To make things worse for consumers and industry, widely scattered green energy installations usually need new roads for construction and maintenance and new transmission lines to transport their unreliable product to where it can be used (some 30 new transmission lines are currently planned in Australia alone to connect green energy facilities, and more will be needed.) Those who profit from this green infrastructure get guaranteed returns based on capital, maintenance and operating costs, not on the value of its contribution to consumers, and as usual consumers and taxpayers pay the bills.
Industry and households are now waking up to the costs and blackout risks facing them as more coal-fired generators are forced to close as evermore intermittent generators de-stabilise the grid and cause wild price swings. But politicians have yet another plan to paper over the growing supply problems from un-reliables as they try to meet the self-imposed emissions targets.
Recently the Turnbull Federal Government committed over $7 billion in studies and purchase price to buy the existing Hydro-electric complex in the Snowy Mountains from state governments. This valuable project conserves water which is used for irrigation and electricity generation. However they plan to burden this useful profitable project with another green dream - a Giant Battery.
Snowy 2.0 will consume electricity mainly from distant generators in the Hunter and Latrobe Valleys to pump water from lower dams to upper dams, and then recover part of this energy by releasing the stored water back downhill to drive turbines. The electricity recovered will be sent mainly to the big but distant demand centres of Sydney and Melbourne thus incurring more transmission losses. All of these unavoidable losses mean that Snowy 2.0 will only recover about 60% of the energy it takes from the grid. (This low recovery is one reason that existing pumped hydro facilities like Tumut 3 in the Snowy and Wivenhoe in Queensland are seldom used).
The system also imprisons Snowy water which could be used to generate new power and then flow into Snowy irrigation schemes. This Canberra-bred green elephant aims to profit from fluctuating wind-solar supply and prices, but it will make things worse for electricity consumers in the long run by helping to destroy low-cost, reliable base-load energy from coal.
Electricity supply will then become a lottery – every time the wind drops, the panels are shaded and the Giant Battery is flat, the lights will go out. South Australia has shown us how easy this is.
If there is also a long drought affecting hydro-electric supply in the Snowy and Tasmania, base load electricity supply will rely on a few geriatric coal generators. If a major transmission line is then damaged or fails, we will all need all the diesels in the shed. Tasmania has provided a lesson for us all - they had a hydro drought and then a broken transmission cable and were forced to hurriedly purchase 200MW of diesel engines at a cost of $64M to keep their lights on.
In the coming brave new electric world, compulsory smart meters will decide which suburbs, homes, heaters, coolers, pumps, dairies, draglines or factories are switched off when power supply fails to meet demand.
Snowy 2.0 will be the biggest and most expensive storage battery in Australia with some 2,700 times the capacity of South Australia's lithium Green Elephant. It will probably require upgrading of the transmissions lines to the big demand centres of Sydney and Melbourne and to the remaining real power stations which will supply most of the electricity to run its pumps.
All of this is supposedly being constructed to help Australia meet its costly but self-imposed emissions target. However there will probably be an increase in emissions if this Green Elephant is created. The project will require a huge amount of concrete, steel, copper, diesel and electricity to manufacture, transport and install the pipes, pumps, generators, roads and transmission lines and to bore 27 km of new tunnels. Pumping all that water up-hill regularly and repairing and maintaining the system in the coldest place in Australia will not be cheap in dollars, energy or emissions. Careful accounting of all long term effects will probably show no emissions savings whatsoever.
Snowy 2.0 is being constructed to moderate the fluctuations in green energy production and to kill coal power faster. It will do this. But will not be able to guarantee electricity supply with any certainty – if we have a week of windless cloudy weather, and there is not enough coal or gas power, the demand for electricity will quickly drain the Snowy 2.0 reservoirs. Then where does the power come from to pump the Snowy water back up the hill and keep the lights on? SA's giant lithium battery may keep Adelaide powered for a few minutes, but what about Townsville, Toowoomba and Tamworth?
However, if politicians are determined to build Snowy 2-0, it could be put to much better use than pumping water uphill to run down again. Our electricity would be more secure and cheaper if we ceased all force-feeding of wind-solar un-reliables, used coal, gas or nuclear power running continuously at capacity to supply the stable "base load" of electricity demand, and used schemes like Snowy 2.0 to cover peak load fluctuations above this base load. This would create a stable grid providing reliable low-cost power (so it has little chance of happening with green gremlins in charge of energy.)
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