Has Chief Scientist Alan Finkel Got It Wrong On Hydrogen And Natural Gas?

Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel - Hydrogen

On Wednesday last week Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, gave a talk on Australia’s energy future at the National Press Club.  While there’s no doubt Australia’s Chief Scientist is a smart cookie, I think a couple of predictions he made are fairly obviously wrong. They are:

  1.  The future of natural gas consumption.
  2.  The future of hydrogen production.

I assume this is because he doesn’t have a good handle on the economics of either.  To be fair, he straight out said…

“I’m not an economist.”

But there’s no need to be an economist to understand if other options cost less and are more energy efficient than expanding natural gas generation or making hydrogen, then those two things aren’t likely to happen.  If Finkel is sitting on secret information that will make his pet projects competitive, he needs to explain it to the rest of us because I sure as hell can’t see how they will make or save Australians money.  The only way I can see them happening at all is with large government subsidies.

Hanging Around Politicians Probably Doesn’t Help

As Australia’s Chief Scientist, Finkel is often exposed to politicians and this is only likely to make his understanding of economics worse.1  Not just because of the usual tropes about politicians not understanding basic economics or being bad with other people’s money, but because the Government is in bed with fossil fuel interests.  It’s a disturbing relationship where I can’t tell who is the gimp and who is the master.  I suspect they have no clear idea themselves.

When it comes to coal interests, the large stable companies that have done a lot of good work digging nasty minerals out of the ground and sending them overseas are no longer what our Government represents.  Rio Tinto dumped coal in 2018 and BHP has been reducing its exposure for years.  Only wild-eyed gamblers like Glencore, who think coal has a future, are left.  But even they are getting nervous and are perhaps beginning to realise they may not have a future if they’re right.  Despite this, Coalition politicians continue to act as though high paid jobs in the coal industry will always be available to them if they can only succeed in ignoring reality hard enough.

More Gas Capacity But Not Necessarily More Gas Generation

Finkel called natural gas a “transition fuel”.  That is, a fuel that will transition us off coal.  But that’s not likely to happen.  Not even at the current low international prices for natural gas.  On the other hand, no one actually knows what the words “transition fuel” means because it’s not in the dictionary.  It’s just a phrase people use when they don’t know or want to avoid giving useful details.  So if by “transition fuel” Finkel means gas might go from providing 10% of our grid electricity as it does today to 13%, then I agree an increase of that size could occur.  But that is not the impression he gave.

Many people mistakenly think more solar energy and wind generation means more gas use because they overlook the following:

  • As coal generation is replaced with solar, wind, and gas capacity it will increase gas generation during some periods but lower it during others.
  • Gas has to compete with other forms of dispatchable energy and it’s unlikely to be competitive enough to result in a large increase in the percentage of electricity it supplies.

Solar & Wind Encourage & Discourage Gas Use

At the moment solar power is reducing the need to burn gas in the middle of day and this will continue as its capacity increases.  Solar also results in less hydroelectric generation being required in the day, which saves water that can later be used to provide energy in place of natural gas.  Wind generation has the same effect as solar energy, but isn’t limited to the daytime.  Eventually, it will become common for a combination of solar and wind to meet all demand in the middle of the day.  This already often happens in South Australia.  Here’s a graph showing the effect of rooftop solar panels plus — to a lesser extent — efficiency improvements, on demand for grid electricity in South Australia in the summer:

Summer workday average electricity demand profiles - South Australia

While there is considerable variation between years depending on how hot the summer is, the trend for lower grid electricity use during the day thanks to rooftop solar power is clear and, if we look at the results for winter, very obvious:

Winter workday average electricity demand profiles - South Australia

At the moment, the average demand for grid electricity in the middle of the day is nearly as low as it is at four in the morning.  By 2023 rooftop solar alone is expected to meet all demand on some days.  It is already common for solar energy plus wind generation to produce enough power to meet all demand in the state.2  If solar and wind power are sufficient to meet demand there is no need to burn gas at these times or use hydroelectricity.

If we replaced a currently operating coal power station with solar and wind while using gas generation to firm the power supplied so it would always be available when wanted, then there would be times when wind and solar would not be able to meet demand — such as hot summer evenings or cold and cloudy winter mornings.  A lot of gas would be burned at these times but the increased solar and wind capacity would also reduce gas and hydroelectricity use during the day and at other times, such as early in the morning, and this will help to offset high gas consumption periods.

Gas generation is expensive compared to solar and wind, even at its current low price.  The higher electricity prices it causes will help limit its use, as electricity consumption is shifted to periods with high renewable output and low prices.  At the moment only commercial users pay electricity rates based on wholesale electricity prices, but this option is becoming available to households.

Solar also reduces domestic gas consumption.  Increasingly when rooftop solar power is installed households disconnect their gas, as it becomes cheaper for them to use electricity for hot water and home heating.

So while increased solar and wind capacity may result in more gas generating capacity being built, it won’t necessarily lead to a large increase in gas consumption.

Gas Faces Competition

If gas was the only option for firming solar and wind we would end up using more of it — just not as much as Finkel and others seem to think.  But gas has competition from other sources of dispatchable3 power that will further limit its use.  Two important ones currently competing with gas are pumped hydro4 and battery storage.

Neither pumped hydro or batteries create energy.  They only store it for later use and lose some in the process.5  This is an important difference from gas generation, but gas generation and energy storage can play well together.  We know days in advance if the output of solar and wind will be low and can use hydroelectricity and our more efficient gas power stations to charge batteries and pumped hydro well in advance.  This can continue to be done when demand for grid electricity is low, such as late at night and in the middle of the day.6

The economics of pumped hydro and gas generation aren’t easily comparable as the pumped hydro costs a lot to build but is cheap to run, while gas capacity is cheaper to build but costs more to run.  Since Eastern Australia built natural gas export facilities at Gladstone, natural gas prices have there have risen to international levels.  This increase has helped make new pumped hydro and battery storage competitive with new gas generation.

Increasing solar and wind capacity create periods of low or even negative electricity prices, which help the economics of pumped hydro and batteries by allowing them to “charge up” at low cost or even at a profit.  Gas generation can’t benefit from negative prices.

Batteries Are Competitive

Under the right circumstances batteries are competitive with gas generation for firming solar and wind generation.  For a long time I’ve been saying home batteries don’t pay for themselves but this is about to change.  At the moment large electric car manufacturers are buying battery cells for around $150 per kilowatt-hour which means fully installed and integrated home energy storage at $500 per kilowatt-hour is already baked into the technology cake.  I won’t make a guess as to when that will happen, as manufacturers have had major problems producing reliable home batteries, but no new breakthroughs are required.  As further advances are bound to occur, eventually batteries will be even cheaper.

