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The end of baseload? It may come sooner than you think

One of the principal architects of Germany’s push into renewable energy technologies, Hans-Josef Fell, believes that the country could achieve 100% renewables in its electricity sector by 2030 — and may do it quicker. The rest of the world could follow soon after.

Fell, a Greens politician and architect of the the feed-in-tariffs that have helped the country already produce 20% of its energy from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources, and pushed it to the forefront of clean energy technologies, says the growth of renewables will continue at an exponential rate. This is partly because of the growing cost of conventional fossil fuels, and partly because of their inability (apart from gas) to balance the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation.

In an interview with RenewEconomy, Fell says a 100% renewables electricity grid in Germany may be 40-50% wind, 30-40% solar, with the rest coming from other sources. Balancing this generation, however, would be the key challenge.

This is not possible with baseload, because you cannot switch them on and off very fast,” he said. “It was possible with gas-fired power stations, but peaking gas stations these were also emissions-intensive, and European countries such as Germany had to depend on gas imports from Russia. He said new smart grid technologies and storage, where costs would also rapidly decline, would provide the answer.

Fell is effectively echoing the scenarios painted by Australian researchers David Mills, and from Mark Diesendorf and Ben Elliston at UNSW — along with preliminary work by the IEA, which suggests the concept of baseload and peaking power — the current model for electricity grids worldwide — will be replaced by a system of flexible and inflexible energy sources.

The ability to provide dispatchable, cost-competitive energy, will largely decide the fate of the 100% renewable goal, and of gas. Fell says there is clearly resistance from the conventional electricity energy, which sees its business model at risk, and which he says is fighting with “lies and misinformation.”

The cost appears horrendous. Fell puts it at $US100 trillion over 20 years, if the world was to transform to an entirely 100% grid by 2030. It’s an academic number — based around work done by Stanford and Davis universities in the US, but he says the world would be paying double that if it continued with conventional fuel sources. And he says while feed in tariffs might cause higher energy costs initially, these are quickly absorbed by the “merit order effect”, and will deliver further benefit as the cost curves of falling renewable energy sources and rising conventional sources intersect, as they have already done with onshore wind and coal and gas in Europe.

Here are some edited highlights of the interview with Fell.

Q: How has the renewable energy debate evolved in Germany?

A: In Germany it began at local level, and after successful introductions in villages and towns it came to the national level with the introduction of the Renewable Energy Act into Parliament in 2000. I wrote the draft for that act, which was introduced by the Social Democrats and the Greens. We set a target for renewable to double shares from 6% to 12% by 2010. We were told this target was unrealistic and unachievable. But in 2011, we have already 20%. The feed-in-tariff has driven high investment and so much innovation — in wind power and biogas and solar PV, that costs have dropped down very fast and solar PV is now as cheap as grid electricity.

Q: But there has been a lot of criticism about the FiT and its costs.

A: This comes from the conventional energy producers because they fear for their business models, and they make a lot of misinformation. In reality, in Germany the wholesale price of electricity is going down. When we have a lot of wind and sun, we can close down the most expensive electricity generation, and we get a price which is cheaper than without renewables. Now, new investment in wind power is cheaper than new coal-fired power station, and it will continue to fall. With oil and gas and coal and uranium, the prices will rise and rise and rise.

Q: So you say that the business model of the conventional producer is under threat?

A: There is a fight in Germany between the old economy with nuclear and coal-fired power stations, because they fear for their business, so they fight very hard. We had the discussion in Germany that when you phase out nuclear, then our need for cheap energy means we will have to buy cheap nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic. The reality is otherwise. We have had a big cold winter, and France did not have enough from nuclear, so they bought electricity from Germany. We have so much that we can export it to France and help them in a cold winter so they don’t get a blackout.

And we are not at the end of the innovation process. Look at the semiconductor and information technology industries, where prices have been dropping down very very fast in the past 20 years, like laptops, mobile phones, etc. PV is like semiconductors, the PV price will go down very fast in coming years. Solar will become the cheapest energy that we can have in the world.

Q: So how quickly do you think we can we move to 100% renewables?

A: In Germany, we could achieve 100% renewable by 2030 at existing rates. We have now 20% in 2010. In 2020 with increasing rates — and these are exponential, we could have 50%, and in 2030 we could have 100%. It is possible but it must be supported by a good political framework, with reduced FiT tariffs, privileged grid access, and other regulatory changes.Q: What does a 100% grid look like?

A: We can organise it in different ways, but we need all sources. Perhaps it could be 30-40% solar, 40-50% from wind. Then comes the task to balance high fluctuations from wind and solar as the weather changes. This balancing is not possible with baseload, because you cannot switch them on and off very fast. Gas power stations can switch on and off very fast — but natural gas brings emissions in carbon, and we are dependent on Russian natural gas. We have to learn how to do without it. We should switch to biogas and green gas — perhaps we can use wind power, when we have too much, to make hydrogen and use that to produce electricity.

Q: So you are saying that the current model of baseload and peaking power will be replaced by flexible and inflexible energy sources.

A: Yes, and we can also call it a smart grid system. Balance with other energy sources and a lot of storage in hydro pumps, and batteries and other energy. It is beginning now, we are learning with the grid operation, we need to do it in such a way that it can be done in time and in a way that frequency and voltage is stable. That very important, but new technology, such as inverters for PV, can bring this about. Balancing is critical, otherwise won’t see enough investment.

Q: How quickly can world follow?

