost does not thaw unless temperature increases and remains in an increased period for some time.

  5. Johno

    Just get Malcolm Roberts from No Notion to visit some remaining intact blocks of native vegetation to tell us that plants love CO2 and our fears will be allayed. The methane discussion might be too complicated for Malcolm, I mean, bulldozing vegetation (CO2 using plants) in Queensland to be replaced with methane producing bovines could be a slight contradiction in Malcolm’s thought process.

  6. Harquebus

    Warming is unavoidable now. We are experiencing temperatures caused by CO2 pollution from a decade and more ago so, we have at least 10years worth plus whatever we are continuing to produce plus the various feedback mechanisms that have already started. There is no avoiding it, we will have to live with it.

    Renewable energy is a hoax and will not provide the energy requirements of our industrial civilization which, is completely dependent on transport and modern agriculture.

    “Modern agriculture is the use of land to convert petroleum into food.” — Prof. Albert Bartlett.

    Get ready.

    “Our results indicate that as CO2 continues to accumulate in the atmosphere, the full warming effect of an emission may take several decades, if not centuries to emerge.”

    “As more permafrost thaws, more and more carbon is exposed to microbes. The microbes consume the carbon, producing methane and carbon dioxide as waste products. These greenhouse gases are then released into the atmosphere, accelerating warming further.”

    “Humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances a year, in a toxic avalanche that is harming people and life everywhere on the planet.”

    If you want jobs and growth which, is only required to continue the support of privileged lifestyles (e.g. Malcolm Turnbull) then, be prepared to face the consequences.


  7. Keith

    Harquebus, you will find this reference interesting:

    The Trump cabinet looks as though it is falling apart; hopefully, France, Holland and Germany will see how inept extreme right wing politicians are.

    Extreme right wing politicians appear to be led by ideology rather than taking into account professional advice. The OECD has warned Australia about the housing market; it is no surprise. Currently, negative gearing is helping in wealth generation rather than providing housing for young people.

    A recession would be a terrible thing, but, hopefully would moderate emissions. Politicians are not doing enough, not only in Australia but around the planet; while Trump is a huge disaster.

  8. Kyran

    “The right wing of the Liberal Party also genuinely believes that climate change isn’t happening….”
    Isn’t that a bit like the tobacco industry saying it didn’t believe their product was harmful, whilst secreting all of the evidence to the contrary?
    “You want to know that the energy is secure.”
    Funny thing. When all of the various governments started selling the poles and wires, it was not a contractual obligation that there would be any guarantee of supply. Several providers were questioned in SA, Vic and Tas when various blackouts occurred, and all were in furious agreement that they were under no such obligation.

    “A publicly owned electricity grid is the only way to put a cap on costs, keep energy competitive and solve the country’s energy crisis, according to an economics expert.
    Professor John Quiggin says the creation of the National Electricity Market has been a failure, and governments should start buying back electricity transmission networks.”

    “In a discussion paper about a renationalised grid, he argued under a privatised system the Government has to face up to the economic and political costs of electricity failures, but receives no cash in return.”

    Whilst normally agreeing with Harquebus’ in the sense that the situation is desperate, I don’t necessarily agree that it is hopeless. It will require urgent and radical attention, for which there appears to be little political appetite. Given their benefactors are the perpetrators and perpetuators of the obscenity, and they aren’t accountable until the next election, we need to find another way. From memory, Harquebus made reference to ‘starting local’ in another post. Local councils and state governments.
    For the moment, that seems to be all we have got. My younger lad has an expression which drives me nuts, but is entirely appropriate.
    ‘Get rowdy’.
    Thank you, 2353NM and commenters. Take care.

  9. Miriam English

    Harquebus, yes, things will get a lot worse before they get better, but renewable energy is not a hoax. Those calling it a hoax are perpetrating a hoax. They are predominantly fossil fuel suppliers who want renewables to die (yeah, they’re real trustworthy).

    Wind is already cheaper than coal (which was previously the cheapest fuel). Centralised solar power stations are cheaper than new coal-fired power stations.

    And, yes, I know you’re going to say, “But the steel and silicon, and aluminium, and copper — it all requires fossil fuels.” Currently we use fossil fuels to make those parts, yes (because we have a fossil-fuelled system), but there is no reason why solar furnaces can’t do many of those jobs. A one meter square fresnel lens can melt through a concrete block like a hot knife through butter. We have the technology. It’s simple. We’ve had it for hundreds of years.

