Sunday, September 17, 2017

Economics says time to shut down some coal plants (even ignoring externalities)

From Think Progress (originally from paywalled Moodys):






Sadly the graph isn't global, it's for the 15 US states with the best wind resources. But for those states it's saying that the cost of just operating and fueling coal plants exceeds the cost for wind power of constructing, operating, and (heh) fueling.

Imagine a utility that recently commissioned a coal plant and sold long term bonds to finance it. The utility would need to charge $39/MWhr plus the cost of paying off the bonds, let's say another $6/MWhr (for this exercise, the bond payment amount doesn't matter). That utility could shut down the coal plant, build wind instead, pay off the stranded cost bond for constructing the coal plant and still charge much less than it would cost to keep operating coal.

Moodys predicts early retirement of coal plants as a result. Looking to see it happen soon.

95 comments:

izenmeme said...

Cue cries of "Where's the base-load going to come from..."
in 3, 2, 1...

Fernando Leanme said...

What happens when the wind doesn't blow?

Bernard J. said...

Izen, indeed.

Australia (and NSW, TBP) is currently exemplifying excactly this argument after energy company AGL announced that it would shut down its Liddell power station in 2022.

Conservative prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his even more rabidly conservative party room are baying for the station to continue burning coal for years after 2022, despite all the market pointers indicating that doing so is completely uneconomical. This is the party that has done its bloody-minded best to discourage as much renewable energy development in Australia as is at all possible, and they're pushing coal above even gas, which in the context of "baseload" (or even peak-load) power - the ad nauseum bleated argument of the LNP government - is at least as cheap and more responsive than coal.

It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and many people I know are wondering exactly how the coal industry has inveigled itself into the government to the point that they're willing to push the burning of coal in the face of the weight of scientific evidence and global opinon that we should be curtaining fossil carbon emissions as much as possible, as quickly as possible. A forensic investigation of the links between the industry and the LNP parliamentarians would fascinate many people...

GIYF, but:

http://www.smh.com.au/environment/climate-change/revealing-the-dark-side-of-liddell-from-power-failures-to-braineating-viruses-20170913-gygzz6.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-13/liddell-coal-station-explained-what-do-agl-turnbull-want/8905308

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-12/liddell-power-station-true-cost-of-keeping-open/8896278

Bernard J. said...

"What happens when the wind doesn't blow? "

As long as you're around there's little chance of that happening.

John Garland said...

How often does the wind fail to blow over state and continent sized regions? Can you be specific instead of rhetorical? Naahhh.

What happens when the fossil fuel plants have maintenance issues? Where I live a major (oil) generating plant has had trouble for several years now with one of its three main boilers causing brownouts and rolling blackouts in the winter. In your world, this apparently does not occur.

How does the rate of central maintenance issues compare to the rate of continental-sized areas of no wind?

BBD said...

When the wind doesn't blow.

IF wide-area networking of wind resources is achieved by adding long distance transmission capacity to the grid THEN regional lulls in windspeed can be smoothed.

BUT the (very large) cost of the necessary grid upgrade would need to be factored into the total system cost of wind vs coal and I don't think it has been.

Bernard J. said...

If only there were renewable energy generation and storage sources besides wind...

BBD said...

If only there wasn't a Norther hemisphere winter...

If only hydro and biomass weren't pretty much maxed out...

If wishes were horses grid extensions would be free.

JohnMashey said...

Archer & jacobson(2007), "Supplying Baseload Power and Reducing Transmission Requirements by Interconnecting Wind Farms"

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Can the unburnt coal be used to erect a paywall around ThinkProgress?
It might otherwise find its way into fortifications along the Mexican border

Beakers said...

"BUT the (very large) cost of the necessary grid upgrade would need to be factored into the total system cost of wind vs coal and I don't think it has been." BUT, with or without wind power, grids have been increasing connectivity, not staying the same or becoming more fragmented. Increasing grid connectivity is beneficial even if all you have is big coal plants and/or nuclear. Wind power benefits from these interconnectors too, but to suggest that the interconnectors are only needed because of the wind power (despite predating the wind power) is either silly or deliberate anti wind power spin.

Bernard J. said...

"If wishes were horses grid extensions would be free."

That's the bottom line - there is no soft landing. It's a choice of something between broken bones (which can be reset) and outright demise.

We've passed hard deck. The buzz of our fossil-fueled joy ride might be exhilarating, but the physics taxman is waiting for us at the end of the fall.

It's now about difficult choices and ever more difficult ones.

Bernard J. said...

"If only hydro and biomass weren't pretty much maxed out..."

Biomass aside for the moment, for hydro it's approaching something worse than "maxed out"...

The second half of the 21st century will see the problem of dam sedimentation become a significant one for the generations of the time. And the issue will only be compounded if our great-grandkids have the same energy-use mentality as we do today.

BBD said...

Beakers

Wind power benefits from these interconnectors too, but to suggest that the interconnectors are only needed because of the wind power (despite predating the wind power) is either silly or deliberate anti wind power spin.

Don't spout bollocks. The integration of W&S at scale requires *way* more long-distance transmission capacity and grid interconnection that FF legacy plant.

I'm not anti-renewables, I'm anti-bullshit.

667-per-cm.net said...

BUT the (very large) cost of the necessary grid upgrade would need to be factored into the total system cost of wind vs coal and I don't think it has been.

Have the fraction costs of the rail lines (or shipping ports) and mining costs been factored into the price of the coal plants? Also, there are some transmission costs from coal plants. People tend not to live next door to them.

EliRabett said...

It's an interesting balance. RE requires a larger electrical distribution network, but FF requires a larger fuel distribution network.

BBD said...

Have the fraction costs of the rail lines (or shipping ports)

Oh come on. All used for a myriad of other stuff. We are talking here about SPECIFIC COSTS that arise only because of large-scale expansion of VRE. Let's stop the disingenuous ducking and weaving.

and mining costs been factored into the price of the coal plants?

Coal is the fuel. It doesn't affect the cost of the coal PLANT. Good God.

Also, there are some transmission costs from coal plants. People tend not to live next door to them.

Just short links to the grid. Then the grid - which is a general carrier - does the rest so no, there's hardly any transmission cost incurred by the coal plant. As opposed to large-scale W&S which will necessitate long-distance transmission capacity upgrades, new grid interconnections and building out utility-scale storage.

EliRabett said...


FWIW in the US ~1/3 of the rail tonnage was coal (grain about the same) and there are many lines which are pretty much all coal. You might look up the Adani Carmichael railroad project in Australia also. Then there are pipelines and more such.

BBD said...

Eli

Yes, sure, but the cost of extraction and transport of coal (or oil or gas) is included in the price of the fuel. FFs are not delivered free to the power plant gate. So extraction and delivery costs are incorporated into the price of the electricity it generates when burnt at the plant.

Transport infrastructure specifically constructed to move FFs around is not build for free. The cost is factored into the delivered cost of whatever FF is being moved around. It comprises a part of the eventual price per KW/hr of the electricity generated.

EliRabett said...


Fossil fuels are an addiction. Solar and wind are investments.

OK?

Look at it this way S&W are capital heavy, FF are operating costs heavy, but what you are pointing to is that the infrastructure for FF is already sunk. The interesting thing is that the cost of new S&W is now below new coal. The very interesting thing that Brian points out is that even with the sunk cost advantage, old coal is losing and if that is the case plants will be abandoned.

BBD said...

Eli

Fossil fuels are an addiction. Solar and wind are investments.

OK?


Yes.

Look at it this way S&W are capital heavy, FF are operating costs heavy, but what you are pointing to is that the infrastructure for FF is already sunk.

The interesting thing is that the cost of new S&W is now below new coal.

No. The problem with this view is that it only the solar modules and turbines are costed, not the total system cost of VREs. The substantial expansion of long-distance transmission capacity, grid interconnections and utility-scale storage are excluded.

While I defer to nobody in my desire to see a rapid and deep decarbonisation and I *know* that W&S will have to do much of the heavy lifting I will not endorse pitches based on a false prospectus.

Deeenngee said...

Here in the UK there have been some pretty dramatic shifts in electricity generation over the last five years. Coal was contributing 30-40%, now <10%. The contribution from renewables has increased from 10% to around 25%. Gas is back up to >40% and nuclear steady around 20%. The rest comes from imports and other bits & bobs.
And no powercuts.

Meanwhile, total demand has been dropping but is forecast to rise n future with electric cars etc.