A: The world can follow in same period, if they want to. At Stanford University, they pointed out that information technology — via mobile phones and laptops — did not take 100 years or 50 years. Professor Mark Jacobsen (the Stanford engineer) said the world can achieve 100% renewable by 2030. It is possible on technology, and it is also cheaper to go to 100% renewables than to go on with conventional. He estimated it would cost $100 trillion over 20 years. That seems a lot, but it is only half of the estimated conventional fuel bill over the same time, which on 2008 prices is $200 trillion.

Q: Does this message get through to politicians?

A: There is a lot of criticism from old companies, nuclear, natural gas, coal and uranium. They fear of their business, and this fear is right. With 100% renewables, there is no baseload energy business. And they fight very strongly with misinformation and lies, and a lot of the media brings this argument. But on the other side, people in Germany see the reality — they see the benefits in new jobs, which in Germany has gone from 30,000 in 1998 to 370,000 today — and they see they can reduce their own energy bill with solar energy at home and biofuels in the car. In Germany, 80% of people support the switch to renewables, even in the short term it means a higher price.

Q: Will it be only in the short term?

A: Yes, in the short term it is little bit higher — but we have already achieved reduced prices on the electricity market. Last year, the cost of the Renewable Electricity Act was €12 billion. At the same time, we avoided €11 billion by not buying oil, gas, coal and uranium. And savings from other costs, such as waste management, took the total savings to €17 billion

Q: What is your assessment of policies in Australia?

A: You have wonderful research for renewables in Australia, at ANU, Sydney University and elsewhere. Research is very important but without market introduction it is not so useful, and you do not have enough deployment. You need a good feed-in-tariff. But you do have a carbon price, which balances a bit the high external cost of fossil fuel production, so it balances a little the uncompetitiveness of renewables.

The main thing is that Australia is the biggest exporter of uranium and coal — most investors believe that when uranium and coal prices rise, it is good for their business, because they have a bigger income. But I believe that this is not stable in future. It happens already in Germany, the higher the coal price is rising, the more coal-fired power stations they close, because they are uncompetitive with renewables. The higher they go, the less coal other countries will buy from Australia. I see most new investment in coal is a stranded investment.

Q: That message is not getting across.

A: That’s because they believe it will go on., but it will not go on. The oil price will be the leading price for all energies. Peak oil is already here, the IEA says it is. In coming years we must fear declining oil production. This will lift price very high, and that will increase pressure on people, banks and nations. The only chance to come out of this economic crash is to go renewables.

Q: Some would say those are the words of an ideologue.

A: I often hear this argument, you are Green politician, you have no sense of the economy, you are unrealistic, a dreamer, and so on. I hear this all my life. I see now all my forecasts have become reality, and for renewables they will go much faster because the price will drop down very fast.

Q: You said that 100% renewables in Germany is possible by 2030. How quickly will it occur in reality?

A: I personally believe it will come sooner, because of the problems of the conventional energy sector. We will see in the middle of this decade, oil price is about $200 a barrel. This will lead to much more investment in renewables.

Q: What about CCS?

A: CCS? No chance on an economic level. You must understand that new investment in coal power production without CCS is already not competitive with wind power in Europe. To have CCS you need one third more coal. How should it be competitive with renewables? There is no chance. We see it in Europe at the moment, all projects are cancelled.

Q: You are forecasting then a massive amount of stranded assets. That will be difficult to manage, politically and economically.

A: It is difficult to manage because most politicians and managers are going with with the old thinking of conventional energies. This will lead to stranded investment and possibly economic crisis, and not only in energy system. The IEA highlighted in its report that subsidies for renewables were $52 billion and fossil fuels more than $400 billion, and this is growing because of rising oil prices.

Governments want to give energy consumers a stable low but this costs them more as fossil fuel prices rise, and ruins their budgets. We have seen what happens in Greence, and now Italy. Energy costs play a bigger role that is often assumed. Rising oil prices are also leading to rising food prices, and to the transport sector.

Q: Are you optimistic about how all this pans out.

A: Yes, I am optimistic about the increasing rate of renewables and decreasing fossil fuels. I’m pessimistic if this comes fast for problems of climate change. It can happen quick enough when we can organise the political framework, when new actors can promote this. I think these new actors will come from the finance industry. I see hopeful movement there. A lot of them see now that investment in renewables is most secure investment — they want high profit and secure investments. When they want to organise a strategy to have private money go to climate protection rather than climate polluting, then we have a chance in the world. The finance industry will go to the politicians and demand a feed-in-tariff, and it will come.

*This article was first published at RenewEconomy

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  • 1
    Geoff Russell
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Have a look at:
    http://www.sma.de/en/news-information/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html

    pick a day. I chose 17th February, a few days ago. Peak PV output was 3.3GW, and
    at 4.30pm it was just 1.4GW. This is just 6 percent of the 24 GW of installed PV in
    Germany. You can’t balance energy which isn’t there. Nor can you store it.

    Now look at IEA data up to 2009:

    http://www.iea.org/stats/pdf_graphs/DEELEC.pdf

    Half of the renewable output is hydro and biofuels and waste … which have little potential
    to grow. Look at the graph. Does it look like exponential solar/wind growth? Back when I
    did mathematics exponential growth looked rather different. The mild winter accounts for
    most of the fall in 2009.

    So Giles, did you ask Fell a single hard question?

  • 2
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    We have had a big cold winter, and France did not have enough from nuclear, so they bought electricity from Germany. We have so much that we can export it to France and help them in a cold winter so they don’t get a blackout.

    The imputation that renewable Germany bailed out nuclear France is highly misleading to say the least. Germany having enough electricity to export to France during the recent cold snap had nothing to do with solar and wind, but everything to do with Germany’s much greater reliance on gas (mainly Russian) for direct heating (reuters.com/article/2012/02/06/france-britain-imports-idUSL5E8D62B620120206), as opposed to near-universal use of electric appliances for space heating in France.

