Australia’s renewable energy target has subsidised wind and solar to the tune of more than $60 billion, wrecked its grid and driven power prices through the roof.
Its manufacturing industry is in tatters (tens of thousands of jobs have disappeared forever); energy-intensive mineral processors, such as aluminium, copper lead and zinc smelters are on life support; and its mining industry is under threat.
For what’s left of the productive economy, it’s not just about suffering retail power prices that are amongst the highest in the world, but what happens when businesses and whole industries are forced to shut off their smelters, mines and factories when electricity becomes scarce.
And, in a country heavily reliant upon wind and solar, power becomes scarce when the sun sets and/or calm weather sets in.
Couple that with a period of peak demand (breathless 42°C days, for example) and energy intensive industries are simply chopped from the grid under the euphemism of “demand management”.
Suicidal doesn’t cover it.
When some forlorn chap decides to end at all, it’s because they’ve lost a grip on reality. In Australia’s case, the characters in charge of Australian energy policy know precisely what they are doing, and why: it’s deliberate and wanton.
The contrast between our dismal situation and our northern Asian neighbours couldn’t be more stark.
Between them, China, India, Indonesia, Japan and Vietnam have plans for another 600 coal-fired power plants. Much to the horror of the West’s climate evangelists, Asian demand for coal knows no bounds.
Pinning their belief that these countries would plump for “cheap” wind and solar, instead of “dirty, polluting” coal, the wind and solar acolytes are having a hard time understanding why the unreliables have been roundly rejected.
On that theme, The Australian’s Editor-in-Chief, Chris Mitchell tackles the media hypocrites who berate us and the cynical rent-seekers who exploit us.
Australia leads way on climate but Left media ignores sins of China and US hypocrisy
19 July 2021
Australia – among the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels and uranium – may soon be left stranded with a power system almost completely driven by wind and solar energy, while the rest of the world talks about renewables but keeps building coal, gas and nuclear power stations.
Yet you can be sure parts of our media will still say we are behind on climate action.
Daniel Westerman, the new chief executive of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), last Wednesday said Australia’s national electricity grid needed to be prepared for the possibility of 100 per cent renewables, at least occasionally, by 2025. Some conservative media critics took this as his ambition. Not so. This is the trajectory we are already on and Westerman acknowledges it will cause destabilisation of the national system as wind and solar force out firm power from coal, gas and eventually storage.
Renewable inputs quickly fall near the end of each day and gas, coal and storage need to crank up to prevent blackouts. On top of that, surging renewables in the middle of the day create problems for the technical harmonisation of the grid.
While the ABC, Guardian Australia and the Nine newspapers berate the Morrison government for its approach to emissions reductions, the truth is Australia has the highest penetration of rooftop solar on the planet and is adding large-scale wind and solar at a per capita rate twice that of the next fastest country, Germany.
The issue is ramping up in many newsrooms here, ahead of the UN’s annual climate change conference which will be held in Glasgow this year, starting on October 31. In my view this will be another flop dressed up as a deal, as the reality of Asia’s headlong rush into coal defies the hopes of climate urgers.
The Australian Financial Review’s Angela Macdonald-Smith on July 13 wrote: “The number of large-scale solar farms (here) has exploded by 1000 per cent in the last three years while the number of wind farms has doubled.”
Yet activist local reporters still claim Australia, one of a handful of countries likely to meet its Paris 2030 emissions reduction targets, needs to join places like the US, China, the EU and UK in committing to net zero by 2050. So what are those countries actually doing rather than saying?
US President Joe Biden, who has been hectoring the world on climate action since his January inauguration, is presiding over the largest increase in US coal and gas production in a century. Bloomberg, a news source not known for supporting fossil fuels, on July 8 reported US coal production this year was up 15 per cent, exports up 21 per cent and forecast to rise 19 per cent next year.
US Energy Information Administration data shows US LNG exports reached an all-time high in March. US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm uses an argument this column has made several times but one rejected by much of the environment media here. Granholm told Energywire on January 28 that much of the rising LNG export volume is being sent to “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels”.
It was an argument the Greens used to make here in the Gillard years: gas would be the best transition fuel from coal to renewables given its lower carbon intensity than coal. The Greens dumped this former piety as soon as the Morrison government decided to support a new gas-fired power plant.
And while Europe talks about banning traditional cars, Biden is keen to smooth the transition to a lower carbon economy for the American middle class. He has urged OPEC to lift oil production in the face of rising prices as the world economy recovers from the pandemic. Earlier this month, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “The President wants Americans to have access to affordable and reliable energy, including at the pump.”
Much of our media describes coal as a stranded asset, but the facts suggest otherwise. Thermal coal last month was selling at near record prices of $US129.97 ($A175) a tonne while coal futures last week soared to a 10-year high of $US140 a tonne. China, which some environment journalists actually believe is committed to net zero by 2060, is financing coal plant construction in 152 countries under its Belt and Road Initiative, according to a report in The Conversation last May.
Coal accounts for 58 per cent of China’s domestic power. The Asian giant is home to more than half the world’s coal-fired power stations, and has 247 gigawatts of new coal power planned or under construction. That is six times Germany’s entire capacity. But wait, look at Australia, right?
Boris Johnson, the former Conservative turned climate activist who last year committed the UK to net zero by 2050, is racked by political division over plans to replace heat boilers in British homes. His Tory party is being mugged by the reality of a pledge that looks likely to cost taxpayers as much as £30,000 ($A56,000) per household. The plan was shelved on Friday until after the next northern summer.
As usual, the EU is hopelessly divided on climate action. French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country exports nuclear power across Europe, has had to abandon his climate referendum that would have enshrined environmental protection in the French Constitution.
And an EU proposal to set up an emissions trading scheme for transport and heating looked unlikely to succeed last week as oil price rises continue to take a toll on middle class Europeans.
The Wall Street Journal on July 11 branded a separate EU proposal – the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism – a new form of protection. “Brussels plans to impose tariffs to bring the cost of carbon dioxide emissions tied to an imported good into line with what a European producer would pay to produce the same good,” the editorial read.
The Financial Times on Friday said of the EU’s Green Deal: “Dissenting voices were sidelined and concerns ignored”, as eastern Europe, led by Poland, stepped up legal action to block the plan to impose tariffs.
This from an EU that continues to burn woodchips under an accounting trick that allows countries to claim these are renewable power and not have to account for the emissions this burning produces.
On the plus side for Australia, the tariffs plan looked less onerous than our local industry initially feared. It also became clear the EU is relying on planting three billion trees to offset emissions – something the Greens have criticised when implemented by Coalition politicians here.
Elsewhere, India is still building coal-fired power plants and Russia has not even joined the 2030 Paris Agreement.
So it’s hard to understand why so many journalists here focus on the supposed failings of our government’s emissions-reduction policy.
If AEMO is right, these reporters and their editors will be found out in about 3½ years when we will have one of the most renewables-intensive power systems on earth.
Let’s just hope we still have some jobs in manufacturing. We are certainly out on a limb.
The Renewables 2021 global status report shows total wind and solar power represented about 2 per cent of the world’s energy consumption last year.