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Environment

Dec 14, 2016

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This year, the stakes for action on climate change — the number one threat to humanity — jumped tenfold.

There was good news: coal companies folded, Shell moved into wind, Europe’s renewable transition picked up speed, the Paris agreement — a marvel of negotiation — came into force in record time, and, most remarkably, for the third year in a row, growth in carbon emissions flatlined.

But 2016 is almost certain to be the hottest year ever recorded, the third year in a row the record has been broken. Swathes of Great Barrier Reef are dead, an oil-sands town burned in Canada, and the Himalayas are warming at double the global rate, leading to dramatic glacier melt and threatening the water supplies of 1.3 billion people in India and China. Donald Trump’s squadron of corporate-backed deniers will likely do everything possible to stop the Paris agreement. Brexit has brought climate slow-pedalling back into vogue in Britain. And the right-wing populist surge shows no sign of slowing. France may be the next to fall. Merkel’s Germany — the linchpin of Europe’s accelerating renewables push — is also under threat from the far right.

Populism, it’s safe to say, has little truck with co-ordinated international action on climate change. At the very moment that we’ve overcome corporate-sponsored delay tactics, at the very moment that technology and economics have, at last, given us viable alternatives — the new threat of populism threatens all that’s been achieved.

So is it over? Is the reef dead? Will the Pacific Island states sink, Bangladesh become uninhabitable, and the first true water wars and refugee streams begin?

Not just yet. I’m pinning my hopes on one thing alone: cost. The plummeting cost of renewables will be what causes the real shift.

In 2009 — the year the Copenhagen climate summit all but failed — solar was around twice the price it is today. Twice. Solar has finally reached the point where it will become ubiquitous. Regardless of go-slow approaches from the Coalition, regardless of attempts to make the Carmichael coal mine financially viable, solar and storage will simply out-compete every alternative. If, that is, we let it.

Sceptical? Consider. Australia has the highest rooftop solar install rate in the world at 16% of households, double the next highest nation. That’s 1.5 million houses. And almost all installed since 2009. What happened?  The high cost of power and early government incentives turned rooftop solar from a hippie novelty into a clear financial decision with a good ROI.

[Wonder why the Coalition dislikes renewables so much?]

Last week, as Abbott’s delcons forced Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg into a backflip on a possible emissions scheme, we were given a glimpse of a better future. A remarkable report released by the CSIRO and Australia’s network operators made clear that we could get to 90% renewables by 2050 and save $100 billion in doing so. Every household would save between $400 and $600 a year on power. Cheap, clean energy can easily replace our retirement-age dirty coal plants.

How is this happening? Cost. The economics of renewables have changed dramatically in only a few years since Julia Gillard’s effective but unpopular carbon tax. In his 2016 book The Switch, British author Chris Goodall argues that solar costs will continue to plunge according to a well-established economic principle: the experience curve. Put simply, for every doubling of installed solar capacity, the price drops 20%. And solar is doubling every 2.2 years.

This law has held true ever since the 1970s, when solar cost around US$100 per watt. Now it’s around 50 US cents per watt. Looking forward, that means that within a decade and a half, solar will be a third of the cost it is today — and will be far and away the cheapest form of electricity in the world. Wind is dropping too, by almost 20% a year. So, too, are lithium batteries. Put that together, and you’ve got a new game: solar, wind and storage.

If you squint, you can already see the signs. Solar is picking off high-cost electricity first. Tesla recently converted an island in American Samoa from diesel (expensive to ship in) to solar and batteries. Businesses and homes across sub-Saharan Africa are switching from diesel generators to solar. Spurred by millions of deaths from air pollution, India and China are moving strongly into renewables. And ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is trialling ways of powering mines, islands and remote communities with renewables, slashing huge ongoing diesel bills.

In September, a reverse power auction in oil-rich Dubai was won easily by a solar developer at 2.4 cents per kWh — setting a new low for the cost of electricity. By contrast, consider that average costs for energy from any new source in the US runs between five and six cents per kWh. In sun-rich regions, solar can now dramatically undercut fossil fuel. And the cost continues to drop, year on year. New records are being set on a monthly basis in Chile, Peru, Mexico and even oil giants Saudi Arabia.

Fossil fuels are cheap, energy-dense marvels. That’s why they’re so hard to replace. But their downside is that you have to keep extracting them — digging up and transporting coal, pumping and shipping oil and gas. In the very near term, free-fuel energy will simply out-compete all other forms of energy. Large solar and wind can already beat any new fossil fuel plant across much of the world. The challenge remaining is how to best to pension off old coal plants. Many are well beyond retirement age, but they’ve been kept in service because they’re cheap now they’re paid off. But they cannot last much longer. And their replacements must be renewable.

[Chris Uhlmann joins Barnaby in blaming wind energy for SA’s blackout. They are dead wrong.]

And as the Coalition dithers, caught between denier delcons and Malcolm’s moderates, the states and territories are acting. Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, the ACT and now Liberal-controlled NSW have all set strong renewable targets. The ACT has pioneered the use of reverse auctions to get lowest-cost offers on large scale renewables.

What will we see once we embrace cheap renewables? An end to the internal combustion engine, for a start. Cheap batteries mean cheap electric cars. Fast accelerating, cheap to maintain, and free to refuel from your rooftop solar. How can petrol cars compete?

Do not give up hope. Yes, high-level politics is increasingly paralysed by infighting or populist insurgencies. But cheap renewables is the game changer we so desperately need. And subnational responses — cities, councils, states and territories — are willing to act. Let’s keep pushing.

Comments & corrections

Jul 21, 2015

5 comments

Melbourne’s green, but now mean too?

City of Melbourne Councillor Richard Foster writes: Re. “Mayne: forget bike bans, is Melbourne killing car-sharing?” (Friday). If you listen to the three current operators of car share schemes in Melbourne (Greenshare, Flexicar and Go Get), you’d be forgiven for concluding that Melbourne is an inward-looking, moribund and backward place to live. You could easily be left thinking that the city council stifles business growth in the interests of protecting its precious revenue, that it sees no need whatsoever to reduce vehicle traffic in the CBD, and that it believes that it adequately contributes to environmental sustainability by refilling Lord Mayor Robert Doyle’s fountain pen instead of using those disposable types.