    Moreover, the French demand peak during the instance being referred to occurred at 7 pm (connexionfrance.com/France-freeze-ice-Sochaux-hydro-wind-power-13438-view-article.html), so the contribution of German solar to meeting that was zero. In all probability, over 90% of the German electricity exported to France during this exceptional event was generated by fossil, still-operating nuclear and hydro. I say ‘exceptional’ because, again contrary to what has been implied, the flow of electricity between Germany and France is overwhelmingly in the other direction since the former began their nuclear powerdown.

    How the whole situation can be construed as a win for renewables is beyond me.

    If Fell has been so misleading on this score, what are we to make of his other assertions?

    “PV is like semiconductors, the PV price will go down very fast in coming years.” – what is the basis for this? Stuff grounded in physical reality, not extrapolated curves.

    “…increasing rates – and these are exponential…” – evidence? On the contrary, it’s the grid management difficulties that start to increase exponentially once you try to get unreliable renewables penetration above 20-30% on a long-term basis. See how Danish non-hydro renewables’ contribution is flattening out around this level.

    “new technology, such as inverters for PV, can bring this (100% renewables, no baseload) about” – evidence?

    All up, it’s a hell of a lot of wishful thinking to be betting the climate on.

  • 3
    Blaggers
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Bring it on!

    This is what i want my tax dollars to heavily subsidise.

  • 4
    2dogs
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    And waiting to Crikey City Superheros with vastly superior “knowledge” to poo poo this idea in 5. 4. 3. 2.

  • 5
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    This is all hype and little substance. Any serious analysis of this type would be underpinned by quanitative analysis indicating the source of baseload power, the technical requirements to provide baseload power in periods of low solar and wind activity, and the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2030 to meet all of the country’s needs.

    Personally I’m not opposed to renewable energy, I think it is probably the only way that humanity will survive in the long run. However proselytising without evidence is merely pandering to prejudice, rather than dealing with the facts.

    Current and foreseeable storage technology cannot meet baseload power requirements of a modern economy no matter what the green lunatics are claiming.

    By all means have pious pie in the sky targets, but please underpin them with solid quantitative analysis. There is no doubt that the cost of solar arrays is falling, but it should also be noted that they have a 20 year life cycle and require replacement, losing 1.5% of output each year. Wind power is transient, and each cycle of energy storage and re-release causes a significant power loss.

    If as forecast fossil fuel costs for oil, gas and coal will increase significantly, renewables will become more economic by comparison. However what is not sufficiently recognised is that with a significant increase in the cost per kilowatt hour of energy, living standards must fall to the extent to which efficiency cannot offset the cost increase. Furthermore our societies are critically dependent on 24/7 energy availability, and unless base load power can be guaranteed our whole economic system will fail.

    Ongoing reliance on transitory forms of energy will involve a significant degree of risk currently effectively managed in our power systems using renewable energy, and contingencies to address this issue will need to be more carefully analysed than has been addressed in this articles.

  • 6
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    So the proposition is to balance the intermittent supply from renewables with storage to create 100% renewables electricity. Considering that in the German winter, there can be many cold, still, grey days in a row, this “storage” has to be able to provide something of the order of 200 GW for several days without being topped up.

    If that energy was stored in familiar lead-acid batteries, which can hold about 1 kWh, about 20 billion of them would be needed, so clearly this politician is promising German voters the coming of a completely new technology. It would be revolutionary. If Germany can produce such a technology at reasonable cost, renewables would become practical all over the world and we all could resume the march towards a zero-carbon future. But whenever will that come to pass ?

    Until then, it would be foolish to permanently disable their nukes. Astute politicians would promise the fearful an eventual shutdown, but would delay the event until the day that adequate zero-carbon technology becomes available at similar cost. Perhaps that is exactly what he is doing.

  • 7
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    So, 2dogs, you’d prefer discussions on the most critical issue facing our civilisation to be based on something other than “knowledge” (vastly superior or otherwise)?

    Rather than poo-pooing the predictability of the put-downs, a more constructive question might be why they’re becoming predictable. I’d suggest it’s because the same crap keeps getting put up - and the concerns raised in response are never adequately addressed.

  • 8
    Microseris
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Of course we will go 100% renewable its just a matter of when. May be longer than we think and this article suggests, but it will happen.

    In the movie 1987 Wall Street, Gordon Gecko had a new fangled $4,000 mobile phone the size of a brick that had to be recharged every 30 mins. I remember my first car phone in the early 90’s. Who could forsee the technology developments over the past 25 odd years.

    The dig it up and burn it crowd are dreaming if they think we are currently at the high point of scientific endeavour.

  • 9
    Mark Duffett
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    @Microseris yes, Moore’s Law yada yada yada. So you’d know the old saw that if cars had developed like computers, we’d all be driving things that cost $10, got from 0-100 km/h in three seconds and went 5000 km to the litre. A lot of proponents assume that renewables will develop like computers. But what if they’re more like cars? I’d argue they are.

    Sure, breakthroughs are possible. But again, do we want to be betting the climate and a good deal else on that?

  • 10
    Brian Williams
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    In the early 1980s I lived in Stuttgart while studying at the Vaihingen campus of the University, and I can confirm Roger Clinton’s assessment of the ‘still, grey days’. The locals were very friendly though, so we did manage to stay warm at night.

