Canberra breeds many white elephants, but now they are breeding a gigantic new breed of pachyderm in Australia's Snowy Mountains – a Green Elephant. Grandly named "Snowy 2.0 Hydro-Electric", it has the compulsory green skin, but it is just another big white elephant under a thick layer of green paint.
Snowy 2.0 plans a hugely expensive complex of dams, tunnels, pumps, pipes, generators, roads and powerlines. Water will be pumped up-hill using grid power in times of low demand, and then released when needed to recover some of that energy. To call it "hydro-electric" is a fraud – it will not store one extra litre of water and will be a net consumer of electric power. It is a giant electric storage battery to be recharged using grid power.
This is just the next episode in an expensive and impossible green dream to run Australian cities and industries, plus a growing electric vehicle fleet, on intermittent wind and solar energy and without coal, gas, oil or nuclear fuels.
Surely we can learn from the unfolding disaster of a similar German Grand Plan.
The first stage of Australia's green dream was to demonise coal and nuclear power, set onerous green energy and CO2 emissions targets, subsidise and mandate the use of intermittent energy from wind and solar, and give electric cars financial and other privileges. All of this costs Australian electricity users and tax payers at least $5 billion per year. This destructive force-feeding of solar and wind power is well advanced.
Solar energy peaks around mid-day, falls to zero from dusk to dawn and is much reduced by clouds, dust and smoke. Over a year it may produce about 16% of name-plate capacity. Thus a solar-battery system would need installed solar capacity of six times the demand. These solar "farms" are very land-hungry per unit of usable energy, often sterilising large areas of agricultural land.
Wind energy is much more erratic - it can produce about 35% of peak capacity but often produces peak power during the night when there is low demand. It may produce zero power for several days. A sudden high wind can send wind power surging onto the grid, and it falls to zero as the wind dies. Wind power driving a wind-battery system would need installed wind capacity of triple the expected demand, but even that may not cope with a long windless spell. There can be days with zero production from either wind or solar, and neither can increase output to meet demand which often peaks around dinner time and breakfast time when green power is scarce. Wind "farms" are a blight on the landscape and are often built in scenic areas where farming and forestry are prohibited.
The price of electricity fluctuates wildly as these floods and droughts of intermittent green energy surge into the grid. This creates instability, increases the chance of blackouts and destroys the viability of reliable coal-fired generators which are unable to ramp up fast enough to profit from soaring power prices during green energy droughts and are forced to keep running while accepting close-to-zero prices during the green deluges. To speed up this destruction of reliable energy, politicians are still using subsidies and targets to encourage more green energy to be dumped randomly onto the grid.
For a short very clear video on the cost and reliability problems caused by wind power in Minnesota see: https://youtu.be/0vaIYttrL88
Warren Buffett puts it bluntly: "We get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That's the only reason to build them. They don't make sense without the tax credit." The solution to green energy disruption is simple. Do not allow any new spasmodic generators like wind and solar to connect direct to the grid. They must construct or contract for battery or other backup to moderate their fluctuations and increase reliability and predictability. Existing wind-solar farms already connected to the grid should lose all subsidies and be paid what their second class product is worth at the time it floods onto the grid.
Backing up and taming green energy is simple in principle – it can be done using lithium batteries like the Musk monster in South Australia, or giant pumped-hydro schemes like Snowy 2.0. Or conventional reliable generators like hydro, gas, oil, coal or nuclear can be operated intermittently to fill green energy gaps.
Other ways to store and release energy would also work in principle – hydrogen generation, molten salt, compressed air or giant flywheels – all look smart when sketched on the doodle pads of green politicians and then modelled on academic computers. But they become progressively more complicated and expensive as they progress to engineering design, costing, construction, operation and maintenance. Reality will reappear when the bills start hitting consumers and tax payers, but by then it is too late to recover all those wasted resources.
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