Of course, those conclusions would be wrong.  Melbourne is among the most livable cities on the planet because of its innovations in city design that relentlessly promote sustainability.  The city council’s own 6 Green Star rated building has won no less than 17 national and international awards, the city’s urban forest now consists of well over 70,000 trees, and sustainable transport solutions remain a focus of the council’s Transport Strategy.

There’s no doubt that car share schemes reduce the need for car ownership and offer a suite of advantages to the community. These schemes are usually convenient, cost effective and, with the ongoing growth of the current schemes in Melbourne, you’d assume they’re profitable. Yet the three Melbourne car share operators are asking the Melbourne City Council to subsidise their businesses by reducing the cost of using on-street parking spaces. Council staff suggested three costing options: the first offering entirely cost-free parking to operators, the second being a half-way-house where the Council gets some of its money back and requires operators to provide two off-street spaces for every on-street space it provides, and the third requiring operators to pay the full cost of each on-street parking space they use. On Tuesday, Councillors chose the second option. Here’s why I voted for it.

If a business wants access to tax payers’ money, I reckon a very persuasive case needs to be put. What we heard from the three car share operators on Tuesday was something like this. Flexicar likened its business to a public transport operator and described the second option, preferred by councillors, as “absurd”. Greenshare said it was a “fragile” start-up operation, that it was currently losing $15,000 per month and had been for three years. GoGet said it would pass on any cost increases to its customers. When asked if GoGet would reduce its fees if the Council reduced its charges, it was strangely non-committal.

The common arguments across all three operators seemed to be that these schemes reduce car ownership, and consequently traffic congestion, and the convenience of the schemes means that the Council owes them something. Firstly, car share schemes are not like other forms of public transport. Why? Because as Robert Doyle pointed out on Tuesday, tram and train operators pay enormous licencing fees to the state government. Similarly, taxi plates don’t come cheap.

Secondly, if you’re a business losing $15,000 per month for three years, you’re already struggling to maintain a faint pulse.

Thirdly, passing on the costs of doing business to your customers is pretty common place – I’ll come back to that later.

No-one has yet been able to tell me of another business that is financially supported like this by ratepayers. I’m sure there’s hundreds of businesses in Melbourne that could claim that their product or service benefits humankind somehow, but none are demanding that ratepayers inject ratepayers’ money to prop them up. Greenshare said that it wouldn’t be able to continue trading if the Council charged them any more for parking, thus confirming that Darwin’s theory also applies in the commercial world.

If parking fees to car share operators are increased later this month by Council, it will end like a night out with Ben Cousins; after a lot of hysteria, some flashing lights and a media splash, by the next day no-one will quite remember what actually happened and nor will they care, such will be the net consequence to most car share users as well as the broader community.

I think the most sensible argument so far from a car share operator belongs to GoGet. When talking about the effects of increased parking charges, they said that local residents would suffer by paying more to use their car share scheme. So, in the end there are two choices; the first is that residents forego yearly parking revenue to the tune of $4,500 per space, the second is that they pay more if they want to hire a car.

Residents using the car share schemes may need to pay slightly more to drive a car if the parking increases are adopted, but residents choosing other modes of transport (including bikes and public transport) would be no worse off. This makes a lot of sense. In the absence of any new, sensible arguments from the car share people, this seems to be the most reasonable outcome.

Cr Richard Foster is Chair of the People City portfolio and  Deputy Chair of the Transport portfolio for City of Melbourne.

Pollies and their porkie pies

John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “Porkies: the biggest broken promises in Australian politics” (yesterday). I’ll leave it to Lib supporters to answer for their side but I have to say most of the  broken promises attributed to Labor people seem a bit far fetched. Gillard was stitched up by Abbott and a complicit media regarding the so called carbon “tax”. Carbon taxes as applied elsewhere are generally levied at a retail level on goods and services like the GST.  When Abbott broke one of many promises and did a deal with the Greens to kill Labor’s emissions trading scheme she brought in a government set price on carbon as a preliminary step to a future ETS.

In Rudd’s case walking away from an ETS in the face of opposition from the right and the extreme left in parliament hardly justifies calling his decision a broken promise.  The treatment Gillard got  for  persisting and even your story which seems to conflate the two concepts more than justifies his pragmatic call.

Hawke’s “promise” that “by 1990 no Australian child will be living in poverty” was, as he has admitted, an unscripted departure from his written speech.  Caught up in the moment he turned an aspiration “that by 1990 no child need be living in poverty” into a promise. In today’s politics he could have invoked the Abbott doctrine about scripted and unscripted remarks.

As for Curtin, how anyone could label his war time change of mind  on conscription  a broken promise given the impending threat of a Japanese invasion is beyond me.

The media wrings its hands about the state of modern politics and its lack of openness yet never misses a chance to exploit a gotcha moment no matter how flimsy the justification.  Every news room should carry a sign that says that before labelling a change of mind a backflip, broken promise or lie look at the facts and whether they support the new position. As renowned economist John Maynard Keynes reportedly once said in response  to a critic who accused him of flip flopping: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir …?”

Rundle and renewable energy

Peter Matters writes: Re. “Rundle: Abbott’s gutting of renewables is not just dumb, it’s treason” (yesterday). With respect to Guy Rundle, that mob are not traitors — they are victims. It is the fate of reactionaries to be totally in thrall of their bag full of hang-ups caused by pseudo-religious edicts long past their use-by date and dinned into them from birth. As the predominant effect of such early experiences, the victims’ brains are hardwired into the distant past, because they are so scared of the future — or even the present — that they instinctively banning both from their brains. The poor beggars are not monsters, they are quite often decent enough people – Abbott certainly is – and also intelligent. Their misfortune is the obvious fact that the brain, being an organ of the human body, is more often dominated by their emotional irrationality than their inherent intelligence. In short, it is not only more humane but also makes more practical political sense to treat Abbott and co. as humans, not ogres.

Richard Middleton writes: Excellent piece today.  A suitable title for Abbott and Co would be Eco-Terrorist. We could then find them guilty of eco terrorism through their ignorant denialism, strip them of their citizenships, passports and leave them to enjoy the tropical ambience and hospitality of the locals on Manus. We can send Mr Bolt along to keep his friends company. Oh joy of dreams.

Talking of technology available, perhaps you could bring to people’s attention the efforts of Beyond Zero Emissions to introduce an entire ‘ecosystem’ of clean solar and wind energy based technologies (with a small amount of biomass for dull, windless days). The key is an upgraded DC distribution system and the storage for base-load. They propose hot salt. However, that may be superseded by hot block storage.

