Power for the people or for the corporates?

Various technical topics related to science, energy, climate change and coal & gas.

Power for the people or for the corporates?

Postby HVPA_research » Mon Nov 02, 2009 6:19 am

Power for the people or for the corporates?

PADDY MANNING (Sydney Morning Herald, October 31, 2009) provided a welcome return to sanity into discussion of future demands on electricity generation. We do not need more base power, we need more peak power and it should be generated by other means then burning dirty coal.

We are often told we need more ''baseload'' power. But baseload power generated in a distant coal field, delivered by a dumb electricity grid, suits almost nobody these days, except the incumbent operators.

What has occurred in the past decade or so is a rapid growth in peak loads - especially on summer afternoons, when everyone gets home and turns on their air-conditioners, causing a huge spike in demand. Total electricity use, as against peak demand, has increased much more slowly and even fallen in some cases ...

Of course, all these air-conditioners are turned on in the summer afternoons when the sun bombards Australia with most of the free energy. It is a shame that we are not able to use it !

A presentation this month by AGL's Paul Simshauser, chairman of the Loy Yang brown coal-fired power station in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, showed the national electricity market (NEM) had too much base- and intermediate load power (by about 4000MW, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes), and not enough peak load power (we are short about 1700MW).

Michael Ottaviano, chief executive of Western Australia's Carnegie Wave Energy, took up the theme at this month's EcoInvestor conference in Sydney, arguing an expanded role for wave energy, sitting somewhere between baseload power and intermittent energy sources such as wind. "Wave is a very consistent resource with 90 per cent-plus availability,'' he explained later. ''It will vary as wave height varies. But unlike wind, which varies in minutes and is difficult to predict more than a few hours in advance, wave will vary over hours and be predictable over days."

Distributed generation can help, too. At the same conference, the managing director of Ceramic Fuel Cells, Brendan Dow, gave slides showing about 80 per cent of the energy generated by our coal-fired power stations is lost as heat (65-70 per cent wastage) or in transmission and distribution (5 to 8 per cent).

Given coal-fired power stations account for about 35 per cent of Australia's CO2 emissions, that's a lot of carbon pollution for nothing.

Ceramic make a gas-powered fuel cell appliance about the size of a dishwasher that can provide 17,000kwh of electricity a year - twice the amount needed to power an average home, meaning far greater energy savings than an equivalent-cost solar panel installation. The so-called ''Bluegen'' units have a world-beating 60 per cent electrical efficiency. The units will cost between $20,000 (initially) and $8000 (eventually) and could pay that money back in seven years in power savings.

TEC campaigner Jane Castle says the owners of our power stations, and the network, have every incentive to build more infrastructure, and no incentive to reduce electricity use.
It's called gold plating," she says. "If the networks save energy, they lose revenue(our emphasis)."

"There's an assumption that supplying more energy is the only way to go," Castle says. "It serves the interests of the incumbents. We're stuck in a paradigm of generating more power as people come online. It's completely outdated in the era of climate change."

The power of the generators is obvious, and extends to forcing brownouts and blackouts - illegally or otherwise. If they want to shut down a power station to send a message, they will, and worry about the fines later. Britain's International Power, owner of Hazelwood, is already threatening to run down Victoria's power supply if it doesn't get enough compensation under the emissions trading scheme.

Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room showed us how California's economy was held hostage by energy traders in the crisis of 2000-01. Now, according to Castle, the US state has one of the most progressive market regimes. "When they look at new demand they have a loading order: first, energy efficiency. Then demand management. Then renewables. Then gas.(our emphasis)"

Australia's energy problem, says Castle, is "not a baseload problem, it's a problem of how we're meeting increasing demand.

Note that gas, which is another fossil fuel, is correctly placed in the fourth position as it should be. There may be a place for coal seam gas in Australia's energy solution but not at the expense of destroying our water resources and residential areas. Least of all, CSG should not be considered for export for profit by the corporates.

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