Looking at the grid operator's scenarios, coal is expected to dwindle to zero by 2027.

EliRabett said...


When Eli was but a wee bunny gas for cooking was provided by the gas company who made it by blowing steam through heated coke producing a mix of hydrogen gas and carbon monoxide for burning. There were huge tanks (gasometers) that stored the stuff, sort of like folding cups on a mega scale.

Then, starting in the 1950s pipelines for natural gas made their way across the US from producing regions, mainly TX and LA, and the gasometers went away in about 10 years.

So as far as distribution of RE electricity Eli has a history on his side and, for Eli, is optimistic

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Eventually, the technooptimists will propose solving Eli's conundrum:
"It's an interesting balance. RE requires a larger electrical distribution network, but FF requires a larger fuel distribution network"

by filling the Keystone SL pipeline with sodium to create a high amperage highway for Canadian hydroelectricity.

I'm sure Pruitt's new EPA SAB would license it

Nathan said...

BBD

"Transport infrastructure specifically constructed to move FFs around is not build for free. "

A lot of the cost of transport, in Australia, is part of the subsidy to the coal industry. So effectively the tax payer pays for it. It's not included in the price of coal.

Ken Fabian said...

Because governments are unable to produce comprehensive long term planning with adequate commitment we will see less than perfect solutions, doing what we can as we can with what we can. Currently that is solar and wind, with supporting capacity from hydro, gas and emerging battery storage. The mismatches can be used politically to argue against further installations or used to argue for more efforts to cover the mismatches - my preference is the latter, turning those into market incentives.

The value of storage - where I think the focus for RE now belongs - will be much higher than any average daily price but market mechanisms are not being well used. It's not a case of "unreliable" it is a case of prices not reflecting the variable balance between supply and demand. Variable pricing is probably needed. The design of market mechanisms matter and the lower prices during periods of abundant, intermittent supply will be followed by higher prices when supply is scarce - or comes with carbon prices attached. It's not entirely unpredictable and demand management as well as storage will be a logical market response.

The subsidy elephant in this room isn't that for wind, solar and storage it is the continuing amnesty enjoyed on externalised costs. Estimates I've seen are from "low" $US35 per ton of CO2 upwards, past the $100 per ton. That adds $100 to $280 to each ton of black coal - tripling the price. No energy source is outside such calculations but fossil fuels are the worst.

Committing to the transition is essential, even if it's a commitment embodying a lot of uncertainty further down the line. Holding off on commitment until there is long term certainty comes with the near certainty that climate change will take us more rapidly into dangerous territory.

Ken Fabian said...

Oops above -"That adds $100 to $280 to each ton of black coal - tripling the price." - at $35 per ton CO2 and (from incorrect memory of) $80 per ton currently for thermal coal; $40 per ton for thermal coal is probably more like it. Quadruple the fuel price at the low end to 8x at $100 per ton of CO2.

BBD said...

Nathan

A lot of the cost of transport, in Australia, is part of the subsidy to the coal industry. So effectively the tax payer pays for it. It's not included in the price of coal.

You could as easily - and irrelevantly - argue that the existing grid is used to transmit electricity generated by VREs and is therefore a subsidy for VREs. But this is to miss the point, which concerns the uncosted infrastructure development required to scale VREs. That's why I wrote:

"Transport infrastructure specifically constructed to move FFs around is not build for free. The cost is factored into the delivered cost of whatever FF is being moved around. It comprises a part of the eventual price per KW/hr of the electricity generated."

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

Because governments are unable to produce comprehensive long term planning with adequate commitment we will see less than perfect solutions, doing what we can as we can with what we can. Currently that is solar and wind, with supporting capacity from hydro, gas and emerging battery storage. The mismatches can be used politically to argue against further installations or used to argue for more efforts to cover the mismatches - my preference is the latter, turning those into market incentives.

With you up to a point. The latter requires substantial expansion of long-distance transmission capacity, grid interconnections and utility-scale storage. These need significant levels of long-term (multidecadal) investment which is exceptionally difficult to secure from the private sector.

The value of storage - where I think the focus for RE now belongs - will be much higher than any average daily price but market mechanisms are not being well used.

Arguably, they cannot be used to generate the necessary levels of long-term finance needed for major grid upgrades and the required expansion of utility-scale storage.

I'm strongly inclined to agree with you that the externalities of carbon / CO2 are under-costed, but whether it is in the least politically feasible to increase them and use the revenues to fund infrastructure development that allows a functional energy transmission is a really vexed question.

Eli is optimistic. I am not. I think 'frightened' would be a better word.

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - I would say I'm frightened also. I think the lack of political will on one hand and strength/persistence of political opposition on the other undermines every technology choice. In these kinds of circumstances the disruptive market effects of solar and wind may be the best and perhaps only opportunity we have to induce lasting change, despite the great challenges along the way.

Well, whatever way we go involves great challenges; waiting until we have pre-costed certainty is worse than mere dithering. Under circumstances where the concepts of strong action and inaction are inverted (refraining from precipitous actions being the continuation of strong climate changing actions) delay is not our friend.

The politics here in Australia is toxic - following the hottest global temperatures on record, with record winter warmth, record dry conditions heading towards perhaps the worst bushfire risks ever and our nation's government won't talk about climate at all and wants to prevent coal power closures and build new ones. Energy policy that doesn't include climate considerations at all is being heavily promoted, with Renewable energy cast as the villain. I suggest it less about the limitations of RE than being a proxy target for the climate science denial bloc within our current government - a bloc that mostly avoids debating climate change directly at all.

The language has become Orwellian; super critical coal plants are renamed as High Efficiency Low Emissions and journalists and commentators are adopting the Low Emissions Coal terminology without objection; adjusting the thresholds for government support for emissions reductions to accommodate "Low Emissions Coal" is a real prospect.

Emissions reductions, if mentioned at all, are cast as kowtowing to unreasonable and economically damaging international agreements, an Aussie variant of the evil UN conspiracy FUD - nothing to do with climate.

So, yes, I am frightened for our future.

David B Benson said...

Aussies --- What would help considerably is a change in the law which allows nuclear power plants.

Ken Fabian said...

David, yes there is a law prohibiting nuclear power in Australia but it has always been purely symbolic. Any government that actually intended to support nuclear would, of course, have to repeal it. Repealing it would be as emptily symbolic as it's enactment was. Given such a government would also have to develop and enact appropriate legislation regulating nuclear energy, this law's repeal would be a mere footnote.

But there is no genuine support for nuclear energy by any political party in Australia, not even from the political coalition currently holding government - the Liberal National Party - that routinely make noises that leave the impression they support it. These "supporters" of nuclear are the same ones that I mentioned in the previous post and they are opposed to climate action and are unwavering in their support for coal. Whilst there are sincere Australian advocates for nuclear energy as a climate solution the ones most Australians encounter are climate action obstructors to the core; nuclear energy's only role in the Australian context is as a rhetorical stick to bash "greenies" and renewable energy with, to the benefit of fossil fuels.

Chalk one more mark against climate science denial and obstruction - it has prevented the largest bloc of existing support for nuclear energy in Australia (and I suspect in other nations) from being mobilised in any meaningful way. Oh, and undermined the broad community acceptance that there is any serious need for a transition to low emissions - which would be an essential prerequisite to gaining the broad support for nuclear.

Denial of the climate problem by nuclear's well placed and influential "friends" has damaged nuclear more deeply than all the anti-nuclear activism of a fringe minority.

Brian Schmidt said...

Jumping back a bit, hydro is not maxed out - rather, conventional hydropower as baseline power is maxed out.

If much of hydro were switched from baseline to dispatch then you have a big piece of the puzzle filled in, including energy storage. Not all hydro could be switched for obvious environmental and flood control purposes, but a lot could.

The only reason not to do this AFAICT is that hydro is dirt cheap, esp. excluding capital costs, but as RE gets ever cheaper then this reason gets less important.

The arguments over power have missed this issue and I can't really understand why. Maybe because it doesn't play into the left-right or the pro/anti nuke splits, and because the utilities that understand this do not want to talk about it.

And there's also instream hydro, tidal, and wave, but I'm okay ignoring those for now. Maybe their time will come.

David B Benson said...

Here in the Pacific Northwest hydro is not only baseload, as it is misnamed, but also load following and the balancing agent for the wind farms.

BBD said...

Brian

If much of hydro were switched from baseline to dispatch then you have a big piece of the puzzle filled in, including energy storage.