Queensland is building a big battery near Wandoan that will be complete in 2021 for $800 per kilowatt-hour.  This is more than South Australia paid for their big battery two years ago7 but the trend is for batteries to fall in price.  The ability of batteries to provide ancillary services that provide stability to the grid and to reduce the need for expensive new transmission capacity make them a better deal than they seem.

VPPs Won’t Keep All Your Money

A range of Virtual Power Plants (VPPs) are now available to rip off the owners of homes and businesses with batteries.  The good news is some energy retailers will restrain their rapacious behaviour enough to make batteries pay for many households in the near future.  There may even be some that make batteries worthwhile now.  This means home and business battery storage could soon take off by providing real financial benefits after years of feeding off the bank balances of enthusiastic early adopters.

If 10% of households install a battery that can store 10 kilowatt-hours of energy and supply 5 kilowatts of power, they could supply more power for two hours than all of Victoria’s coal power stations at maximum output.

Electric Cars — Batteries On Wheels

Australians buy over one million new vehicles per year, or at least they do according to this fuzzy graph:

Australian new car sales

If 1% of the cars bought in a year were electric and connected to 3-phase home car chargers they could draw around 250MW of power when solar and wind output exceeds demand, storing clean energy that otherwise would go to waste.  If 1% of vehicles in Australia were electric and connected to similar chargers they could draw 2.5 gigawatts of power.

At the moment electric cars only take power from the grid. But the technology already exists for them to put that power back into the grid. If the car manufacturers and local networks would allow so called ‘vehicle to grid’ (V2G) operation, then 1% of cars could provide close to the 2.88 gigawatt maximum output of Australia’s largest coal power station.

As we are going to end up with far more than 1% of cars running off electricity and can expect them to spend most of their time when not in use connected to a charger, electric vehicles have plenty of potential to assist with the integration of variable solar and wind energy.8

Perhaps home and business batteries and electric cars won’t take off the way I expect, but they still have a huge potential to disrupt growth in natural gas generation that Finkel seems to be ignoring.

CSIRO Gencost Report Agrees With Me

The Gencost report is a collaboration between the CSIRO and AEMO that looks at future electricity supply scenarios.  The latest one is the GenCost 2019-20: Preliminary Results For Stakeholder Review Draft Report. Of the three scenarios considered, one shows the amount of electricity generated from natural gas rising from its current 10% to 13% by 2030, with all other scenarios showing gas providing a smaller portion of generation, whether the time period is 2030 or 2050.  One scenario has the portion of electricity supplied by natural gas falling to 6.5% by 2050:

Projected global electricity generation mix in 2030 and 2050

High VRE stands for High Variable Renewable Energy. That is, lots of solar and wind capacity.

I don’t think any of the scenarios above represent what is likely to happen, but I’m not going into that when they are supporting my point.

Hydrogen Is Expensive

Once or twice or maybe three times in the past I’ve mentioned hydrogen is a more expensive way to store energy.  When it comes to road transport, electric vehicles are currently a lot cheaper and I don’t see hydrogen having a realistic chance of catching up.  Another major problem is hydrogen vehicles have less than half the energy efficiency of EVs.  This means hydrogen won’t be used for road transport in any significant way and the vast amounts Finkel suggests the world will need simply won’t be required.

Trusting Japan Is Nuts

If electric vehicles beat hydrogen ones on price and efficiency, then why does Finkel think we can export vast amounts of hydrogen to power cars in other countries?  So far, the only evidence I’ve seen him present boils down to Japan saying…

“We are going to use so much hydrogen.  Totes for realz, guys.9

This is not going to happen.  While the Japanese Government’s statements aren’t true, I can’t quite say they are lying because betraying the trust of the electorate is often considered the polite thing to do over there.  But I will say Australians who believe Japan is going to act against its own interests are fools.

Japanese hype about a hydrogen future and their current funding of hydrogen research are motivated by internal politics and contain exactly as much truth as Coalition’s statements that Australia is will build new coal power stations.  If we don’t believe what Australian politicians tell us, why on earth would we believe Japanese ones?10

Instead of becoming a nation of hydrogen car drivers, here’s what will actually happen in Japan.  This year Toyota will begin selling electric vehicles.  At first in their test market of China, but once they’re confident they’ve got it right they will be sold worldwide.  As Japanese electric car sales pick up, all the talk about hydrogen vehicles in Japan will magically disappear.  This is because, when it comes to cars, the Japanese Government is basically Toyota via other means.11

Hydrogen May Have Other Uses

Hydrogen can have other uses besides road transport, so the $20 billion or so Japan has spent on hydrogen research so far may not go to waste.  After spending so much you may think Japan would find it impossible to give up on hydrogen vehicles, but Japan appears to have given up on building new nuclear capacity while still spending around $3 billion a year on nuclear research.  Clearly the level of spending doesn’t necessarily reflect the amount of use they expect to get out of something in the future.12

Because hydrogen may find uses in industry, aviation, and other areas it is possible Australia will end up exporting some, but it still remains to be seen if there will be any overseas demand for Australian hydrogen at all.

Trucks Don’t Need Hydrogen

Alan Finkel said a number of odd things during his talk and one of them was we need hydrogen fuel for long distance truck driving.  That’s a strange thing to say because hydrogen doesn’t automatically become more economical just because it’s used in a truck or over long distances.  It’s also odd because it seems that Finkel has never gotten on his bike and ridden across the Nullarbor Plain.  If he had, he’d either:

  1. Realize the longest empty stretch between the Nullarbor Roadhouse and Eucla is only 197 kilometers.  Or if you wanted to skip the roadhouse it’s only 292 kilometers between Yalata and Eucla.
  2. Be dead.

Elon Musk says his electric Tesla Semi has 800 kilometers of range, so even if you halve that to account for Australian fly density and Yankee optimism, it’s still more than enough.  With the costs of both solar power and battery storage rapidly falling I find it hard to believe hydrogen will turn out to be the cheaper option for crossing the Nullarbor.

Natural Gas & Hydrogen Aren’t Insurance Against High Battery Prices

The strangest thing Finkel said in his talk was investing in natural gas and hydrogen would provide Australia with energy security if batteries prices went up.  This is crazy and not just because the materials in a battery are only part of their total cost while the price of natural gas can bounce around like a kangaroo with a pouch full of helium:13

Regional LNG prices

See how cheap natural gas is now compared to what it used to be?  As natural gas is a substitute for hydrogen this makes it much more difficult for hydrogen to be cost effective.  (Image: Bluegold Research)

What is really crazy is Finkel doesn’t appear to realize if the price of batteries goes up, it doesn’t make the batteries you already have more expensive and they can last a long time before they need replacing.  The Wandoan big battery in Queensland is expected to have an operating life of 15 years.  But when the price of natural gas goes up, unless you have locked in a low price with a long term contract or have a really big storage tank, the cost increase can be immediate.

