South Australian Greens leader Mark Parnell was flying his colours proudly yesterday: more wind and solar energy, no matter what the cost and what the impact on people.
In an already power-challenged State, the “100% renewables” approach of the Greens is a formula for more blackouts, business damage, job losses and greater risk to the wellbeing of the frail and elderly.
This is a fact which has been recognised by the SA Government, which now has an energy plan reintroducing gas-fired power.
SA already has one of the world’s highest concentrations of renewable energy, at 42% of capacity. This is good for the marginal cost of electr4icity generation when the wind is blowing and the sun shining, but at other times it is problematic. Shifting up to 100% would be a disaster for SA business and consumers.
Nonetheless, Mr Parnell was yesterday set to attack the SA Government endorsed plan for a new gas-fired power station to be built in the State’s north to provide the energy reliability the State is lacking.
“This is a bad project that should be dismissed in favour of new renewable energy and storage,” Mr Parnell said in a statement.
The Greens approach is also a formula for worse environmental outcomes – a much greater dependence on high-emissions back-up power from diesel generators and from brown-coal fired power generated 1000 kilometres away in eastern Victoria.
Currently, electricity from the La Trobe Valley (Victoria) brown coal generators and back-up diesel generators (which small businesses were encouraged to buy in 2016) are the ugly ducklings of the SA power plan.
Diesel generators are among the worst for carbon emissions. Brown coal is the worst type of coal, and it is made worse when you consider it has to be transported such long distances, meaning the loss of 15-20% during transmission and the heightened risk of system failure.
The latter point is a lesson learned the hard way for SA, which suffered an unprecedented whole-of-State blackout 15 months ago when a storm stopped the wind power, downed power lines and caused an overload on the long-distance connection to Victoria, triggering a shutdown of the interconnector.
As we have reported, it was natural gas to the rescue to restart the electricity grid after it went black in late 2016.
It is a key reason the SA Government has wisely decided it needs to reinstate dormant gas-fired peaking plants in SA (as it has done), as well as encourage the establishment of a new gas generator – which it is in the process of doing.
Re-embracing gas was a positive move for the SA Government and for SA businesses and consumers. As we reported, it has helped get on top of soaring electricity prices.
The whole-of-State blackout – plus a number of subsequent outages – was a serious eye-opener for the SA Government and for the business community. Subsequently having some of the highest priced electricity in the world helped bring home the message to all, in SA and other States.
Even with the world’s biggest battery, the State needs dispatchable power to complement renewable energy to keep businesses going and air conditioners running when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.
Dispatchable means being able to be generated in quantity, on demand. On current technology, gas is the only energy source practically able to do this.
This is a realisation which came to the SA Government, possibly after noting that it was already a key part of the energy approach in the world’s two biggest economies – the USA and China.
In the past decade, the USA has had an economic renaissance on the back of natural gas. Its substitution of coal as a fuel of electricity generation has allowed the USA to simultaneously increase economic activity, lower energy prices and reduce carbon emissions for the first time in modern history.
In China, Australian natural gas – exported in liquid form, LNG – is helping to bring down carbon emissions and clean up air pollution as it is used as a substitute for coal-fired electricity generation and home heating.
Both the USA and China are spending more on renewable energy than ever before. But they have realised the importance of natural gas as a replacement for coal and as a complement to renewables – to provide the back-up when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.
By contributing to this approach in China and other Asia nations such as Korea and Japan, Australia is punching above its weight on global emissions reduction.
By adopting a similarly pragmatic approach in South Australia, the SA Government can reinforce the positives of its world-leading deployment of renewable energy infrastructure without endangering people’s jobs and quality of life.
And that is an unequivocally good story.