Unrealistic expectations about the pace of technological evolution are embedded in the DNA of homo viridis, a people so impractical and preoccupied with sustainability that they would surely starve were it not for the subsidies they extract from the government. Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 has become their latest totem, a means of borrowing virtue from the future while remaining unaccountable when the project fails.
Source: Nick Cater for News Corp
Turn off the bleating hot-air mob — time to turn up the gas
The real deadline for Australia is not 30 years hence but 30 months away. By then we will have made the decisions that will determine where we will find the additional 19 gigawatts of dispatchable power the market operator says we’ll need by 2040.
Fortunately, we are spoiled for choice.
Australia is home to 14 per cent of the world’s proven coal reserves and 30 per cent of known uranium resources, and has made the largest per capita investment in wind and solar generation.
Then there is natural gas, our third most abundant resource. In the great cavalcade of progress, the moment for gas has arrived. Breakthroughs in extraction methods combined with a revolution in bulk shipping give gas the potential to be more or less ubiquitous.
Until recently, at every stage of the evolution of energy supply — from wood to charcoal, and charcoal to coal and oil — denser sources of energy replaced more dilute fuels. Each transition reduced the impact on the landscape.
The forced adoption of wind and solar was a step in the opposite direction, from energy-dense fossils to energy dilute turbines and panels that make a greater impact on the landscape than proponents like to admit.
Whichever way you look at it, natural gas is preferable to coal. It can be cleanly extracted and invisibly transported through low-maintenance pipes. Gas generators require 25 to 50 times less water than those burning coal and emit up to 40 times less sulphur dioxide, less nitrous oxide and almost no mercury.
The transition from coal to natural gas began before the anxiety about climate change. It was the main reason total emissions peaked in the 1970s in the larger European economies. Technological advances that facilitated the large-scale extraction of gas from shale enabled US carbon emissions to fall by 13 per cent between 2005 and 2018.
On these facts, Scott Morrison’s endorsement of gas as an essential part of our energy mix should be chalked up as a win by the banish-carbon movement. But no.
Giles Parkinson, the excitable editor of Renew Economy, ranked the Prime Minister’s crimes alongside the US invasion of Iraq, the conquering of Britain by Julius Caesar “and just about every war in between”.
Parkinson has been in the beat-up business for a while. His credibility as the harbinger of the next great thing can be judged from the list of “hot Cleantech projects of 2012” he published a little more than eight years ago.
They included a 44MW solar booster project at the Kogan Creek coal-fired power station in Queensland, a project that had been granted $35m from the Renewable Energy Development Program and championed by Julia Gillard. The project proved impracticable and was abandoned by the Queensland government-owned CS Energy in 2016.
Then there was the plan to sequester carbon by growing algae. US-based company Aurora Algae was about to begin the construction of a 400ha plant near Karratha that could be in production by the end of the year, we were told.
The following year the company pulled out, blaming the cost of labour, the heat and the winds that covered the ponds with dust.
The Perth Wave Energy Project — a grid-connected, commercial wave-energy facility with a promised capacity of 2MW — also was declared hot.
The Australian Renewable Energy Agency took a shine to it, slipping a sly $13m to its developer, Carnegie Wave Energy. Another $10m in grant funding came from the West Australian government. The project never moved beyond the development stage, during which it delivered barely half of its capacity. The company has never reported a profit and narrowly avoided liquidation last year.
The faith that renewable energy advocates are willing to place in half-formed, untested ideas is constantly betrayed. Inevitably, their dreams are revealed as too expensive, too inefficient and brazenly underdeveloped, nailed to the perch with government subsidies and woke venture capital.
Even if they were to work, their boiler-plated capacity is barely worth noting compared with the size of the new capacity required.
Fixated on the perfect, the renewables lobby clutches at straws while rubbishing steady means of reducing emissions while powering the grid.
The lobby looks increasingly beleaguered as the reality dawns that wind and solar, the only scalable renewable technologies available, won’t cut it.
Quick-fired gas is the simplest, cheapest solution to the problem of intermittency. Increasing the availability of gas will increase the proportion of renewable energy in the mix. Perversely, the restrictions on the exploitation of onshore gas in Victoria led to higher emissions, forcing a reliance on coal and reducing the choice of back-up for renewables.
Practical, scalable and proven technology is anathema to the green intelligentsia, which prefers to beat the drum for technology always just around the corner.
The cleantech pipedream for 2020 is batteries, technology that we are told will let wind and solar generators sleep peacefully at night while the lights continue to glow. Right now, however, the biggest battery farm in Australia would hardly keep the Tomago smelter running for a bare 10 minutes. Unless the plant can start within three hours, it would effectively be dead, the damage too extensive to recommission.
A little scepticism might not go astray, given the hype around batteries and the self-interest of the entrepreneurs behind them.