    The idea that any part of Germany could fully contribute to a ‘green’ replacement of current base load at that time of year is laughable, and could only be proposed by a climate change zealot who also believes that hell will soon freeze over (as indeed it would, if it were to rely on wind/solar power to keep the temperature up for all the resident sinners)

  • 11
    Microseris
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    MD, we have already gambled the climate. We are all now on the ride to see how it plays out.

    To use your car analogy, price and fuel consumption have not been major priorities until now. Historically cars became bigger and heavier with more features, gadgets, safety and power.

    Car designers are starting to work on how to get from A to B using less fossil fuel or renewables. Early days but I drive a large (ish) wagon which gets 5.9 per 100. My last similar car - about 4 years ago got 11 per 100. Still a ways to go but a start.

    Political inertia still sees renewable energy on an uneven playing field behind coal in terms of equity. In Vicco, any resident within 2km of a proposed wind farm has the power of veto, yet no such rights against coal. Why? After 5 years, the proposed HRL coal plant in the LaTrobe Valley can’t find non govt investor, but continued extensions are granted to find the balance of the funds. At the same time a Moree solar project which didn’t meet the required timeline had govt funds pulled. The list goes on..

  • 12
    2dogs
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Ohh thank you Batman, and here I was thinking that surely the bait was too obvious and the trap too dangerous but you confidently and heroically strolled in to save Crikey Citizens from their impending doom with the well thought out catch phrase:
    “I’d suggest it’s because the same crap keeps getting put up”.
    Of course the irony is hysterical when you consider who keeps putting up the “same crap”
    Another big “kudos” to you

  • 13
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    100% renewables in Germany in 18 years? 50% wind/40% solar?

    This in a country which in 2007 planned to build 30 new coal-fired power stations with a life of 30 or 40 years each…a plan partially stymied by the Greens, causing Merkel to scuttle back to nuclear, only to dump that idea after Fukushima…and run back to nuclear again to cope with the Big Freeze this winter.

    We’ll have to redefine Parkinson’s Disease- it’s a fantasy which overwhelms reality, policy on drugs…cocasional use can be fun, so to speak, but too much Parkinson melts your brain.

    German solar struggles to manage 3% of total energy production now- after $75 billion…a 3% which is unreliable and in effect useless, as it is backed up by you-know-what. Wind is another colossally expensive rort.

    German energy policy is paralysed, pulled three ways- by nuke shills, big coal- but mainly dragged into energy futility by the Greens.

    Even in Germany, reality is dawning: global warming is not following the Armageddon script. Warming has plateaued. Many of the predicted impacts appear shaky or overblown. Attention is turning to critical evaluation of the premature energy technologies that are symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. The hype, rorts and lies are becoming evident. All the more sdo in the context of global economic recession- something which escapes the “clean energy” fantasists.

  • 14
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    @2Dogs
    Are you a genuine moron or just pretending?

  • 15
    ScottMC
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    German industry rocks.

  • 16
    Microseris
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Over 2 hours in moderation. No one on arvo shift?

  • 17
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    what does it say about Crikey that their sole commentator on energy policy is Parkinson? The same dose of evangelical drivel every week- with a different headline.

    The Right is already scratching its crotch, preparing to take power. Crikey’s infantile zealotry has made its own little contribution to the shambles of progressive politiccs…

    the Rudd vs Gillard soap is just a symptom of the failure of critical analysis on the Left- mainly the failure to expose the absurdities, class hypocrisy, sanctimoniousness and irrelevance of “climate” policy.

  • 18
    2dogs
    Posted Tuesday, 21 February 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink

    Definitely genuine Whistleblower, definitely genuine (and I have it on good authority that President Obama has been possessed by reptilian aliens).

  • 19
    Sabre Bleu
    Posted Wednesday, 22 February 2012 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Meanwhile here in Australia politicians fiddle while coal powered generators burn.

  • 20
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Wednesday, 22 February 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Nice to see such optimism. Not sure it’s well-founded. All depends on the politics and economics in Germany and that I don’t know much about at all.

    But I do have some grave doubts about the capacity to run an industrialised economy with an intermittent power source - no matter how smart the grid claims to be. That must be fixed on Germany will continue to rely on the Russians’ gas.

    All a bit glib and unprobing - pity you didn’t ask some hard questions Giles or probe a little deeper on these glib assurances. I would have liked to hear his views on the real obstacles to 100% renewables.

  • 21
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Friday, 24 February 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I am afraid Giles I am with Peter Ormonde’s comments on your above article. Fels claims do seem to fly in face of the facts. Lomborg recently brought a lot of the deficiencies in the PV approach of the German Governments strategy into question in a recent article.
    It serves no purpose to publish wishful thinking dressed up as factual conclusions. All it does is give people like Frank Campbell a platform to keep repeating his illogical and contradictory inanities.

  • 22
    askgerbil now
    Posted Friday, 24 February 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Pursuing the wrong goal (100% renewable or zero emissions) and can’t make the numbers add up?

    Try bio-methane plus natural gas plus coal-to-methane with carbon capture and storage plus distributed cogeneration/trigeneration.

    Result: all rational goals are achieved.

  • 23
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Askgerbil Now;
    CH4 is more damaging to the enviroment as a greehouse gas than CO2.
    CCS is being investigated and is proving to be a Tax Capture and Storage of our funds by the Coal Mining industry throughout the world. No one has produced a satisfactory model.
    If we continue on our current projections someone will have to find a reservoit with the capacity to store, forever, more than a million cubic metres each year, just to cover our exports.
    We really have to come to the honest appreciation that our reliance on fossil fuels has proven to be a false economy and our future development of our sources of energy do have contain the necessary mandate that they have enviromental efficacy.

