Unlike the SMH on Earth Hour matters, I’m happy to admit a mistake: Gary Price (yesterday, comments) was right and I was wrong about the amount of electricity generated on Saturday night. But it still looks like no CO2 was saved – and that’s according to the National Electricity Market Management Company.

The whole business gets a little more technical than any but engineers and fanatics might fancy. It comes down to the nature of large coal-fired generators and that the Sydney Earth Hour exercise only resulted in a very small dip in consumption – 1.7 per cent. If that fall occurred in a peak period, CO2 would have been saved as the most expensive small (peak) generators would have been turned off.

But a mild Saturday evening is a long way from peak, meaning the electric light is already being supplied by very cheap coal. With a small dip in demand, the turbines aren’t spun quite as fast, but the furnaces aren’t turned off. They are wonderful feats of engineering technology but their demand response and fuel consumption don’t quite match what happens when you vary the pressure on your car’s accelerator.

NEMMCO can’t pinpoint how much individual turbines slowed, but says the fires kept burning.

And the lump of prize Hunter Valley carbon I spoke to was delighted about that. Far from fearing incineration, he was almost alight with expectancy. After hundreds of millions of years buried in the dark sequestering himself as coal, he was hot to get some oxygen action and go exploring the world again.

He was looking forward to being part of plenty of new plant species that didn’t exist when he was last out and about in the carbon cycle.

“Light my fire!” he shouted gleefully as the conveyor belt took him away.

Isn’t that nice.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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