Merry Christmas And A Happy Old Year

Well, another year is almost gone and so to everyone I say, Merry Christmas and a Happy Old Year!

I say happy old year because I had a good time this year and I hope you did too.  Overall 2017 hasn’t been such a bad year.  In fact, I’d say it’s been pretty good, if you look at the big picture…

A Big Picture

This is Ando. He’s not poking that dingo, he’s painting it as part of a very big picture. (Image Credit: Well, Ando made the picture he’s painting, but I don’t know who made the picture of Ando painting the picture. It’s all too meta for me!)

The reasons why I say 2017 has been a good year are:

  • The cost of solar power has continued to decline.
  • Australia is in a mini-boom of renewable generating capacity construction.
  • The fact that renewable energy is cheaper than building new coal power stations has sunk into all but the thickest skulls.
  • Australia now has around 6.8 gigawatts of solar capacity.  Mostly on roofs, but an increasing amount in solar farms.
  • Trump is still just a normal President and not yet President for life or Hair Fuhrer1 or Grand Wizard of America.
  • The Australian Federal Government…  You know what?  Maybe I’ll skip over Australian politics and our emission levels.  It doesn’t really fit in with my theme of 2017 being a pretty good year…
  • Looking at world carbon dioxide emissions, I see they have risen by 2%.  Okay, that’s not good, but surely this has to be the last time it rises?  I mean, how stupid are we?  Either we get emissions under control soon or we have to give back the sapiens at the end of our species’ name.

Okay, so I have to admit 2017 wasn’t a complete success, but looking on the bright side, renewable energy is winning the war against coal and my horse did not die.  That’s two clear wins and one loss for the pie company.

Even The Australian Government Now Recognizes Renewables Are Cheaper Than Coal

The Liddell black coal power station in NSW is an unrealiable, clapped out, toxin spewing, greenhouse gas emitting monster.  It was rated as two gigawatts but is in such lousy condition it has been downgraded to 1.68 gigawatts — provided it can actually get all its units working at the same time.  While not quite as deadly per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated as the now closed Hazelwood power station, like all coal power stations it’s still a killer, taking out locals with toxins and people around the world through climate change.  The good news is it is going to be permanently closed in 2022.  The bad news was the Coalition wanted to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to keep it alive for another five years so it could continue to work at making us dead.  They wanted to do this because… coal?

They never actually offered a good reason.  They claimed it would be more reliable than renewables but the fact coal generators keep breaking down makes that laughable.  Maybe their motive was simply that all the children in NSW had been naughty and rather than put coal in their stockings they decided it would be more efficient to have them absorb coal through their lungs in incinerated aerosol form?

Fortunately, the owner of the plant, AGL, made it clear they were not about to waste money extending the life of Liddell and stated they were going to take the much cheaper option of investing in solar and wind power along with dispatchable capacity consisting mostly of gas peak generators and 250 megawatts2 of battery storage.

Amazingly, the Federal Government appears to have accepted AGL’s decision.  I was fully expecting Tony Abbot to tear off his shirt and cry, “Grease me up, woman!” like an ugly version of Willie the groundskeeper and start mining coal himself like one of Stalin’s Stakhanovites with the intention of running the entire power station alone if he had to.

GREASE ME UP!

But apparently all you have to do to get the Coalition to listen to you is be a giant corporation with a market capitalization of $16 billion.  If I’d known that, I would have become one ages ago.  Now the Coalition appears to have seen the light, the only people who think coal is cheaper than renewables would be those who pay attention to the Rupert Murdoch media empire.  But surely there couldn’t be many of them, as it would be nuts to allow a single person control more than one or two newspapers in a country.