If the price of batteries suddenly soars then that’s the point where it makes sense to decide if it’s a better choice to invest in natural gas generation.  But building natural gas capacity before a battery price rise is not going to protect you from that price rise and it’s completely nuts to think it will.

Finkel Is Right On Cutting Emissions — He Just Needs Remedial Work

I absolutely agree with Alan Finkel that we’d have to be complete nongs not to cut our greenhouse gas emissions.  I just think he’s just wrong about how it’s going to happen.  This is a serious problem: politicians listen to him because of his position and it could result in the misallocation of hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s dollars.

He really needs to sit down with an economist or a businessperson who can explain to him how things work when real money’s involved.  My dad has a great head for both business and  stopping cars from rolling backwards and I’m sure he’d be willing to provide instruction for a reasonable price.  But if Finkel is on a budget then I’m willing to help out for free.  Mind you, the fact I’m not charging anything suggests I’m not as good at business as my father.

Footnotes

  1. It’s odd Finkel appears weak on the economics of energy when he’s written about “following the money” in the past.
  2. Currently gas generation is always in operation in South Australia to provide stability and security to the grid, but this isn’t necessary.  Rules are being changed to allow batteries to play a greater role in providing stability and synchronous condensers are being built.  These are large spinning devices that provide stability to the grid without burning natural gas.
  3. Dispatchable just means we can turn them on and off as desired.
  4. Some confuse pumped hydro with standard hydroelectricity and expect it to face strong objections on environmental grounds.  But it requires little room, doesn’t need to be on a river, and cycles the same water over and over.  Old mines and quarries can be suitable sites.
  5. Pumped hydro is typically around 76% efficient.  Large scale battery storage can be over 90% efficient.  A good home battery is 88% efficient.
  6. It doesn’t matter how cloudy Australia gets, some solar energy will still be produced whenever the sun is above the horizon.
  7. I don’t know the details of the Wandoan big battery, so there could be good reasons for its greater cost — higher quality, longer life, expensive new transmission lines, nozzles that dispense free ice cream, etc.
  8. Self driving vehicles have the potential to greatly reduce the number of cars in the country if people get in the habit of using robo-taxis instead of owning cars, but the only way we’ll find out what will happen for sure is to wait and see.
  9. Translation:  “Our hydrogen use will expand like Akira on a bad day.”
  10. You’d think we’d be especially cautious, what with the whole surprise attack thing and the ripping up of every treaty they didn’t like 79 years ago.
  11. Toyota may continue to produce hydrogen cars for a time but only thousands per year compared to the millions of electric vehicles they will eventually build.  Toyota sold 1,838 Hydrogen Mirais in the US in 2017 but only 1,502 in 2019.  These are not sales figures you’d expect if hydrogen is on track to become the fuel of the future.
  12. But if you think Japan is weird, look at Australia where — despite having no nuclear generating capacity at all — the Australian Nuclear Technology & Science Organisation is receiving $355 million in funding this financial year as well as all revenue from the sale of nuclear medicines.
  13. Or perhaps hydrogen in this case.
About Ronald Brakels

Many years ago now, Ronald Brakels was born in Toowoomba. He first rose to international prominence when his township took up a collection to send him to Japan, which was the furthest they could manage with the money they raised. He became passionately interested in environmental matters upon his return to Australia when the local Mayor met him at the airport and explained it was far too dangerous for him to return to Toowoomba on account of climate change and mutant attack goats. Ronald then moved to a property in the Adelaide Hills where he now lives with his horse, Tonto 23.

Comments

  1. I’m curious to know what our real overnight power needs really are. If the lumbering coal plants have to keep spinning overnight, is the MW output on the AEMO graphs at night, the true amount of generation to respond to demand. Or is that just the spinning reserve because they can’t let the fires go out overnight, to get it all ramped up in the morning again. If that’s the case, then if no coal plants existed, then how many MW would be needed in the dead of night- say 3-4AM to keep our fridges running overnight ?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Generally speaking, all electricity generated by Australia’s coal power stations is used. But because they typically can only operate at 60-100% of their nameplate capacity, sometimes they will allow wholesale electricity prices to go negative because they don’t want to shut down. One reason almost all coal generated electricity is used is because electricity prices drop for industry and large commercial users when demand is low. When electricity prices go negative large users, like BHP, get paid to use electricity.

    • Brian Bycroft says

      I’m no expert in these matters, but I have always thought most electricity providers have a cheaper, off-peak rate to encourage overnight use to artificially even out demand . This is not only happens for domestic use, but I’m aware for instance, irrigators took advantage of the cheaper rate to pump water overnight. It would be interesting to see the impact if an off-peak rate was removed – what is the true overnight demand?

  2. Tom Grierson says

    The real issue is storage of cheap solar so that it can be used later when it is needed.
    I have always thought that compressed air held in large water column would be able to run turbines on demand would work. Many solar farms already have periods when they can’t sell their power.
    The other more obvious one an interconnector from east to west. There is already an interconnector between Tas and Victoria and they are planning powering Singapore from norther WA, why not one from Port Augusta to where the WA grid starts near Kalgoorlie?
    This would allow a spread of 2 extra every day for solar and help with wind generation as well..
    ther are easements available across the continent already. The trans continental rail line is even a great circle so it is the shortest distance.. what do you think?

  3. Howard Patrick says

    As a scientist I would have thought Alan Finkel would have provided more information about the electrolysis technologies he seems to be very confident about.

    It seems some significant progress has been made towards developing less expensive catalysts, (made of far more abundant materials than the extremely expensive platinum).

    One catalyst found is cobalt phosphide but that raises the COBALT issue.

    Monash researchers have found another catalyst made of more readily available materials:-
    https://lens.monash.edu/@science/2019/09/24/1376698/electrolysis-breakthrough-could-solve-the-hydrogen-conundrum

    No doubt Finkel knows a lot more about the work at Monash; perhaps that gives him the confidence about the hydrogen future which he conveyed in his address.

  4. If Alan Finkel is our chief scientist it’s no wonder most people don’t understand climate change science. He should be out there hammering the government on their lack of action. Not espousing the somewhat dubious merits of Hydrogen.

    Hydrogen may still have a role to play in things like aviation, shipping and even heavy duty vehicles – although it’s tendency to go bang could be an issue. Tesla’s assurance that their trucks will go 800kms (500 miles) seems at the moment to ignore some basic physics (like the weight of the batteries needed for that range versus vehicle weight and load capacity), not to mention that putting so many batteries in this class of vehicle may be both counterproductive and uneconomical given the demand for the same resources in passenger vehicles (which make a lot more sense).

    Even home storage makes more sense than an 18 wheeler EV.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      I am very confident Elon’s 800km range is with his electric semi empty for half the distance, which is often not how things are done.