This technology is deployable now, would employ thousands to construct and maintain, would revitalise rural areas and generate even more jobs, use our surplus ores and if we were to build enough capacity, we could become an exporter of clean electricity to Asia.. The only losers are the filthy fossil fuel purveyors and burners. The already declining number of people employed in those industries could redeploy to this industry.

Australia receives 1.4 kWatts of solar energy per square metre of surface on a sunny day. We could become the richest nation in the entire world by utilising this. All it takes is the brains to understand. The cost? Approx $300 billion or $30 billion per annum for 10 years. A lot of money, yes, but less than the cost to Australia of burning filthy fossil fuels, which is approx $50 billion per annum. This infrastructure could be funded by any one of a number of ingenious and profitable arrangements. For instance, the government funds say 60% and the public can fund the remainder through investment bonds. I would be very happy to buy solar bonds through my superfund and look at the size of the super pool in this country. Just think of the benefits!

Glen Frost writes: Rundle is 100% correct on his energy article (as well as highlighting Fran Kelly’s great response to Gerard Henderson’s Luddite-like love of coal). The solar industry have a term for the rise of solar and how that will stuff the economics of the traditional grid operators:  they call it “the death spiral”,  whereby more and more people switch to rooftop solar, leaving less and less people buying from an ageing network of carbon polluting power stations. The economics are obvious; as less people are on the old grid network, there are less people to share the costs (mostly fixed), so people on the old grid pay more. Not sustainable (either environmentally or economically) hence they’re in a death spiral.

crikey15

Jul 20, 2015

5 comments

When the time comes for a truth and reconciliation commission into what the Abbott government did to the country, the gutting of the Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will surely be one of the most prominent issues. To placate and persuade a bunch of brown and old energy providers, the government is willing to reach into such bodies, rip out their funding, direct them away from successful programs into speculative ones, and attempt to destroy an entire sector with deliberately introduced uncertainty.

There’s a lot of weird cultural stuff going on too — all this nonsense about how ugly half-a-dozen wind turbines are, occupying 10 degrees of a 180-degree vista. In their own right, turbines are elegant. Compared to pylons marching across the landscape — which attracted no criticism — and open-cut mines, they’re aesthetic masterpieces. But the right are so desperate to do them down that they will use arguments that used to be associated with “deep ecology” Green positions.

Thus, when Joe Hockey and Daniel Andrews met in the ABC studios foyer in Melbourne last week, it was Hockey who complained that a few turbines were disturbing the vista of Lake George. Why? Because a landscape devoid of human markings is preferable to a hybrid one? Isn’t that Green paganism? Turbines are beautiful, not merely physically, but because they’re a visible reminder that we are exiting the fossil fuel era.

Which is why many on the right find them so repellent. Because they’re from the future, not the past, announcing a way of life in which we live with the planet rather than having to dominate, extract and despoil it to live prosperous lives. Gerard Henderson, doing his sad clown act on the Insiders couch, gave the game away: “I grew up in Victoria, which was made by brown coal, I love it. It made the state”, to which Fran Kelly shot back “yes, last century”. If all the right have in their kick to argue for brown energy is nostalgia for a time when the Earth was the domain of humanity given by God, etc, etc, then they’re in deep trouble.

They know it, too. The rise of things like household solar presage far greater shifts than alternative energy models and competition to existing supply; such new forms of power undermine the very form of value on which a high-profit energy sector is based. The plain fact is that the spread of household solar and the advance of a two-way grid is not merely an expansion of private competition — it is the beginning of a socialisation of the grid, and of the production of energy in society. And much more beyond that.

This radical effect has crept up on people because the only prior model of socialisation we have known is state-nationalised enterprises, a la the old State Electricity Commission of Victoria. Such statist social democracy arose in the 20th century, for a variety of political and economic reasons. In the ’80s, it was unbuckled into privatisation — which produced some efficiencies and investment through profit and competition, which were quickly swamped by higher energy prices and underinvestment as take-away profit margins were widened.

Thus we became accustomed to the idea that a “socialist” form of managing energy was the old, bad way, and private capitalist methods were superior. So few, least of all Big Energy, saw coming the technological revolution, which would make a form of energy supply possible that was socialised, while being independent of the state. Rooftop solar is 2% of the energy supply. One way or another it will start to grow exponentially. Once it passes a critical point, the grid will be neither a private nor a state entity, but a social one. As other technologies grow and proliferate — such as the CSIRO’s printable solar cells — establishment and repair costs will plummet. Sooner rather than later, in new build, roofs will be cells, and the distinction will collapse entirely. With the advancing revolution in battery storage, the “grid” will cease to exist in its current form. The “grid” will be a network of shared abundant power, the production/consumption division collapsed.

That’s a ways away — though closer than you think — but what terrifies Big Energy is the transition to it, which is a long slide zone of unknowable investment and profit effects, headed only one way. Headed only one way, without the intervention of a capitalist state, that is. Where at one stage of national development the capitalist/social democratic state saw its role as connecting science, technology and production together, the neoliberal Australian state now sees its role as decoupling them.

Why? Because all that capitalism now has on its side is the maintenance of scarcity. That becomes all the more urgent as technological development, driven in various areas by the exponential advances governed by Moore’s law, swamps existing scarcity so comprehensively as to destabilise basic rates of profit. Property and the market were once forces of innovation — now, with so any committed to spontaneous tech development, open-source sharing and hybrid involvement/investment models, there is a faster mode of co-operation and innovation. So capital must put the brakes on. On everything. Which is why a government like Abbott’s now gives the appearance of being a gangsterish bunch of rent-seeking enforcers. Their only job is to hold innovation back. They abolished the minister of science position, because science itself is now their enemy.

Why isn’t there anyone in the Labor Party who can speak to this, with some form of vision, tying amazing technical developments to families in the burbs having easier, more prosperous, cleaner, greener lives? Quite aside from Labor paralysis, there is labour paralysis too. The labour movement doesn’t know what to do about these rapid shifts, even if it recognises them occurring. The Labor/Labour complex needs to come up with a comprehensive answer to the imminent crisis of jobs and work about to envelope half a dozen industries, including energy. If they stay isolated and simply defend increasingly low value — and often boring, dangerous and unpleasant — jobs as they are, without any sort of transition plan, then they will find their only ally is Old Capital, which makes its money by exploiting them.