2017 Has Been A Good Year For Solar

By now Australia will have installed more solar capacity in this year than any other.  This is a good thing, but I will point out this is only a very small increase over other years, as this graph I lifted from the Australian PV Institute shows:

Total PV Installed

As you can see, installations have been pretty steady over the last seven or so years.  This means we haven’t exactly broken the old record by leaps and bounds, so we probably don’t want to start coughing up vertebrae as a result of patting ourselves on the back too hard.  But because large scale solar farms are starting to take off, the line on the graph is likely to curve upwards as the total PV installation rate accelerates.

Large Scale Solar Is Taking Off

Australia’s largest solar farm was completed near Nyngan in March 2015.  It was 102 megawatts and we haven’t built anything close to that size since.  But solar farm construction is now getting underway thanks to costs falling far enough so that, in good locations, no additional funding is required beyond the large scale portion of Australia’s soon to be completed Renewable Energy Target3.

Australian solar farms of one megawatt or more built this year and currently supplying electricity are:

  • Kidston Phase One (Part of the Kidston pumped hydro scheme in North Queensland) — 50 megawatts
  • Barcaldine Solar Farm — 25 megawatts
  • Sunshine Coast Solar Farm — 15 megawatts
  • Coober Pedy — 9 megawatts
  • Chillamurra Solar — 4.77 megawatts
  • NAWMA – LFG — 2.393 megawatts
  • Todae Solar CSU 1.8MW – Wagga Wagga — 1.769 megawatts
  • Yalumba Winery Solar system (Angaston) — 1.14 megawatts
  • University of Southern Queensland’s car park solar array in Toowoomba — 1.09 megawatts

Altogether these total just over 110 megawatts, which isn’t much considering the Kurnool Ultra Solar Mega Park in India has one gigawatt (1,000 megawatts) of capacity.  But what is important is the price has come down and solar farms are now competing with wind power as the cheapest new generating capacity in Australia and costs will continue to fall.

The cheapest solar power in the United States has been bid in at around 3.2 Australian cents a kilowatt-hour for a solar farm in Texas that will come online in 2020.  There is no particular reason why Australia can’t eventually get down to that price level as well.  Or at least no reason apart from slightly higher capital costs4 and greater currency risk, but that only amounts to a speed bump that will slow things down a little.  It’s not a show stopper like a speed brumby5, so between rooftop solar, solar farms, and wind power, we can expect renewables to dominate the electricity sector in the not too distant future.

Unfortunately Emissions Are Up

Australia and Turkey are the only two developed nations to have broken fossil fuel emission records this year.  Turkey’s excuse is they had a blistering 11% economic growth rate.  Australia’s excuse is we apparently don’t believe our continent is hot or deserty enough yet.  After all, at the moment Tasmania is only catching on fire once every four years.  If we work at it I’m sure we can get it down to two.

We have a small excuse in that our population growth rate is higher than that of other developed countries, but maybe that makes it more important not to disrupt the climate and make it more difficult to feed people or provide them with fresh water?  After all, we don’t all have Tony Abbott’s ability to subsist entirely off chunks of coal, gravel, and the occasional raw onion.

While CO2 emissions are down in almost every developed country, an improving world economy has resulted in total emissions increasing and they are estimated to have risen by 2% after three years of almost zero growth.  The increase is unfortunate, but the previous three years of almost no change show we are close to turning things around and hopefully we will soon see large falls in emissions.  The declining cost of renewable energy has resulted in planned coal power stations around the world either being cancelled or delayed — which means effectively cancelled, as solar and wind power aren’t about to suddenly increase in cost.

International Politics

As far as international politics is concerned I think we have been very lucky.  Donald Trump has been President of the US for almost a full year now and we’re still not dead.  He hasn’t started a single war.  He’s only continued various flying killer robots vs people who don’t have flying killer robot conflicts that were already underway6.  All you people who said he’d be the worst President ever must be feeling pretty stupid right now.  That stickiness you are feeling is egg on your face.  Or in some locations, possibly napalm.

