Opinion | Relying on renewables, energy ‘farcical’

Pat Conroy’s opinion piece (Key role of energy storage ignored in power debate, 29/9) concludes that Australia needs to build modern coal-fired power stations. I encourage everyone to visit nem-watch.info/widgets/reneweconomy/ which graphically and numerically shows the amount of electricity being generated in each state and the source of its generation at anyone time. As I write, this website says Australia is consuming 25,000 megawatts of electricity – 2000 megawatts is being generated by hydro, 3000 megawatts by wind and solar and 20,000 megawatts by coal and gas. As Mr Conroy's article states, wind farms produce electricity only 40 per cent of the time and solar farms produce electricity only 30 per cent of the time. Australia must have 24/7 electricity generation, or our way of life and economy will collapse.

Mr Conroy’s article claims “the most cost-effective replacement (of our ageing coal-fired power stations) is a combination of (renewables such as) solar, wind, storage and gas peaking plants”. Unfortunately, this is not possible. He stated that the International Energy Agency predicts that by 2040, 37 per cent of the world’s electricity will come from renewables. How can Australia survive on 37 per cent of its current electricity consumption? If renewables are to be Australia's main source of electrical generation (37 per cent of our needs), then this electricity will be consumed as soon as it is produced and there won’t be any left to put into battery storage. The proposed 129 megawatt renewable lithium battery storage in South Australia could power Tomago Aluminium for only seven minutes. The idea of Australia relying on renewables and storage is farcical.

The International Energy Agency predicts that by 2040, 63 per cent of our electricity will be coming from non-renewable sources (coal, gas and nuclear). Since Australia is a nuclear free zone, in 2040, 63 per cent of our electricity will be coming from coal and gas. Asia has accepted this prediction and Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines collectively are building 400 coal-fired power stations.

Now that Mr Conroy has provided the expert’s predictions of future electrical generation, Australia’s federal and all state parliaments must act now in a bipartisan manner to devise a strategy so that we have enough new, efficient and low-emission coal and gas fired power stations to service our needs now and the predicted 2040 population of 35 million people.

Most of our 45 power stations are at least 40 years old. Who drives a 40-year-old car? Who has a 40-year-old computer? Australia must start now to replace its ageing  power stations because we will have to rely on new coal and gas fired power stations for 63 per cent of our electricity.

Mr Conroy's reference to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s financial modelling of the cost of building coal, wind and solar plants is irrelevant. It may be cheaper to build wind and solar plants, but they will supply only 37 per cent of our electrical needs. No matter what the cost differential is, Australia must have a modern fleet of coal fired power stations for the next 25 years.

What of life after 2040? Hopefully the multi-national ITER research project in Aix-en-Provence in France (Australia is a  contributor to this research) will have perfected the means of generating electricity from a controlled ‘hydrogen bomb’ process known as fusion and all our concerns about air pollution from fossil fuel electricity generation will disappear thereafter. 

Robert Monteath is a registered surveyor and certified practising planner