They won’t even have the rest of the working- and working-middle class with them — since people will be itching to convert to self-funding solar and half-a-dozen other new technologies, and will eventually resent the obstruction of things that will improve their lives. As these technologies challenge the basis of capital itself, so too will they challenge the fundamental divisions of class. If Labor doesn’t get ahead of this, the Greens will — and in a decade this broad, high-tech working-middle class will become their class, and Richard Di Natale’s forecast of a 20% vote will look modest in retrospect. Labor in the 21st century is on the way to following the fate of the British Liberal Party in the 20th — a once mighty progressive force, reduced in a short passage of time to a rump, victim of a refusal to tackle the contradictions inherent in its program.

What should Labor or the Greens do about rooftop solar? Be audacious. Instead of copping this RET nobbling sweet, advance the idea that basic rooftop solar should be given away free. It is, by one measure, the app, of which new energy is the output — and who pays for Google, or Adobe PDF? Move us forward, beyond rent-seeking, to the new material economy. Help people bootstrap themselves, and the country, to a radical cost reduction. Yes, it will be attacked — pink batts and all of that.

But Labor or the Greens need to have the argument, and make it part of the wider argument about the radical changes engulfing us. That’s a Keating style of politics, but the degree of change is greater than anything Keating had to deal with. He was simply ordo-liberalising a labourist social democracy. Australia’s whole economy, its rate and process of accumulation, employment and output, is being colonised by the advance of post-capitalism. None of the equations that the dim kids who do commerce were taught in their textbooks are going to work anymore. With every passing year, they will be less accurate about reality than they were the year before.

We may be slow to do this, but others won’t be. China in particular. For a decade or so, China was held up in the West as a message to the greenies, etc, about what a really muscular capitalist society was doing. Trouble is, it wasn’t a capitalist society — it was a big capitalist sector inside a dirigiste socialist society, with five-year plans, state industries and the works. Having used brown power to generate two decades of 10% growth per annum, it is now using state direction to make a fast transition to renewables. Why? Not purely, or even primarily because of global warming or pollution, but for what China has been seeking since Western powers occupied it in the 1830s: a return of self-determination and national autarchy, i.e. total self-sufficiency. The delusional belief — contrary to all appearances — that China is not racing to a point where it can eliminate all imports, brown coal included, is delusional. Ultimately, it is a last surviving example of a magical belief in white-skin privilege. The brown people will always need our brown coal. Not soon they won’t.

This is what makes the conduct of Abbott and Co. so genuinely traitorous, rather than simply slack, decadent, etc, etc. Because the advanced areas of the world — such as northern Europe and China — are well on the road to post-capitalism. They’re pioneering multi-levelled, multi-dimensional economies of interlinked social-market-national enterprises. Crucially, they’re dependent on transforming import sectors, such as energy and materials (i.e. for construction), into homegrown zero marginal cost outputs, which reinforce each other (your solar-powered 3D printer in your 3D-printed home prints out your new solar cells). This stuff ain’t coming. This is here. Any nation that wants to retain its independence in this new world better develop this stuff fast.

Conversely, any nation that doesn’t, will commit itself to a form of backward dependency reminiscent of the underdevelopment of the third world in the post-WWII era — dependent on global markets of steadily decreasing value, and caught in an under-accumulation trap. That is not only where we’re heading, it is where we are being driven by this government, the rent-seeking sectors that donate to its parties, the unions that will not think ahead, the Labor leaders drawn from those unions, the dimwitted “experts” of the financial pages, the delusional nostalgists of the IPA, etc.

I’m against the death penalty — but when the truth and reconciliation commission comes for a government that has trashed everything from the CSIRO on down, I may be willing to make an exception.

crikey15

Jun 1, 2015

5 comments

The Grattan Institute’s report on solar PV, written by Tony Wood and David Blowers, has received plenty of adverse reactions. That’s not surprising, considering its sensationalist presentation, tendentious arguments and dubious analysis; in all these respects, it’s well below the standard I’d expect from Grattan.

I’m a little reluctant to pile on further, but I don’t think the criticisms I’ve seen have really focused on the fundamental problem in the Grattan analysis. Although the summary suggests the report is about subsidy schemes designed to promote renewable energy and particularly solar PV, this is highly misleading. The core of the Grattan analysis relates to the electricity distribution network. The analysis is both conceptually unsound and empirically weak.

The approach used in the Grattan report is to compare the cost of rooftop solar PV with that of (mainly) coal-fired electricity, adjusted for a carbon cost of $30/tonne. No allowance is made for distribution costs, and any difference is regarded as a subsidy. That’s defensible, though dubious, in relation to feed-in tariff schemes (all of which have now been closed), but the big numbers in the Grattan analysis come from applying the same analysis to self-generation. According to the report, someone who installs PV and uses the electricity themselves, saving the retail price (say 25c/kWh) is being subsidised by the amount of the difference between the retail price and the wholesale price of the electricity they would otherwise have bought (say 5c/kWh, for a subsidy of 20c/kWh).

This reasoning is bizarre, to put it mildly. Grattan’s reasoning is equally applicable (almost) every time you turn off an appliance or lightbulb: by saving 25c/kWh, you are robbing society of 20c.

The underlying argument is that electricity distribution charges are levied on a uniform basis per kWh, but the costs of the electricity distribution network depend, to a large extent on peak demand. This mispricing reflects the mess that was called “electricity market reform”, dating from the 1990s, and has nothing to do with solar PV or renewables. The real subsidy here is to air-conditioning, which produces a demand peak in the late afternoon and early evening. Stretching a bit further, you could say that electricity mispricing subsidises hot dinners and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which produce electricity demand at or near the evening peak.

The Grattan argument is that consumers who reduce their electricity use at times other than the evening peak, for example by installing solar PV, or simply by being careful, are thereby shirking their obligation to fund the costs of meeting peak demand. Apparently, consumers are supposed to make decisions based on the prices that would prevail under ideal pricing rules, rather than those they actually face.

But, even granting all these assumptions, the Grattan analysis is both theoretically and empirically unsound. The errors are such as to make their estimated subsidy to solar worthless, even accepting their analytical framework.

The empirical error is to assume, on the basis of misleading and inadequate data, that solar PV makes no contribution to meeting peak demand. The data on which this assumption is based is derived from just five days, and one state: the second Tuesday in October, in south-east Queensland from 2009 to 2013. For this data set, they find increased use of solar power at midday, reducing demand, but no change in the peak demand, which occurred at 6pm, when most people are at home, settling down for dinner, and when air-conditioning demand is strong.