Fortunately, being nuked by Trump because some third rate Australian blogger called him a bullshit Oompa Loompa balancing a dead guinea pig on his head was the only existential threat we faced this year.  If you thought North Korea was a serious threat then shame on you.  You need to get your priorities right.  You live in a country with dingos but what you’re scared of is North Korea?  That’s just crazy!  As far as we are aware, North Korean missiles aren’t capable of deploying even a single dingo.

Hope For 2018

Battery prices continue to fall and so 2018 could be the year home batteries finally pay for themselves.  But I doubt it.  Looking at how cheap batteries are to produce in China makes it look like they could pay for themselves at any time, but it takes time and experience to make a reliable battery system and so no one will want to ship hundreds of thousands of low cost units to Australia if there is a significant risk they’ll end up with tens of thousands of warranty claims.  So I don’t think there will be enough supply to drop prices low enough for them to make economic sense, but it could get close.

But what we are likely to see is electric cars pay for themselves in a large number of countries.  Especially since oil prices look set to rise.  Increasing electric car use will be useful for both reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions.  But it will take more than a year for them to make a significant impact here.

What we will see is further declines in the costs of solar and wind power.  So hopefully in 2018 we will finally put an end to the idea that coal has a future in this country or any other.  It’s a concept that’s running out of steam.  After all, if coal power stations have no future in Australia, the world’s largest exporter of coal, then it has no future anywhere.

Footnotes

  1. Ein joke, ein retch, ein orange Fuhrer!
  2. This is the power output.  They have not stated the energy capacity of the planned battery storage, which is fair enough as it will still be years before it is built.
  3. Fortunately the small scale portion that applies to rooftop solar won’t end any time soon.
  4. India, which currently has far higher capital costs than Australia has had solar bid in for under 5 cents a kilowatt-hour.
  5. Ohhhh, drink to Charlie, drink to Fred, Drink to that speed brumby ahead, It’s eyes are flashing we’re smashing crashing, Drink till they pronounce us dead.
  6. I’m not sure just who America’s enemies are, but I assume they must be the Collaterals, as I hear they keep causing damage to them.  Once they’re defeated I am sure the killer robots will go back to peacefully serving their masters and no sort of dangerous precedent will have been set.
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. Brilliant site… best of its (admittedly limited) kind. Love reading yer stuff, Ronald. Sometimes read whole paragraphs to the missus, in fact. Humorous, interesting, informed and wise.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Ron!

  2. Merry Christmas to all.

    Ronald, while you’re on about costs in India – check out what domestic electricity costs in India. Around 14 c / KWh is the closest I can estimate it to be. And here in QLD, the state of corporate price gouging we pay 28c. I dare not imagine what people pay in SA.

  3. Warwick Sands says

    I hope that you and all the folk at Solar Quotes have a great Christmas and New Year.

    Thanks for all your efforts.

    Cheers Warwick

  4. Bruce Engebretsen says

    This is one of the few technical documents that I have read right through, probably because of the humour ! I loved it and agreed with your conclusions. Keep up the good work, and compliments of the season to you.

  5. Merry Christmas Ronald
    Thanks for making such an important subject fun to read! Happy New year 😀

  6. Your premier eats raw onions? Interesting. Well, thanks for this Christmas present Ronald and may we have an even better 2019. Sorry, 18

    • Ronald Brakels says

      Former PM Tony Abbott ate raw onions, fought bushfires, and was a great athlete.

      Wow! I’m saying positive things about Tony Abbott. It’s a Christmas miracle!

  7. Malcolm Wrest says

    ….chanced upon your wit recently…. both very entertaining and informative please continue it! I currently (December 2017) live in Suzhou, China where electric scooters would constitute half or more of the total passenger volume on the roads here (Yes…. their national grid remains largely dirty) …. with the occasional electric vehicle occasionally visible ….. however it’s easily observable how little sacrifices in lifestyle would be necessary for electric vehicles to be adopted en masses in the short term….even with range restrictions

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