  10. Kate Ahearne

    Thanks, Miriam. Yes. we’ve been using renewable energy forever. Windmillls, of course, and clothes lines. Today I dried my washing with a combination of wind and solar. I did have to burn some energy for the pegging out, and energy was used to make the wire on the line, but that was a long time ago.

  11. Harquebus

    It’s a waiting game now. Either “renewable energy” will be part of the solution or it won’t. In my opinion, it will be the inability to maintain “renewable energy” devices that will prove their non viability and be their downfall.

    We are gambling on technology with no consideration given as to what happens if we lose the bet. I will bet that no consideration has been given to EROEI when establishing “renewable energy” targets nor policies.

    The time for action was decades ago when we still had a problem with solutions. Now we are in a predicament for which there is can only be outcomes.


  12. crypt0

    Don’t mention cows belching and farting methane into the atmosphere …
    It seems quite difficult to get past the coal lobby in Oz re CO2 …
    Will it be any easier to get past the beef and dairy lobbies re methane ?
    Is the glass half full ?
    Or …

  13. Miriam English

    Harquebus, it is not a simple “wait and see” choice because what we say and do determines the outcome.

    There are two broad possibilities regarding existing renewables:

    ◆ Renewables return more energy than they cost to make, as various investigators insist (including the USA Department of Energy). If that’s true then we can use renewables to downshift our energy use into a more sensible mode to maintain a high standard of living, while ridding ourselves of our worst excesses and letting us keep lowering population growth.

    ◆ Or renewables return less than they cost to make as others insist (mostly fossil fuel promoters). If that’s true then we’re screwed, because most of the world can’t return to a subsistence lifestyle.

    But choice plays a very big role too:

    If we abandon the attempt to use renewables because a small number keep shouting that they are a hoax then we make collapse more likely even if we could be saved by renewables.

    If we keep trying to use renewables — even if their energy return is currently below what they cost to make — then we will focus development on more energy efficient systems that do solve the problem.

    Crying doom makes that doom more likely. Pointing to the solution helps us out of this mess, even if that solution is initially not as good as it first seems (though I and many others are pretty damn sure it is already a workable solution).

    Renewable energy systems’ efficiency of energy output and of production will continue to improve and new, improved systems will continue to be developed. We are nothing if not an incredibly inventive species.

    But Harquebus, regardless of all this you will go back to your “renewables are hoax” mantra because you actually seem to relish the prospect of doom.

  14. Keith

    We seem to obtain bad news from research, take that onboard and new worrying research is published.

    Today, an increase in acidification in the Arctic Ocean has jumped out. A hyperlink provides access to the abstract.
    The abstract in part says:

    “The uptake of anthropogenic CO2 by the ocean decreases seawater pH and carbonate mineral aragonite saturation state (Ωarag), a process known as Ocean Acidification (OA). This can be detrimental to marine organisms and ecosystems1, 2. The Arctic Ocean is particularly sensitive to climate change3 and aragonite is expected to become undersaturated (Ωarag < 1) there sooner than in other oceans4. However, the extent and expansion rate of OA in this region are still unknown. Here we show that, between the 1990s and 2010, low Ωarag waters have expanded northwards at least 5°, to 85° N, and deepened 100 m, to 250 m depth…."

    The other matter being a major source of methane has been discovered between Central America and Hawaii. From the Science Daily article:

    "… Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, and a major contributor to increasing global temperatures. The largest pool of marine methane on Earth spans from the coast of Central America to Hawaii in the Tropical Pacific Ocean…."

    Previous research indicates that microbial action breaks down methane as it is voided to the surface creating CO2, according to previous research off New Zealand.

  15. Johno

    Not to mention all the escaping methane from the fracking sites around the world.

  16. Harquebus

    Miriam English
    The literature that I read has shaped my opinion. The literature favoring renewable energy has not convinced me of its viability mainly because it is mostly hopium from the unqualified or sales pitches from vested interests.
    I do not relish the prospect of doom. I have spent the last two decades trying to convince people to power down in order to avoid it. Obviously, I have failed.