I think most estimates of increased VRE assume full utilisation of available hydro, so the ever-increasing storage requirement as VREs scale has to be met from new sources.

but as RE gets ever cheaper

Turbines and solar modules are not RE. Just the cheap part of it. I hesitate to repeat myself, but that's what you do when people ignore what you just said.

Ken Fabian said...

David - doesn't the US Republican party support nuclear energy and hold majorities in both House of Reps and Senate? And have a President that supports it as well? Do you think that is being well used to create a superior low emissions pathway in the US? I don't. I think what applies in Australia applies there; the nuclear option cannot be used in a meaningful way as long as it's most influential proponents reject climate responsibility.

BBD - the point I keep coming back to is that the politics is so mired in irrationality to the highest levels of Australia's and the US government that no overarching rationality is possible. Holding out for it whilst arguing for it is not working to lead us to it.

I think renewable energy being intermittently low cost is doing something more immediately useful than emissions reductions; it is inducing change to an ultimately unaffordable and inadvisable status-quo. It is a political wedge for splitting the more responsibly minded leaders of commerce and industry from the climate obstructionist agenda of irresponsible peers and irresponsible industry lobby groups. The kinds of investments that can further enable renewable energy to fulfil our energy needs - like significant upgrades to networks and to storage capabilities, - won't happen until and unless they are seen as unavoidable. As RE capacity approaches levels where those are unavoidable we will see support for them grow.

We are seeing evidence of this in Australia, where our largest electricity companies are disassociating themselves from the lobby groups promoting fossil fuels and opposing carbon pricing and other market mechanisms that better enable the necessary investments you speak of.

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

I think renewable energy being intermittently low cost is doing something more immediately useful than emissions reductions; it is inducing change to an ultimately unaffordable and inadvisable status-quo. It is a political wedge for splitting the more responsibly minded leaders of commerce and industry from the climate obstructionist agenda of irresponsible peers and irresponsible industry lobby groups. The kinds of investments that can further enable renewable energy to fulfil our energy needs - like significant upgrades to networks and to storage capabilities, - won't happen until and unless they are seen as unavoidable. As RE capacity approaches levels where those are unavoidable we will see support for them grow.

Alternatively, pushing VRE on a false prospectus ('cheap renewables') could lead to disaster. As soon as VREs scale to the point where costs begin to rise sharply - as they must - public backlash against a perceived political deception might well derail the energy transition and severely damage pro-renewables political parties.

This is why I really, really dislike the cheap renewables meme.

EliRabett said...

Eli is old so he is optimistic. Not Eli but Eli's parents lived through the quick transition from town gas to electric lighting, horse drawn wagons to gasoline powered trucks. The Bunny's house built in 1907 still has the piping for gas lighting.

Oh yeah, grandpa used the outhouse, there were no flush toilets.

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - "public backlash against a perceived political deception might well derail the energy transition and severely damage pro-renewables political parties."

Well, that looks exactly what Australia's pro-coal/anti-climate action government wants as they oppose and impede investments that would support greater levels of renewable energy. They have been extraordinarily dishonest about where rising energy costs are coming from - and what the causes of blackouts and forced load shedding events have been. And about what the full and true costs of our energy choices going forward are.

We have our opinions of what we find objectionable in this debate. Plenty to choose from. Those externalised costs being largely absent from estimates of relative costs of our energy choices is at the top of my list. "Just use nuclear" ranks high also when advocacy for it overlaps so much with opposition to strong climate action. As does opposition to continuing renewable energy growth when so much of it, too, overlaps with climate obstructionism - and opposition to the very actions and investments that support it's use at higher levels.

RE has broken the energy market's paralysis, as nothing else has. I think some stumbling is to be expected.

So, BBD - what are you proposing should be done to push the transition to low emission forward?

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

So, BBD - what are you proposing should be done to push the transition to low emission forward?

This isn't about me. The problems here are the ongoing misrepresentation by the VRE industry of the cost of its products and the ongoing misrepresentation by the FF industry of the harm done by its products. We agree about the latter in full. It would be nice if you would acknowledge the former.



Beakers said...

No sensible commentator denies future costs, and no sensible commentator should exaggerate them, pretend that they are for requirements now rather than in the future, claim that they are unique to either intermittent renewables or nuclear, overlook that the capability of the various options is improving while the cost is falling all ahead of any need to implement on a large scale. No sensible commentator should deny that these costs (whatever they turn out to be) are preferable to the business as usual option, which is not actually an option.

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - I admittedly am looking at this from an Australian perspective and what is true here may not be true elsewhere, however I don't think renewable energy's capabilities being grossly exaggerated by informed voices, or risks a serious backlash from failure to deliver those exaggerated expectations. Nor should the claims of overly enthusiastic supporters - who may be confusing peak with average power (MW) with energy delivered (MWh)or who ignore "firming" or other associated costs - be seen as the equivalent of the considered conclusions of, say Australia's Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel's review or The Australian Electricity Market Operator's recent report or studies by CSIRO. Or even electricity industry people talking about the near term investments they consider most appropriate. Those do not say continuing growth in renewable energy will be seriously problematic and even conclude that appropriate investments in them can deliver lower costs and reliability compared to other available options. Finding examples of people saying stuff that that can't be supported is easy but I don't think those sources have been doing so. Or me - even if much of what I talk about involves, as it must, speculations about the future of electricity markets in the presence of growing amounts of intermittent RE.

Also I suggest the near future challenges - first 50% of capacity - are not the same as those following - 50- 80% - are not the same as the last 20%. The conclusions of those better informed studies dealing with the near to mid-term are not so pessimistic about the integration of larger proportions of intermittent energy as you appear to be, even if they do not have firm conclusions about the end game. But if anyone suggests they do know how or how much it will cost at that distance I would suggest back that they are dreaming - whatever the technologies. What happens should and likely will be far more influenced by those more informed voices even as the public debate continues to be a messy mire.

Given the demonstrated desire of Australia's current government to misrepresent and undermine those informed voices to protect the long term viability of fossil fuel use and exports I do think the BS perpetuated to those ends is far more intrinsically problematic than puffery by uniformed voices in support of RE.

BBD said...

Beakers

No sensible commentator denies future costs, and no sensible commentator should exaggerate them, pretend that they are for requirements now rather than in the future, claim that they are unique to either intermittent renewables or nuclear, overlook that the capability of the various options is improving while the cost is falling all ahead of any need to implement on a large scale. No sensible commentator should deny that these costs (whatever they turn out to be) are preferable to the business as usual option, which is not actually an option.

No sensible commentator denies that the cost of VREs increases sharply with scale and that this *fact* is at odds with the 'cheap renewables' meme. Just as no sensible commentator would consistently pretend that the substantial expansion of long-distance transmission capacity, grid interconnections and utility-scale storage is almost entirely necessitated by scaling up VREs. But you keep on doing both.

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

The conclusions of those better informed studies dealing with the near to mid-term are not so pessimistic about the integration of larger proportions of intermittent energy as you appear to be, even if they do not have firm conclusions about the end game.

That's because they do not address the vexed question of how long-term funding for the necessary infrastructure evolution will be secured. I'm not arguing the technical infeasibility of (say) 50% - 80% decarbonisation of the electricity supply but the *likelyhood* that it will actually get done. Implicit in all this is the strong assumption that 'market-led' solutions will simply emerge as we go along. If you have grave doubts about this kind of free-market rhetoric (derived, perhaps, from the experience with FFs) then you should also have grave doubts about its application to the proposed energy transition. But apparently, sensible commentators do not have such doubts.

EliRabett said...

BBD if you are talking about long term funding in the 100 year time frame, that is merely a stick to beat somebunny with. On those time frames nothing is ever secure. As a practical matter 20 years is about the limit, and given how fast things move not even that.

This is why it is ridiculous to talk about climate change from an economic point of view and necessary to talk about it from an ethical point of view.

How much would you pay to have 20 years extra life?

Ken Fabian said...

I am trying to find cause for optimism - or at least the potential for optimism. Australian is facing electricity supply shortfalls this coming summer - not because of RE but because FF plant (gas and coal) is either unreliable in extreme heat or can't rely on gas supplies. A nation with exports of gas that are huge have gas plants unable to secure reliable supplies. It's an industry that is playing games with gas supply, trying to assert that the only way it can reliably supply the domestic market is to be given unfettered access to coal seam gas. And appears to have made long term contractual commitments based on unfettered access and unlimited growth. Last summer saw forced load shedding and blackouts avoided because the daytime PV supply was there. Record heatwaves with 1 degree of warming makes me extremely concerned for a future where 3 to 6 degrees of warming are likely.