  • 24
    askgerbil now
    Posted Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Mike Flanagan,
    It helps to have an objective in mind, and an awareness of the technology that makes it achievable at a competitive cost:

    1. Distributed generation of electricity such as the Glenview GridX system uses 85 percent of the energy in fuel, as opposed to 30 percent in existing power stations. CO2 emissions are slashed. Customers pay about 10 cents per kWh.

    2. One hectare of biomass can remove 150-300 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year and store solar energy equivalent to 40,000-80,000 litres of petrol.

    3. Technology such as Genifuel’s synthetic natural gas plant can convert 100 percent of biomass into renewable natural gas in 20 minutes. Half the CO2 captured by the biomass can be cheaply separated and stored permanently in depleted gas fields. Storing CO2 is being done in Norway now.

    4. The most efficient biomass for capturing solar energy and CO2 is a weed - water hyacinth. Energy production requires that it be harvested from the waterways and lakes it now clogs and feed it into gasification units. There is no loss of agricultural land. A by-product is pure water.

    5. Waste buried in landfills decays into methane that escapes into the atmosphere. Turning this waste into renewable natural gas and using it as fuel prevents this massive release of greenhouse gas from landfills.

  • 25
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    ASKGERBIL NOW
    I am not a scientist but a member of the public with an abiding interest. I have actually been involved, in the past, as a sub contrator, in the building of a bio gas generator under EPA supervision. It was a failure (although declared a success) by the fact that most of the gas escaped unregulated into the atmosphere. That is not to say it is not possible with a lot motre research and identification of the engineering weaknesses and their resoluion.
    We all have a lot to do in developing the alternatives to our fossil fuel addiction and in our consumption patterns.

  • 26
    Whistleblower
    Posted Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    @askgerbil

    How about some costings per kWh of energy.

    Hillbillies and the Mafia have been making moonshine and grappa for centuries bit it is only price competitive because of massive excise imposition. You cannot produce biofuel economically without massive subsidies.

    Make biofuel price competitive for base load power generation and I will agree with you. Of course you cannot so stop bleating.

  • 27
    askgerbil now
    Posted Saturday, 25 February 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Mike Flanagan,
    Your anecdotal experience does not reflect the experience throughout Europe, the US, Canada, China, India, etc with renewable natural gas.

    Renewable natural gas (biomethane, biogas) is not “fossil fuel addiction”.
    It is an affordable and practical approach by which we can overcome the dominance of fossil fuel - by competing with lower price, 24/7 renewable energy.

    Some search terms:
    “Biogas and Biomethane Gains Wider Acceptance”
    “4th International Energy Farming Congress”
    “Clean Energy 24/7 biomass”

  • 28
    askgerbil now
    Posted Sunday, 26 February 2012 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Whistleblower,
    Your assertion “You cannot produce biofuel economically without massive subsidies” must not have gotten through to a number of biofuel projects:

    1. GE Energy’s Jenbacher Engines Powering China’s Largest Chicken Waste Biogas-to-Energy Plant
    2. Landfill Gas & Power Pty Ltd (LGP) manages the gas emissions from six landfill sites within the Perth metropolitan area…
    3. National Biogas and Manure Management programme (NBMMP), India. The programme was started in 1981-82 as the National Project on Biogas Development.
    4. Practical Action is helping farmers in Sri Lanka install biogas units on their farmers to convert cow dung into an alternative power supply.
    5. Landfill Gas Recycling in Ohio. Montauk Energy Capital operates three methane gas recovery facilities at Rumpke Sanitary Landfill near Cincinnati. The plants convert the methane gas into natural gas energy. The first landfill gas recovery facility at Rumpke Sanitary Landfill opened in 1986, the second plant opened in 1995 and the third plant opened in 2007.

    With distributed Combined Heat and Power generation, electricity costs are approximately half what you pay per kWh - because the grid distribution component is avoided. See “Case Study Glenfield, Australia - Visionary housing estate showcases leading Australian energy technology”

  • 29
    Whistleblower
    Posted Sunday, 26 February 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    @askgerbil now
    In case you hadn’t noticed, the topic of this article is about baseload power, and my comment was made in that context, not in the context of converting a bit of chicken shit into methane.

    You would need a huge pile of cow manure to provide baseload power, notwithstanding the pile of bullshit than that green idiots keep peddling.

  • 30
    askgerbil now
    Posted Sunday, 26 February 2012 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    Whistleblower,

    You wrote previously: “Make biofuel price competitive for base load power generation and I will agree with you.”

    I do not need to. The end of base load power generation will happen as soon as people realise they are wasting money buying base load power from central power stations.

    I do not propose propping up this overpriced and inefficient business model with clean cheap fuel sources.

    The topic of this article is about the END of base load power -
    “The end of baseload? It may come sooner than you think”

    Base load grid generation will end as more and more people realise that distributed generation allows them to avoid the cost of distribution - about 50 percent of power bills - and uses about 80 percent of the energy content in fuels - not the 30-35 percent that is used with central power stations.

    Cheap distributed power generation is financially superior to base load power generation. Take the time to read the “Case Study Glenfield, Australia - Visionary housing estate showcases leading Australian energy technology.”

    Read more widely. Your comments on chicken shit and a huge pile of cow manure accurately reflect your understanding of the energy industry. You may well become the last consumer of grid-supplied electricity long after everyone else has cut their energy bills in half with superior technology.

  • 31
    askgerbil now
    Posted Sunday, 26 February 2012 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Whistleblower,

    You wrote previously: “Make biofuel price competitive for base load power generation and I will agree with you.”

    I do not need to. The end of base load power generation will happen as soon as people realise they are wasting money buying base load power from central power stations.