  17. Miriam English

    Harquebus, what, no comment about the increasing efficiency as research continues, and the differential effects of crying “renewables hoax” versus exploring the options further?

    All renewables are different.

    ◆ There has been some legitimate concern that solar voltaic cells cost a lot of energy to manufacture, but they have become much more efficient in the amount of electricity they produce and the manufacturing processes have become much more efficient too, so this is not the concern it once was. It is generally estimated they recoup their energy costs in just 1 to 4 years, depending on the kind of panel.

    ◆ Windmills have always been very efficient. We used to make them out of wood. Now they are made out of metal. The metals currently use fossil fuels to manufacture, but that could easily change. Even making them out of metal they recoup their energy very quickly.

    ◆ Hydroelectric power is extremely efficient and pays for itself only a small number of years after being built.

    ◆ Solar thermal generator plants are extremely efficient and quickly recoup energy costs.

    ◆ Solar water heaters are exceedingly efficient and far surpass any other form of water heater.

    ◆ Geothermal power is also extremely efficient, especially new ones that instead of using hot rocks drill down to actual magma, like the one(s) being installed in Iceland now.

    ◆ I don’t know much about the efficiencies of tidal and wave power, but I’d expect them to be very efficient so long as maintenance costs stayed low.

    So you can see that your blanket statement “renewables are hoax” is just plain wrong. It comes from you embracing doom, not from what you’ve read. You know hydroelectric is super efficient. You know solar water heaters are extremely efficient. I doubt you were even thinking of them. You just want to throw cold water. It seems you have no interest in the dangerous effect that behavior has. You really should stop and think about it before chanting that mantra. It is wrong.

    I’m disappointed in you, Harquebus. You should be smarter than that.

  18. silkworm

    “Today, 150 years of plowing the prairie into vast monocultures has cut that vital organic matter by more than half and released more carbon dioxide—the leading driver of global warming—into the air than any other source, including transportation or coal-fired power plants.

    Yes, that’s right. Plowing fields is the leading cause of excess CO2 pollution and climate change….

    Converting just half the U.S. corn and soy acreage back to pasture might cut carbon emissions by as much as 144 trillion pounds—and that’s not even counting the reduced use of fossil fuels for vehicles, machinery, fertilizers and pesticides that would also result…. That’s enough carbon sequestration to offset the emissions from all the cars, trucks and other vehicles on the planet! …

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy, enhancing the natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere is thought to be the most cost-effective means of reducing atmospheric levels of CO2….

    If we were to restore just some of the organic matter to the Great Plains that we strip-mined over the last 150 years of row-crop monoculture, we could significantly reduce atmospheric levels of carbon over the next decade.”

  19. Divergent Aussie

    Miriam both wind and solar are intermittent and non-dispatchable. The power from wind is proportional to half the cube of the velocity. So, when the wind blows at 15km/h it can deliver over 3 times the power of wind blowing at 10km/h. This means modest drops or increases in wind velocity produce huge changes in power output. In SA it has not been possible to even this out even over vastly separated wind farms; the weather patterns are that large. Without massively expensive storage and/or inter connectors to other forms of dispatchable power wind cannot provide a reliable source of power. This is wind’s Achilles heel. Solar PV, like wind, is often quoted at its maximum power output. Solar PV is also intermittent and non-dispatchable like wind but it is also seasonal. What is not often reported is that the irradiance pattern through the seasons varies dramatically. In winter not only are there fewer hours of sunlight than in summer but the strength of the sun is far lower. Thus the output from solar PV even on a bright sunny day can be less than half at the equivalent time of day in summer. Thus to provide similar sustained power performance to summer you have to more than quadruple the number of panels to get the same daily output as in summer. Most of the figures quoted for PV are averaged across months or more. The RECS certificates look at the output averaged over a year. But the critical three months through winter are hardly ever addressed. Australia has pumped billions into solar PV with little overall result. NZ gets 13% of its electricity from geothermal roughly equivalent to our hydro output. Australia’s geothermal resources are lying fallow. However policy has favoured wind and solar PV to such an extent that nothing else can thrive in such conditions. There does not appear to be any economic penalty applied to a windfarm or PV installation when it does not supply power. If a wind farm were built with generator backup would it still be economically viable? Also wind power has priority over other power sources. Do other power sources just have to wear this? There needs to be some serious economic analysis of the whole issue because at the moment it just doesn’t seem balanced.