      • Elon loves to tote his next big achievement, however testing them in real world environments and activities is still beyond him.
        If a significant amount of the Cargo is your own batterys, exactly how big is this semi?

        • Ronald Brakels says

          Details on the Tesla electric semi are in the article I wrote when it was revealed:

          https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/elon-musk-says-teslas-electric-truck-will-beat-diesels-total-cost-may-telling-truth/

          The article goes into some of the problems.

          They are being tested in roads in the US and have been used for things public relations things such as delivering Teslas.

          I don’t know if they will start production at the end of this year as they claim or the semi will be as good as they say, but if you give them enough time Tesla does get some things done. They sold 367,000 electric cars last year, which is a lot compared to every other car manufacturer in the world except, I think, China’s BYD.

          China currently produces a number of electric heavy vehicles, although they’re generally not in the same “space” as the Tesla Semi.

    • Mondo,
      You state:
      “Hydrogen may still have a role to play in things like aviation, shipping and even heavy duty vehicles – although it’s tendency to go bang could be an issue.”

      Anything combustible can go ‘bang’ in particular circumstances. Petrol/gasoline can go ‘bang’, yet we live with it. LPG and LNG can go ‘bang’. Coal dust can be explosive. Even custard powder and flour in certain circumstances can be highly explosive.

      Ask any emergency worker about how they would feel about attending and dealing with a leaking LPG tank incident, and the risk of a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion).

      The trick is utilizing appropriate technologies and standards to adequately contain and handle hydrogen, like we have done with fossil fuels and other combustible substances.

      You then state:
      “Tesla’s assurance that their trucks will go 800kms (500 miles) seems at the moment to ignore some basic physics (like the weight of the batteries needed for that range versus vehicle weight and load capacity), not to mention that putting so many batteries in this class of vehicle may be both counterproductive and uneconomical given the demand for the same resources in passenger vehicles (which make a lot more sense).”

      You speculate on comparative weights of battery-electric vs hydrogen-fuel-cell-electric trucks – but I suspect you really are attempting to compare energy densities. That’s one aspect, but what about energy efficiency, Mondo?

      Per the European environment group Transport & Environment, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) are at least three times more energy efficient when compared with hydrogen-fuel-cell-electric vehicles (HFCEVs), due to significant energy losses from when renewable electricity is generated through to that energy dissipated at the road wheels to do useful work. Power-to-liquid hydrocarbon internal combustion vehicles (P2L-ICEVs) are even less energy efficient. Overall efficiencies (per Transport & Environment):
      • BEVs: _ _ _ 73%;
      • HFCEV: _ _ 22%;
      • P2L-ICEVs: 13%.
      See: https://twitter.com/transenv/status/899976235794788352?lang=en

      But rather than taking goods long distances by road, wouldn’t it be more energy efficient going by rail or by water/sea, Mondo?

      Here are some comparative energy efficiencies of various modes of transportation in kilojoules/ton/kilometre:
      • Oil tankers and bulk cargo ships: _ _ 50 kJ used to move 1-ton of cargo 1 km distance
      • Smaller cargo ships: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 100–150
      • Trains: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 250–600
      • Barge: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 360
      • Trucks: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2,000–4,000
      • Airfreight: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 30,000
      • Helicopter: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _55,000
      See: When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, by Alice J. Friedemann, http://energyskeptic.com/2016/when-trucks-stop-running-so-does-civilization/

      I would suggest humanity is profligate with energy. We need to be much more energy efficient in a post- ‘peak oil’ world.

  5. David Warren says

    Have your sent a formal offer to explain the economics to Alan Finkel yet?
    Somebody has to bridge the gap between ignorant politicians and their advisers and us plebs who can see the light.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      What? You think Australia’s Chief scientist doesn’t read everything I write? Woe iz me! My ego has taken such a beating!

  6. Graham Revill says

    It seems to me that we are approaching a point where the cost of the electricity is effectively zero. Currently the wholesale price for small users appears to be about AUD0.08 per kwh. I pay AUD0.22 per kwh delivered with tax paid. Hence if electricity was free I would still have to pay about AUD0.14 per kwh. With more evenly distributed generation resulting from renewables the cost of poles and wires will start to come down as slowly as their owners can manage.
    The life of PV and wind generators can probably be expected to increase to at least 50 years. The life of a nuclear plant might be about the same although there seem to be quite a few younger plants retiring because they are not economical or perhaps not safe.
    If we leap to some hypothetical future when we have a choice of Thorium nuclear or fusion plants what do we gain? Both have been promised since I was about 10 years old reading about the exciting future in popular mechanics and neither looks even remotely deliverable in less than 30 years. That will be 90 years for development which is not unexpected (except by popular mechanics) We still have the problems of waste and huge losses that occur when a lone incident goes wrong in a big way.

    The big investments we need to make is a reliable and cheap grid and the death of the artificial retailers who were invented to make a profit for someone’ brother by hard selling a monopoly. How much per kwh goes to these parasites?
    By the way thanks for your repeating the fact that Snowy2 will not create anything. I have heard so many reference to it as a giant generator on the radio and TV that I am sure 97.35% of Australian citizens (including permanent residents and Norfolk islanders) think its going to supply super cheap power because its “hydro.” The other 2.65% said they couldn’t care less. Its also an excellent example that big is not always more beautiful than small. The problem with big is that we need to pay a few billion for more wires and poles than if it was twenty small pumped hydro schemes and that it will be delivered 20 years later than fifty small pumped hydro schemes. Wouldn’t small schemes with near vertical holes connecting the high and low ponds be more efficient with regard to energy input to energy output?

  7. Lindsay cox says

    Good article makes sense.would never be seen in the murdoch papers

  8. Peter Riley says

    Hydrogen is thee future! It’s the most abundant element in the universe and has many advantages over other energy sources. People and goverments are too scared and or too conservative. Don’t waste time. Go H2 and go Finkel!

  9. This blog on Alan Finkel is a disappointing diatribe. It is all well and good to have an opinion, but it would have been advisable to study the topic a little more thoroughly before offering ill-informed commentary. It is ironic that you attack Finkel for not being strong on economics and then spend the whole blog well away from any area of expertise. Certainly nothing said in the blog would indicate a superior understanding of economics nor a competent understanding of hydrogen generation or the proposed role of Australian gas in ah hydrogen economy.

    I agree that more effort is needed to educate Government and community regarding climate change, and that as Chief Scientist, Finkel should be contributing to that education. But it is clear that he also needs to be educating others on how Australia may be able to transition to a lower carbon economy.