    I do not propose propping up this overpriced and inefficient business model with clean cheap fuel sources.

    The topic of this article is about the END of base load power -
    “The end of baseload? It may come sooner than you think”

    Base load grid generation will end as more and more people realise that distributed generation allows them to avoid the cost of distribution - about 50 percent of power bills - and uses about 80 percent of the energy content in fuels - not the 30-35 percent that is used with central power stations.

    Cheap distributed power generation is financially superior to base load power generation. Take the time to read the “Case Study Glenfield, Australia - Visionary housing estate showcases leading Australian energy technology.”

    Read more widely. Your comments on chicken s#!& and a huge pile of cow manure accurately reflect your understanding of the energy industry. You may well become the last consumer of grid-supplied electricity long after everyone else has cut their energy bills in half with superior technology.

  • 32
    Whistleblower
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    @askgerbil

    A repeat my earlier comment.How about some costings per kWh of energy.

    Hillbillies and the Mafia have been making moonshine and grappa for centuries but it is only price competitive because of massive excise imposition.

    You cannot produce biofuel economically without massive subsidies, and certainly not in the volumes required for a modern industrial society.

    Make biofuel price competitive and I will agree with you.

    In practical terms there is insufficient surface area of the Earth available for current technology to produce biofuels in the volume required. Try dealing with the actual economic issues, and place your thoughts in a practical context of supply quantity and estimated delivery price per kilowatt hour of base load..

    Finally, the Wikipedia definition :”A gerbil is a small mammal of the order Rodentia. Once known simply as “desert rats”. It is probably an apt definition of your analytical capability.

  • 33
    Blaggers
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    @Whistleblower - “You cannot produce biofuel economically without massive subsidies.”

    I’d prefer my tax dollars to subsidise renewable energy sources, in fact my tax dollars should be massively subsidising renewable energy research and sources.

    These new technologies would be then “best fit” in the communities that use them. Whether they choose solar, wind, chicken shit as you so eloquantly put it, etc.. or a combination of these sources appropriate to their needs, then there is the end of the need for baseload.

  • 34
    Whistleblower
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    @Blaggers

    Whether you want your tax dollars to subsidise renewable energy is a personal choice, but I for one am not interested in any solution which is not practical.

    You and the gerbil have no proper case to put forward as to how baseload energy can be effectively provided from renewable energy sources.

    Consequently it is an exercise in in semantics with no useful purpose other than giving greens a warm feeling in the crotch.

    For god’s sake put up some useful commentary and some usable facts rather than the hogwash, bleating and stepping around the issue that baseload power cannot be effectively replaced with anything other than nuclear power without completely destroying our existing economic systems.

    Calculate the quantity of energy required by a modern economic society, and the ability of renewable energy sources to capture that energy, calculate the area of land required, and tell me what practical technology that can be used. Calculate the cost per kilowatt-hour of energy so produced at the point of consumption in a quantity necessary to support a modern economy. That would be a useful contribution to this discussion. Otherwise go away and stop bothering me.

    Alternately go and live free of nonrenewable energy sources completely including no aluminium, steel, copper, farm produced food, telecommunications, glass,water, gas and electricity . Also forego the photovoltaic cells that you might use for minimal electrical energy and any telecommunications equipment as these also require fossil fuel and baseload power to produce them and deliver them. See how you get on then.

  • 35
    Bill Parker
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    Whistle blower, supposing you could build three or four large solar plants that operate in such a way that heat generated during the day could be stored as molten salt, giving 24 hour coverage, and that you put these plants a strategic points on the grid so the variations in solar radiation were accounted for?

  • 36
    Whistleblower
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    @Bill Parker
    This is a sensible suggestion, and there is a plant in Spain that does just this. However I am not concerned so much with the physiological capabilities of energy storage, but the cost. What is the true cost per kilowatt hour of this power generation for baseload supply purposes before any hidden subsidies. It is this cost per kilowatt hour of power absorption that interests me because it is cost-effective substitution for coal or nuclear based baseload power that I am interested in.

    I’m happy to be proven incorrect but I understand that current technology cannot capture sufficient energy to go anywhere near meeting baseload power requirements. Consequently there will be massive dislocations in our social structure if we are to replace existing energy sources with much higher cost alternatives. Playing with subsidies is no substitute will stop subsidies under disguise the true cost, because subsidies are a tax on the rest of the community and disguise the true cost.

    I would be much happier if green power advocates undertook accurate costings of their propositions, so that the community at large can gauge the full effect of their policy proposals. There is no point in advocates postulating possible sources of energy capture if the cost is ignored , unless of course they want to engage in a self obsessed rant for no practical purpose other than self gratification.

  • 37
    Bill Parker
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    WB, this is not easy to answer. There is literature out there but accurate costs per kWh are not easy to come by because of the varying (exact) nature of the technology, and the changes that will come with newer R&D applications. There are no doubt other reasons.

    Then there is the precise point in the energy generation chain that we are talking of. Any fossil fuel and nuclear fuel has a cost. The fuel cost at Gemasol is zero, so we need to be precise about what is going into the calculations.

    Typically the data is behind a hefty price tag ( the tease does not show the $kWh data):
    http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/report/concentrating-solar-power-2011-technology-costs-and-markets

    (A GTM report)

    The IEA was talking US cents 17-25 per kWh in 2009, but things have moved on since then.

    The other thing is that CSP is a new market, PV is more mature and prices have descended. However, PV is non-storage, CSP is or has potential to be.

    So for Australia, I think that the guess is just that, and comparing Spain with Australia is not without several assumptions.