  20. jimhaz

    We need to begin setting up to use solar to lift water to high storage dams to enable hydroelectric power to be produced so that base load is constantly maintained. We could even use sea water in some locations.

    Perhaps this method could also work

    energy production really isn’t a problem.

  21. Miriam English

    Divergent Aussie, There are plenty of countries making a good go of renewable energy. Australia has wind and solar resources laid on. Iceland has gone 100% renewable. Some other European countries are pushing beyond 50%.

    You keep saying renewable sources are non-dispatchable, that is, unable to be switched on and off on demand. Forgive me for putting this bluntly, but that strikes me a a very stupid thing to say. Solar power can be turned on and off as required, as can wind power. With intelligent grids it is easy to reroute power to utilise wind patterns. This is why Northern European countries manage so well with wind power. We need sufficient wind farms and solar power stations to take advantage of variation. If we only have a few such sources, then blaming any variability on the sources is a mistake; the error is in not designing for the natural limitations.

    Solar Thermal power stations are able to run 24/7. They concentrate sunlight to melt salt and use that to drive conventional steam engines (like geothermal, fossil-fuelled or nuclear). The molten salt retains the heat sufficiently to run all night. Such plants have no problem providing baseline power.

    When you say “to provide similar sustained power performance to summer you have to more than quadruple the number of panels to get the same daily output as in summer”, I highly doubt this. References?

    Solar Photovoltaics, either as household installations or large-scale solar farms, simply need to take account of seasons with planned excess capacity. What’s so hard about that? Any halfway competent installation designer would account for that. As for cloudy days reducing their output, weather forecasts give grid operators the ability to handle that, unlike fossil fuel and nuclear power plant outages, which are fairly frequent and unpredictable and have the potential to destabilise the grid, like the cascading blackouts on the eastern USA some years back when one nuclear plant went down and the sudden overload of the next one caused it to shutdown, then the next, and the next like dominoes.

    Most of Australia’s population lives around the coast, which is where predictable wind is pretty-much 364 days a year, driven by the differential heating of the sea and land. During the day the land heats up faster than the ocean so as the warmer air heats and rises, and cooler air blows in from the ocean. During the night the situation reverses as the land cools faster than the sea, so now the wind blows off the land to the ocean.

    The trade winds constantly circle the globe south of Australia. We have a great future opportunity to build wind turbines far offshore as are being built in the North Sea off Europe and Britain. This would provide a permanent source of power. The west coast of Tasmania could also take advantage of this.

    The most important technology is efficiency. We make shamefully little use of it. It has the potential to make renewable sources even more attractive than they already are.

    Renewable centralised power stations are already cheaper to build than fossil-fuelled power stations. Do they have limitations? Of course they do — any power source does. But we need to simply take account of those and build them into our designs, not whine about them.

    Fossil fuels are over. We have to face that. Now we have to get on with the job of designing for the future. Renewable sources, efficiency, intelligent grids, are all part of that.

  22. Rapideffect

    Fossil fuels are needed to maintain Global Civilization, no fossil fuels, no Global Civilization. So called renewable energy cannot be a substitute for fossil fuels, it is a technology not an energy source.

    Global Civilization needs more cheap, easy to extract energy, not more technology.

  23. Keith


    There are apriori situations ( always true) in relation to climate change:
    a) We need greenhouse gases in the right proportion to survive, as do flora and fauna generally.
    b) Since the Industrial Revolution greenhouse gases have been increasing in the atmosphere through human activity from about 280 ppm to the current over 400ppm.
    c) Fossil fuels are sequested carbon which have formed over millions of years, greenhouse gases are created when fossil fuels are used to create energy.

    The maximum sea ice extent in the Arctic measured in March/April is now less than the minimum sea ice recorded years ago; the minimal sea ice is measured in September . The Arctic has an impact on climate.

    Pushing fossil fuels will have a negative impact on civilisation; more refugees, more deaths from climate change, breakdown in agriculture, stranded assets, a further breakdown of coral reefs, loss of fish stocks as Oceans warm etc.

    In relation to point (c) we are transferring carbon into the atmosphere that took millions of years to create in an incredibly short time frame.
    Shell created a film in 1981 in relation to the high risks of climate change; there had already been much research about climate change prior to the film. Climate change has been ignored to the detriment of us all.