BBD - you are offering nothing with any potential for optimism. Only pessimism. Not committing to anything is a significant commitment to something. When doing nothing is actually continuing to engage in strong actions that make an irreversible climate problem worse, waiting for certainty will almost certainly deliver some - just the wrong kind.

BBD said...

Eli

BBD if you are talking about long term funding in the 100 year time frame, that is merely a stick to beat somebunny with.

I am talking about the next two to three decades. Big infrastructure projects are slow. It takes ~10 years to sort out the location, planning, logistic and legal issues for a big pumped hydro project or a major transmission extension. Another 10 years to build it (at least). If we are to add VRE capacity at the rate necessary to decarbonise fast enough to avoid potentially serious climate impacts, then the infrastructure build-out needs to start NOW. Which means getting the finance NOW. Or the process will stall because the infrastructure necessary to make VREs *work* just isn't there.

And not only is nothing of merit being done, even raising the issue is frowned upon.

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

BBD - you are offering nothing with any potential for optimism. Only pessimism.

I'm pointing out that at present there is good reason for pessimism. See my reply to Eli above.

I'm not arguing for inaction I'm arguing for doing 100 times more than we are at present. But I'm also pointing out that it is exceptionally difficult to fund the necessary infrastructure evolution. So bugger-all is getting done right when it is *crucial* to begin.

Beakers said...

"No sensible commentator denies that the cost of VREs increases sharply with scale and that this *fact* is at odds with the 'cheap renewables' meme." This sensible commentator considers that your concern is overstated given that the cost of deploying the intermittent renewables is falling, the opportunities for accommodating greater penetrations of intermittent renewables are increasing, these 'accommodations' have benefits beyond enabling higher penetration of renewables (see the distributed battery systems going in for stability well ahead of any need for new storage), and most importantly of all, we are a long way away from having to shoulder these (falling) costs. Out of interest, what discount rate, capital cost and date of payment have you used for this 'increases sharply' fact, and how does that compare with the cost/benefit of the alternatives.
We all well know that major overhaul of generation have costs beyond the generators. France invested heavily (and wisely) in trading its power to facilitate its nuclear dash. But it is always more complex than just adding costs of interconnectors to the cost of nuclear plant, as they enable sale of power and purchase of cheap power, saving money on balancing plant and/or curtailing demand.
We need to decouple our N fertiliser synthesis from fossil fuel, and distributed ammonia plants making use of low spot price electricity are (currently) an expensive means of doing this, sadly there are no cheap ones. However as you can store and burn this ammonia, even use it as a transport fuel, it offers opportunities for energy storage and grid balancing (existing use for a small Alaskan grid for many years now) well beyond addressing the need to stop using natural gas for N fert. Would you put the cost of this future transition 100% down to food production, or all to grid management and storage? Would you factor in any cost for use as transport fuel given that by the time it may be needed other storage options may be clearly superior? What would your chosen facts be for this option?

Beakers said...

Crossing posts - Given the number of interconnections that already exist, and those under development and planning, I would dispute that 'bugger all is getting done'. Australia needs to invest more in connecting its various grids, but the alternative to doing this is to spend a fortune on building new coal burners to replace those nearing the end of their economic life. A mental option favoured by Tony Abbot. Yes new interconnectors are not cheap, but the existing ones show economic benefits, and these improve with the externalities of the displaced fossil fuel generation.

BBD said...

This sensible commentator considers that your concern is overstated given that the cost of deploying the intermittent renewables is falling

Not paying attention.

and most importantly of all, we are a long way away from having to shoulder these (falling) costs.

No, the timescale is the next 20 - 30 years. See above. Also, VRE costs increase at scale for reasons already set out. So not (falling) at all.

Since this is going nowhere, I'm happy to just drop it at this point.

Beakers said...

"So not (falling) at all." And yet they fall. UK offshore wind CfD bids have fallen dramatically, and for solar, large solar farms are being planned with the first now generating - assisted by cheap batteries! The batteries are as you know, not primarily for storage (because we are a long way from needing storage) but to provide grid stability undercutting existing generators. They are co located with the solar PV to share the expensive grid connection that the solar PV would only make full use of at periods of maximum output. Interesting how quick those batteries are going in (few months rather than 20 to 30 years), and that when storage is eventually needed for storage sake, these distributed grid stability batteries will already be there to satisfy part of that need.

BBD said...

Dear Beakers

And yet they fall.

Until we start to scale VREs. Then they rise. So either you have cheap renewables or you have ubiquitous renewables, but you don't get both.

Yet again, I don't think you understand the scale of the problem. Taking the UK as our example:

How much electricity does the UK use in 24hrs? Now, estimate the increase in demand 30 years from now with a substantially electrified transport network, EVs at >70% of market penetration and electrified heating and cooking also ramped way up compared to current levels.

Hold your estimate in mind.

Remember, we need to be zero carbon by 2050 in the UK (and elsewhere), and there are people - myself included - who are keen to see that this happens. So coal is long gone and so is most of the gas-fired plant. Most nuclear has also retired. W&S dominate the energy mix.

Now, pretty much every year, the UK gets winter anticyclonic weather which causes a multi-day lull in windspeed. Winter solar is down to ~10% of its midsummer peak values, so when there's a prolonged lull in windspeed, the UK will become heavily reliant on storage.

Multiply your estimate by 5 to calculate how much energy the UK will need during a five day lull in windspeed. A substantial proportion of that will need to come from storage. That's at least a couple of hundred Dinorwigs to finance and build in less than 30 years because we need to have the storage coming online as W&S scale or the process stalls. So between 10 and 20 years, we are going to need very large scale storage available with construction underway on lots more. We are in the thousands of GWh territory here, so pumped hydro is the only viable technology available for this

And it won't wait. Where you get the idea that there's no urgency and that costs are way down the road completely baffles me. Big infrastructure projects take decades to finish. There's no more time.



Bernard J. said...

I tend to eschew these sorts of RE discussions these days, but...

I largely agree with everyone. I have sympathy for Ken's and Eli's comments about the range of options, but I also agree with BBD that we're out of time. The bottom line is that humans didn't want to pay the (affordable, if high-ish) expense of decarbonising, nor have we shown any inclination to modify our the trajectory of energy requirements through control of our demand.

If we pull out all stops and reorganise our social structures yesterday, we can still land with 'just' a very hard boot in the 'nads, and with broken noses and a few missing teeth.

If we don't, well, the older amongst us will mercifully be spared the worst, and the youthful will look back at their elders' choices and piss on our graves every day.

It's a choice now between the hard way and the harder way, between paying a lot more now than we'd have needed to earlier, and paying ever more every day that we delay. The happy ending time has passed: it's now about the amount of unhappiness we want to realise. We either figure out how to minimise the (integrated) hurt, or we don't.

The evidence is pointing toward the latter.

Ken Fabian said...

Around and around we go. What is happening is growth of the intermittent elements - solar and wind mostly - in places, reaching towards the levels early stages of serious climate commitments require. South Australia for example, which is averaging at or above 50% of electricity supply from wind and solar.

As that growth continues the incentives for doing what is needed to avoid that becoming problematic grow. South Australia's gov't supporting grid connected batteries - a long way from the capacities >80% require but beyond mere tokens - looks to be about where they need to be, despite the absence of overarching planning and forethought. It isn't a whole solution, but it will do something critical - it will be a buffer that allows reserve gas supply time to come online. (With a big if of whether the operators choose to bring it online.)

As I see it, it shifts gas generation more firmly into a backup/reserve role, to be used more intermittently and overall less.

I think it is something other than chance, that the growth of renewables has been high in South Australia; power was always more expensive and less reliable there, RE supportive policy, expected to have very limited impacts across Australia overall, had greater impacts there. And Adelaide isn't known as "the windy city" for nothing. Windy and sunny. So growth has been greater than other parts of Australia. But I would assert that that growth has led inexorably to circumstances where dealing with those RE "complications" has become necessary; we will see how well policy makers are at dealing with them.

We are seeing the circumstances for the early stages of "VRE disaster" BBD wants highlighted.