    Technology developers have been giving the world some options to reduce our carbon footprint, and hopefully that work will continue at a greater pace in the future. Obviously different countries, regions, corporations and individuals will find different ways to use those technologies to meet their specific needs. Brazil already has high renewables penetration with hydro, and will probably have more, but the Netherlands, for example, is unlikely to be able to adopt that path. It is not one technology fits all.

    Finkel and others of us have been considering what energy generation and storage technologies may be sensible for Australia on its path to low-carbon, and Finkel makes good sense when he talks about gas and hydrogen, along with solar, as potentially important parts of the story. Australia can’t continue to rely on coal, doesn’t want nuclear, doesn’t have much hydro opportunity, and for the most part isn’t able to do useful wind. On the upside, Australia should be able to make a lot of relatively cheap power on a sunny day, and should have enough sunny days to make that a worthwhile proposition.

    But how to store that power when the sun doesn’t shine, or when you want to carry large lumps of that energy around? So far neither chemical batteries nor hydrogen stand up to sensible scrutiny as the ideal energy storage medium for all purposes. Chemical batteries will certainly have a place, but hydrogen is looking very impressive, both technically and economically, for mobile applications, especially at scale or for distance, as well as for the effective and efficient export of power.

    If we think broadly and deeply about energy storage, including replacing an Australian export industry selling energy as coal with an Australian export industry selling renewable energy as hydrogen, and with natural gas reformed to hydrogen as a transition source, then it is possible to understand Finkel’s discussion of a possible transition path to a new and low-carbon economy. It is simply on a different level to Ronald’s interest in roof panels and garage batteries. It is in fact economics, not arithmetic, and not sales promotion.

  10. Mr Stuart J Brown says

    I agree, that batteries are cheaper for cars and trucks, but compound declines in solar prices, currently halving in price per kWh, every 3 years, mean that it’s going to be a very good, light aircraft fuel. If hydrogen as an exportable energy source, is half as efficient as a fuel, so what, if solar is 1/4 of the price per kWh than now, in 6 years time. The idea that energy is purely about efficiency is poppycock, if the power source is cheap, efficiency is much less relevant, we have lousy efficiency in hydrocarbon vehicles now, worse with unconventional hydrocarbon production. But yet we’re running these vehicles all the time, in spite of losing 100% of the energy, in production, we can’t make a hydrogen vehicle infrastructure.

    But we can do so with economy of scale, energy storage, huge liquid hydrogen tankers, storage facilities, power plants, using already there and upgraded electricity grids. Grids, take us to cheap out of the way land, increasing the electricity transmission by 50 times, is less expensive than people think, the cable corridors, are already purchased. Buy some aluminium, use thicker cables, heavy industries, use the trunk lines, not the more expensive residential elaborate, detailed grids. So the trunk lines, can be rapidly upgraded, if you think things can’t change fast, think again, high speed rail in China, with 1/5th of the world’s population, in less than a decade and a half. The United States, no longer a net importer of transportation fuel, due to unconventional hydrocarbon production, previously the world’s largest importer of transportation fuel in the world. Hence the low unemployment rates in the USA, it’s not Trumps brilliant management after all.

    Things will change fast in the roaring twenties, clean disruption, third industrial revolution, green new deal, because of price, the money, the mula mula, the dinero. Belt Road high speed rail, already committed; liquid hydrogen fueled aircraft, driverless electric vehicles, high rise agriculture, massive amounts of cheap renewables. No hydrogen doesn’t have to be efficient, hydrocarbons aren’t efficient, take out the carbon and hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of economic activity will occur. Like when Texas oil, mass production of horseless carriages, replaced horses, in the 1920’s, driverless electric vehicles, will replace carcinogenic emissions vehicles. These technologies replace the old economic bottlenecks, using old infrastructure and leading to massive new infrastructure, in the 2020’s.

  11. So many holes in your understanding of long range transport.
    Just one example.
    “Trucks have say 180 miles between charges across the Nullarbor”
    Then you totally ignore a 6-10 hour recharge time, and a load carrying reduction of up to 60% from battery weight due to axle load limitations.
    Let’s also not forget the electric load on recharging say 5 trucks at once, at any remote single phase “back of Bourke” charging stop.

  12. The discussion seems to always revolve around either batteries or pumped hydro for storage, I’m curious about thermal storage as a means to provide both heat and electricity. It seems that the 1414D technology is relatively cheap, is highly sustainable, readily located where required, and is Australian made in South Australia.
    Why doesn’t this ever rate a mention?

  13. Woa there. A whole pile of rhetoric which ignores logic.

    1. Gas is cheap OVERSEAS, not here. It has become expensive here. When the Howard Coalition government allowed the world’s 3rd largest LNG deposit to be sold to foreigners Australians were sold out. We got low low royalties, were barred from buying our own gas and have a domestic shortage. So the government now wants fracking?????

    2. Gas may not be the future but its a perfect fit on the road from coal to renewables. That’s its rightful place in the timeline as you cannot make changes like greenies are proposing on a 5 cent piece.

    • michael,
      You state:
      “1. Gas is cheap OVERSEAS, not here. It has become expensive here.”

      Cheap for how long? Gas is a finite energy resource. Evidence I see indicates a post- ‘peak gas’ world arriving soon (i.e. 2020s).

      Per BPSRoWE-2019: in 2018, the US was the world’s largest gas producer (21.5% global share), yet its proved reserves-to-production (R/P) was reportedly estimated at only 14.3 years. Australia’s production was 3.4% global share and proved R/P was only 18.4 years. I’d suggest something has to give… soon.
      See my Submission (#215 & #215a): https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/inquiries/Pages/inquiry-details.aspx?pk=2542#tab-submissions
      Also: https://shalebubble.org/

      You then state:
      “2. Gas may not be the future but its a perfect fit on the road from coal to renewables.”

      The evidence I see says: No, it definitely isn’t.

      The report “Natural Gas Makes No Contribution to Climate Protection” includes in the Abstract:

      “Natural gas is often presented as a climate-friendly alternative for the electricity and heating sectors and as a “bridging technology” with a key role on the way to a sustainable energy system. If, however, methane emissions are considered in addition to carbon dioxide emissions, it can be seen that a climate protection strategy based on natural gas has the exact opposite effect. Savings on carbon dioxide during on-site combustion are only achieved by significantly increasing the methane emissions in the entire chain. Overall, the switch from coal and oil to natural gas in power plants and heating systems even increases the greenhouse effect of energy consumption by around 40%. At the same time, this creates obstacles to renewable energy sources, prevents a sustainable, emission-free economic system and blocks effective climate protection. Despite a simultaneous commitment to Paris’ climate protection targets, which are incompatible with increased natural gas use, many governments continue to support the highly climate-damaging natural gas with subsidies and indirect support measures.”
      See: http://energywatchgroup.org/wp-content/uploads/EWG_Natural_Gas_Study_September_2019.pdf

      Humanity must leave coal, fossil natural gas, and petroleum oil ASAP – we need to stop burning all carbon-based substances (i.e. 50% human-induced GHG emissions reduction by 2030, and zero by 2050). Alternative GHG trajectories risk a Hothouse Earth outcome before 2100, with likely human population reduced to less than 1 billion.
      See the scientific paper and particularly figure 2 in: https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/115/33/8252.full.pdf
      Also: http://www.climatecodered.org/2019/08/at-4c-of-warming-would-billion-people.html

      If humanity cannot make rapid changes, the overwhelming scientific evidence is indicating it will likely be game over for most of humanity before this century is over (and perhaps as early as 2050). Do you want to risk that for you and your family (if you have any?), michael? Do you feel lucky, michael?