    Please debunk points a, b, and c; through using scientific evidence.

  24. Miriam English

    Rapideffect, go outside and look up into the sky. See that bright thing up there? That is the energy source that is used by all renewable energy “technologies” except geothermal. It is also the energy source that is used by all fossil fuels (stored over millions of years). See all those green things around you? All that vegetation uses that energy source too. It works. It has been working, sustaining all life on Earth for hundreds of millions of years (except for those at deep ocean vents living on geothermal energy).

    At the moment we waste almost all the energy we use. A 4WD vehicle wastes more than 99% of the energy of the petrol it burns. Most of the energy used to heat or to cool a building is wasted through various inefficiencies (bad ventilation, uninsulated walls, single-glazed windows, etc.). Most of the food we grow through energy intensive methods is wasted.

    As we improve our technology to be more efficient we can use smaller amounts of energy to do the same job. That’s what efficiency means. This is already happening, and why electricity consumption has fallen. People prefer more efficient lighting, more efficient appliances, and better insulation. It saves them money.

    Fossil fuel is over. It is at an end. Get used to it. We can use renewable energy — many people already are. It works. Broken Hill now mines the Sun. Renewable energy is easier and cheaper to extract than coal (previously the cheapest).

    What’s the point in denying something that everybody can see? Why would you even want to?

  25. jimhaz

    @ Rapideffect

    [So called renewable energy cannot be a substitute for fossil fuels, it is a technology not an energy source]

    You are probably a Trump supporter. I can’t think of a sillier comment to yours above.

  26. silkworm

    “We need greenhouse gases in the right proportion to survive, as do flora and fauna generally.”

    You seem to be confusing the greenhouse effect with photosynthesis.

  27. Miriam English

    Nope, Keith’s correct. What he means is that all life (plants and animals) need greenhouse gasses in the right proportion to survive. Too little and we get permanently locked in a deep freeze because too little heat is trapped; too much and we get a runaway greenhouse effect and a planet that would bake all life and boil the seas dry.

  28. Keith


    CO2 is just one greenhouse gas, others are water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, and any fluorocarbons. Water vapour is created in the atmosphere through the process of evaporation and the interaction between CO2 and radiated infrared. So more CO2 leads to more water vapour … many areas have been impacted by water bombs as a result.

    Greenhouse gases act as a blanket; without green house gases the planet would provide a frigid environment which would not allow for habitation, oceans would be frozen. The problem we now have is that the equilibrium of greenhouse gases has been disturbed by an excess of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

  29. Keith


    I agree with you that renewable energy will not save the day in relation to climate change.
    But, continuing with fossil fuels leads to a world where climate will knock off millions of people, where wars will be fought over water rights between countries (eg India and Pakistan), agriculture will be unreliable, weather events will become more extreme.
    Billions of dollars were lost last year through extreme weather events.
    The first article was about power costs partially; what the power costs do not take into account is health costs from emissions, millions of people die. Miami alone, has spent $500 million dollars to ward off rising sea levels.

  30. Rapideffect


    Continuing the use of fossil fuels or not, the result is the same, collapse of Global Civilization. If fossil fuel usage ceased, the global economy would collapse and then collapse of Global Civilization shortly afterwards.

    The global economy needs cheap fossil fuels to grow. The lack of demand for fossil fuels (especially oil) shows that the global economy is on the verge of contraction.

  31. Miriam English

    Rapideffect… Who says renewable energy has to fully replace fossil fuels?

    Efficiency is the technology to keep your eye on. With efficiency, renewable energy only needs to replace a fraction of the fossil fuels to do exactly the same job.

    Did you even read the first article you linked to? It basically says we need to rapidly adopt renewable energy and, look for ways to undo the damage fossil fuels have done. We need technologies to pull as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as we can as quickly as possible. Massive reforestation will help, but we need more. I completely agree. I get the feeling you thought it said something else entirely. You need to read more than the leader sentence. 🙂

    Gail Tverberg’s article is good, as far as it goes, but she fails to notice the explosive investment in and adoption of wind and solar power in recent years. They are undergoing exponential growth while fossil fuels and nuclear are in decline or stagnating. Do you know what exponential growth is? This growth is mainly in the developing world where it is cheaper to build a new solar generating plant or a wind farm than a coal or gas power station.