  • 38
    RICHARD
    Posted Monday, 27 February 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    One of the best forms of renewable energy is from Bio-Gas production. Essentially collecting all of the organic waste fractions from municipal waste collections as well as waste streams from agriculture can create significant forms of baseload power as well as useful compost after the process has extracted the methane gas. Methane gas of course is a real problem gas as opposed to Co2 which we exhale and plants breath in. Liquid fuels can also be made from some bio-gas production models a good one is seen here at http://www.canadacomposting.com. Ceramic fuel cells will also play a big role as well into the future maybe if we’re lucky the Tesla technologies will someday free us from the grips of these power corporations but I’m not holding my breath!

  • 39
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    @Bill Parker @ Richard
    It is good to have some sensible constructive comment. Personally I would be in favour of renewable energy if the cost could be accommodated without wrecking the community in which we live. Many green activists try to sell the solution without ever addressing the cost. The current government has sold a carbon tax by minimising its immediate impact through a transfer of the tax yield back to consumers. This is the equivalent to boiling a frog and only increasing the gas gently while initially dropping in ice cubes to confuse the frog about relationship between the gas under the pot and temperature increase. This is a grossly cynical act which could only come through the agency of the perverted minds like Julie Gillard and the Labor caucus who will sleep with anybody for political advantage.

    Whether green activists and their fellow travellers like it or not the whole world economy is built on the premise of cheap energy and there is no going back unless we can develop cost-effective substitutes. To date renewable energy is only fiddling around the edges and certainly cannot address base load power requirements.

    Of course the technology exists to do this, but the cost is so extraordinarily prohibitive at present that it is inconceivable for any practical implementation. However for political purposes, logic is not a prerequisite, only the ability to sell a message which doesn’t necessarily have to have any substance other than a political feelgood factor. This of course appeals to Greens and other corrupt politicians who sell a politically favourable message with our addressing its full economic and social consequences.

  • 40
    Bill Parker
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    The issue of cost is not resolved in Australia. The policy and the actuality of funding CSP ( for example) is dysfunctional.

    As an example of what is being done in the USA is found in California at Ivanpah where Brightsource are building a large power tower plant. Brightsource have the benefit of a loan guarantee and substantial investment from companies like Google Inc. Google are very much involved in the new way of thinking about electricity distribution systems.

    So I will conclude by saying that Brightsource (nor Abengoa and others) do not see “inconceivable for any practical implementation” - they are building. See http://www.brightsourceenergy.com/projects/ivanpah

  • 41
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Mr Blower,

    Must admit I haven’t read anything remotely pertinent to the costs of building a bio-gas digester in Australia. I’ll have a look. But one of the Iron Rules of Economics (there are only two) is that there’s money in muck.

    I have had some involvement in small scale biogas systems in Bangladesh where they work a treat. From my observations biogas is certainly an economic proposition in a subsistence peasant economy running on microcredit with no grid or alternatives other than diesel generators for an hour a day.

    While the economic considerations here are very different - at least at the moment - I suspect that taking what is currently an expensive waste product problem and turning a quid out of it is a rather profitable venture - depends how you’d do the sums a bit. Always has been so.

    The Bangladeshi digesters are locally built, low capital cost and extremely efficient. Have a google at Grameen Shakti - the Grameen Bank’s power company) if you want to see one.

    One of the nice things about biogas is that it is ideally suited to a distributed system - small plants serving a community. So developing a model at suitable scale is an appropriately complex and significant issue. I suspect that gadgetry the scale of a desalination plant is neither necessary nor appropriate to the technological advantages offered.

    Anyway I’ll have a hunt about and see if anyone’s doing anything.

    Interesting discussion.

  • 42
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    @Peter Ormonde
    I’m sure biogas will provide some form of energy, but the quantity available from the available amount of biological material as I understand it is woefully inadequate to meet our baseload power needs. That is not to say that we couldn’t scale up these processes to industrial level, using algae or some other rapidly growing biomass to capture sunlight. However the cost appears to be significantly greater than what we are currently paying, and this will have flow-through effects into our economy. However it is this sort of long-range analysis which is necessary if we are to remove our dependence on fossil fuels.

    Many green advocates have embraced the assumed solution without having any idea of the cost. We need to research the cost per kilowatt hour of baseload energy from renewable sources, and then we can identify the gap. However I suspect this research is not being undertaken by Greens because they would be frightened of the results, on a similar basis that if the Catholic Church embraced Christianity fully, they couldn’t cope with the consequences.

  • 43
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    @Moderator
    For god’s sake what in the above post requires moderation?

  • 44
    askgerbil now
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Whistleblower,

    You say: “I repeat my earlier comment. How about some costings per kWh of energy.”

    It is clearly a waste of time again repeating the obvious: “Take the time to read the ‘Case Study Glenfield, Australia - Visionary housing estate showcases leading Australian energy technology’”

    so I will quote the relevant passage for your benefit:

    Vision Estate residents are already enjoying the benefits of GridX energy efficiency. In most locations in Australia delivered grid power costs between 17 and 18 cents per kwh. With good fuel cost availability it is projected that the GridX power system will cost less than 10 cents per kwh.”

  • 45
    askgerbil now
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Whistleblower,

    You seem hung up on the idea that I am advocating renewable energy, writing:

    You and the gerbil have no proper case to put forward as to how baseload energy can be effectively provided from renewable energy sources.”

    I repeat part of the first comment I posted:

    Try bio-methane plus natural gas plus coal-to-methane with carbon capture and storage plus distributed cogeneration/trigeneration.
    Result: all rational goals are achieved.”