Plenty of political players - mostly on the pro-coal political Right - want to use alarmist fear of that to prevent ongoing growth of RE. I want the difficulties encountered to provide the lessons we need and test the possible responses that are available, not become the justification for abandoning this necessary "experiment". Worthy of support from Australia's federal government I think, even at the cost of providing and maintaining a level of reserve capacity that may not (we can, I think justifiably, hope) prove necessary.

Paralysis of policy is the most laid back and easy option but I think we are heading into the realms of even inadequate policy being better than none.

Beakers said...

"And it won't wait. Where you get the idea that there's no urgency and that costs are way down the road completely baffles me. Big infrastructure projects take decades to finish. There's no more time."
All meaningful reaction to climate change so far has been too little too late, it is no surprise that we are where we are because we knew full well that if we prevaricated the problem would only get worse. And still we prevaricate - look at Hinkley Point C, the UK set itself on course to have that in the energy white paper of 2007, and at that time it was going to be commissioned in 2017. Instead it just got government approval to proceed (with caveats) last year, and many of the subsequent planned reactors look to have a far worse timetable. This is bad but it would be far worse if since 2007 we had not built all that wind power and the solar PV. Lots of people repeatedly told us dont build renewables, far to expensive (wrong), they dont work (wrong) and the grid will not be able to accommodate them (wrong). Despite being shown to be wrong wrong wrong that mindset won, and in England, as well as having incentive withdrawn, deliberate planning obstacles have been put up to successfully frighten off any further onshore wind investment.
Truth is the capacity of the grid to accommodate renewables has grown - the law of limiting returns applies to each accommodation and it is not free but it has grown and it has borne no relation to the economic/technical calamity claimed. Interconectors are still being built in Europe, not cheap but certainly not the economic cliff edge you fret about. And new means of accommodation are coming forward - the 2007 energy white paper would never have dared dream of the battery costs and delivery capacity that we have now, with both trends improving. There is no reason to slow our deployment of renewables, we have plenty of fossil fuel headroom left and even if we did not, we would still benefit from additional renewables. Yes we need nuclear too, as well as pilots of other (expensive) tech like tidal lagoons, and yes we will have to pay for further grid enhancement, BUT scaremongering about costs when all previous such scaremongering has been shown wrong, costs continue to fall, opportunities continue to rise, and the cost of inaction is greater and getting worse - is just silly.

BBD said...

Okay Beakers, yet again, you carefully avoid addressing the points I am making (and you never have) which tells me that this is indeed a dead exchange. The silly misrepresentation about 'scaremongering' about costs is the scum on the rhetorical pond.

Ken Fabian said...

Bernard, I suspect changing our social structures is far less possible than working within the structures we have. We do have frameworks that enable a lot of positive actions - market forces are not intrinsically obsructive and can be modified by policy makers and governments that have the necessary commitment. Markets that exclude the big externalities are a consequence of lack of commitment (at best) and short sighted, deliberate obstruction at worst.

What began as a kind of populist appeasement of community concerns seen one way, was also the giving a perceived enemy enough rope when seen another. Only the most out there optimists - mostly political environmentalists - thought it could use that rope to pull RE up into viability. Except the "extreme environmentalism" trope was in large part a PR construct, only seeming so loud and influential because of the notable absence of other, more credible voices. Support given early on to RE was not really expected to deliver solutions, rather, it reinforced the framing as fringe and extremist at the same time as it was expected to lead to failures so spectacular that the whole climate action agenda would be thoroughly discredited. That is a trope and a hope that continues to be widely perpetrated; it has traction still because, as gets pointed out, there is a hell of a long way to go still, with huge and unresolved hurdles still. But RE has surprised us over and over by not failing spectacularly, on cue as expected.

Just disaster delayed and made worse for indulging false hope? I think the important point is we don't really know. Not really. In the absence of other grounds for hope, clinging to this one and making it's success a bit more likely by actually trying to make it work may be the best we do. Uncertain grounds they may be but failure to commit to it and put that effort in at this critical stage can only make failure a certainty. I don't think we will be impoverished by making that effort - and have we truly seen real commitment and real effort so far? I don't think so. But I do think we will be impoverished and forever diminished by not even trying. A bit cliche'd perhaps. Truisms perhaps.

I do think market forces, like physics and chemistry, are not going to be denied in the long run. A more realistic assessment of the costs of the externalities will become part of the calculations made for future energy investments - enduring climate irresponsibility is getting recognised as a serious corporate financial risk simultaneously with more examples of responsible businesses being successful businesses. The seemingly unbreakable unanimity of corporate lobbying against climate responsibility doesn't look so solid any more. I think the market responses to VRE being intermittently and periodically low cost - something that is still recent and still being digested - have led to real changes in how a transition to low emissions is perceived by people holding positions of trust, responsibility and decision making power.

Beakers said...

BBD, your claim that I am addressing is that further renewable deployment faces a disproportionate cost spike as we have to start building enabling infrastructure now that takes 20 - 30 years to bring on line. You appear to get quite upset when this claim is challenged, and double down on your doom and gloom against reason. Hence scaremongering. Yes we have costs, and additional costs will come forward but these are preferable to the genuinely scary costs of business as usual. We need to accelerate transition to low carbon, and in this whole sorry mess one of the few bright shining lights is the huge and continuing improvement in cost, capability and availability of some of the most important tech we need. It's clear you don't agree, but it's not clear why.

BBD said...

Beakers

It's clear you don't agree, but it's not clear why.

You don't read very well.

This is me, on this thread:

While I defer to nobody in my desire to see a rapid and deep decarbonisation and I *know* that W&S will have to do much of the heavy lifting I will not endorse pitches based on a false prospectus.
19/9/17 8:00am

I'm not arguing for inaction I'm arguing for doing 100 times more than we are at present.
26/9/17 6:09am

Now, try 27/9/17 8:41am again.


BBD said...

Ken Fabian

To assuage Beaker's misplaced concerns, and also simply because it's how I feel, I endorse this entirely:

Just disaster delayed and made worse for indulging false hope? I think the important point is we don't really know. Not really. In the absence of other grounds for hope, clinging to this one and making it's success a bit more likely by actually trying to make it work may be the best we do. Uncertain grounds they may be but failure to commit to it and put that effort in at this critical stage can only make failure a certainty. I don't think we will be impoverished by making that effort - and have we truly seen real commitment and real effort so far? I don't think so. But I do think we will be impoverished and forever diminished by not even trying.

Beakers said...

BBD, I do not care if you are pro or anti wind and solar. All I am pointing out to you is that handwringing over future grid costs that you overstate, are falling, the need for which is being limited by tech, and have additional economic benefits of their own, is silly.
As for winter anticylones in the British Isles, another issue that some seek to inflate into a bogeyman. Go read the Beyond the Bluster report that covers this issue. If we get down to burning gas in these rare, localised and brief instances, then we are burning so little gas that it falls into deminimis. And as we already have gas storage capacity to last several weeks of current UK consumption, with more gas generation coming from AD of waste biomass, the proportion of fossil fuel in that trifling quantity is cut further. You can cut that again if synthgas gets into the economic ballpark, but that is still a just a potential future option unlike the AD plants up and down the country already.
We are building nuclear, and thankfully we are not relying on that nuclear build alone. We are also building interconnectors to add to the plethora Europe already has. Other grids need to emulate this. There is a sustained attack on renewables by fossil fuel interests that fear (correctly) that they will be displaced. Look at the farce in Oz, Trump nutters and our own dear Lord Lawson. All clutch at straws against renewables. In repeatedly claiming that there is a big scary renewables price spike just around the corner, you appear to have swallowed one of their meames.

BBD said...

Beakers

All I am pointing out to you is that handwringing over future grid costs that you overstate, are falling, the need for which is being limited by tech, and have additional economic benefits of their own, is silly.

I'm not 'overstating' anything. You'll have a point when you demonstrate that the cost of substantial expansion of long-distance transmission capacity, grid interconnections and pumped hydro storage is falling. Which you can't, because it isn't.

As for winter anticylones in the British Isles, another issue that some seek to inflate into a bogeyman. Go read the Beyond the Bluster report that covers this issue.

The blustering isn't coming from me. Nor is sustained windspeed lull only a UK problem; it affects Northern Europe as a whole. There are widespread multi-day lulls in windspeed most years. Sometimes more than one episode a year. Here is this year's example, from German data*: ten consecutive days of very low W&S output.