  32. Miriam English

    Rapideffect, lack of demand for fossil fuels could be a good thing for 3 reasons:
    – people are using efficiency more
    – people are using renewables more
    – the economy is not growing

    Each of those things, far from trumpeting the end of civilisation could be its saving grace.

  33. Rapideffect

    @Miriam English

    “Who says renewable energy has to fully replace fossil fuels?”

    So if renewables cannot replace fossil fuels and stop the progression of climate change, what is the point of renewables?

    Gail is well aware of renewable energy up take, but you seem to have not read the whole article or you would of realized this.

    “Efficiency is the technology to keep your eye on. With efficiency, renewable energy only needs to replace a fraction of the fossil fuels to do exactly the same job.”

    The global economy needs an ever increasing amount of energy to grow. Renewables are not energy and therefore will not grow the global economy in the way that is needed.

  34. Harquebus

    A good thing too. More economic growth is just what we don’t need.

  35. jimhaz

    #@ Rapideffect

    I’ve seen that google article before. It’s crap. They base everything on prices at the time in 2008, not need. Once the need is there you’ll be amazed what can be done. Nor would I trust Google staffers in any way shape or form in any case.

    Big deal if we have to move to a lower standard of living due to higher energy costs – it can only be a good anchor on our collective stupidity.

    I do not doubt that there will be massive disruptions, and quite probably resource wars that might kill us all, but the point is that it is not renewable energy that will cause these problems but human greed.

  36. Rapideffect


    The need has been there for decades, (that is a need for clean energy), but not much is being done…

    I never said renewable energy is the problem, but a lack of cheap, easy to extract energy which will stop economic growth and this will collapse Global Civilization. I am pointing out that there is no solution to continuing Global Civilization as it requires an ever increasing amount of energy to grow and renewables are not energy and won’t save Global Civilization.

    jimhazMarch 9, 2017 at 11:32 am

    @ Rapideffect

    [So called renewable energy cannot be a substitute for fossil fuels, it is a technology not an energy source]

    You are probably a Trump supporter. I can’t think of a sillier comment to yours above.

    So how is my comment silly jimhaz?

  37. Miriam English

    Harquebus, my thoughts almost exactly. I do think economic growth in ideas, art, and knowledge should be welcomed, but growth in resources could definitely do with a downturn. It would boost efficiency and generally doing more with less. We are far too wasteful.

  38. Miriam English

    Rapideffect, I said that efficiency means that renewables don’t need to completely replace fossil fuels.

    You’re wrong that civilisation needs an ever-increasing amount of energy. That can be seen in the trend towards greater efficiency. While fossil fuels were cheap with the drawbacks hidden we could afford to waste criminally. Last time there was a big fuel shortage, when OPEC raised the price, massive strides were made in energy efficient vehicles, appliances, and industrial processes. We’re beginning to see that again. Rocky Mountain Institute has calculated that efficiency alone could cut the demand for fossil fuels by 75% (if I remember correctly) without impacting the economy significantly.

    You’re tiresome. I really dislike people being gleeful about doom. They’re like those repellent people who enjoy dogfights, or people who laugh about another’s misfortune. You’re a ghoul. You want the end of civilisation. You can barely contain your delight at the prospect.

    It’s a waste of time arguing with you. Unlike Harquebus you approach the topic dishonestly.

  39. Rapideffect

    @Miriam English

    How am I being gleeful about doom? I want Global Civilization to continue, i’m just not naive enough to believe that it will continue forever.

    “Rapideffect, I said that efficiency means that renewables don’t need to completely replace fossil fuels.”

    I know what you said, it just doesn’t make any sense.

    You say it’s the end of fossil fuels, so why don’t all fossil fuels need to be replaced with renewables?

    If it were possible to become 75% more efficient with fossil fuels, it would have already happened.

    Unlike Harquebus I don’t care about your beliefs or trying to change them…

    Again with the attack on my character, you need to learn to respect people, not abuse them when they don’t believe in your hopium.