      • Thanks for the scare campaign but I do agree with your prognosis.
        What you avoid is discussing how you close the coal mines and keep the grid operational. Your position is that of many do gooders who think the magic wand approach is the way to go.
        You’ll not find anybody much more environmentally sensitive than I but one has to confront reality rather than stand on a soap box crying ‘we can do it’. A start would of course be welcome but that won’t happen until Australians realise that the current government has milked us for decades and spits it out.

        • Geoff Miell says

          michael,
          You state:
          “Thanks for the scare campaign but I do agree with your prognosis.”

          “Scare campaign”? Did I jolt you from your slumber, michael?

          I’m presenting evidence of the real situation and the likely real risks facing us. If it’s scary for you, I’d suggest you need to get used to it.

          Undeniably, the overwhelming scientific evidence indicates the coming decades will be worse for us/humanity than the Holocene period we have departed from (some say we have begun the Anthropocene period) – planet Earth is already locked-in for 1.8–2.0°C temperature rise (above pre-industrial age) due to the GHG emissions already in the atmosphere – the question is: how much worse does humanity want to make it?

          Existential risk and emergency response must be:
          • Normalised in our thinking;
          • Socialised in our discussions; and
          • The basis for planning and action.
          See Ian Dunlop’s presentation in the YouTube video from time interval 1:32:57 through to 1:42:21: [Keynote Debate Can the Climate Emergency Action Plan lead to Collective Action_ (50 Years CoR)] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK2XLeGmHtE

          You then state:
          “What you avoid is discussing how you close the coal mines and keep the grid operational.”

          Coal mines (and oil and gas wells) will need to stop producing: either in a planned, orderly manner; or shambolically, with little regard for local communities and leaving displaced workers stranded. That’s on governments and the people who vote for them.

          Did you look at the references linked to in my previous comment, particularly my Submission? I suspect not.
          Also see my comment: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/fossil-fuel-bushfire-recovery-mb1358/#comment-597144

          And then you state:
          “Your position is that of many do gooders who think the magic wand approach is the way to go.”

          I see there are some affordable solutions for electricity generation, that won’t be easy, but doable in the required time-frame, if we had the will to do it. But unfortunately, our governments (and the people who voted for them) don’t have the will – IMO captured by fossil fuel vested interests to delay the transition for as long as possible.

          I DON’T see evidence for affordable, rapidly deployable at large-scale solutions to replace petroleum fuels. That has critical implications for agriculture (and therefore food security), long-range shipping and long-haul aviation (and therefore, global trade, tourism and global economies). That’s the real challenge (i.e. critical risks to our energy security), together with effective and timely action to mitigate dangerous climate change. The problem is, we (i.e. humanity) have known about these issues for decades but have chosen to ignore them so far and continued with business-as-usual, believing in fairy tales of eternal economic growth in a finite world.

          You then apparently boast:
          “You’ll not find anybody much more environmentally sensitive than I…”

          I don’t believe you, michael. Your previous comment seems to me to be a promotion of more gas consumption that will likely be short-lived in a post- ‘peak gas’ world (worsening our energy security when we need to be transitioning directly to renewables) and drives our climate closer to a Hothouse Earth outcome and mass extinctions of many species. That’s not being “environmentally sensitive” in my view. And it seems to me you use the word “greenies” as a pejorative. IMO, your other words contradict your boast.

          Perhaps next, you would be promoting nuclear-fission-based electricity generation, michael?
          See my comment at: https://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/climate-attitudes-australia-mb1369/#comment-600176

          You finish with:
          “A start would of course be welcome but that won’t happen until Australians realise that the current government has milked us for decades and spits it out.”

          Wake-up Australia – get real! The windows of opportunity are rapidly closing. Clock’s ticking!

          Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, advisor to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to Pope Francis, said:
          “…climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accept that it has been left too late and bear the consequences”.

  14. The economics of anything new is always wrong. Before the Model T Ford, cars were super expensive, but they had to be created, or the car a we know it today would not exist.

    There is a problem with Alan Finkel’s paper tho. Creating hydrogen from natural gas sounds lovely. The devil is in the detail. Less CO2 is produced than with just burning coal perhaps But CO2 *is* a by-product. And, to deal with that, he proposed CCS. CCS!

    Go back and listen to his talk.

    As far as I know Carbon Capture & Storage is not possible at the moment, and somehow pumping pressurised CO2 underground is simply a disaster waiting to happen.

    Did I understand that wrong?

  15. Hi Ronald,

    I am tortured by a question and perhaps you can give me some relief by providing an answer. Here is the questions (actually two similar questions). If wholesale electricity prices during the day go to zero, how does a solar generator make any money? Why would I build a solar plant when I will never get any revenue?

    It seems to me that very low prices during the day (and if enough wind capacity comes on, then perhaps also during the night) make life very difficult for all generators – whether they are the coal fired base-load plants (built on the basis of a now disrupted revenue model) or renewable energy plants (facing the prospect of insufficient future revenue).

    Thoughts?

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Hi Mark

      A few factors counter lower prices daytime electricity prices:

      1. As electricity gets cheaper during the day more consumption changes to that time. Large users of electricity pay rates based on the wholesale electricity price which gives them an incentive and Queensland’s off peak hot water systems now often switch on in the middle of the day.
      2. The lower electricity prices help drive coal generators out of the market. Each time a large coal power station closes wholesale electricity price rise in response to the reduced demand. Eventually all coal power stations will be closed.
      3. Lower electricity prices improve the cost effectiveness of energy storage whether it’s battery, pumped hydro, or thermal.
      4. Solar farms are more likely to be built with trackers which enables them to have high output early and late in the day when prices are better or face fixed panels west and east, as is often done now.
      5. As solar becomes cheaper it becomes easier for solar farms to put up with periods of zero electricity prices and still be profitable.
      6. Most of the benefit of rooftop solar comes from avoiding paying the retail price for electricity and will still be worthwhile even as solar feed-in tariffs fall.