Like I said, it happens occasionally, and when it does, there *must be* enough high-capacity storage and interconnections to deal with it. And the only storage technology with the GWh capacity to cope is pumped hydro, which is expensive and takes decades to build. We can deal with this, but the fix will be expensive and will take decades to construct and we need to start now rather than pretending that there isn't a problem.

Incidentally, the best way to be sure that there's always going to be enough dispatchable capacity on an interconnected supergrid to meet sustained regional shortfalls in VRE generation is to add lots of PH capacity in every region.


*German electricity generation 16 - 22 January this year. You can see that W&S output was very low for the full seven day period. Now look at the following week: there were three more consecutive days of extremely low W&S output 23/01 - 25/01 Jan. That's ten consecutive days of very low W&S generation across the whole of Germany.

Beakers said...

Gas consumption limited to rare, seasonal, localised and short lived weather events is a pretty minor problem in the grand scheme of things. Your fretting ignores this, ignores nuclear, ignores other renewables, and overstates the issue. There are plenty of massive issues to deal with, yet you fret over one that is minor and further away. Time to get with the cost curve.

Ken Fabian said...

Eli - thank you for allowing this discussion - which I think has maintained a respectful tone despite the strong disagreements and impassioned arguments.

BBD - foresight is invaluable and I don't dismiss the value of foreseeing problems with intermittent energy supply at scales that displace fossil fuels. It can't be overstated. A problem foreseen is a problem solved - potentially. Politically, in deliberate isolation from foresight applied to the greater emissions problem of which it is a partial solution, it is something else - something that I say is not conjecture but observable in the overheated energy debates occurring in Australia. Confusing the issues that are near term with "whole of problem solutions" is commonplace - South Australia's first battery installations are disparaged for not dealing with the days and weeks of reduced wind or solar supply for which they were not intended. Yet they can be very effective at smoothing shorter term variability and providing the time window for slower responding backup (gas) or voluntary load shedding to come into play. The value of their services are more complex and potentially include system frequency and voltage management and "synthetic" inertia.

Investment of unprecedented scale seem to me to be intrinsic to dealing effectively with a problem of unprecedented scale. It doesn't help that we appear to have to fix it without even the smallest bit of sacrifice or inconvenience - people living lives of extravagant prosperity and wastefulness objecting most strenuously of all. Warfare may be the only human activity that is comparable - but this energy transition probably comes more, not less predictability and forewarning.

Some of that sense of scale is not so obvious with, eg, household PV uptake. But it adds up - to the point where (as previously mentioned) load shedding and blackouts were avoided across Eastern Australia due to it's combined grid connected contributions as well as it's behind the meter demand reductions; helping hold the system together when "reliable and dependable" coal and gas plants struggled and failed in heatwave conditions. Solutions other than and potentially cheaper than large expansion distribution and storage are and will be very significant.

Ken Fabian said...

Regarding predictability of a different but related sort (to German example above also) - the value of weather forecasting within RE (wind and solar) rich systems can't be overstated. It is likely to be grow to unprecedented importance.

One partial solution to weather related variability of supply is load shedding and that can be done in non-disruptive ways under contractual arrangements with large energy users. Australia's AEMO is exploring ways this can be done (more). Industrial users are looking to a future of having to pay a price premium for absolute 24/7 availability in a network with a lot of wind and solar - not that they are ever going to get 100% reliability and availability whatever the generation - but the potential for keeping a cap on electricity costs by voluntary load shedding by agreement is there. As well as, over time, introducing different processes that can more opportunistically exploit periods of high electricity availability/low prices.

Approaching the problem with an eye to the potential for exploiting opportunities in periodically low power prices is as valid an approach as seeking to avoid load shedding or high power prices when supply is constrained.

Weather tied supply and demand forecasting is surely an invaluable element of those kinds of solutions; the more reliable and longer range forewarning the better management will be to avoid disruptions.

Innovative costing arrangements are an important element that shouldn't be underestimated - and modern software controlled systems open up possibilities that would not otherwise be there. "Unreliable" is a loaded and misleading term - variability of pricing that reflects the balances between variable supply and variable demand is an enabler of solutions.

So, I keep finding potential for optimism in the continuing growth of intermittent and variable renewable energy.

BBD said...

Beakers

Gas consumption limited to rare, seasonal, localised and short lived weather events is a pretty minor problem in the grand scheme of things.

It doesn't - it cannot - work the way you imagine. Gas is a use-it-or-lose-it industry. If consumption and therefore turnover fall below a fairly high bar, the industry ceases at first to be profitable and then to be capable of sustaining its own infrastructure. There is a lot of infrastructure and it is expensive to maintain. So the idea that we can have substantial gas-fired capacity largely mothballed but capable of meeting ~50% of a nation's electricity demand for a few days a year is a non-starter.

This brings us back to the surprisingly urgent need to begin construction of very large-scale PH.

BBD said...

Ken

While I agree with much of what you say in your two recent comments, none of it really addresses the core problem which is that sustained periods of low output from W&S must be compensated and this will require very large scale storage, probably in the form of PH. VREs are a system, not just solar modules and turbines, and systems needs to be complete in order to function properly. If we want an energy transition that actually works, we are going to have to acknowledge the true nature of the system that needs to be constructed to replace FF infrastructure. There is a surprising amount of reluctance to do this, which I find rather worrying.

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - I'd thought I had agreed that lots and lots of storage was part of the RE package - at unprecedented scales was at least implicit. But I can and will say so explicitly. We will need boggling amount of it. Much more again for electrification of transport.

I just don't think the relative scale of it compared to the size of the modern global economy is that outrageous. Or as enduringly debilitating and expensive to invest in as not investing in it. Or that focusing on it to the exclusion of all the possibilities and complexities serves us well. Or failing to put it in perspective. Perhaps like every household in developed nations needing to buy new car or perhaps two every decade kind of scale of investment? Which would be a few trillion US$ per decade.

BBD said...

Ken

BBD - I'd thought I had agreed that lots and lots of storage was part of the RE package - at unprecedented scales was at least implicit. But I can and will say so explicitly. We will need boggling amount of it. Much more again for electrification of transport.

Okay, yes.

I just don't think the relative scale of it compared to the size of the modern global economy is that outrageous.

What's outrageous is how few people actually agree that we need to do anything much about the storage problem at all.

Or as enduringly debilitating and expensive to invest in as not investing in it. Or that focusing on it to the exclusion of all the possibilities and complexities serves us well.

My original point was - and still is - not that we cannot do it or cannot afford to do it, but that the true system cost renders the 'cheap renewables' meme misleading to the point of dishonesty. There's also the serious issue about timescales - way too many people seem to think that all we need to do is keep adding VREs to the energy mix and waffling vaguely about demand management and the 'baseload fallacy' etc. and all will be well. But magical thinking doesn't solve real-world engineering problems. Starting to build a global PHSE resource tomorrow will. But first, policy-makers must be enlightened as to the need.

This sort of thing might focus a few minds. Let's hope so, anyway.

Russell Seitz / Bright Water said...

Jo Nova has just called for Australia to build 1,200 new coal burning power stations, because
winter is coming.

https://vvattsupwiththat.blogspot.com/2017/09/mwanwhile-back-in-murdochland.html

Beakers said...

Once again, to put the cost of storage at the door of renewables is silly when we had large scale storage before we had the wind and solar, and have not yet needed to add more storage for storage sake. Add to that the storage has economic benefits of its own such as undercutting the existing peaking plant.
Cheap renewables, as the title of the blog post tells you, cheaper than coal even before the externalities. There are loads of other costs you can put to a fossil fuel plant where you can argue endlessly over the proportion to put to the coal plant, for instance the repurposing of port space and rail freight. The point is wind and solar were already cost effective and have still shown impressive fall in cost. I see nothing wrong with summarising that as 'cheap renewables'.
Cost of retaining gas infrastructure, this will be be a progression. The gas demand will fall progressively, both for 'normal' instances and for the much hyped short instances of low wind and solar at high demand. Don't forget nuclear, don't forget other renewables such as tidal, don't forget storage capacity of the new grid stability batteries going in, and don't forget the curtailing of power for less sensitive industrial uses (that has already been going on for decades). All different elements of the continuing change we need regardless of the presence of more wind and solar. To simply add their cost to that of the addition of wind and solar is naive and misleading.

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - Doing back of envelope costings late at night with numbers drawn near randomly from a brain under the influence of pain and heavy duty pain medications wasn't so good - but was I grossly underestimating or grossly overestimating those costs?

