Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finkel Review Explained?

Greeting from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where I am one of the packed lecture theatre, to heard a panel of experts have promised to explain the Explain the Finkel Review of of the National Electricity Market. This is hosted by the 
ANU Energy Change Institute. I am a member, but my expertise is confined to ICT and energy use.  From a quick reading of the report, I was not impressed. Previously, Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, ANU Research School of Engineering, an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster".

The chair,  Professor Ken Baldwin, Director, ANU Energy Change Institute, presented the "energy trilemma": environment, security of supply and affordability. The problem is to maintain supply and contain costs, while also reducing carbon emissions, which Ken characterized as a "wicked problem" and Australia was "leading the OECD pack from the rear" on emissions. He gave a quick overview of the differences of Finkel's proposal, a Clean Energy Target, compared to Australia's previous scheme and no scheme at all. He then summarized the proposal for a mandated Generator Reliability Obligation. However, to me the central problem is not the engineering and economics, but the politics of the issue. As Ken points out Australia is in the current difficult situation due to a lack of planning. The question, I suggest, is if politics will allow this planning to happen.

Ken proposed a "Expert Foresighting Group", this sounded to me a little too much like the fictional "Nation Building Authority" in the TV comedy "Utopia". What are needed is a much smaller group of experts who are able to give government quick, politically feasible options quickly. University academics are used to having weeks, months or years to come up with a "quick" answer, whereas the political process needs answers in seconds, minutes or, at worst, "Action This Day".

Next to speak:
  1. Professor Quentin Grafton, ANU: Questioned the reliability of
  2. Honorary Associate Professor Hugh Saddler, ANU: Pointed out that land clearing changes have made dramatic reductions to emissions. Apart from that he pointed out that electricity generation is one of the few areas where reductions can be made.Also he pointed out that rooftop home solar generation is not regarded as part of the national generating system. Most interestingly, Professor Saddler suggested that state targets could result in a much larger reduction in emissions than the Finkle proposals. It may be that the policy log-jam at the federal level is irrelevant.
  3. Dr Matt Stocks, ANU: Dr Stocks stated up front he assumed the future was photovoltaics, which need storage and a network. He asserted that Australia does not have a robust national network, rather a series of state networks joined together, in a line, which increases the cost of electricity. Dr Stocks pointed out that renewable supplies generally do not provide the "inertia" which coal, gas and hydro provides. Curiously, rather than suggest that this could be provided by upgrading existing conventional generators, or creating new rotating inertia sources, he suggested batteries would be used. A battery will provide power for days, not the fractions of a second inertia will. The high tech equivalent is not a battery but a super-capacitor. Battery technology is being driven (pun intended) by the automotive industry. However, some vehicles, such as the Mazda 6 use a super-capacitor for fast, short term energy storage.
  4. Mr Dan Harding, ACT Government: Pointed out that many of the Finkle report recommendations have been included in previous expert reports, but it packages these all together into a coherent whole.
  5. Dr Nathan Steggel, Windlab: Suggested that the Finkel report overestimated the cost of wind generation. He suggested that market alternatives to a Generator Reliability Obligation should be investigated. 
Overall the panel was positive on the Finkel report recommendations. 

No comments:

Post a Comment