This is a startlingly convenient choice of observation. It happens that sunset in Brisbane in early October takes place around 5.50 pm, just in time to rule out any contribution from solar PV. In choosing this date to request data from Energex, it may have escaped the Grattan team’s attention that:

  • Brisbane is close to the easternmost point in Australia, implying an early sunset;
  • Brisbane is the most northerly state capital, implying less seasonal variation in daylight times;
  • Sunset is later in December than in October; and
  • Queensland does not have daylight saving.

If the Melbourne-based researchers had sought data from local sources, for December, they might well have found that the peak demand occurred well before sunset (8.40pm).

It is, of course, true that, given the pricing distortions noted by Grattan, many solar panels are located sub-optimally from a social viewpoint. But it is absurd to claim that this constitutes a subsidy.

Important though the empirical error is, it is less significant than the theoretical error. In treating the entire avoided wholesale cost as a subsidy, Grattan assumes that the optimal distribution charge for off-peak use is zero, and that the entire charge should be imposed at peak usage times.

This is an elementary confusion of marginal and total effects. If such a policy were adopted, the distribution charge at the current peak time would have to be increased to something like$5/kwh. But of course, with such a pricing structure, the peak would turn into a trough, when only the most essential uses of electricity continued.

A more reasonable assumption would be that the peak charge should be something like double the current value. Assuming that the peak charge applied to 10 per cent of total usage, that would permit a reduction of 10 per cent in charges at other times, or around 2c/kwh. But with that pricing structure in place, the social value of solar PV would be around 23c/kWh, at least four times the value imputed by Grattan. Recalculated on that basis, the alleged subsidy would disappear almost completely.

To sum up, the headline finding of the Grattan report is totally wrong, even ignoring all the criticisms that have been made of the analytical framework. The report should be retracted and rewritten.

Business

May 27, 2015

5 comments

Hard to swallow. Hormel Foods Corp, the company responsible for Spam (cue the Monty Python Spam song), is going all organic. Hormel revealed this morning that it has agreed to buy privately owned Applegate Farms company for US$775 million (around $1 billion). Applegate is a leading brand in the natural and organic prepared foods sector. “A growing number of consumers are choosing natural and organic products. This deal allows us to expand the breadth of our protein offerings to provide consumers more choice,” Hormel Chief Executive Jeffrey M. Ettinger said in a statement. The move is the latest in a growing move away from Spam. Hormel paid more than US$700 million in January 2013 for the Skippy peanut butter business, which is decidedly non-organic. Hormel also owns a range of packaged Mexican foods called Wholly Guacamole. It also owns a range of sports milks and other drinks (Muscle Milk). But according to US analysts, Hormel’s turkey-based food business called Jennie-O (the mind boggles) has been hit by an outbreak of bird flu across the US. Applegate will become part of Hormel’s “refrigerated” foods group, which accounts for around half Hormel’s more than US$10 billion a year in sales and which has been performing poorly as US consumers abandon packaged foods and prepared foods in favour of fresher, lighter products. — Glenn Dyer

Financial truffle hunting. Another new CEO at an ASX200 company, another review of the company in the months after being named in February, and then yesterday the announcement of the discovery of a lazy $1 billion of assets surplus to requirements, a spare $170 million to $200 million in cost cuts, and that’s business. The same board remains in place, supporting the “discovery” of the surplus assets and cost cuts they and the former CEO could find in a month of Sundays. And yet, in the space of nigh on four months, energy giant AGL Energy tells investors and the ASX that’s exactly what new CEO Andy Vesey and his managers, some of whom are new, have managed to do. Sounds like a form of financial truffle hunting — you need the right dog or pig with the right sense of smell and good country to dig out the little nuggets of gold. And by the way, don’t bet on AGL keeping its Gloucester coal-seam gas project in NSW — it has already caused a lot of poor publicity for the company and is now under review as part of the review and locating of the billion or so in unwanted assets. AGL shares hit an eight-year closing high of $16.47. The bottom line is that AGL will quit wind power (its stake in the Macarthur Farm is on the market, the biggest in the country) and move deeper into solar … Kerrching! — Glenn Dyer

Being cheap and nasty no longer flies. More signs that the global airline industry is rolling in cash (no, Qantas, it’s not just the heroic efforts of CEO Alan Joyce). Ryanair, the pioneering low-cost European carrier overnight revealed a surge in earnings for the March financial year, after a major strategy overhaul in 2013-14. In fact, after-tax profit was up 66%, and the airline is expecting another rise in profit in the 2015-16 financial year as more people book to fly the airline, which has been widely despised for its inflexible and arrogant approach to customer satisfaction and concentration on costs. Profit after tax was 867 million euros (around $935 million) and will rise to between 940 million and 970 million this year (over $1.05 billion). Passenger numbers increased 11% to 90 million, compared to the 4% target at the start of the year and a 10% rise is forecast for the current year. Ryanair said lower fuel costs helped, but it played up the  “improved customer service” and a move away from its original strategy of flying to small, low-cost, out-of-the way regional airports (which dumped big transfer costs on passengers). “Flexible ticket”’ (shock horror) for business fliers also helped attract more passengers who want to fly to more established airports. The strategy revamp followed two profit warnings in 2013 as the company struggled with competition, and its bad reputation for dealing poorly with customers. Being nice and treating customers as human beings actually works and is profitable. The new approach was summed up by CEO Michael O’Leary as one that aims to treat passengers as customers rather than enemies and not to “unnecessarily piss people off”. Ryanair turns 30 this year. Middle-aged and nice is better than middle-aged and mean. — Glenn Dyer

Environment

Jan 28, 2015

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Voters’ approval of the government’s handling of major issues has deteriorated further while Labor holds a commanding lead, today’s Essential Report polling shows.

Repeating a feature of the Rudd government from 2009-10, the Abbott government’s standing with voters in relation to major issues has deteriorated markedly, and that deterioration has continued in recent months. “Relations with foreign countries” is now the only issue on which the government has a net positive rating from voters, with 33% saying its handling has been good and 28% saying its handling has been poor. A year ago, the government had a positive net approval on two issues — handling of asylum seekers and managing the economy — and its net approval on relations with foreign countries was just -3 (i.e. voter perceptions of the government’s handling of foreign relations relations has improved in the last 12 months). But by September, the government had deteriorated on every issue except foreign relations; across 11 major issues, its net approval rating had gone from a total of -98 to -171. Since September, that outcome has worsened to -195.