My medical situation is not relevant and no-one needs to hear the details but heading off to bed to restless sleep the parallels kept coming.

The operation I had wasn't life or death, but was associated with issues that are. It was about maintaining what, by any objective or historical standards, must seem like a very high quality of life; plenty of people endure much worse all the time.

I was very anxious and could easily have backed out, given half an excuse. The surgeon didn't tell me just how painful or debilitated I'd be post-op - but I expect he knew. I expect he also knew that the pain would pass and in time I would be glad I didn't back out.

So was he wrong to fail to fully inform me of the pain I'd have to endure?

In an intellectual way I agree with being as honest and up front as possible yet the practical, results driven part of me knows that the emotional, impulsive part of me is still alive and strong and capable of steering me wrong.

Some thoughts about it - I had trust in the surgeon and the medical system he works within and did not demand every detail beforehand. I'm not prone to paranoid conspiratorial thinking about doctors making up stuff just to suck money out of me - and our medical system isn't being run by people like that.

It was always within my power to have found out; I've been around the climate and energy issues long enough to be able, I think, to sort good information from bad.

I'm not saying people should lie about but energy politics is a mired mess and PR puffery doesn't worry me so much as people in positions of power being unable to tell good information from bad.

BBD said...

Ken Fabian

I'm sorry to hear about all this. I hope you mend quickly, as dear old granny used to say (really).

people in positions of power being unable to tell good information from bad.

The same old problem. Old as pain.

BBD said...

Beakers

Once again, to put the cost of storage at the door of renewables is silly when we had large scale storage before we had the wind and solar

If you still think that scaling VREs without scaling storage is feasible we can agree to differ.

Cost of retaining gas infrastructure, this will be be a progression.

The faster we grow W&S the sooner gas goes out of business. Unless we subsidise it, of course.

Beakers said...

We already do subsidise gas capacity, not a big issue. All part of managed decline.

BBD said...

We already do subsidise gas capacity, not a big issue. All part of managed decline.

It would make more sense to start investing in PHES than to keep pumping ever-increasing amounts of money into subsidising gas. We need an energy transition, not a flogged horse carcass. And what do we mean by 'managed decline'? What happens when gas has 'declined' out of existence? What is going to step in to provide ~50% of national electricity demand for days at a time when W&S have a winter drop-out? Not nuclear, biomass, conventional hydro, interconnections or anything else, because none of these have the potential to scale to fill the gap left by FFs - mainly gas - or why the hell would we need all that new W&S capacity in the first place?. You should know this stuff if you want to argue energy policy. Just as you should understand the impossibility of maintaining a large but infrequently utilised gas reserve while turnover dwindles away to a fraction of present levels. You wouldn't even be able to pay the wage bill, never mind anything else. I get the impression that you aren't very familiar with the realities of running a business.

Beakers said...

Managed decline - managing the decline so that we have enough gas capacity to meet our maximum dispatchable capacity requirement, and cutting it in line with the replacements that come forward. Yes this has a cost (a cost we already incur through capacity auctions in the UK) but you were just fretting about the huge cost of the massive pumped hydro roll puy that you claim we need to commit to straight away. So on the one hand you say that we need to immediately and substantially up our investment in capital heavy projects like large scale pumped storage (despite the risk of emerging cheaper and faster to deploy tech leaving lots of it stranded), but on the other decry the cost of something that we already do... And as our lecy prices are still most sensitive to world gas prices - falling with falls in the gas price despite more going to wind, solar and capacity payments - I suggest that your claims of this being horribly expensive are once again, overstated.

Beakers said...

Roll puy? Roll out, damn my podgy thumbs.

BBD said...

Beakers

So on the one hand you say that we need to immediately and substantially up our investment in capital heavy projects like large scale pumped storage (despite the risk of emerging cheaper and faster to deploy tech leaving lots of it stranded)

There's always the risk of unicorns but PHES is a good hedge, given the physics/chemistry constraints on battery capacity.

And as our lecy prices are still most sensitive to world gas prices - falling with falls in the gas price despite more going to wind, solar and capacity payments - I suggest that your claims of this being horribly expensive are once again, overstated.

This conflates the present with the future which weakens the argument. It reminds me of this:

Once again, to put the cost of storage at the door of renewables is silly when we had large scale storage before we had the wind and solar

Ken Fabian said...

BBD - your good wishes are appreciated. I'll be fine, each day noticeably recovering.

I wasn't sure whether to post that last - for raising the issues around full disclosure and strict accuracy within promotion at the broader public level more than the personal stuff.

The issues are being debated, mainstream media-wise, within a bog of misinformation as well it's absence. It's difficult at that level for it to ever be more than superficial. Except that I think there are ethical obligations by journalists, news editors and even the in house commentariat to do their homework. But good, representative summaries of information are there also and over time I think do percolate up into public notice.

I see deliberate misinforming and just plain old confusing of the public as a key element to efforts by influential opponents of climate responsibility - and the policy programs responsibilty generates - to divert the decision making away from those who actually hold positions of responsibility, who should make the effort to be well informed, to people who have no responsibility to be well informed. Those with responsibility have no assumed rights to believe and do whatever they like, that being negligent in the presence of contrary expert advice. Popular opinion - for which there are well established means of influencing and altering - becomes a responsibility avoidance exercise, at least by politicians, by falling back on a doing the will of the people justification. The "Red Team/Blue Team" proposal seems a case in point.

Glossing over potentially painful details doesn't worry me at the mainstream, public opinion shaping level but deeply disturbs me at the level of those who have real or implied obligations to act responsibly.

But I would also say I don't think it will be all that painful to push forward now with wind and solar and deal with the near to medium term consequences of that - with the end game remaining effectively unknowable at this stage. Like I said I think those who are competent and knowledgeable are, for the most part, applying reasonable forethought and the shifts in infrastructure investment patterns, like the shifts overall in accepting a remaking of energy systems, are a welcome consequence.

Beakers said...

Hedging yes, thats why we do lots of things all at the same time. Thats why we should progress some tidal lagoons to see if they are worth progressing. Thats why this Tory government playing political games blocking onshore wind in England is worthy of contempt (one among so many reasons). But your claims of others ignoring a rapidly approaching massive cost for lots more giant pumped hydro and long distance HVDC links is alarmism, not advocating prudent hedging. We have pumped hydro already and when these were built they were then thought to be the first of many on a near continual build programme. We paused that as the decline in penetration of coal and nuclear on our grid cut the need for more pumped hydro. The gas plants that we pushed hard in through the 90s were more flexible, and even with the significant addition of wind and solar so far, we dont yet need to restart the long paused roll out of large pumped hydro. And to add to the folly of building long ahead of need, we dont know how much extra we will need!
As for conflating and weakening arguments, no, the sensitivity of our current electricity prices to world gas prices is well understood. Despite the growth of generation by wind and solar that the nutters screamed were making electricity unaffordable, when the gas price fell again, so did the cost of electricity.

BBD said...

But your claims of others ignoring a rapidly approaching massive cost for lots more giant pumped hydro and long distance HVDC links is alarmism,

You keep saying so, but have not once demonstrated why what I argue is wrong.

So I've written you off as a denialist.

Beakers said...

Written off as a denialist...
Anyway, Synthesis Report out by the Australian Climate Council.
https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/05/australias-politics-only-barrier-to-clean-energy-system-report-finds
No technological or economic obstacles to a clean energy system. Warning! Includes the 'Cheap Renewables' trigger.

BBD said...

Beakers

Australia isn't Northern Europe or the USA or China or India etc, nor does it appear even to agree with itself about what is necessary for decarbonisation. For example, there's this:

Although PV and wind are variable energy resources, the approaches to support them to achieve a reliable 100% renewable electricity grid are straightforward:

- Energy storage in the form of pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) and batteries, coupled with demand management; and

- Strong interconnection of the electricity grid between states using high-voltage power lines spanning long distances (in the case of the National Electricity Market, from North Queensland to South Australia). This allows wind and PV generation to access a wide range of weather, climate and demand patterns, greatly reducing the amount of storage needed.


So even Australia, with its abundant solar and wind resources needs PHES and large-scale grid extensions to deep-decarbonise its electricity supply. These will cost a very large amount of money. And guess where that money will come from?

Or does the denialism extend to basic economics as well?

Beakers said...