      But it is difficult to get solar farms built without a Power Purchase Agreement or PPA which guarantees a price for the electricity they produce.

  16. Stephen P. Downey says

    “Under the right circumstances”, “If”, “When”, “Perhaps”…. there are certainly a lot of hypotheticals in this article, along with many damning and inflammatory statements made about any use of fossil fuel use. Perhaps Mr. Brakels could encourage more positive movement towards renewable power generation if he stopped with the childish argumentation and promoted his viewpoint with honesty and integrity.

    We all know coal is a dirty product. And even though technology has allowed coal emissions to become infinitely cleaner now than 150 years ago, it is still filthy. We also know natural gas production is destructive, and that it produces unwanted pollution;.

    And yes, finally, we understand solar and wind power generation are pollution free.

    A proponent of renewable and clean energy with integrity will also cover some other equally important aspects of energy production, such as the environmental costs and damage caused by mining the minerals required to build a solar panel, a battery rack and a high-powered wind turbine. None of them are manufactured with renewable timbres after all.

    And when covering a landscape with panels produces exactly what effect on ground temperature, at what effect to insects, lizards and small mammals? And how many birds are affected by large scale wind farms? Mr. Brakels May well swat these questions away as insignificant, but total and complete honesty is required if we are to have honest and complete answers.

    Mr. Brakels has a nasty response to the phrase of “transition fuels” because it cannot be found in his dictionary. And he leads one to believe all activity must stop and immediately transition to his preferred form of energy production. Yet I have yet to see his name on demands that all new homes must be fitted with solar panels. Any why is he not vocally demanding the government subsidize solar installations for ALL homes to be paid for with an excise tax on coal exports?

    The outright hypocrisy of the clean energy promoters is clear and evident. They want the entire Australian economy to immediately stop while the country is converted to renewable energy production, yet they refuse to live in a home or work in an office void of electricity. They demand OTHERS bow to their requirements while they still use their air cons in the summer and heaters in the cold.

    If Mr. Brakels really believed what he rudely writes, he would set an example by living in a cave, foraging for berries and nuts.

    We cannot snap our fingers and become a nation of clean energy over night. We must transition away from coal powered generation, and natural gas is a viable solution. We must transition to renewable energy sources, but cannot return to a stone age while making the leap. We cannot poison the environment with lithium ion battery technology to store power. Technology must solve our energy problems but we must properly manage the sources we have until we get there.

    Snide comments and rude remarks will not get us there any faster. And unless ALL ideas can be addressed and discussed no suitable solutions can be found.

    Mr. Brakels, you have made yourself very important. It is your responsibility therefore to be gathering ALL IDEAS, encouraging them wether they fit your agenda or not. Because from ALL these ideas will solutions be found.

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Doesn’t sound like me, Stephen. Maybe you’re thinking of someone else?

    • Are you new here?
      You seem to have a very limited understanding of the technologies involved, have you read any articles about each product? This site has many, and web searches may help fill that void.

      Some of your comments are so outlandish they must be sarcasm I have answered some below:
      “the environmental costs and damage caused by mining the minerals required to build a solar panel, a battery rack and a high-powered wind turbine”
      ~Of course there’s damage, no one can deny that, it comes down to how much is acceptable and recoverable. Aka mining minerals for components in renewable technology vs components in coal/gas/oil technology. You’ll find Oil Drilling, Gas fracking and open coal mining far exceeds the damage caused to the environment. Someone can correct me here but damage inflicted by mining and producing renewable technology to date has caused less damage than worlds garbage disposal per year.

      “what effect on ground temperature, at what effect to insects, lizards and small mammals”
      ~This had me chuckle, Solar farms changing ground temperature? Well compared to the fracking, open coal mine? Does surviving and thriving count, the many panel arrays can provide shelter, shade, homes for creepy crawly’s, rejoice!

      “And he leads one to believe all activity must stop and immediately transition to his preferred form of energy production”
      ~ I looked everywhere, please share where this is written and I will scold Ronald. Seriously read some articles, Ronald is an advocate for green technology and advocate for transition, that the key here TRANSITION, not switch it all off now MATE. I relate to his frustration that instead of a Government leading the way they are ignoring whats happening while their pockets are lined with dirty cash. Instead its the People ignoring the government and investing in renewable technology (which the Government will claim credit for later).

      ” why is he not vocally demanding the government subsidize solar installations for ALL homes”
      ~Many solar company’s and affiliates are vocally demanding the Government do just that however if you look at the rebate issue from 2019 they were ignored and dismissed by both parties, only through stubborn persistence did we finally get the Government to double the subsidy applications, Mr Brakels supported this and mentioned many times in this blog.

      ” We cannot poison the environment with lithium ion battery technology”
      ~ Reading and fact finding don’t seem to be your thing, there are many types of batteries classed as lithium, aka lithium phosphate, lithium col-bolt, some are less dangerous or not at all. lithium is just an element and can be used in many compositions.Unlike lead acid

      “If Mr. Brakels really believed what he rudely writes, he would set an example by living in a cave, foraging for berries and nuts.”
      ~ Correct if I’m wrong Mr Brakels, but don’t you own a Electric vehicle, have solar panels and batteries at you premise? Possible at your workplace as well?
      Not sure about cave dwelling and foraging have anything to do with renewable technology vs Hydrogen, could you enlighten me before you return to the rock you have been living beneath?

  17. Black Pepper says

    Ronald, While I enjoy your lighthearted style of writing, sometimes that style is tarnished by too much emotional attachment to renewables and too little analysis of the realities. I feel that you have let yourself down here and I could cite a number of examples, but suffice to say that your analysis of long distance heavy haulage is simply ridiculous. Nevertheless, keep up the good work, none of us are free from error!

  18. Nothing new is going to be cheap, certainly not in the beginning. Such was the automobile industry too – until the Model-T Ford was mass produced.

    Likewise Alan Finkel’s idea of using natural gas to create a non polluting energy source, hydrogen.

    The costs are irrelevant, at least for the near future.

    In this case the Devil really is in the details!

    Producing hydrogen this way leaves CO2 as a waste product which is proposed to be managed using CCS.

    Carbon Capture & Storage!

    A completely untested solution.

    Never mind the risk in the foreseeable future of all this carbon escaping someday in one huge CO2 cloud!

    Did I miss something in his speech that covered this??