Continue reading “Essential: voters continue to mark the government down”

Australia

Dec 10, 2014

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Last month the town of Uralla, New South Wales, population of 2754, won a tender to be used as a model for Australia’s first Zero Net Energy Town Project. ZNET will work with the town to investigate opportunities to switch to 100% renewable energy. Some 1300 kilometres south-west, the smaller Victorian town of Newstead plans to switch to 100% solar power by 2017, a pledge backed by the Victorian Labor Party. But is 100% renewable an achievable goal for larger populations, or is it a gimmick for tiny towns that has no real-world impact?

Professor Anthony Vassallo, director of the Centre for Sustainable Energy Development at the University of Sydney, says the towns’ ambitions are achievable — with proper planning. “For towns the size of Uralla, you could envisage having enough storage to ride through the night or days of low sun.”

“You can buy as much energy storage as you want, but every extra hour of storage costs money,” he said. “You really have to plan it.”

But is such an initiative scalable? The City of Sydney also has plans to have the capacity to generate its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, but Vassallo doubts that it will ever disconnect from the grid.

“There will always be times where you’re going to have to rely on grid supply … and the grid mix is still predominately fossil fuels.”

He says towns made up of residential homes and small businesses could transition more easily than towns with larger industrial loads, which require more electricity.

Both Uralla and Newstead are inspired by community-led initiatives around the world, particularly in Europe. Where has this been done before, and what can Uralla and Newstead learn from other efforts? The towns on this list are just some examples of towns and communities that have made the transition to renewable energy.

Feldheim, Germany

Population: 145

Energy: wind, solar, biogas from wood chips

Feldheim began its transition to renewable energy in 1995, becoming independent from the main grid in 2010. Residents of the town contributed the funds to build a wind farm, which now has 47 wind turbines and produces much more electricity than the town needs. Feldheim is able to sell 99% of the energy from the wind farm back to the grid. Feldheim is also home to a solar park, and the power it generates is also sent back to the main grid. The town has also replaced heating oil with biogas, which is generated from wood chips. The biogas also covers electricity supply when the wind turbines are not working. The town is also investing in battery storage systems to help with consistency of supply.

Rock Port, Missouri, United States

Population: 1266

Energy: wind

This small American town has four wind turbines, capable of producing 16 million kWh of energy per year. For them to work, the wind needs to be blowing at about 9 miles per hour, and they achieve their maximum output at 14 miles per hour. For most of the year, the wind speeds in Rock Port are easily sufficient, but in September the monthly average speed dips to 2 miles per hour. Rock Port is still connected to the grid, so residents can access electricity all year round. Still, the town says it can meet 123% of its energy needs from the wind farm and sells the excess back to the grid.

Isle of Eigg, Scotland

Population: 87

Energy: hydro, wind, solar

This Isle of Eigg, off the west coast of Scotland, used to be powered by diesel generators. In 2008, the island was able to generate enough power from renewable sources to cover residents’ needs 24/7.  The island has three hydroelectric generators, four wind turbines and a photovoltaic array, in addition to backup generators.

Each household is limited to using 5kW at a time, while businesses are allowed to use 10kW. This is enough for 50 100w lightbulbs, or a kettle and a washing machine. Although residents have to be cautious, there are times when the island produces excess electricity.

Dharnai Village, Bihar, India

Population: 2400

Energy: solar

In 2011, according to Indian census data, 83% of households in the state of Bihar could not access electricity. In July this year, Greenpeace teamed up with financial services organisation BASIX and the Indian Centre for Environment and Energy Development to assist Dharnai Village to install a solar micro-grid and deliver power to residents.

However, according to some reports, the villagers were not happy with their deal. When former chief minister Nitish Kumar visited the village in August, residents asked him for “real electricity”. At present, BASIX says the initiative needs to monitor how much electricity the grid generates before residents will be allowed to use it for “luxury items” like televisions.

Greenpeace says the grid produced 2450 kWh of energy this week. A four-person home in Brunswick, Melbourne, uses 19.5kWh per day in winter. If residents of Dharnai Village were to use electricity as Melburnians do, the micro-grid would need to produce a lot more electricity.

Juhnde, Lower Saxony, Germany

Population: 1000

Energy: biogas

The small village of Juhnde was developed as a model “bioenergy village”. The town has a biogas plant, which supplies power generated from methane from cow manure as well as maize, wheat and barley. It produces 500MWh of energy per year, which is twice the amount of power the village needs. This also generates 6500 MWh of heat from a wood chip boiler to help meet the increased demand for energy in winter months. Like Feldheim, Juhnde sells the excess back to the grid. Juhnde is being used as a model for other bioenergy villages throughout Germany.

Critics of bioenergy say that it puts a strain on land resources. In Juhnde, 25% of the village’s farmland and 10% of its forests are used to supply the biogas plant.

Environment

Dec 8, 2014

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Naomi Klein’s latest blockbuster, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate, is a powerful rallying cry, both less and more radical than you might expect.

Klein calls for a revolution, but not the kind feared by the Right that would overthrow private property, or democracy, or establish a world government. In an interview last month, Klein told Crikey the book was not programmatic, as it does not try to spell out exactly policies that need to be adopted if we are to solve the climate crisis.

“I’m not a purist,” Klein said. “I get attacked on the Left for the fact that this is not a coherent socialist program, because I’m not driven by ideology.”

For Klein, the fault is on both sides of politics and everywhere in between, including the author herself. Environmental crusaders cop it too: This Changes Everything damns the appeasement of fossil fuel interests by conflicted, philanthropically funded “Big Green” groups searching for acceptable market-based solutions, and the billionaire green messiahs like Virgin founder Richard Branson and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who say one thing while doing another.

Klein’s radical call is for us to overthrow our view of the earth — not resource, but source — and our place in it, moving from an extractive system, which takes from nature, to a regenerative system, which protects life by taking and giving back.

Sounds hippie? It isn’t. This Changes Everything is a fierce denunciation of fossil fuels — not just the harmful pollution they create, but also the mindset that desires their industrial exploitation, which Klein traces back to Francis Bacon, inventor of the scientific method, who saw man as master who could “hound nature in her wanderings”, and James Watt, who found nature’s “weak side” when he invented the first coal-fired steam engine in 1776. That is the same year in which Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published, but though Klein ties these two events together, the book does not become a dry economic treatise on the failings of the free market.