Yes, Australia does not have the economic options of linking multiple large sophisticated grids the way that we already do in Europe, and that the US can do, and it needs to invest in additional storage, but this is far from your nonsense about a scary massive price spike just around the corner. Australia also does not benefit from any existing nuclear generation and is unlikely now to get any. Yet the Australian Climate Commission synthesis report found that there was no economic problem with a clean energy system. The clean energy system comprising cheap (and getting cheaper) renewables and a suite of storage plus demand management options (capability increasing and cost also falling) is affordable. But better than that,
"The surveyed reports also found renewable energy would push down energy prices for consumers. One CSIRO report this year concluded a zero-emissions grid by 2050 would save the average household $414 a year compared with a business-as-usual approach."
So, CSIRO think the system (note system, not just the cheap renewables) will be cheaper, you say that there is a painful price hike coming for massive extra pumped hydro and inter-connectors that we have to build now and anyone who disagrees with your claim is in denial. "These will cost a very large amount of money. And guess where that money will come from?" My guess? I will go with CSIRO over you any day for science technology and economics. The majority of money will come from the consumers of that power, with some government incentive to cover areas of market failure, and that your 'very large amount of money' is a scare story, being as it is the cheaper option.

BBD said...

Beakers

Instead of repeating your stuff over and over again, you need to answer a few of the questions I have raised.

For example:

1/ How do we rewrite economics to permit the maintenance of a gas reserve large enough to meet ~50% of national demand for several days while reducing gas industry sales (revenue) to a fraction of its current level?

2/ Given the impossibilit of (1), WTF will meet ~50% of national demand for days at a time when W&S have a winter drop out?

3/ Given that the answer to (2) is PHES on a very large scale, and given that it takes decades to build as much as we will need by mid-century, what economic or engineering argument is there for not starting to construct it immediately?

4/ Given that the answer to (3) is 'there are no reasons not to begin immediately' then why do you keep asserting (without any actual argument) that I'm being 'alarmist' (as opposed to correct) to say that the era of 'cheap renewables' is pretty much over?


Cue more irrelevant / evasive waffle in 3,2,1...

BBD said...

Yes, Australia does not have the economic options of linking multiple large sophisticated grids the way that we already do in Europe, and that the US can do, and it needs to invest in additional storage, but this is far from your nonsense about a scary massive price spike just around the corner.

This will be true when - and only when - the very large scale grid extensions* and PHES build-out required to compensate for Australian W&S variability are built for free.

*Hint: Australia is very big. Suggest reading on cost-per-mile of necessary long-distance transmission capacity / grid interconnectors.

Beakers said...

Sorry that I have had to repeat 'my stuff' over and over.
For 1/ You ignore that in the UK and elsewhere we already do pay for maintenance of a reserve. The payments are going up yet (contrary to the shrieking from the tabloids) they are modest, and gas price remains the factor that our electricity price is most sensitive to. As for your ~50%, this of course is not fixed but declines with each addition of nuclear, other dispatchable renewables, and the storage + trading already going in. So Managed Decline is part of my stuff that you are obliging me to repeat.
2/, 3/ and 4/? Well 1/ is not impossible so your tower of cards never really existed.
Interesting programme on the Radio last week - The Bottom Line (apparently available on BBC World Service if you are outside the UK) on battery storage for Grid and Transport. Discussion between players such as Centrica and battery developers hosted by the Economics Correspondent Evan Davis. Batteries are no panacea (just as PHES) but their capabilities and delivery scale are going up while their price continues to fall.
A campaign to build lots of additional, expensive and slow to build PHES now is a bit silly when we dont yet need any additional capacity, and the cost of alternatives that are both cheaper and faster to deploy, is falling. On top of that is more of 'my stuff' such as the opportunities for the grid provided by other necessary changes such as the switch for N fertiliser production from natural gas back to renewables.
One last thing for you to consider. In stark contrast to a PHES, batteries are modular and not geographically constrained. So that as well as being able to increase capacity incrementally in line with need, they can go wherever you want them on the grid, both massive installations on the very high voltage spine like our exiting PHES, and smaller ones embedded in the district network operators grids. And get this, as the pattern of need changes, you can move them to reconfigure the locations on the grid where the modules work, providing storage and grid stability.

BBD said...

As for your ~50%, this of course is not fixed but declines with each addition of nuclear, other dispatchable renewables

No, the 50% is a generous assumption that includes all those sources. It's quite possible that the actual amount will be >60%. I've dealt with the lack of potential for scaling non-W&S already. You need to read what I write properly.

Well 1/ is not impossible so your tower of cards never really existed.

Only according to you. The rest of the world operates on an economic reality that prevents businesses from operating at cost X on revenue Y when Y is lower than X. And simply asserting otherwise won't change this.

Batteries are no panacea (just as PHES) but their capabilities and delivery scale are going up while their price continues to fall.

Batteries are useful for brief periods (hours not days) of intermittency and for slew. They don't have and are unlikely ever to offer the multi-GWh capacity required for sustained W&S dropouts. I've already explained this.

A campaign to build lots of additional, expensive and slow to build PHES now is a bit silly when we dont yet need any additional capacity

Oh for goodness' sake. Can't read? Won't read?

Until you learn to read, Beakers, this conversation is dead.

Beakers said...

'Batteries are useful for brief periods (hours not days) of intermittency and for slew. They don't have and are unlikely ever to offer the multi-GWh capacity required for sustained W&S dropouts. I've already explained this.' - To say this you have to ignore the use of flow cells which we have already demonstrated effective, and the necessary switch back to renewable power for N fertiliser creating a massive potential energy storage media.
Your chest beating on economics is a bit odd when you reject out of hand the managed decline of the existing gas generation + infrastructure, but claim we have an urgent need to commit to a PHES programme where we have a range of faster to deploy storage tech that could leave the PHES stranded on completion. It would have the same maintenance cost issue you fret over for mothballed gas generation, with the added cost of building and brand new grid infrastructure to connect.

BBD said...

To say this you have to ignore the use of flow cells

Total hand-waving.

Your chest beating on economics

I explained the basics because your odd notions obliged me to. That you continue to deny those same basics is at this point no surprise.

In conclusion, it is painfully clear that you can't (won't) address the various questions raised during this 'conversation'. Now would be a good time to stop rubbing your own nose in the dirt, IMO.

BBD said...

where we have a range of faster to deploy storage tech that could leave the PHES stranded on completion.

And pigs might fly. Really, you need to do better than this. Ditto with the rubbish about gas somehow surviving as a large-scale reserve while W&S scale to take most of its market share.

But this won't actually happen because no enterprise cuts its own throat. Rather the reverse: it cuts the throat(s) of the competition. What's going on at the moment is that the gas industry is positioning itself for a future where it, along with W&S, kills off coal and nuclear. But in this future, gas doesn't go away. It - and it alone - becomes the main buffer against W&S variability because it can do so at the lowest cost compared to PHES, grid extensions/interconnections and fantasy batteries, unicorn farts etc.

Once you grasp what is going on you will see why there will be no deep decarbonisation if the gas industry gets its way. You will understand that for all the superficially persuasive rhetoric emerging from the industry, gas is a bridge to nowhere.

Beakers said...

W+S certainly do displace coal and oil ahead of gas, just as the gas displaced coal and oil when it first came along. But gas can not stop continued displacement of fossil fuel MWh once all the coal and oil are gone. Nuclear, wind and solar are all low to zero marginal cost generation so will always undercut gas. Gas generators can not stop this because they have to cover the cost of the gas they burn. True there may remain a small tail of gas consumption for your much vaunted (but infrequent, short lived and localised) low/zero wind and solar generation events. But in the UK we already pay little used generation plant to be available, both for short term response to rapid increase in demand, and to be there if another needs to go off line. Batteries will progressively take over the grid stability market, and flow cells and/or ammonia will progressively take over the longer term storage market - so we can manage the decline of the gas infrastructure once gas consumption has been pushed to a tiny fraction of its current consumption. Not unicorn farts as we already have working flow cells (we just don't need them yet as there is still plenty of gas headroom and as you should know by now it is stupid to build excess additional storage before it is needed) and we already need to transition our massive ammonia production away from gas and back to renewables.
What I do not understand is why you insist that retaining a (declining) gas capacity for low MWh generation is prohibitively expensive, yet replacing it with brand new expensive PHES to satisfy the same low and declining MWh of generation is preferable. Trouble is, I don't think you understand the position you have taken either.
Kind regards
Beakers

BBD said...

Well, there are fundamental differences of view so, let's agree to differ before we get old. Thanks for the informative discussion, and of course I hope you are right.