  • 46
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    @Gerbil

    Firstly for the proposition using methane from biological sources (biomethane) , try estimating the quantum of biological material, the proportion of the Earth’s surface required to farm this produce, and estimate the cost per kilowatt hour delivered for baseload power. Unless you can provide the substantial quantity of energy required , repetition in relation to the technique without the ability to deliver the quantity is a complete waste of time.

    Secondly carbon capture and storage is not a practical proposition in the quantity required. Carbon capture and sequestration requires an enormous amount of energy, and you have to have the necessary impermeable substrate available to which to pump the liquefied carbon dioxide. Can you point me to one plant anywhere in the world that is effectively using carbon sequestration, and tell me what is the cost per kilowatt hour delivered.

    Furthermore if you are using bio-methane, there is no need for carbon sequestration, you could discharge the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it is effectively part of a closed cycle as the carbon dioxide will be converted back into methane through the plant photosynthesis cycle.

    Thirdly as for your earlier post about Vision Estate, this is nothing more than capturing waste heat from the normal internal combustion engine cycle for alternate use such as hot water or home heating. This is a very intelligent use of existing natural gas, but make no contribution whatsoever to the baseload power issue which was the subject of the original article.

    Finally as an exercise in semantics, your posts add no value, but merely reinforces the point that you have no facts to support the baseload power issue which was the topic of the original article.

  • 47
    askgerbil now
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Whistleblower,

    1. You ask for estimates of obtaining biomethane from farming to provide a substantial quantity for base load power.

    1.1 Your assumptions that farming is required is false.
    1.2 Your assumption that biomethane would be used for base load power generation is false.

    2. You assert carbon capture and storage is not practical in “the quantity required” without saying what that amount, if any, is.

    3. You assert carbon capture and storage requires an enormous amount of energy, without saying what that amount of energy is.

    4. You assume that carbon sequestration must be linked to power plants, asking a question that assumes this false assumption to be true: “Can you point me to one plant anywhere in the world that is effectively using carbon sequestration, and tell me what is the cost per kilowatt hour delivered?”

    5. You also assert that if using biomethane there is no need for carbon sequestration.

    6. You dismiss a technology that halves energy costs to consumers as “nothing more than capturing waste heat”.

    6.1 This technology also halves the amount of fuel required to provide the end-users energy requirements.

    7. You then assert this technology makes no contribution whatsoever to the baseload power issue.

    8. You conclude with the obscure comment “you have no facts to support the baseload power issue.”

    9. You make no comment whatsoever on the use of coal-to-methane gasification technology, with carbon capture and storage - that also can be used to halve the amount of fuel required to meet end-user energy needs.

  • 48
    Whistleblower
    Posted Tuesday, 28 February 2012 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    @Gerbil

    Go back to the originating article - it dealt with supplying all Germany’s power from renewables in 18 years!

    I am asserting that the massive shift in energy supply is simply not conceivable with current or planned technology.

    Read Peter Ormonde’s comment on the availability of biomass to provide the source material required. Wind and photovoltaic cannot and biomass sourced supply is the only feasible source in that context, although there is not enough land in Germany to supply such material.

    Obviously more efficient use of fuel whether it be natural gas or or biofuel is an efficiency measure which will have some impact on base load demand, and coal gassification will allow carbon to be physically sequestered but at a significant increase in cost.

    The fact remains that base load power cannot be provided at a practically foreseeable cost from RENEWABLE sources on any practical basis and this what I am saying and you are not addressing.

  • 49
    askgerbil now
    Posted Wednesday, 29 February 2012 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    The article includes:

    Q: Some would say those are the words of an ideologue.

    A: I often hear this argument, you are Green politician, you have no sense of the economy, you are unrealistic, a dreamer, and so on. I hear this all my life. I see now all my forecasts have become reality, and for renewables they will go much faster because the price will drop down very fast.

    This is an important question. Assumptions always determine the goal someone is trying to achieve.

    Nowhere does the article examine those assumptions.

    If you do not spell out where you are going and why, it is easy to end up at the wrong destination.

    For instance, what is the purpose for achieving 100% renewable power generation?

    If climate change is a serious issue, are there faster economic reforms that can achieve reductions in CO2 emissions, or even removal of CO2 from the atmosphere?

    If so, is it worthwhile to pursue these reforms first, even it that means postponing the achievement of 100% renewable energy generation?

  • 50
    Blaggers
    Posted Friday, 2 March 2012 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    @whistleblower
    Your whole argument about cost per kW hour of renewables before subsidies is moot when all power generated has some form of government assistance. You are trying to assert that the cost of renewables is too great, and yes, you are correct, initially it would be. This is a no brainer. Does this mean we just shelve any attempt at using renewable sources? Of course we cannot go straight to renewable sources even though the idea gives “a warm feeling in the crotch”. But we can use them to greatly offset the need for fossil fuel generated power and the amount of baseload power required. It may even shift out thinking in how we use our power which would also reduce the total base load requirement.

    BTW
    “Alternately go and live free of nonrenewable energy sources completely including no aluminium, steel, copper, farm produced food, telecommunications, glass,water, gas and electricity . Also forego the photovoltaic cells that you might use for minimal electrical energy and any telecommunications equipment as these also require fossil fuel and baseload power to produce them and deliver them. See how you get on then.”
    I would get on just fine. Please do not project your fears onto me. Your assumptions do us both a disservice. I also quite enjoy the modern luxeries, but now we know there is a better way to be. The longer we leave it, the greater the cost.

    It took men with vision to fly. They were mocked and ridiculed. Now we look back with disdain on the naysayers. Which side if the fence do you sit whistleblower?

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