Rather This Changes Everything is a cry, like a thousand slogans strung together by meticulous research, to defend life itself: the sacred ability of species to reproduce, of nature to regenerate, which is threatened by continued burning of fossil fuels. From the peer-reviewed study that associated fracking with higher birth defects in Colorado to the little-reported after-effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster to the air pollution choking China’s cities, fossil fuels are literally poisoning us, even as they warm the planet. Klein writes:

 “Lethal when extraction goes wrong and the interred carbon escapes at the source, lethal when extraction goes right and the carbon is successfully released into the atmosphere.”

The response is Blockadia, the worldwide but localised resistance to increasingly extreme fossil energy, which is forming unlikely alliances between indigenous people (whose native title rights are often the last line of defence against development) and farmers, activists, workers — anyone joined by love of a threatened place and (so often) its life-sustaining water resources.

But Klein wants more than a switch from brown energy to green energy; she wants an end to inequality. No more environmental or human “sacrifice zones” — the dumping grounds that have always accompanied fossil fuel development. No more winner-takes-all.

“There is so clearly no way of responding to this crisis without massive public investment and redistribution of wealth …”

To achieve this, one over-arching principle is clear: polluter pays. Klein — who is also a director of the Bill McKibben-led climate movement 350.org — passionately backs divestment from fossil fuels (and investment in climate solutions), to confer on the industry the same status as tobacco companies:

“It might even create the space for a serious discussion about whether these profits are so illegitimate that they deserve to be appropriated and reinvested in solutions to the climate crisis.”

Higher taxes on fossil fuel companies would fund developing countries that are not responsible for the warming already locked in and that need help to avoid the extractive path out of poverty taken by the already industrialised countries. Klein writes that this is in our own self-interest, because it is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change:

“The resources for this just transition must ultimately come from the state, collected from the profits of the fossil fuel companies in the brief window left while they are still profitable.”

Alive to the possibility she is making an already hard task harder, Klein falls short of outlining the steps that need to be taken to solve climate and inequality at once. She is dismissive of regulatory tools we know might help, like carbon pricing and other market mechanisms, writing of carbon offsets that “the prospect of getting paid real money based on projections of how much of an invisible substance is kept out of the air, tends to be something of a scam magnet”. True, and Tony Abbott would agree, but that doesn’t mean all offset schemes are useless.

Klein writes that “a fight for a minimal carbon tax might do a lot less good than, for instance, forming a grand coalition to demand a guaranteed minimum income” (because it would give workers an alternative to dirty fossil fuel jobs). That is debatable.

Klein refers often to Germany, where local communities have taken back ownership of their energy grids when the incumbents refused to shift from fossil fuels. In Australia this jars a little, given publicly owned electricity networks have been more prone to gold-plated, carbon-munching inefficiency than their private rivals. But it is true that looming grid privatisations in NSW and Queensland, if they lock in fossil fuel dependence, will be a major setback for climate action in this country. Klein is too dismissive of the search for “miracle” technological solutions to climate change, when the continuing rise of solar, soon with power storage, really does feel like a miracle, close to upending the electricity industry globally.

Klein’s book attacks as “magical thinking” the hope of progressives that solutions to the climate crisis will come easily, drawing heavily on the work of leading UK scientist Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who has argued no economy has never achieved the kind of -8% to -10% per annum emissions reductions necessary to give us a solid chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees, and that the tight carbon budget “demands revolutionary change to the political and economic hegemony”.

As Klein told Crikey: “There is so clearly no way of responding to this crisis without massive public investment and redistribution of wealth … I would say the Right understands this and centrist liberals are constantly trying to finesse it and paper over it by claiming that ‘no, we can just have market-based policies and let’s not talk about north-south inequality’, because that’s hard to sell and they’re constantly imagining that there’s going to be some magic formula that makes climate action palatable to extreme conservatives, and it never will be. It is a losing battle.”

*Read part one of our interview with Naomi Klein here.

Comments & corrections

Dec 3, 2014

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Abbott’s biggest deceit

John Richardson writes: Re. “Crikey says: Abbott’s good optics won’t erase bad policy” (yesterday). These days it’s hard to know who is more lazy and self-indulgent: Tony Abbott or the media hacks who follow him around while he pretends that he “simply doesn’t get it“.

As “Mr Accountability” defended his broken promises as being necessary because “things have moved on and things have changed”, he knew that the only real reason that he and his colleagues aren’t trusted is not because they have broken promises, but because they have steadfastly insulted the Australian people by dishonestly arguing that they hadn’t.

And while the media hailed Abbott’s phony mea culpa as a new beginning, he maintained his breathtaking deceit in plain sight by pretending that his government’s proposed budget onslaught against the youngest, oldest, sickest and poorest was “fair” because it is balanced by a temporary income tax hike on high-income earners.

Even with the government’s own advisers calling for the removal of popular tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthy, such as dividend imputation, negative gearing, capital gains and superannuation tax concessions, rather than pursuing an increase in the GST, phony Tony and his stubborn, wilful and totally dishonest colleagues continue to demonstrate that there is no “reset” button to be found on their political dashboard.

On invisible energy

Keith Binns writes: Re. “Nuclear: the power source for innumerates and socialists” (Monday). What amused me about Bishop’s statement on obvious nuclear power is that atoms are invisible (I think. I may have missed a scientific development) whereas that big yellow thing in the sky isn’t. So what is the more obvious source of energy?

The end of the Right? Really?

Martin Gordon writes: Re “Rundle: Napthine’s loss the beginning of the end for the Right” (yesterday). Guy Rundle must possess a server full of pre-written tracts to suit the occasion as evidenced by yesterday’s effort. Francis Fukuyama wrote about the end of history, and every time a party loses an election it is written off. Rarely does this actually happen.

It would be fair to describe the Napthine government loss as modest (as William Bowe did exactly in Crikey on Monday). The endorsement of Napthine by the Fairfax stable of the AFR and The Age was astonishing — perhaps they know more than Guy does? The same flawed logic of the inexorable trend of ageing of voters and inevitable decline and rise of fortunes is not new either. Similar tracts were written when Whitlam was elected, and confident predictions of decades of Labor re-election were foretold. They were rubbish.