  19. THE WAY TO GO
    Drop coal as fast as possible.
    Continue to phase in more solar power (during daylight hours) increasingly combined with on-site battery storage, pumped hydro power, wind power (as small a contribution as possible because of its bird killing dangers), hydrogen as a fuel, geothermal energy (Alinta has units for sale for houses on the eastern coast of Aus – great for house warming in winter), molten sodium power station (plans ‘on ice’ for one at Port Augusta, SA).
    The current emphasis is on further cranking up the first three options above, namely, solar, wind & pumped hydro followed by early pilot advances with hydrogen as a fuel.
    Both the Federal and SA Governments particularly, are investing big dollars in hydrogen, so heavily boosting its implementation as a an increasingly mass produced product – thus making it the fourth listed clean source of energy.
    Hydrogen will be transported locked in to ammonia (yes it is doable), from its point of manufacture to the ‘bowser’ where it will emerge as a gas to power fuel cells that generate electricity – for example by Toyota in buses and 40 or so different models of cars at the Toyota Olympics!
    Gas fits into the picture as a backup fuel until the clean energy sources take over entirely.
    Don’t even think of biomass as a an emissions free fuel! When burnt, it blows out heaps of CO2 and other greenhouse products too. Its use as a fuel to produce energy should be banned!
    See my series of clean energy, emissions free, climate change articles on LinkedIn.
    By the way, don’t forget biochar as an atmospheric ‘decarbonizer”. See my LinkedIn article due to be released shortly.

  20. Solar has a big future but right now infrastructure for connecting big solar farms to the grid is lacking. We are already at a point where solar farms are underutilized due to to this problem.
    Big investment is required to resolve the current situation and also address the haphazard way solar farms are being placed.

    • Of course the current government has been aware of the emerging problem for the last 6 years and has done nothing other than denounce renewable energy and pray that it failed. Still going on although it can no longer be argued that this is not going to work. It will despite the blatant sabotage at a government level.
      One of the suggestions is to build solar installations where coal fired power generators are decommissioned. A step in the right direction but the grid needs to redesigned for more an more energy feeding in the wrong direction.
      Perhaps batteries will save up but methinks not, unless BIG batteries come online fast. Also not going to happen.
      So the game plays out as the good ship Titanic sinks slowly in the west. Oh for a real government which cares about the next generation rather than a wonderful retirement system for politicians and no accountability whilst in office.
      Anybody got a spare soap box?

  21. A number of years ago a company (can’t remember the name) was going to set up battery changing stations similar to a petrol station. You pulled in and your low battery would be swapped for a fully charged one. Would solve the Nullabor problem and waiting elsewhere for a charge. I wonder if it was fully priced?

  22. Finkel has a very valid point and as an engineer taking products to market I can tell you exactly what it is….and I do think he knows some things you do not as you hang out with people blindly promoting solar….even though I am a solar proponent and develop solar integrations.

    Point is this and can be taken from the incendescent bulb replacement studies:
    Bulk raw energy is used for heating that is very inefficient for home cooking, industry heating processes etc
    The replacement technologies exist such as induction cookers/air to water water heaters etc however due to the complexity and cost of replacement it will be a lot tougher to replace the bulk of usages for a century or more
    Energy to weight ratio of gas / hydrogen will always be best
    What will be more sustainable between gas or lithium….my bet is gas as it’s renewable. Producing biogas even is catching on
    There are so many more factors that make gas / hydrogen the intermediatry not just for a short period but for a very long time…..after all it is about the economics and not burying heads in the sand such as yeah solar panels is so great when the semi conductor industries use some of the worst chemical/gasses to manufacture (but granted not on our doorstep if this should be the correct typical ausie perspective)

    • Economics are fun, the majority of us have no idea how they work, few of us claim they do, and the smallest faction actually know and control that knowledge.
      Many people form the 90’s remember lots of discussion about of cold fusion technology, hydrogen technology, Thermodynamic technology even harnessing dark matter.
      All possible, but we have still yet to reach the point of utilizing it, harnessing it or storing it sufficiently.
      What I take is while these technologies could be amazing, the technology race is solar and battery’s are getting better, smaller and more highly powered now.
      Unless this Hydrogen technology is ready and soon for mass production then it will be like Inventing a new mobile that’s more expensive, less available and has less features. As a consumer why would I bother?
      As an Industry why would I invest in huge hydrogen storage tanks and expensive machines to turn it into effective power? aka vehicles, huge machinery etc. Unless hydrogen can be cheaper than battery’s both to capture then to utilize while being as easily available/ affordable then my moneys with the existing/ working technology that is.

      • Hydrogen to motive power already exist… hydrogen is too dangerous to store in typical pressure vessels as you know it. Hydrogen is typically stored in porious substances and a good example is a fuel cell. I have seen productiin fuel cells that a far more efficient that the typical 25 percent that solar is struggling for. There is quite a drive currently for smaller nuclear power stations to generate hydrogen… you will see countless items on google. I love solar as it provides me a design job however the public hype about solar is far from reality. The world needs huge amounts of raw power as actuation is moving to power at a high rate… nothing to do with land based power however I was looking at an article of the path that aircraft and vehicles are following to move to electric actuation and it was intriguing to say the least.

  23. Germany is on board with hydrogen too. That’s in no small part due to the existing gas networks in Europe that can supposedly be supplemented with between 5% and 20% hydrogen for current use. The UK is experimenting with the same, as will any nation with it’s own existing gas infrastructure. It’s a bit of a no-brainer when you consider just how much gas will continue to be needed around the world for industry and heating. Take even a portion of that need and replace it with hydrogen … it’s a lot.

    Perhaps the biggest miss in this article is that creating all of the batteries and infrastructure needed for storage is going to take time, where as the technology to integrate hydrogen exists right now, albeit at the mentioned lower efficiency. We know that the EV industry struggles to keep up with current battery demand, it’s why Toyota is still hedging it’s bets and building so many hybrids and even they have a waiting list these days. Same goes for pumped hydro with projects being years away from approval, let alone completion. Large scale solar farms are struggling to connect to the grid because the infrastructure can’t handle it. Solar feed in tariffs are dropping every year because we have so much rooftop solar. We can fix all of this, and in theory batteries and pumped hydro are the most competitive options, but at this precise moment in time it’s not there yet.

    Tasmania has announced that it wants to produce 200% renewable energy. Wind and solar farms all over the planet have surplus electricity that is getting cheaper by the day to generate. Efficiency is one thing, but if solar and wind power is just dropping off a cliff and being wasted because we don’t have the required storage and infrastructure to use it then green hydrogen is extremely viable. The electricity to create it will be almost free, the infrastructure to use significant amounts of it already exists and the technology to create and store it doesn’t need a quantum leap to just work. Maybe it won’t take off as a fuel source for motor vehicles but that’s just one part of the equation. The world needs a diverse pool of energy and pinning everything on the already incapable electrical grid would be foolish, even dangerous.

  24. bill bishop says

    I wouldn’t bet against Alan Finkel, he has a list of ongoing successes in his past.
    Nuclear, gas and hydrogen can co-exist if or when there is a transition from coal and oil somewhere in the distant future. Any combination of technologies we may employ in the future needs to be self-supporting and not subsidised.

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