  40. Divergent Aussie

    Mirriam “You keep saying renewable sources are non-dispatchable, that is, unable to be switched on and off on demand”

    Part 2: Solar Energy Reaching The Earth’s Surface

    see figure 2.4, at latitudes below 35 degrees it a little under 2/3, below 40 degrees

    Part 4: Irradiation Calculations

    Real world observations select solar exposure, I chose Wilcannia Aerodrome, daily, 2016, look down at highest daily, you will see it is almost one third in June over Jan. This gives you an indication of what the best possible case scenario is.
    Now if you go to Mt Isa the situation is quite different. You get a bit over half Jan in Jun. This is why Solar PV works best in Queensland and not so well elsewhere.
    I have solar PV and my observation of my 2.5KW array is that it doesn’t work well in Winter, on a sunny day, at latitude 35 degrees south. I would need to upscale this by at least a factor of four to get the same output as I get in Summer. I have a good quality, Fronius, inverter and my panels face NE.

  41. Matters Not

    Ian McAuley has some ideas about the future of power supply:

    Australia won’t always have a national government held to ransom by the (heavily subsidised) coal industry and a small handful of climate change deniers. Eventually our electricity future will be renewables and storage. Clever domestic and commercial energy systems will protect us against sudden load surges that threaten to trip the system. New power stations operating on solar-heated hot salt with gas backup burners will be one of our transition technologies. Large-capacity DC transmission lines will transport electricity east to west and west to east, taking advantage of wind and solar complementarities and time zone differences.

    And I particularly liked this bit:

    If, in 2009, Kevin Rudd had kept his nerve and called an election on “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time”, we would be at least eight years down that track (with the side benefit of Tony Abbott’s disappearance from public life).In the absence of Commonwealth leadership, South Australia’s Premier Jay Weatherill could show that unlike Malcolm Turnbull he’s not too proud to borrow a policy from the other side of politics. He should dig up Playford’s 1945 bill from the archives, dust it off, change the names of the offending parties, and bring electricity supply back into public ownership and control.

    IAN McAULEY. South Australia’s Electricity Problems: Jay Weatherill Should Follow The Coalition’s Example

  42. Doug Evans

    From where I stand the lack of coherent policies to address the threat of climate change marks the COALition as criminally negligent. I don’t expect any here disagree with that. They are hopelessly divided on this issue between right-wing crazies who deny that it is happening and moderates who know that more is required but are unable to win the political arguments around this topic.

    After they are tossed out Federally at the next election we will see have an ALP government marked by similar divisions between progressive elements who see the necessity and possibilities of the shift to renewables and the right wing unions who see many jobs locked up in existing energy, mining and industry sectors and will fight tooth and claw against reform.

    At the moment the ALP under Shorten talks a good game from opposition as Labor always does. Will they go to water as they normally have done in the past when in power and the Unions begin to flex their muscles? For over a decade the policy position of the ALP on climate change has been better than that of the COALition but far short of what the scientists say is required to save our bacon. For evidence of this you only have to look at the pre-election scorecards that the various Climate change NGOs have produced over the last decade or so.

    The only consistent driver of change over the last decade in this area has been the RET, ironically introduced by John Howard. This has been effectively supplemented by ARENA and CEFC both forced on an unwilling minority Labor government by a handful of determined crossbenchers as a condition of getting the Clean Energy Package through Parliament.

    I hope, but don’t expect that this will be any different this time around. When push comes to shove the union heavies fixated on saving existing jobs will more or less neuter useful reform. As time passes and the political and economic costs of saving our environmental backsides mount the likelihood of any government led by either of our old political groupings actually seriously confronting this massive and increasingly complex issue rapidly diminishes.

    This is what I think will happen. It is based on what has actually occurred over the last couple of decades. All I can say based on my gloomy prognosis is vote carefully and whichever set of ‘bastards’ has its hands on the levers of power make sure they are held to account – if you still have the energy. Personally I don’t, my priorities are elsewhere these days.

  43. Freethinker

    I will have to be a dreamer or very optimistic to see something like this in Australia.
    Here looking for gas we will ruin the water table and rivers without a second thought, not to mention the Barrier Reef with mining.

    El Salvador makes history as first nation to impose blanket ban on metal mining.

    Lawmakers in the water-parched country passed the ban in a unanimous vote on Wednesday, declaring El Salvador a mining-free territory.

    The decision followed a long and bitter struggle to protect the Central American country’s diminishing water sources from polluting mining projects.

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