A few items below Guy’s was Alex Mitchell (“One-term Baird? Tell ’em they’re dreaming) talking about the mess the NSW ALP is in over electricity privatisation (the ALP has been down this track too, its opposition is an election strategy, not a plan at all). Alex did fail to mention the endorsement of Mike Baird’s plan by Paul Keating recently, as a forward-looking development. Will Guy bless us with some tract about an ALP comeback on the back of this “visionary” anti-privatisation platform?

Yes the federal Coalition is making really heavy weather of things. Clumsiness of a scale that possibly matches that of the previous PM Julia Gillard. However for the Coalition at its core is the naked obstruction of the ALP and Greens which has been canvassed even in Crikey — the opposing ALP government initiatives for one, fuel excise re-indexation etc. Advantageous to the ALP, but short-sighted in that it makes everything worse. Knowing the federal bureaucracy, similar budget measures have been pursued in the past by the ALP (and will be again — don’t you worry about that!), and Guy never saw fit to rail against them. The ALP of course had the advantage of Coalition general support for its unpleasant measures (Chris Bowen claimed some $180 billion of savings, or $300 billion for the 13 years from 2008-09 to 2020-21), about 99% of which the Coalition supported.

But before Guy rushes to print a further tract, Alan Davies’ (“What will the Andrews government do for public transport?”) was a fascinating read. The cynicism of a minimalist ALP public transport policy hidden from electors does not augur well for a new “visionary”, “reforming” government that will sweep all before it. Perhaps the sweeping will be only of more rubbish, and not electoral success!

News

Jul 14, 2014

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No doubt Professor Ian Plimer is an expert geologist. He drew upon that knowledge in writing his well-known 1994 book attacking creationists, Telling Lies for God. Unfortunately his attempts to critique renewable energy in his new book Not for Greens demonstrate that he is out of his depth in this field. His treatment of renewable energy is mostly nonsense from start to finish.

Not for Greens will be launched in Sydney today. Crikey ran a fact-check of Plimer’s key assertions on climate science last week; here I’m fact-checking what he says in my area of expertise, renewable energy.

Plimer’s book has no pretensions of scholarship, since it lacks references, and its discussion of renewable energy is clearly not based on scholarly research by himself. He simply rehashes false myths, mostly originating in propaganda disseminated by supporters of fossil fuels and nuclear energy. These myths have been refuted again and again by experts in renewable energy. Here I’ll address a few of Plimer’s howlers on wind and solar power.

A serious error is Plimer’s claim that wind is “totally unreliable” and that “no carbon dioxide-emitting coal-fired thermal power station has been replaced by a wind farm“. Actually South Australia has nominally two coal-fired power stations, several gas-fired power stations and many wind farms. As a result of the growth of wind generation to an annual average of over 27% of electricity generation, one of the coal stations is now shut down for half the year and the other for the whole year. Although gas capacity has not increased, the state’s electricity supply system is operating reliably. Clearly wind is partially reliable, despite its fluctuations.

Plimer then attempts to generalise his above incorrect claims to the notion that wind farms “cannot produce continuous electricity without coal, gas, nuclear, hydro or geothermal backup“. This notion has been refuted by hourly computer simulations of the operation of large-scale electricity supply systems with 80 to 100% renewable energy in several countries and regions (reviewed in Chapter 3 of Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change). These studies use actual hourly data on electricity demand and renewable energy supply, striving to balance supply and demand each hour over periods ranging from 1 to 10 years.

For instance, our research at UNSW simulating the Australian National Electricity Market uses only commercially available renewable energy technologies (scaled-up wind, solar and biomass, together with existing hydro). We find that 100% renewable energy could have supplied electricity in 2010 with the same reliability as the polluting fossil-fuelled system. While we would not operate the grid on 100% wind alone, we could operate it on the above mix of renewable energy technologies with different statistical properties. Furthermore, using the Australian government’s own conservative projections to 2030 for the costs of renewable energy technologies, we find that 100% renewable electricity would be affordable.

The relevant papers by Ben Elliston, Iain MacGill and myself, published in peer-reviewed international journals, can be downloaded from my UNSW website.

In discussing the energy inputs needed to build a wind turbine, Plimer claims that “the correct figure for payback of just the embedded energy is probably more in the order of 15 to 20 years. Whatever the figure is …“. The weasel words “probably,” “in the order of” and “whatever the figure is” suggest that Plimer is either guessing or misrepresenting the result and trying to cover himself. Actual life-cycle assessments find that, depending upon the site and type of wind turbine, the energy payback period (in terms of energy, not money) is actually three to nine months!

Plimer greatly exaggerates the land use and associated environmental impacts of wind farms, by taking the land they span and misrepresenting it as the land they occupy. Wind farms actually occupy only 1% to 3% of the land they span. They are normally erected on agricultural land and it’s rare that a single tree is cleared. They bring supplementary rental income to the farmers who host them (typically $8000 to $10,000 per turbine per year in Australia), and increasingly bring financial benefits to local communities.

Other errors and misrepresentations abounding in Plimer’s account include:

  • The small subsidies to renewable energy under the Renewable Energy Target are not paid “even when a wind farm is shut down”, because they are paid per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, not per megawatt of generating capacity.
  • Furthermore, they are not paid by taxpayers, but by a tiny increase in retail electricity price paid by electricity consumers (except large consumers who have gained exemptions). This increase is offset by a decrease in wholesale price of electricity.
  • Although Plimer correctly writes that “wind turbines can only extract about 45% of the available kinetic energy,” he omits to put this into context: ordinary coal-fired power stations can only convert into electricity 30% to 40% of the energy stored in the coal.
  • The best solar cells have efficiencies of around 25% (laboratory) and 21.5% (commercial), rather than Plimer’s “not much higher than 10%”.
  • Solar power stations do not depend on floodlighting the mirrors to operate at night. Concentrated solar thermal power stations actually store part of the solar energy collected during daytime in tanks of molten salt, to generate at night.

These and other myths are busted in my new book Sustainable Energy Solutions for Climate Change. Are Plimer’s errors and misrepresentations the result of ignorance or deliberate deception? I don’t know, but it is worrying to see them uttered by a senior scientist.

Plimer’s book is not for anyone seeking a rational, accurate, up-to-date account of renewable energy. I wonder whether some will rename it Telling Lies for the Fossil Fuel Industry.